Tag Archives: Devotional writing

Light Within

Luke 11:35-36

 

Luke 11:35-36

See to it that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your body is full of light and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp is upon you.

I spent this summer having eye surgery. I did not get much writing done because my eyes got tired very easily. However, I never lost the ability to see well enough to read music and play piano except for the actual recovery time. For you see, I had developed a cataract in my right eye so thick and opaque light was no longer able to get into the eye. As soon as that was removed, and even before the eye healed, the amount of light that was suddenly flowing through the eye nearly restored my vision to my mid twenty’s level.

I began to have a new idea about the ‘light’ scriptures. This particular one talks about our whole life being lit if Christ’s light is in our life. Another scripture speaks of the eyes being the source of light for the whole body, referring to our soul being lit with Christ’s light results in our whole life being filled with light.

My doctor promised color would come alive again, and indeed it has. “Great vision is ahead for you!” I hardly believed him. But I could begin to believe as the light streaming into my eye for the first time in years became tolerable and vision cleared through healing. Most of that had happened even before I had surgery on the second eye.  

The lessons God has reminded me of start with the fact of my unawareness of what was happening. Quite a while ago, I was informed that cataracts were beginning to form, but it would be decades before I would even know they were there.  It has not been decades, but even at that I could not tell I was losing my awareness of bright colors. Just in the last two years have I gotten worried about my vision. Still I could not believe a cataract of such severe nature snuck up on me.

And the faith lesson is obvious. We drift away from God, really quite unaware our spiritual awareness has dimmed. Then something happens and we turn, hands out and blindly feel for God. Darkness has crept into our lives as we compromise with the darkness around us. What that looks like for each of us is different.  Sometimes we have sunken so low we can no longer believe change is possible. We can’t get a grip on God’s love, presence, and constant forgiving grace. Sometimes we even quit believing.

The light of life is gone.

I had not realized how tentative my life had become as I automatically adjusted to limitations. I no longer enjoyed driving and getting out by myself. I, unthinking, turned down opportunities to play piano because confidence faltered. I assumed it was all stress and the need for rest as my life’s situation had changed. That was partly true, but now I see, I just could not read music fast enough to keep up. God did use that to force me to get very much-needed rest, but once I could see better, confidence returned.

And, as we put out blind hands and encounter God, life slowly returns. Then, one day, full life is again possible. Christ’s light comes back into our souls, and once again we have light to shine onto those around us who look to us for illumination.

Of course, the answer to that is always be aware of and take care of things as they come into our lives. I had indeed taken steps to keep cataract development slow. I addressed the sugar thing that was heading toward diabetes and other physical things that are known to foster eye problems, yet I wasn’t quick enough. And as humans, we get sidetracked, by even good things, so easily. May God help us to identify those distractions as they are beginning to get the upper hand instead of waiting until we have lost the light from our spiritual eyes.

 

So, Remind Me, Why Do I Need God?

 

Psalm 107: 26b-29
…In their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunkards: they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, And he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were made calm.
Romans 8:26
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

“Life is so complicated today people snap.” I’ve said that many times when I have heard some of the awful things people who, otherwise seem normal, have done to each other.
Coping is something we have become masters at. We smile and say we are fine when our families are quietly falling apart. We tell ourselves ‘it doesn’t matter’ when whatever it was matters a great deal. And we go on to the next thing in life without acknowledging, confronting, giving it to God and solving whatever the conflict or hurt or pain was.

Often it’s just life that piles up on us. We don’t feel overwhelmed as we go but and we just let things pile up, accumulating baggage. We continue that way, coping without resolution, until we suddenly find ourselves at wits’ end.  Some people ‘snap,’ some fall into addiction, some become clinically depressed, and sometimes mental instability sets in. Others retreat from reality to lose themselves in music, writing, and other arts. Sometimes we even use service to God and others as coping mechanisms.

However, there are other times when sorrows and life’s problems suddenly overwhelm us. One minute we are coping and the next the phone rings or cars crash and our whole life is never the same.
Either way, the gradual accumulation of baggage or instant sorrow, we end up reeling and staggering under the load at our wits’ end. Simply put, we burn out.

When we come to the end of our wits we most often draw from our own wisdom and strength to gather ourselves as problem solvers. Yet there is a time when we come even to the end of our wisdom.
We need God because everyone eventually comes to the end of our wits and wisdom.

Yes, we like to deny it. Yes, we keep coping, slogging through life, reading self-help books, not sleeping and worrying. And all the time we are complaining about small things, and afraid to address the real cause. We need help.
And the God, who knows us inside and out, who loves us and cares about us, has not left us while we were trying to do it all on our own. When we have tried everything, done everything, said everything, and we don’t even know how to pray, or where to start, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, tells God what we need and God goes into action.

What God would really like us to do is turn to him and unburden ourselves as we go, working through the pain on a daily basis. Then when the phone call comes or things crash, we don’t waste emotional and spiritual time blindly staggering around, crying “God, where are you? Are you there?”   We can immediately breath a prayer and God stills the storm to a whisper and makes the waves of the sea of distress calm.

Why do I need God? Because life is full of crashing storms and wild seas.

And so I pray:
God, I want to be so close to you I can just breathe a sigh of a prayer and have given the problems and hurts to you as I encounter them. I realize I am not there. Help me renew my relationship with you every day so it grows to the place my first reaction will be to ask for your help first. Then, with a quiet soul, I can face each new storm.

Lament

As I am writing a 365 day devotional book, I come across some things that signaled a change in my way of thinking. At a time I was angry with God, I discovered I could yell at God and he would not throw me out. That was very freeing. The other thing I discovered at the same time was I could be angry at God, but at the same time realize he is my only place to go for a help. It was odd, but was wonderful. This is from several years back….but I hope it blesses you. Jo Bower

A Lament
Following Jeremiah’s Tradition

Psalm 73:21-26
At one time my heart was sad
and my spirit was bitter.
22 I didn’t have any sense. I didn’t know anything.
I acted like a wild animal toward you.
23 But I am always with you.
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You give me wise advice to guide me.
And when I die, you will take me away
into the glory of heaven.
25 I don’t have anyone in heaven but you.
I don’t want anything on earth besides you.
26 My body and my heart may grow weak.
God, you give strength to my heart.
You are everything I will ever need.

 

I cry to my Lord:  You have shown me your hand. But not the fingers of your blessed caress. I feel the backside of your hand. And it knocked me down.  The opportunity you led me to believe you sent which caused great joy in myself – and all I know as we praised your name – has collapsed.  And you let it collapse.

Through all my prayers and hope and gratitude 0f how far you’d brought me, you still let it collapse.  So be it. But it’s not just all right. I’m not skipping over this with blithe remarks about God’s will be done or it’s fine. You did it And I’m deeply angry with you. What would it have hurt? Just what did I do so wrong?  Yet, hope sneaks back almost undetectable. Then it rushes to the surface. And I resist it. Hope has just led to heartbreak.

Yet I can’t help it.  It has far more resiliency than ever imagined. Why can’t it stay until I’m ready to embrace it?  I’m not yet deserted. God, you are still with me.  It is from that indisputable fact that my hope finds its origin.
Still I hesitate. Questions remain. Was it an exercise of futility fed by my need to be someone? Did I run ahead of you? Am I to pursue the dream, and so, in what direction?

Obviously positive thinking and belief alone does not always bring reality to its knees. It has brought me to mine. So much for motivational speakers.  I can’t help but feel the dream is not dead, Perhaps just postponed. But before I take it up again,  you will have to bring me to full knowledge of your hope.

But strangely, I believe all these things. I’m just fearful of letting go again. Fearful of letting hope poke its head from under the covers I tossed over it.

God, on a positive note, I have been released from a total obsession that had begun to rule my life. I’m not sure what the obsession was, 0r if it was helpful or harmful. But something was pressing down on me.  Was it that I was being driven to work on one activity to the exclusion of joy coming from other activities? Was it the fear of failure, of acceptance and criticism, or the fear of success?  Whatever it was, I thank you for deliverance.

I was down so far only you could rescue me.  Don’t let me fall back into that pit.  Help me pick up, follow the opportunities you do send . . . and know what direction you direct now. Thank you for not leaving me in my time of anger.

I will again praise your name, in a different way than before, but I will praise you.  You enabled my survival.

What the World Needs

Us. That’s what the world needs.
We who have learned fractious living is unproductive.
We who have learned there is a time and place to give voice to our inner critic.
We who tire of both extremes insisting they are the only proper and right choice.
We who are adopting peacemaking as life’s philosophy.
We who share grace instead of insults in life’s stress filled moments.

You. That’s what the world needs.
Your individual voice that soothes your world’s hurts.
You who rub balm instead of salt into open wounds.
You who understand just because you know gossip doesn’t mean you have to share it.
You who are aware of and mindful of other’s feelings and reactions.
You who, by example, can teach our world about balance.

Me. That’s what the world needs.
Me, who God has redeemed and refined to reflect who God is.
Me, who has dedicated talents and self to God’s expression.
Me, who can change the atmosphere in which I dwell by sharing the quiet joy of God.
Me, who can make a difference in the world when I give that which makes me unique.
Me, who the Holy Spirit empowers me so others can see God.

God’s People. That’s what the world needs.
God’s people to be present and active.
God’s people to step up and be the means of Grace for a fractured world.
God’s people to give positive input instead of dropping out and criticizing.
God’s people’s witness to build-up, and not tear down.
God’s people to face reality but re-enforce good, wherever it is found.

And so I pray:
God, I realize the world needs more than one word solutions. It’s not a simple world we live in, and we have left you out. Help me be part the positive movement leading the way back to you as our world begins to realize what we have is not working. But to do that, help me live each day in your presence and be a reflection of you in the part of the world you have put me in.

Come

Come, you who have written off Christmas

As a useless commercial, greedy,

Networking through-giving-the-right-gift-to-the-right person,

And raking in all you can get celebration.

 

Come, you who weary of trying to please,

Or gain approval of the people who depend on you

And who you love with all your heart,

By providing the perfect holiday experience.

 

Come, you who refuse to celebrate because you believe

It’s the wrong time of the year,

Or merely the ancient believers’ redemption of an old pagan worship day

Was merely the early Christians’ effort to wrestle dominance from other belief systems.

 

Come, you who cannot see beyond the secular celebrations

Of Santa, elves, goodwill, and tender made for TV movies.

Who, when you have outgrown those things,

No longer find meaning in the celebration.

 

Come, discover the simple, uncomplicated,

Love motivated, God-initiated gift that began all this.

And as humans, we’ve turned it into madness as we, as usual,

Have gotten things backwards, and put the emphasis on the wrong things.

 

Come, return to the celebration

Of a loving Creator longing for a relationship with the people of his creation.

Of that same Spirit of power and might giving that most precious son

To humanity as the example of God, the Father’s, existance and scope of love.

 

Come to the celebration,

Not of the date, or of merely the traditions, or the giving and receiving,

Not merely the spirit of Christmastide’s goodwill,

But of the eternal love that prompted that first gift of a baby named Jesus.

 

So, come, put it all aside:

The studies that tells us what we’ve gotten wrong,

The disapproval of what the season has become,

And celebrate, with heart, mind, and spirit, the gift that changed the meaning of giving.

Seeking and Accepting

Acts 17:26-28 NIRV

                    From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live. God did this so that people would seek him. Then perhaps they would reach out for him and find him. They would find him even though he is not far from any of us.  ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have also said, ‘We are his children.’

 

  • So again I prayed, desperately seeking God’s presence. And in today’s language that is the accepted language and thought pattern. It implies digging through, creating a path, tossing out distractions, and extreme, concentrated effort. So, I approach God that way – as if it is a painful, birth process.

In Acts 17, Paul lists what all God does just to get us to seek him. Somewhere in my reading I came across this idea:

                        Maybe seeking is not just my responsibility alone

                        What if I have taken on a responsibility

                        That is not totally mine to work out?

                        What if seeking is not such hard work?

                        What if seeking God is as easy as turning my face (attention) towards him?

And perhaps the desperate seeking could end when I realize God is seeking me with the same concern I am seeking him. Perhaps I don’t need to seek out the perfect meeting place, find the perfect attitude or create the perfect atmosphere.

Perhaps grace is not so much sought as much as it is applied.

                        Perhaps it’s not so much about desperately searching for God’s will

                        As it is learning to understand our gifts,

                        See the opening doors, and recognize opportunities presented

                        As invitations to fulfill God’s will.

                        Perhaps living a Christian life is about accepting Christ first,

                        Then spending our lives learning to see God at work.

                        Perhaps I do not grow because I do not see where God’s work needs my gifts.

So today I stopped working at seeking and turned my face towards God. And found God looking me straight in the eyes.

“Ah.” He gestured toward the waiting table laden with bread and drink.

“You’re here. Have a seat.

“What’s on your mind?

“Would you like a drink of living water?”

Give Us This Day

Matthew 6:11

Give us this day our daily bread,

 

For years I have prayed for people by making lists of the things I thought they needed.

And when I finished the list, I didn’t know how to continue praying for them. The other day I came across a new idea from the scripture as this verse from the Lord’s Prayer jumped out at me.

I suddenly realized I’ve wandered from the idea of God giving us what we need. I find this idea fascinating and have written about it before. But I have not applied the idea to prayer.

I imagined someone for whom I pray regularly. I could not know everything they might do in one day. I could not come up with a list of things I thought they might need for the day. This scripture suggested I pray that God would fill in the needs.

So, I began to pray for their health and needs and moved to asking God to give them whatever they needed for that day.

I was reminded that we don’t need the same things every day. One day I need courage and the next I need hope. Unless I call and request you to pray for certain things, you don’t really know what I need, but God does. And when I pray ‘God, give them everything they need for today,’ he goes into action.

That is so simple, yet so deep. Everything you need. I really like it. It comforts me and helps my worry that I am not praying for the right things for you, yet I am praying more specific than ‘help her/him/them.’

Give them everything they need for today. And tomorrow I pray for that day.

And when we need wisdom in making decisions that will affect the future, God sends the kind of help we need to make the best decision today.

Tomorrow we will pray for what we need and God sends what we need to follow through .

A New Dictionary

I sometimes struggle with the basic religious language in today’s way of thinking. I hear it in secular productions – books too – the terminology of worship. But the ‘one’ they worship turns out to be men, ‘false gods’ or cultic.

As a result, I sometimes struggle with terms like surrender, giving oneself up for God, giving everything to God, live for the glory of God, and righteous. They are often presented as unreasonable demands of false gods.

I realize these terms have been taken from the Christian dictionary. But I’m afraid when I talk about them I end up sounding like the fantasy/magical culture of today. And the non-religious already have trouble understanding our intent.

I ask God help to find new ways to express the concepts to kids and people who see the fantasy, and lead them to the God of all gods. I feel like I’m starting all over. Perhaps we are back to the many gods culture of Paul’s time.

In my own personal relationship with God, I realize I cannot avoid these concepts for myself. I find myself stepping back before I remember they borrowed our dictionary, I didn’t borrow theirs. They are valid concepts for me.

There is a difference I need to remember: magic/fanciful false gods end up being selfish, with self-serving motives. People end up being mere tools for accomplishing goals. In the end, all the pretty words are harmful.

On the other hand, the end results of God’s words, are aimed at redemption. Of preserving and transforming me into my best, and helping others find their path to God. Not making everyone into ‘little gods,’ but people who know God.

The way our secular thought uses worship is giving one’s self up for God. But its tone is negative…. The person is gone…. Really gone. But in the Christian’s experience, there’s something mysterious about it.

The self we offer in worship takes a risk because of trust, and is not lost, but returned to us as a transformed, beautified person.

 

 

 

 

 

ON THE WAY

Matthew 9:18 – 22 (NIV)

18 While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.”19 Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.

 

On his way to another healing Jesus was interrupted.

On his way to helping someone, another asked for help.

His thoughts were focused ahead to the one at his destination

But as he went he stopped and helped the woman in front of him.

 

Some became impatient.

Some were puzzled.

Very few knew what was happening.

But she did – and so did Jesus.

 

Some also have suggested the scriptures at the end of the gospels

That say go ye to all the world….

Are better understood as saying

As you go to all the world, take the good news with you.

 

On the way to work or play, or eat out or meet your accountant,

One the way to funerals, or weddings, or births, or the hairdresser,

One the way to your desk, or worship, to serve or be served,

Stop and see the person in front of you.

 

See the person whose stress shows.

See the person who just needs a listener.

See the person who faces a challenge.

See the person who needs something you can supply.

 

A smile, shared laugh, a pen, a few extra dollars, a word of appreciation,

Your jacket, the ability to pick up a dropped item, a hand to open a door.

A push so someone’s shopping cart, a word of encouragement,

Better yet, recognize the person brimming over with good news – celebrate with them!

 

As you go along your way,

Take the good news of God’s presence in the world with you.

Scatter blessings and be the reminder things can be different

Remind people all is not negative, cold or impersonal by being personal, warm and positive.

 

The conversation between Jesus and the woman he healed on his way to another healing

Took but a few minutes – perhaps he had stopped to let someone pass,

Or got slowed down by the traffic and she took advantage of the moment to touch him,

But her courage and his response changed her life and leaves us with this reminder.

 

As you go,

On the way to the next thing, when you get slowed down,

Don’t forget to respond to the person in front of you.

When they are in need, or reach out – reach back.

 

Additional reference:

Matthew 28:19

New International Version (NIV)

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, 

baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

 

 

Perspectives

It is a fact of nature that big things come from small.
Trees and adults alike start as seeds and embryos.
Songs are often born of feelings, poems of a passing conversation
And many a good marriage is born of a smile.

God help me remember who I am today didn’t happen just yesterday.
Yet what I am tomorrow is happening today.
That seems a contradiction, but life is made up of small steps.
Daily reactions and decisions from the situations you put me in.

Help me be sensitive to your leading in small things,
The way I react to a person, what I say to him or her,
How I decide to act on any given situation
Can begin molding my character and determine opportunities for witness.

Planning and looking to the future are good and necessary.
But help me attend to the sacredness of daily growth.
Give me wisdom to identify and implant the best daily activities
For me to grow into what you have for me in the future.

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