Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

December 14, 2019 – The Loneliness of Change

Today’s Bible reading

Read Mark 6:14-29

Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. –Mark 6:20

More thoughts for meditation

The absurdity of John’s death is a witness to the still very present  need for a savior. Herod’s murder is not unique or even unexpected today. Dissidents are killed by the government all over the world today. And in the United States too (maybe in Ferguson). The government may not be so audaciously unjust in our part of the world, but there is a lot riding on status quo maintenance. Students of history, including the history of John the Baptist, should not be shocked to learn the extent of evil our systems are capable of. 

When the discomfort of change is upon us, we will inevitably encounter resistance–even murderous resistance. It can be lonely to see the world as it is, continue to imagine the world as it will one day be, and to be so strange in the middle of it all for having our unique vision. “Are you blind?!” we might exclaim in exasperation daily to those who seem to be at peace where there is no peace. How do you wait when everything seems to be pushing you back into your place? And in the face of violent intimidation?

Our hope is secure but often feels so insecure. Jesus, show us the light! Give us courage to persevere with our ancestors. Even without threats of violence, we need more light to see and remember who you are and who we are in you. Help us to wait. May the culture we form in our circle of hope bolster us. May our brothers and sisters hold us up when we stumble, and pull us along when we stall. May your spirit move us along. May the current of your love be so strong.

Suggestions for action

Read the news and pray. Do not hide your head in the sandy false protection of your distractions. Read your family and friends and show up as your truest self right now. Be who you mean to be and act accordingly, even where that is not the norm or normal, even when it feels foolish or scary. Speaking and acting from the truth means we must not settle for the dark. We know the light of the world and the darkness has not overcome him. It won’t overcome us either because he has made his stand with us and will never leave us alone.

Pray: God-with-us be our light and life. Shine bright when the powers of darkness seem so dark.

December 13, 2019 – Discomfort Itself

Today’s Bible reading

He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. –Luke 1:15

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.–Matthew 3:4-5

More thoughts for meditation

John’s life exemplified the discomfort of our Advent wait. Holding this tension, straining our eyes and necks to see the light of transformation, waiting up all night and losing sleep, holding on with all our might — these are all physically exhausting tasks. And even if our physically exhausting Advent waiting is more of a metaphor than a reality, the metaphor is apt for our spiritual condition, no?

John did not drink any fermented drink. He was not a man of levity it seems. He didn’t look to alcohol to lighten the mood or shroud his discomfort in anyway. If he was uncomfortable there was a reason for it and he wanted to listen to it. The angel decreed his sobriety to Zechariah before he was born. John’s mind was completely clear; his vitality was one hundred percent available for the Lord’s use.

Camel’s hair and a leather belt not only served as a direct reference to John’s prophetic mold, Elijah, it was also uncomfortable. The fine camel hair coats that polo players wear from finely spun yarn had not yet been invented. John’s camel hair was a sign of his poverty to those from whom he lived an intentionally distinct lifestyle, and perhaps even a sign to his own body that comfort was not his aim in his intentionally distinct life.

His chosen dwelling with its diet of wild locusts and honey also made plenty of room for God to speak. John spent his life carving out huge spaces for waiting and listening in the desert. His confidence in preaching came from a life uncluttered by comfort. Something about John’s discomfort taught him what he needed to say.

Not all of us are called to the ascetic lifestyle. Asceticism is the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention for religious reasons. It’s no wonder that asceticism is almost universal across cultures and religions. It is a human fact that abstaining creates states of heightened spiritual attunement. When we overcome our needs for material comfort we are more ready for spiritual comfort, maybe? When we are empty in body we are empty and open to God, maybe? The geography of the soul is not precisely mapped, but in Advent country we know we can learn from our discomfort, 

Suggestions for action

Advent was initially conceived as another fast– more like the Lent with which many of us are more familiar. Might there be an invitation to abstain from something in your waiting this year? John’s uncomfortable life ended with externally inflicted suffering in a prison cell and an executioner’s axe, but it began internally with his choice to live a life worthy of his calling. He went to the desert, an away, empty place. He ate food that did the trick of keeping him alive and little more, a way to amplify his spiritual hunger. He wore clothing designed to remind him and others of someone else, a way to point attention away from himself. He abstained from alcohol, a way to be as open to God as possible. How will you prepare the way for the Lord with some of John’s intensity? Skip a meal, skip a cookie, skip the purchase for yourself as you’re shopping for others?  Definitely skip the drink! If this is resonating with you, you should probably make a plan to do something about it. Tell a friend if you conclude. They will help you fulfill your vow.

Pray: Lord, open my eyes wide to your presence now. Use the empty spaces in my time, heart and body to reveal your way.

December 12, 2019 – It’s About Time

Today’s Bible reading

Read Luke:3-1-6

During the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. — Luke 3:2

More thoughts for meditation

Luke is very careful to place John the Baptist and the whole Nativity narrative squarely in actual history. He wants to say, “This stuff actually happened.” It really happened–to real people–in their real time. And how much time had they been waiting in that very specific time and place for something specific to happen?

They were waiting for the Messiah, the sent one from God, the one who would fulfill the promises of old, the one of whom the prophets of old had sung. They had been waiting for 500 years and more. The age of prophecy had seemed to cease with the Exile in Babylon. Of course there were many faithful people who tried to put the pieces back together after that devastating dislocation. It was in the aftermath of exile that the Old Testament as we know it came to be. The project of Israel shifted to understanding what had gone wrong. They looked to the past to learn the lessons their ancestors had missed.

As they focused on the old stories and all the words of their prophets, there emerged this sense that someone must be coming who will deliver on all of God’s promises. Out of the study of their history emerged a future oriented faith that waited in eager expectation for a specific Messiah.

Circle of Hope Audio Art’s song, Light from Light, is the perfect anthem for this long wait. “How many years did we wait for the one?/Waiting for you and now you have begun.” Now is now. Jesus has begun! Wait a minute! This is really happening! This is really happening her and now in this time and this place! We need all those exclamations to get into the incredible moment in history when the wait was finally over. It’s about time! 

Suggestions for action

We might wait for something so long that we forget what we are waiting for or why we were waiting in the first place. The extended waiting to which all our hopes are subjected is hard to bear. We must hold the tension of remembering the past and looking to the future. Be aware of your weariness. If you need help, help is near. Holding on must be intentional. It is not passive. 

Advent is like training to climb El Capitan in Yosemite.Work on your grip strength, yes, but also tie yourself to your partners, so when you fall, you won’t fall too far. Because you will likely fall. This wait is not a free solo sort of thing. Make a plan to be at a Sunday meeting with other Christians this weekend.

Pray more with our song: “Lengthening nights and the days have grown cold/Hold us to you before darkness takes hold”

December 11, 2019 – Flee From the Coming Wrath

Today’s Bible reading

Read Malachi 4

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6

More thoughts for meditation

Jesus’ Advent, his arrival, is dreadful to those who are comfortable with the way things are. The religious people of John’s day may have revered the prophet Malachi, but based on how John talks to them, they didn’t act from any real understanding of the prophet, so John and Jesus were dreadful to them, too.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3:7-9)

We need an intervention still. Jesus does not save us from the need to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. No, Jesus gives us the assured hope that our fruit production efforts are not in vain. Despite the setbacks, the obstacles, the failures, and the sheer amount of transformation we know the world needs, our hope is not in vain. 

The day of the Lord is dreadful to all those who have carved a kingdom of satisfaction in their own thinking. Those in power fear their loss of power. It is hard for them to fear anything else. The way the world works for those who made it work for them is not going to stand forever. The dominators are accountable for the mess they have made and now maintain. We, the children who have turned our hearts to our heavenly parent, are responsible for seeing the snakes for what they are and telling them who they are if God tells us to do so. We can do this because we are not ultimately constricted by their coiling power. Jesus gives us the strength to resist and the hope to restore. 

Malachi finds comfort in the dread he knows the dominators and self-protected religious people feel. That dread means they know they are in danger. Whenever self protecting power raises its head to strike, the rattle of snake-tailed sabers is actually the samba beat of God’s inevitable victory. From long ago God has seen the gripping scales for what they are, and he promised their total destruction.

Suggestions for action

Don’t stay too long in the us/them split here. Self protecting power drives a lot of your actions too. And some of the Pharisees who went out to see John in the desert ended up coming to Jesus (like Nicodemus in John 3). John’s exhortation is not just rhetorical, he wants people to respond, the vipers, too.

What good fruit are you producing? Don’t ask the question like you aren’t. John’s fire could just condemn you, but it was meant for your response, too. Identify your work and apply yourself to it. You can do it.

Pray: Lord, protect me from my self-protection. Give me a taste for the fruit we are producing together.

Bonus: Go back and read the posts on Malachi on Daily Prayer::Water for even more understanding.

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