Our Refuge - Psalm 91
One way to pray is to make the Scriptures our own by putting them in the first person so that we see how they apply to us. Today let us do that with Psalm 91, the great Psalm of God's protection.
God, you are my refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust. You will save me from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. You will cover me with your feathers and under your wings I will find refuge. Your faithfulness will be my shield and rampart. I will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. Although a thousand may fall at my side, ten thousand at my right hand, it will not come near me. I will only observe with my eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
I make the Most High my dwelling – the Lord, who is my refuge – and no harm will befall me, no disaster will come near my tent. He will command his angels concerning me to guard me in all my ways. They will lift me up in their hands so that I do not strike my foot against a stone. I will tread upon the lion and the cobra; I will trample the great lion and the serpent.
Because I love the Lord He will rescue me. He will protect me because I acknowledge his name. I will call upon him and he will answer me. He will be with me in trouble. He will deliver me and honor me. He will give me long life and salvation.
The Second Half
Last weekend I attended a conference titled "Women on the Front Lines." Two of the speakers, Patricia King and Clarice Fluitt, are not only pastors but professional motivational speakers. They combined preaching the Gospel with motivating the attendees to do something about it. This is ongoing evangelization at its finest.
Many of the people there, like me, are in what might be called "the second half of life." Of course, we don't really know how long we are going to live, so we don't know exactly when our second half starts, but we can assume that at 50 we are beginning that second half. Both women urged us not to slow down, not to retire, not to think that our work with and for God is finished just because we are over 50.
Patricia told us that at the age of 50 she had never written a book. Now she has written 35. She started her own publishing company and media enterprise after the age of 50. She is still creating, still dreaming, still going with God. She is enjoying her life, her children and her grandchildren. She plans to "die with her boots on" whenever God calls her home. But in the meantime she is actively pursuing the plans God has for her.
For Reflection: Have I taken on a retirement mentality? Have I decided that God is through with me? Or that I am finished with God?
Let us pray. God, I agree with your word, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). I declare that I am strong in you and in the strength of your might and in your love.
Tear This Wall Down?
"Tear down this wall," President Ronald Reagan famously challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with reference to the Berlin Wall. Later the wall, indeed, did come down. But while that physical wall being torn down was a good thing, Paul warns us not to tear down the spiritual walls that we are as the church of Christ.
In the successor to the farming analogy that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3, he compares disciples of Jesus to a building with Christ as the foundation (vv. 10-17). We are the building blocks forming the walls standing on the foundation of Jesus Christ. As such, we are the temple and no one should tear us down.
Paul wasn't speaking of outsiders tearing down the church when he wrote these words. He was speaking of the fellow members who were tearing each other down with their words, berating and accusing one another. We should not trash each other. Yet often that is what we church members do with our gossip, babble and criticism.
Let us rather, as St. Paul so often exhorts us, build one another up, encourage one another, and pray for our leaders.
For Reflection: How have I spoken of others/the pastor in my church? How have I encouraged them?
Let us pray. Jesus, help me to repair the reputations of those I have trashed. And help me to hold my tongue when a thought is better left unsaid. I want to pray for the people I know rather than criticize them.
Setting and Re-Setting Goals
Have we already lost track of our New Year's resolutions? It is never too late to start again no matter how many times we have to start over. If the goal was worth setting, then it is worth re-setting. Putting reminders for ourselves where we will see them doesn't hurt either.
For example, if one of your goals was to read Scripture more often, try putting a Bible where you will see it. Put one on your bedside table, one by that comfortable chair in the living room where you sit to watch TV, and even one in the bathroom. Many of my friends have sticky notes with short Scriptures on them stuck to the car dashboard, the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror. These are Scriptures they want to remember, memorize and get into their spirit.
Another tactic is to give someone else permission to ask you questions about your goal. Have them call you (daily? weekly?) and ask you, "Did you read Scripture yesterday?" "Did you eat right?" "Did you make it to the gym?" "Did you work on your book this week?" Making ourselves accountable to someone else about our goal, whatever it is, is one way to help us develop the habit of working toward that goal on a daily basis.
For Reflection: Sunday is the Lord's day. What did I do yesterday to keep the Lord's day holy?
Let us pray. Jesus, I know I'm not perfect at growing in the ways you want me to grow. I want to develop these good habits. Help me to set reminders for myself and to choose someone to help hold me accountable for achieving the goals that you and I have set.
Letters of Recommendation
"You yourselves are our letter (of recommendation), written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
Paul could be quite the lyrical writer when offering encouragement and praise to the members of the church. So what is this idea of Christians being a "letter of recommendation?" Paul meant that when people saw the Christians of the local church who had been taught in the faith by Paul and his companions, their lives reflected on him, on the quality of his teaching and formation in the faith.
Paul was a teacher and evangelist. His students lived (and traveled) throughout the Mediterranean world. They were a reflection on the value, the thoroughness, the expertise of his teaching. There was no "standardized test" for being a Christian. Paul couldn't "teach to the test." He could only teach to their hearts and hope that his teachings were written there, on their hearts, as God has written his commandments on the stones at Mt. Sinai. And Paul is obviously satisfied that he has met that test - he has touched their hearts and they provide excellent letters of recommendation for him and his ministry.
For Reflection: There is an old saying: "Everything we do teaches." All of us teach in some way - whether we teach formally in a school setting, or at home with our children, or in the marketplace. People are always observing us. What type of letter of recommendation are we for those who taught us and, ultimately, for Jesus?
Let us pray. Jesus, I thank you for my parents, teachers and pastors and all who taught me to know you, the living and true God. I strive to be a good letter of recommendation for them and for you. May I always reflect you well in all that I do.
A New Creation
On Monday I mentioned thinking and making positive statements about ourselves. I wasn't thinking about making just any positive statement about ourselves. We could say for years that we are excellent car mechanics, but, if we know nothing about cars, saying it doesn't make it come true. No, the statements I envisioned are based in Scripture.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (See also Galatians 6:15.) Therefore, if we are "in Christ", if we are baptized, we are a new creation. So, let us say, "I am a new creation." We can also say, "The old me has passed away, the new me has come!"
Let us pray. Jesus, I thank you for making me a new creation through baptism. I thank you that the old me has passed away and the new has come. With you all good things are possible.
In his final words about the resurrection of the dead and the return of Christ, Paul says to the Thessalonians that the day of judgment should not surprise them life a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:5). In saying this, Paul does not mean that Christ's followers will not be surprised because they will know the day in advance but that they will not be surprised because they are always ready. In fact, Paul himself seems to think that the Lord will return soon. Yet here we are.
And so we are to encourage one another to always be ready because the Lord Jesus could return at any moment. Paul instructs us to warn the idle, encourage the timid, help the weak and be patient and kind with all (5:14-15).
For Reflection: While we wait for the coming of the Lord, how are we spending our time? Are we in right relationship with God and others? Is there anyone with whom we need to be reconciled? If He returned tonight, would we be ready?
Sunshine on a Cloudy Day
After Paul and Silas left Thessalonica they tried repeatedly to return to the young church there. But, Paul says, "Satan stopped us" (1 Thess 2:18). He is not specific about how Satan stopped them. Perhaps it was the persecution, threats from the authorities, illness or some direct attack by Satan; we don't know. Nevertheless, Paul has hope and joy just thinking about the Thessalonians. It gave him great joy just to remember how they had received the gospel, how they had turned from idol worship to worshiping the one true God, how they had stood under persecution. Paul's reward in life and before God was knowing that he had brought people to Christ. That was his hope, his joy, his glory. No matter what came against him in life, no one could take away what God had done through him - the salvation of more people for the kingdom.
For Reflection: What is keeping me from remembering the great things God has done?
Let us pray. What can keep us from recalling the great works of God? Sickness or depression? Persecution or danger? Loss of job? Criticism by a loved one? No, we are more than conquerors through Jesus. Nothing in creation can separate us from God's love. Jesus, you are my sunshine on every cloudy day (based on Romans 8:35-36).
Faith, Hope, Love, Encouragement
Paul always began his letters with greetings and thanksgivings. His first letter to the people in Thessalonica is no exception. The purpose of the letter is to answer the questions of this young church but he begins with praise and encouragement. Paul assures them that he is constantly praying for them for he knows that they live in a city that is an international trading center with many non-Christian influences in their daily lives. Paul also knows that they have been under persecution because he himself had to flee not that long before he sent this letter back to them.
And what does Paul recall about them? Their work produced by faith, their labor prompted by love, and their endurance inspired by hope in Jesus (1 Thess 1:3; see also 1 Corinthians 13:3). Faith, hope and love are the three theological virtues, supernatural virtues, given by God to help us live the Christian life, growing in love with God and others. Paul is commending them for already growing in these virtues even as a young church.
For Reflection: Who needs to hear some praise and encouragement today? Could I be commended for my work produced by faith, my labor prompted by love and endurance inspired by hope in Jesus?
Let us pray. Father, I thank you for my family and friends who encourage me. I thank you particularly for those who encourage me in faith, prompt me to love and inspire me to hope.
Jesus proclaimed his marching orders when he stood up in the temple of Nazareth and read from Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19).
These are the orders given to him by the Father and enabled by the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew why he was sent. He had a mission, a purpose. He also had help. He had his Father's authority behind him and Holy Spirit with him always. He embodied the Trinity. He was never alone in living out and accomplishing his mission.
For Reflection: If Jesus needed the Father's authority and the Spirit's anointing, how can we expect to get by without them?
Let us pray. Jesus, I see the mission you had and I want to follow your example. I too need the Father's authority and the Spirit's anointing. I want to embody the Trinity to the extent that I can because there are still people who have not heard the good news, who have not been set free, who have not been healed, who do not know of your favor. I need your help to walk in your footsteps and continue your mission of bringing the kingdom of God on earth.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.