The Full Experience

Psalm 84:10-12

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
    happy is everyone who trusts in you.

As short as Psalm 84 is, I want to focus on just the closing verses today. Nothing blesses us like the presence of God. Absolutely nothing.

If we could fully grasp this truth and live it out each day, most of our problems would vanish. Idolatry in all its forms, ancient and new, would be a thing of the past. Making a list of priorities would be the simplest act we would ever undertake.

The briefest moment in God’s full presence would transcend time and space, giving us a sense of what eternity is really all about. The substance of our more mundane moments would be altered in ways we can barely imagine.

No wonder the psalmist is willing to simply hang out near the door. Such proximity to God offers safety, as evil will never come near such a place. The tents of wickedness are lovely, even beautiful, but what is inside them is the opposite of what’s across that threshold.

The temple this psalm evokes is gone, but we don’t need it anymore. The presence of God is available in those places God has said we will be met: in prayer, in God’s holy word, in worship and in fellowship with committed Christians. God’s Spirit inhabits all these places, awaiting us.

Don’t just stand at the threshold. Step in!

Lord, may this season of Lent renew our desire to be in your presence, a possibility made so easy by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Living Stones

1 Peter 2:4-5 (NRSV): Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.


These two verses serve as a meditation point regarding our role in Christ’s church. I’m going to raise some questions, and we can each seek our own answers.

What does it mean to be a “living stone”?

What sort of usefulness do I provide to Christ’s spiritual house?

How do living stones work together, and how well am I working with the ones around me to support and build the house?

What does it mean to think of Jesus Christ as the cornerstone? How does that truth define my role?

The metaphor shifts to that of “priesthood.” What does it take for a group of people to act as priests to the world, and how does that concept tie to the “spiritual house”?

What spiritual sacrifices have we made, and must we still make?

Lord, may the answers we find today move us toward holy action. Amen.

Fight My Enemies

“The Angel Michael Binding Satan,” W. Blake, circa 1805

Psalm 35:1-10

I hope you’ll take time to read these verses from Psalm 35, which can be found by clicking the above link. You can examine the psalm in different translations, if you want.

If you are someone who believes others are working against you, acting as your enemies, this psalm makes an excellent prayer to God for assistance. It creates a stirring mental picture when read; imagine the eternally powerful and wise Lord of All arming himself for battle and coming to your aid.

A word of caution, though. Praying this psalm is no magic trick, no casual incantation. Our God cannot be trapped and contained the way people believed (and still believe) pagan, little “g” gods can be controlled.

There are some serious actions that must accompany such a prayer. First and foremost, people who would lift it need to do some deep soul-searching, examining whether they have aligned themselves with the Lord. Scripture would be their best source of guidance, of course. Is what they desire precisely what God desires?

Do their tormentors, as unrighteous as they may seem, have anything resembling a valid point to make? Might they, too, be in at least partial agreement with God, and might that mean there is a place for reconciliation, for middle ground?

As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10-12, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”

We are all dependent on Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for salvation. Any righteousness we have flows from our belief in the cross. Any success we might have in praying this Psalm 35 prayer would be rooted in our faith, and a willingness to also pray for our enemies, just as Jesus taught us.

Dear Lord, as we meditate on our relationship with you, may we find ways to escape hostility and be rejoined to our enemies, seeking peace. Amen.

Silence

Psalm 62:5-12  (NRSV)
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah
Those of low estate are but a breath,
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
    and set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
     and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
    according to their work.

Silence.  

It is possible to have silence during worship.  After hearing the joys and concerns of the congregation, I like to begin the pastoral prayer with silence.  There is something about a congregation quieting themselves before God.  When our week has been hectic and uncertain, waiting together to hear from the Lord is beneficial.

No matter whether we are of low or high estate, it is helpful to be silent before God.  To know the power and steadfast love that belongs to God, is for us to know that God is our rock and salvation.  We take a “Selah,” an interlude.  Humbling ourselves, examining our lives, or taking a moment to pause, are what can happen in the silence we have before the God.  Maybe in the silence, we can hear God, again.

God, we know you as our refuge.  The psalmist knew setting aside time in silence was good.  We are learning to be in silence.  As we turn to you, may we once again hear you speak to us.  Thank you for being our rock and salvation.  It is in the name of Jesus that we hope to be found when you repay all of us according to our work.  Amen.

Fate of a Nation

Job 12:23-25 (NRSV)

He makes nations great, then destroys them;
    he enlarges nations, then leads them away.
He strips understanding from the leaders of the earth,
    and makes them wander in a pathless waste.
They grope in the dark without light;
    he makes them stagger like a drunkard.

Having watched the news yesterday, all I can do is offer a lament and a prayer for this morning.

My lament is this:

Like Job, I believe God takes a very active hand in what happens to the nations of this earth. The world remains a broken, confusing place, and we can find God inscrutable at times. It is, however, better for a nation to be aligned with God than indifferent to God or against God. A nation made up of people seeking God’s will should, for the most part, experience blessings and peace.

We find ourselves far from feeling blessed or at peace. That alone should tell us something is wrong with our national relationship with God. Not all Americans are Christian, and being Christian is not a requirement to be an American. But enough of us call ourselves Christian that our beliefs should be having more of an impact on national events.

Deliberate efforts to manipulate people with misinformation have triggered anger and fear in a significant part of the population, driving yesterday’s events. Such tactics do not align with Jesus Christ’s teachings or with thoughtful Christianity, where truth and a desire for peace should reign.

Let’s never forget Jesus’ warnings regarding the danger of acting in anger, or his repeated post-resurrection statement, “Fear not.” What have we to fear, knowing Christ has died for us, knowing his power is within us?

I am convinced that current events are a result of declining Christian evangelism, combined with a lack of discipleship and spiritual depth in the American church. Too many of us are failing to look in our Bibles, absorb what we find and then apply those truths in daily life.

That’s my lament. I root my prayer in the light that has come into the world, a light to overcome the darkness and keep us from staggering through history like drunkards.

Lord Jesus Christ, speak to the hearts of all people so a desire for peace and righteousness fills us and overwhelms us as a nation. Give special power and understanding to the people who make up your church. Let us be the first and best examples of what it means to follow you. Amen.

The Day Will Come

Psalm 126

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,
    it was like a dream!
We were filled with laughter,
    and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
    “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
    What joy!

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
    will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
    but they sing as they return with the harvest.

Let’s paint a mental picture that also can serve as a prayer for today.

A day will come when we once again ascend and enter our places of worship, knowing we will bare our faces and sing unrestrained praises to our savior.

At first, it will seem like a dream. We will recognize this unfettered form of worship, but it also will seem new. Thanks to a very hard reminder about the value of group worship, we will praise God with a heightened sense of joy.

Some who have never entered such holy places of communion will feel the urge to join us. The Holy Spirit is working in them now, readying them for salvation, and the outline of our figures climbing our hills and steps and standing in the open doors of our churches will be an irresistible invitation for the lonely, the disconnected, the seekers.

“Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us. What joy!”

Restore our fortunes, Lord. Restore our worship. Amen.

Fuel for the Fire

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Acts 2:37-42 (NRSV)

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.


We used this text as the basis for a devotional Aug. 4, but it bears further exploration. This time around, let’s consider how we stretch a moment into a lifetime.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter had preached the first fully developed Christian sermon. About 3,000 people accepted Christ as Savior and were baptized. What a day! They would carry memories of that day for the rest of their lives.

Most of us who accept the moniker “Christian” have a similar point in time where the work of Jesus Christ on the cross became very personal. We were “cut to the heart,” expressing sorrow for our sins while simultaneously understanding Jesus gave us a way to put them behind us. We knew God had lovingly committed to save us, so we committed to following God.

I also know from my own experience and the shared experiences of others that it is not unusual over time to feel a little lost again. A day comes when we crave that spiritual fire in the belly we once felt, and simply remembering the specific day we turned toward Christ isn’t enough to fan the flames.

Think of it this way: Christians are like cavemen without fire-making tools. When we find fire, we want to keep it burning through all circumstances, and the only way to do that is to feed it the fuel it needs.

Remember, these early Christians experienced works of the Spirit that astonished them. Yet even they knew what was required to continue their burning faith.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

There’s the fuel for spiritual fire. We are blessed to now have the apostles’ wisdom and experiences captured in the Holy Bible.

Fellowship and the “breaking of bread” are a little more difficult for us right now, but thank God for the technology that keeps us connected, if only we make a small effort.

And of course, we can pray anywhere and anytime. The most totalitarian governments in the world have yet to figure out how to stop people who want to pray from doing so.

If you’re feeling a little cool, feed the flame God placed within you!

Lord, forgive us when we neglect the great gift you have given us, the gift of life lived now with you. Where we have gone very cold, reignite us once again—you are the sole source of spiritual fire. Amen.

God and Governance

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NLT)

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For,

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.


In these highly politicized times, Paul’s words to a young pastor will make some of us squirm.

Obviously, we are polarized as a nation. We’ve seen the left and right run toward their extreme edges, leaving a void in the middle. Far behind us are the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill sitting down in a room and hashing out a way to govern despite their political differences.

So, let me ask you the tough questions the Apostle Paul has raised for us. For the last four years, have you been praying for our president? Regardless of what you may think of him?

Will you pray for our next president, regardless?

I suspect some of us are blanching at the idea. Me, pray for him? Me, lift that guy up to God for support and sustenance?

Our situation could be worse, much worse. Just in case you’re thinking, “How could Paul suggest we do such a thing,” let’s take a moment to consider the context of his words.

The worldly leader of leaders in Paul’s day was the Emperor Nero. Yes, that Nero. The Nero who persecuted the Christians, having them dipped in tar and turned into human torches, or letting them be torn apart by wild animals for sport. The insane Nero, the evil Nero, the guy likely assigned the code number “666” by the author of Revelation.

Paul was telling Timothy to pray for the worst leader you could imagine, and for all of his flunkies. And frankly, as strange as Paul’s request sounds, there is some incredibly powerful Christian logic here, a logic rooted in Old Testament teachings.

Proverbs 21:1 makes clear God can control the will of any leader. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the Jews in exile to pray for their captors, knowing that if their captors were at peace and blessed, the Jews would be at peace and blessed, too.

We pray assuming God can change anyone so he or she is inclined to do God’s will. It is of course a good thing when our leaders follow God’s will, even if they have not done so in the past. Paul is essentially saying, “If they begin to listen to and follow God, things will be better for all of us.”

He goes on to emphasize there is but one path, one God and one mediator, Jesus, who is the Christ. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, regardless of whether we sit in a palace or sift through a dung heap for a living.

In a way, Paul’s (and Timothy’s, we must presume) prayers do seem to have borne fruit, although not in time to save Paul from martyrdom. Nero’s empire eventually passed into the hands of other emperors, until one day it finally belonged to Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion.

Some people debate whether it was really a good thing for countercultural Christianity to suddenly be acceptable in the halls of power, but one thing is for sure—the alignment of the empire’s leaders with the faith sped the spread of Christianity.

So, if you’re one of the many folks who lie awake at night worrying about this nation’s future, quit worrying and start praying. Certainly, pray for the leaders you like. But also pray fervently and regularly for the leaders you feel are not aligned with God.

Pray for all the people who might lead us soon. God may do great things in their hearts, working through them to awaken this nation to its role in Christ’s kingdom.

Lord, bless all of our civic leaders with a deep sense of your presence and guidance. Amen.

Under Water

Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 107:28-30 (NRSV)
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out from their distress;
he made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.

In yesterday’s devotional, I explored how to breathe during prayer, particularly when we find ourselves anxious. Today, I’m going to teach you a particular visualization technique to enhance your connection with God.

Put the two techniques together, and you have a kind of meditative prayer, something a lot of people in our culture don’t practice regularly. Our other, more familiar ways of praying—where we speak our praises, thanks and petitions to God, perhaps focusing on Scripture or a devotional as part of the process—remain critically important to our prayer lives. You may find, however, that meditative prayer techniques are particularly helpful in developing a sense of God’s constant presence.

There are uncountable ways to enter a state of meditative prayer. This is just one I like. I do not remember where I first learned it.

Imagine yourself sitting (or standing or lying, depending on your preferred posture) at the bottom of a deep, clear pool of water. Here’s the good news: God has granted you the ability to breathe comfortably and freely while there. Remember to breathe as discussed yesterday.

If this were a class in Zen meditation, someone might tell you to empty your mind. We’re doing the opposite. We want to be filled with God, and only with God.

As you begin, it helps to think of a word representing what you seek in that holy relationship. I’ve heard people make all sorts of choices: “peace,” “love,” “forgiveness” or “discernment,” for example. I’ve even heard people choose “Jesus” as their word, apparently as they tried to better fathom what it means to be in a personal relationship with God through Christ.

Go ahead and accept that worries and random thoughts will intrude on this time. We’re not going to fight them. Instead, take hold of them, examine them for a brief moment, and then release them, allowing them to float to the surface, far above you. Say your chosen word as part of the next exhale, and settle back into experiencing God.

That’s the technique. Simple, huh?

By the way, the more you do this, the longer you will spend in this state before deciding to surface. In just a few tries, you may have a meditative prayer session where you are surprised at how long you’ve been “under”—half an hour or even an hour might feel like 15 or 20 minutes.

What’s important is that you find yourself deeply aware of God’s presence.

Lord, thank you for the way you meet us in the midst of storms and in quiet places. Amen.

Life and Breath

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

The Bible has a lot to say about the not-so-simple act of breathing. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, words for “breath,” “wind” and “spirit” overlap.

Genesis 2:7: Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Ezekiel 37:9: Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

John 20:21-23: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Acts 2:2-4: And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

It’s pretty obvious that in Scripture, the source of life is God’s breath, which we also might think of as the movement of the Holy Spirit. This ethereal lesson can be lived out in very practical ways, however, particularly in times of stress.

When I’ve taught people under tremendous stress how to pray in a meditative way, the “how to breathe” part of the lesson has been critical. First, you have to position your body so you can breathe. If seated, your back and neck need to be straight, your shoulders squared and hanging from your collarbones as if on coathangers.

From here, “breath prayer” begins to line up with core techniques I’ve learned from decades of martial arts practice, principles recently confirmed in books I’ve read about how soldiers and police survive and control violent, high-stress situations. Breathing is normally automatic, but it can get out of control when the world becomes overwhelming. At such times, we have to take charge of our breathing.

Inhale through your nose deeply, slowly, expanding your lower stomach. Hold at the end of the inhale for a count equal to your time spent inhaling. Exhale through your mouth at the same rate, shrinking and pushing in your lower stomach. At the bottom of the exhale, hold for the same amount of time. Some people who teach this talk about using a “four count” at each stage.

I should warn you, if your heart is racing, if your blood pressure is up, your lungs will fight you at first, particularly as you hold at the bottom of your exhale. But if you’re feeling panicked or anxious, repeating this type of breathing will calm you, center you, and allow you to turn to God.

Biblically, it makes sense. Made in the image of God and granted the Holy Spirit through our belief in Jesus Christ, we have access to the source of life.

Think of deliberate, God-focused breathing as an unspoken prayer request: “God, renew in me what you have poured into the world.”

Peace be with you. Tomorrow, I will try to help you embed this breathing in prayerful Christian meditation.

Lord, we thank you for the life you have breathed into us. May we use our lives to glorify you and to the benefit of your dawning kingdom on earth.