Encouragement and Prayers

COME…The Lord’s invitation to us.

LEARN…Our response to the Lord.

REST…The Lord’s freedom for us. 

 

Practice: The Serenity Prayer

I love Psalm 133 which paints a picture of precious oil running down one’s face and refers to the joy of covenantal unity. I am not enamored with the idea of greasy hair and the unity I need is of heart, soul, mind and strength to love well, but I can anoint my body with small amounts of oil as a reminder that I am blessed to be a blessing.

About a year ago, I spontaneously began the practice of prayerfully anointing my body with oil* as I say the Serenity Prayer.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can 

and the wisdom to know the difference!

My routine flows something like this:

  • Put a little oil on the inside of each elbow and recite the first line of the prayer as a reminder that serenity and acceptance include embracing what cannot be changed. 
  • Contemplate the next line of the prayer and touch the back of each knee with a little oil, knowing courage requires the humility to bend the knees in prayer seeking ways to change what can be changed.
  • And finally dab the top of each foot with oil asking God for a discerning heart and the strength to walk in wisdom. 

Healthy spiritual practices and prayer bring greater freedom to our lives. The gift of the Serenity Prayer is the hope of living a life of surrender, courage, and discernment. The practice of anointing the body encourages the joy of freely rising up to bless the Lord and be a blessing each new day.

*A roller ball of oil or even lotion are recommended. 

Prayer: An Upright Heart

February is my favorite month of the year because I love hearts and enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day. Apart from the commercial emphasis on hearts, I find value in dwelling on and living in the light of God’s love.

The following last four lines of Psalm 32 have formed my reflections for this month:

…but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.

Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, 

O righteous, and shout for joy,

all you upright in heart. (vs. 10b, 11, NRSV)

Today is also Ash Wednesday. As the journey of Lent begins for this year, I am reminded of the forgiveness, protection and guidance that come with right living before God.

The following has been my prayer this month:

Lord, help me to have an upright heart by conversing with you freely and trusting you explicitly. May your sustaining love help me to love patiently, tenderly and without envy, boasting, arrogance or rudeness. Keep me from insisting my way is best and from being irritable or rude in times of conflict. Lord, may I be found bearing with, believing in, hoping for and enduring always so that goodness is the well-spring of my heart. And when hopelessness besets my soul, may God’s unending love create in me a heart that is happy and rejoices in the greatness of God’s love for myself and others. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ~Amen and amen. 

Prayer: You, Lord, are my Lord.

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. 

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; 

their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. 

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 

I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand,  I shall not be moved. 

Therefore my heart is glad, my and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 

For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. 

You show me the path of life. 

In your presence there is fullness of joy;  in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

~Psalm 16:1-11

As I result of praying Psalm 16 the past few weeks, I have written the following:

Lord, you are my Lord, and ever so gently the your Spirit reminds me that you are good. You, Lord, are the very best part of my life, but I confess I do not always choose to trust in you. Too quickly I can fall into believing I am too much for even you to handle. I seek after quick fixes and find only a false sense of security. 

But You, Lord, are my security. Your goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life and you hold me in your loving gaze. I see you seeing me and my heart is glad, my soul rejoices, and I can finally rest. I am thankful and praise wells up within me.  

Lord, in your presence I experience fullness of joy and forever pleasures. A life of hope is part of my each new day reality simply because you, Lord, are my Lord. Amen and amen!

New Year Prayer: Your face, Lord, do I seek.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

    whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life;

    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me

    to devour my flesh—

my adversaries and foes—

    they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,

    my heart shall not fear;

though war rise up against me,

    yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord,

    that will I seek after:

to live in the house of the Lord

    all the days of my life,

to behold the beauty of the Lord,

    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter

    in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up

    above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in his tent

    sacrifices with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,

    be gracious to me and answer me!

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”

    Your face, Lord, do I seek.

In case you had not noticed, I have been stuck, so to speak, on Psalm 27 throughout Advent and Christmas. The psalmist helped me wonder about fear, favor and forever, through the waiting of Advent and bolstered my Christmas faith. As I started turning my attention toward the year ahead, I revisited the familiar words. 

In the middle of the verses, I stopped to let myself see and feel the psalmist gathering up the confidence to plead with the Lord:

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,

    be gracious to me and answer me!

And then I paused a little longer to hear the intention of the psalmist’s heart in verse 8:

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”

    Your face, Lord, do I seek.

I have decided that 2020 was a riddle that no one has discovered the answer to yet. As 2021 begins, I place no hope in individual politicians, pastors, pharmaceutical companies or medical professionals to solve it. The reality is it will take the utmost reliance on the Lord and a collaborative mindset to move us toward a confident resolution. 

The gift of Psalm 27 is its boost to one’s confidence.  Our waiting is not over. But we offer others hope whenever we gather up the courage to cry out to the Lord with boldness.  To that end, may our prayer and the intention of our hearts be that of seeking the Lord’s face, regardless of how the days of the new year unfold.

Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,

    you who have been my help.

Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,

    O God of my salvation!

If my father and mother forsake me,

    the Lord will take me up.

Teach me your way, O Lord,

    and lead me on a level path

    because of my enemies.

Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,

    for false witnesses have risen against me,

    and they are breathing out violence.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

    be strong, and let your heart take courage;

    wait for the Lord!

Christmas Faith

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

~Psalm 27:1

As I spend time today reflecting on all the beautiful Christmas services we watched virtually last night, I am reminded we have nothing to fear. The One who is our light, our salvation and our stronghold has been born. 

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. ~Luke 2:7-20

It is this good news that the shepherds witnessed and the wise men traveled far to see and experience.

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. ~Matthew 2:11

Seeing is believing. Believing is faith. The shepherds and the wise men were among the first believers in the goodness of the Lord. At Christmas, we see through their experiences the gift of God’s presence in our lives. 

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living.

~Psalm 27:13

And so our wait for this year is over. Today we celebrate Christmas and the favor God bestows upon us. And by faith, we rejoice and give thanks for the courage our hearts can take because the goodness of the Lord is ours forever.

Wait for the Lord; be strong, 

and let your heart take courage; 

wait for the Lord!

~Psalm 27:14 

Advent 4: Fear, Favor, Forever

I have read and heard this verse quoted many times throughout this  ten months. I even used this quote to encourage others and to seek refuge from my own fears. The pandemic has caused us all to face fears we did not even know we had. 

It is Christmas Eve and I take comfort in the reality thatMary and Joseph faced fears they never knew. As they left Nazareth did they pray for protection,  and guidance. Perhaps they formed a prayed around this verse from Psalm 27:

Teach me your way, O Lord, 

and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

~vs. 11

“Teach us Your way Lord that our fears might not overwhelm us. Lead us Lord on a level path through the  rocky terrain between Nazareth to Bethlehem. Grant us favor and give us a level path from here to there.” 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. ~Luke 2:1-6

Mary and Joseph also not doubt wanted reassurance that no evil would harm them or the precious baby who was being entrusted into their care.Was this verse from Psalm 27 their silent prayer:

Do not give us up to the will of my adversaries, 

for false witnesses have risen against us

and they are breathing out violence.

~vs 12

There was real and present dangers all around them as they traveled. Their physical landscape and the political climate both threatened their son.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. ~Matthew 2:1-9

What is your rocky terrain? How are you asking God lead you through the pandemic? What do you want God to teach you about the our current political climate? How is hope rising like a faraway forever star in your heart?

Wait for the Lord; be strong, 

and let your heart take courage; 

wait for the Lord !

~Psalm 27:14 

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Advent 3: Fear, Favor, Forever

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

~vs 1

This thread of fear, favor and forever continues to be woven throughout my reflections on Psalm 27 and Mary’s life.

Now my head is lifted up

    above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in his tent

    sacrifices with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,

    be gracious to me and answer me!

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”

    Your face, Lord, do I seek.

~vs 6-8

In my mind’s eye, I see Mary praying and God responding by lifting her spirit and giving her a respite from her fears. From a heart that seeks the Lord, Mary praises God:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

    and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

~Luke 2:46-55

I always marvel at Mary’s words of praise and rejoicing. She humbly acknowledges that the Lord has looked favorably upon her. But not just her. Generation after generation, Abraham’s descendants forever receive God’s promised blessing, mercy and provision.

For three months, Mary remained with Elizabeth before returning home. I wonder how she handled her worry over going back to l Nazareth. She must have realized she was not going back to life as it once was. I wonder if Mary’s prayers included pleas like these:

Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,

    you who have been my help.

Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,

    O God of my salvation!

If my father and mother forsake me,

    the Lord will take me up.

~vs 9-10

In her time of waiting, Mary gathers the courage to return home to a whole new way of life. In our moments of waiting, may we too gather our courage by replacing our fears with praise, by rejoicing in God’s favor and by forever receiving God’s saving grace.

Wait for the Lord; be strong, 

and let your heart take courage;

    wait for the Lord!

~vs 14

Advent 2: Fear, Favor, Forever

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

~Psalm 27:1

This week I have thought about the fear, the shame and the disgrace that compelled Mary to go and visit Elizabeth. This is the disgrace Joseph thought he could protect Mary from by divorcing her. However, God had another plan. Joseph’s dream not to divorce Mary is a reminder that God’s protection is readily available and always timely.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Today as I reread the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, I wondered if those closest to Mary thought she was running away from something or someone. In reality, she was running toward God and the confirmation she needed. 

The impossible was happening. Elizabeth was pregnant beyond her child-bearing years. And Mary was pregnant by the same Holy Spirit that caused the baby in Elizabeth’s womb to “leap for joy.” Their pregnancies revealed that they had both defied biology. 

And perhaps Mary defied her fears by praying as King David once did in the face of his enemies this portion of Psalm 27:2-5:

When the wicked advance against me to devour me,

it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;

though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.

In her day of trouble, God sent her to the one place where she would be protected and her faith nurtured. For nine months, Mary’s faith and understanding of God’s favor grew exponentially…into a forever reality.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

~Psalm 27:14

Advent 1: Fear, Favor, Forever

Advent is here and I feel some resistance to embarking on another season of waiting. We have all been waiting eight months for some shift in our pandemic reality. We have longed for the good news of a vaccine and we have waited for a decrease in the number of cases to deliver us from protocols that seem to create angst and anger rather than peace and hope. 

While reflecting the past few days, I realized that the visit between Mary and the angel Gabriel must have happened sometime in March, about the time we went into isolation to slow the spread of Coronavirus. 

Take a moment to read through Luke’s foretelling of Jesus’ birth:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.  ~Luke 1:26-38

Three words stand out for me. Fear and favor always come to the forefront, but today forever jumps off the page. Together these three words summarize a response to the psalmist’s question in Psalm 27:1.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; 

whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; 

of whom shall I be afraid?

Because of her forever favor with God, Mary could be forever unfearful. What is your biggest fear today? In the midst of waiting for the end to the pandemic there are likely many, but our fears can be reminders of God’s forever favor to us. Moreover, the gift of waiting during Advent is the hope that comes from facing our fears and remembering our forever favor with God.

Wait for the Lord; 

be strong, and let your heart take courage; 

wait for the Lord!

~Psalm 27:1   

From where will our help come?

Whenever I come across questions in Scripture, I at least pause to notice if an answer is forthcoming. The first verse of Psalm 121 has both a statement and a question that I have been trying to answer over the past few days.

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?

When I lift my eyes toward the hills to the east, I really do see hills, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range to be exact. And when I assess the view of both my physical and spiritual landscape, by faith I trust in help’s arrival because God who made the heavens and the earth also made me. In all honesty, with the Lord’s help, I am equipped and empowered to face life’s challenges.

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

The Lord keeps me from stumbling because at any given moment the Lord is aware of what I need in order to live freely in God’s kingdom. The Lord is the stabilizing force of my life, my Guardian, my Protector. The Lord steers me away from of becoming entrapped in the evils of blaming others and shaming myself.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

I am trying to be more intentional about paying attention to how God is helping me throughout the day. Then at the end of the day I am setting aside time to notice how the Lord has been present in my comings and goings.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Reflecting on all the little ways God has helped me, led me to the following conclusions:

• When I have been worried and bewildered, the Lord has brought clarification.

• When I have felt isolated, I have been compelled by the Holy Spirit to seek comfort in the Lord’s sufficient grace and mercy.

• When I have been overwhelmed with regret, I have felt flooded by the Lord’s forgiveness and reassurances that all things are being worked for good.

• When I have yearned for normalcy, I have discovered calm in the rhythm of surrendering my anxiety to the Lord.

• And when I have been grieved to the point of hopelessness, the Holy Spirit has lifted my eyes to beyond what I can ask or imagine.

How has the Lord kept watch over your comings and goings? How are you being invited to ask for God’s help? If you were to reflect on the ways God has helped you in the last hour, yesterday, in the past year, to what conclusions would you come?

If I were the psalmist, I would have concluded Psalm 121 with the last verse of Psalm 124. I am not, but as the writer, I can let verse 8 be my final words.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

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