Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Author: Circle of Hope (page 1 of 362)

January 19, 2020 — The half-hearted saint

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Jonah 4:1-11

 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 

More thoughts for meditation

For all of his adventures, Jonah seems no more a changed man at the end then at the beginning. He accomplished the task given to him, but rather reluctantly. He still seems woefully resistant to understand that grace is a mystery that befuddles our ideas of right and wrong and especially our idea of “deserving.” It is not something that is understood so much as a visitor to whom the door is opened; not so much a puzzle to be figured out as a wind that catches our sail.

I like Jonah for all of his half-heartedness, and I feel like him in my own half-heartedness. Perhaps you do as well. Haven’t we been saved? Haven’t we witnessed miracles? Haven’t we had, at moments anyway, words of power and grace to give to others? And yet, do we not run away instead of sallying forth? Do we not find ourselves sitting at the edge of the cliff, instead of letting ourselves be borne aloft by God’s breath to strange new countries? Can we not hear the worm chewing away at our core? Are we not filled with resentment? Do we not feel ourselves beaten down by the hot sun? We sleep when we should be awake. We bear our cross by necessity and compulsion, instead of by choice and resolve. And yet, it is the half-hearted saint that Jesus points to and says, “This one! He is the one who came closest to understanding. It is the fool Jonah who preached to save the cattle, and not the great king David who is my fore-runner.” David was a great musician; Jonah’s tune was sung rather off-key. But Jonah’s was the tune that was most recognizable to God, who speaks the language of whales and cares about the cows of Nineveh.

Jonah did not for his foolishness and lack of courage get off easy. God didn’t say “well, you tried your best” and give him a free pass. He may have borne his cross reluctantly, but he still bore it and only in bearing it did he come to say “I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me.” If he gets to heaven it will be as we all must, with our many forgiven faults streaming behind us like tin cans clanging in the wind, sounding like a rusty “hallelujah!”

Suggestions for action

We all have impure motives and sometimes half-baked ideas about ourselves and God. Ask Jonah, the half-hearted saint, to pray for you that you would find the strange off-beat paths of grace.

January 18, 2020 — The wideness of mercy

Today’s Bible reading

Read Jonah 3:1-4:3

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying,  “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

More thoughts for meditation

Typically, the reluctant prophet is the one who has a message that people will not heed. Jonah’s reluctance seems ill-founded. In fact, he hardly needs to say anything. He tells them only that doom is forty days away, without explanation, elaboration, or plan of action. The response of the people is immediate. So immediate that by the time the king can get his act together to command people to fast, they’ve already done so. It’s a prophet’s dream, that people would actually care about what you say and change their ways. Even the animals repent! Jonah doesn’t think so. It turns out, the reason for his running away was because he knew the wideness of God’s net, and was afraid that it was big enough to catch a people that he wanted to be left to drown in their own sins. 

Unfortunately, in holding on to that mentality, Jonah unwittingly discovers the one place where there could be a limit to God’s mercy. It seems that the greatest danger is precisely for those who try to put limits on God’s compassion. Those limits will necessarily trace along the limits of our own preferences. This perhaps is what Jesus meant when he spoke of the condemnation that Nineveh will bring about the Pharisee’s generation. It is a condemnation that falls heaviest upon hypocrisy, which almost seems to maintain that God is a God of mercy and love only in order to especially identify those things which stand outside that mercy and love. 

This is not to say that God will not find a way to get Jonah into the net as well, and us to. If He needs to, He will throw us back into the water so He can drag us back out again. It is only to say that we have great powers of resistance to mercy. Whether they will be over-powered by love is not for us to say; our part is only to entrust ourselves to God’s wideness, and pray for all.  

Suggestions for action

Where do you adamantly maintain that God’s mercy is not allowed, whether in yourself or others? You might not know now, but surely you will discover it as you go about your day. When you do discover it, pray that God would teach you the alternate path of mercy. But be patient, this kind of change takes time.

Today is Amy Carmichael day! Visit this missionary ancestor and influential author at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body

January 17, 2020 — Monsters of grace

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Jonah 1:17-2:10

But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

More thoughts for meditation

God makes a provision for Jonah in the form of a giant fish that swallowed him up after the sea did the same. Water in the ancient world was a symbol of chaos, and the great creatures that swam in it were exemplars of this chaos. Such identification is apparent in Jonah’s prayer to God. It is not the belly of the whale that he is in, but the “belly of Sheol,” that is the very depths of the grave, a place beyond God’s blessing.

Yet, there are two curious things about this event, besides the obvious curious thing of being swallowed by a whale. One, it is only in Sheol that Jonah finally heeds the advice the captain of the ship gave him to “call on your god.” Two, even as he does finally pray to God, it is not so that he might not perish, but it is thanksgiving for having been saved. 

A crucial revelation has occurred for Jonah, concerning the nature of Sheol and, by extension, the nature of whales. The monster which lurks in chaos has turned out to be a monster of grace, a revelation which could only occur from within the chaos itself. Jonah lived in fear of God’s grace, and now finds himself swallowed up by it precisely at the point when he considered himself completely lost. But it is in being swallowed up by it that he comes to understand that there are no limits to God’s presence. Even in the grave, God is there.

The sailors did not undergo the same revelation; they saw a man swallowed up by death. In a similar way, centuries later, would the disciples, and everyone else present at the time, only see a man die on a cross. On that side of things they would not see the wonderful paradox of the cross, that the means of death is also the means of deliverance. If the logos, the Word of God, enters the heart of death, death will not survive. Yet, we can not know such a thing except from within the tomb. A passage of sorts is required, into the very seas which frighten us. The forces of chaos tug at our hearts. Shadows speak terror. But another word is also spoken. God speaks to the monsters in our own lives, those things which seem bereft of His presence, and makes of them monsters of grace in which we will meet the God who also went into the depths.

Suggestion for action

All around us are the voices of those who tell us to pray so that we will not perish. Instead, pray that God would show you in the places where you feel yourself perishing the new life that is possible. 

Today is Anthony of Egypt day! Visit the man who made being a monk famous at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

January 16, 2020 — Breathing the salt air

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Jonah 1:7-16

The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.

More thoughts for meditation

The book of Jonah is about resistance to grace. It is about flight. But it is also about the possibility of making a return. It is a story about redemption, which it gives from two perspectives. God’s perspective involves the provision of a whale to rescue Jonah from death; Jonah’s perspective involves the possibility of making the act of moral courage that he was unable to make at the beginning of the story when God called him to preach peace to his enemies. Though he needed to take the long route of repentance, the possibility of turning is always there. 

Jonah’s flight no doubt felt initially like freedom as he enjoyed the open air en route to Tarshish, but his preoccupation with his own safety and comfort ultimately led him to a cramped, narrow room in the hold of a ship. In such a way are the horizons of our lives narrowed when they are bordered by such preoccupations. The room of self-interest is closed tight. In it, the clouds of anxiety and guilt which our brains produce have no open window to escape through and so become a thick fog. In fact, such things as guilt become our obsession. But rather than open the window we try to wave them away with mental promises to “be better” or assurances to others of our awfulness.

In such a state, it is imperative that we see that path of return is possible, though difficult. But the best thing we can do is open a window. Let the objects of our interest expand beyond the limited reach of our own person. Such opening will lead us, if we are patient, out of our cramped room and into the fresh air of reality. It will enable us to breathe the salt air of a wide open sea. It will bring to life in us the possibility of courage and love, the recognition that there is a kind of life that we are called to which includes acts of genuine self-giving. There is a possibility of responsibility to the lives of our brothers and sisters. Love – the best and truest name we have for God – preserves us in a way that we can not preserve ourselves, so that even in giving our lives in small and great ways, we find true life because love itself is our life.  

Suggestions for action

The name of God is love, and “perfect love drives out fear.” Small specific acts of attentiveness to people and things outside of your self are good antidotes to anxiety and guilt. Even just a text saying you are thinking of someone can be a good way to invite the presence of God in to your life through the exercise of love. Make a little brainstorm list of concrete things you can do when you feel stuck in the loop of preoccupation with your self. 

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