Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

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November 15, 2020 — Naboth’s vineyard

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read I Kings 21:1-29

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying:  Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”

More thoughts for meditation

Much could be said about Ahab’s sin, the way it was conceived in desire, nurtured with resentment, and birthed by lies. Perhaps we see the same sins being committed against the poor and powerless today, or know ourselves beset by the temptation to take what we want by force or deception. Jezebel asks Ahab, “do you now govern Israel?” Or, in other words, you’re a king, so act like one. Want a vineyard? Take it. Notice that she doesn’t come right and say it. It is a mere suggestion, something which might cause his ego to doubt its power, and then to prove it by having Naboth killed and appropriating the vineyard.

Ahab has been trapped by his greed. This is not made apparent until he is confronted by Elijah. “You have sold yourself to do what is evil,” Elijah says. In other words, in reaching out and taking, it is actually Ahab who has been taken possession of, not the vineyard. Greed became his master, and to satisfy its appetite he sold all that was reasonable and sane within him, any ability to judge rightly between good and evil. 

Naboth, on the other hand, suggests a very different way to think about what we own. He enjoys the vineyard, only because he situates his ownership of it in a larger moral order. It is not really his, it belongs to his family, and therefore he does not have the authority to sell it. This is more than only a sentimental attachment, it is connecting his ownership to a larger web of kinship and belonging. 

Suggestions for action

Pray: We cry out against abuse of power that privileges the desires of the rich over the good of the poor. Even when the mighty are toppled and receive their just deserts, it does not satisfy the wrong they have done. We look to You, O Lord, to make this world right.

Show me how I belong in this world, that I may rightly use what I have been given for Your glory and for the good of myself and others.

November 14, 2020 — The word in the silence

Today’s Bible reading

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” — I Kings 19:11-18

More thoughts for meditation

It is profound that God was only found in the “sound of sheer silence.” God is great, so we imagine that He will be in powerful things like earthquakes, fire, and windstorms. The story of Elijah, however, is a story about power – what it is, and who really has it. The things which seem to be powerful, like kings and storm gods, turn out to not have power. No doubt this is a word that Elijah needed to hear at this particular moment, pursued as he was by powerful entities. 

Like Elijah, we might need to sift through the noise in order to find the word that is disclosed in the silence. Some of the noise is outside of us, people and institutions that throw their heft around and hound those who have no power. Some of the noise is inside of us, in the form of anxieties and fears. As we do, we can trust that God will speak to us in the manner that we need, to address the fears that confront us in the situation we are in. 

Suggestions for action

Pray: Lord, speak to me in the silence. Give me a word that is more powerful than fear.

November 13, 2020 — The negation of negation

Today’s Bible reading

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. — I Kings 19:1-8

More thoughts for meditation

I think this text is remarkable, because it ends with Elijah drawing near to the mountain of the Lord, but it does not start that way at all. It starts with fear: a man running for his life. Such do many of our transformations begin. Not literally of course, but with a disruption to our status quo that in some manner upends our idea of what normal is. Such disruptions often bring with them an awareness of what James Loder calls the void: sources of meaninglessness, loneliness, negation, and non-being. Often these disruptions are circumstantial events that our normal frames of references are insufficient to make meaning of. Like Elijah, our experience is that of being alone in the wilderness. The pain of loneliness leads to despair. He can only offer a negation of his experience. “It is enough.” “I am not better than my ancestors.” “Take away my life.” 

Outwardly, Elijah asks God to end his misery, which seemed to him to be a fitting way to end his suffering. But then, he falls asleep. No doubt this felt to him like a final act resignation. It was the end of his strength. I think it was also an act of putting himself in God’s hands. It was at such a moment of vulnerability that the unbidden guest came bearing the food that he would need to make the difficult journey. The text ends with Elijah drawing near to the mountain of God, where he would receive a word in the silence that negates his negation. 

Suggestions for action

What do you need to be saved from? What are you afraid of? Name your fear to God. By drawing near to the sources of our despair, we draw near also to God. She sees us and knows what we are going through. What would it take to trust enough to fall asleep and let God give you what you need?

November 12, 2020 — What is the sacrifice the Lord requires?

Today’s Bible reading and a excerpt

Read I Kings 18:20-47

Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.

More thoughts for meditation

The text is organized around two different acts of worship. First, we see the priests of Baal cut themselves in an effort to invoke the power of the god after their prayers are unanswered. The text shows the futility of such a sacrifice. It is also a chilling image of the consequences of misdirected worship. The logic of blood sacrifice leads them to offer their own in hopes of affecting some change. 

When Elijah has his turn, he does a curious thing. He asks the people present to douse the altar with water, once, twice, even three times. Now remember, they were in the middle of a terrible drought at the time. This was not an insignificant thing to ask them to do. They sacrificed something that was precious at that time: the water they needed to survive.

What was the difference between the two sacrifices, the sacrifice of blood and the sacrifice of water? Why should we say that one is acceptable, and the other is not? 

We might notice first that the sacrifices are offered in two different manners. The priests give their blood out of spontaneous desperation and frenzy. The water is given in deliberation, sobriety, and obedience to the word of the prophet. The pouring of water on the altar is also at cross-purposes with the outcome, which directs attention to the act of obedience that it represents. 

The way the offering of water is answered is also of importance. What the people gave up – water – is returned to them in the form of rain. I want to suggest that the sacrifice that God asks us to give up has the purpose of drawing us into a relationship of love and trust with Him. A sacrifice only has meaning in a larger context of trust and vulnerability. It is not one that diminishes our personhood or saps us of our vitality, but one which enables us to receive from Jesus what we need for our genuine spiritual growth. 

Suggestions for action

This suggests a principle of discernment when it comes to sacrifice, whether we are being asked to give something precious away, something we want to do entails giving something else up, or we just feel like we are being drained dry by our commitments. The question we might ask is, “how does this sacrifice support my growth? Does it? What kind of possibilities might it open up for how I envision God?”   

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