Weekly Devotionals August 19 – August 24

Sometimes we say that in today’s world “the only constant is change.” But many times this idea brings us, not a smile, but deep-seated fear. That didn’t just start. In the psalm, we find mention of the world falling apart, mountains (which were believed to hold dry land in place and keep the sky elevated) crumbling and the sea (an ancient symbol of chaos and disorder) roaring and raging. But we also find the confidence that God is high over all the changes that cause us fear. God is always our refuge and strength. The psalm were positive that Go was present with us at any time, even when we are afraid. That trust was based on the faith that God is eternal (unending) and his love for us is unchanging. What events or circumstances cause you to lose sight of this truth?
What experiences have you already had that made it feel a though your world was falling apart? Did you allow your faith in God to provide you with a stable place to stand as everything else seemed to be crumbling? What makes it valuable to build your trust in God before the next time when everything seems to fall apart?
Take your fears and worry to God now. Allow his unending, unchanging love and presence fill you with confidence today.
TUESDAY PSALM 23:1-3; 96:10-13 The familiar King James Version rendering of Psalm 23:3 is “he restoreth my soul.” Along with “still waters,” it may sound to us like a day at a peaceful spa. But “he keep me alive” (the Common English Bible’s translation) reflects the fact that for sheep, water and grass were not luxuries, but absolute necessities for survival. The Lord who ultimately rules over our world provides the things we need to keep our spiritual life always alive. Israel’s neighbors worshipped a “council” of Canaanite gods who, they believed, played favorites and ruled the world unjustly (see Psalm 82). Psalm 96 sets the one creator God against that idea. Instead of ruling unjustly, God’s rule is one of justice and righteousness and promises a stable and secure foundation. Therefore, we don’t have to guess what God desires, we know because Jesus defines it for us. What helps you to trust that God’s eternal justice gives your life a stable and secure foundation? Psalm 23 is attributed to King David. He described God as guiding him “in proper paths.” Living as we do in a culture that places great value on our freedom to choose our own path in life, how easy or difficult do you find it to trust God to point to the proper paths for you life? How can confidence that you are on the proper path reduce your fear of change? Talk with God now about how he might lead you today.
WEDNESDAY MATTHEW 6:9-10; MARK 12:13-17 Jesus’ enemies tried hard to ask him “no win” questions, for which either answer would get him in trouble. Taxes were as much or more a hot button then as they are today. But Jesus’ answer said it wasn’t as simple as a “yes” or “no” a n s w e r . T h e r e w a s i n d e e d a v a l i d r e a l m f o r “Caesar” (human authority), and a citizen’s duty to pay taxes fit into that. Yet God’s kingdom was a larger realm, and in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus clearly indicated that God’s kingdom commanded his (and our) ultimate loyalty.
Rev. Matthew Simpson, in the funeral sermon for Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL, said: “To a minister who said he hoped the Lord was on our side, he replied that it gave him no concern whether the Lord was on our side or not. ‘For,’ he added, ‘I know the Lord is always on the side of right;’ and with deep feeling added, ‘But God is my witness that it is my constant anxiety and prayer that both myself and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.’” Do you think Lincoln was correct to resist assuming that God would automatically favor whatever he decided to do? How can you allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in discerning whether you are “on the Lord’s side” of decisions in your life?
As you close with prayer. Pray that Jesus would give you an understanding of your loyalties and how they align with his kingdom.
THURSDAY PSALM 115:1-11; ACTS 5:17-29 Hebrew poets often used repetition to stress the most vital parts of their message. The triple repetition of “trust in the Lord” in Psalm 115 was an example of that. Jesus had warned his followers that, although they would face hostility from authorities, they should not fear those people (cf. Matthew 10:16-26). And when the highest religious authority in Jerusalem ordered them not to preach or teach about Jesus, the apostles trusted in the Lord and said, “We must obey God rather than humans!” Along with the three-fold call to “trust in the Lord,” Psalm 115 repeated a promise three times: “God is their help and shield.” We hear, and pray regularly, for followers of God who have lost jobs, been involved in accidents or been diagnosed with deadly diseases. In what sense is God still trustworthy at those times, still their help and shield? Have you ever seen trying times like that make trust in God even more meaningful to people? At the end of the gospel of Luke, Jesus commissioned his disciples: “A change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in Jesus’ name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47- 48). When the council and the high priest ordered them NOT to preach, they saw the obedience question as crystal clear. Have you ever had to decide whether to obey God or some human authority? If so, what did you decide to do?
FRIDAY PSALM 23:4-6; 46:4-7 The expression of trust in Psalm 23 did not promise that God’s people would never face painful, “dark valley” experiences. In fact, in common with other Biblical passages (e.g. Isaiah 43:3), it assumed that such times would come into all lives. The value the psalmists saw in trusting God lay not in being able to avoid pain and sadness, but in having God with us even in the darkest of times. Psalm 46:4 is poetry, not geography. Jerusalem has no rivers. The river here is a symbol of life-giving power, in contrast to the threatening waters and waves of Psalm 46:3. How did that psalm set the stage for Jesus’ dramatic claim: “On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, ‘All who are thirsty should come to me! All who believe in me should drink! As the scriptures said concerning me, ‘Rivers of living water will flow out from within him’” (John 7:37-38)? We most often think something “pursuing us” is bad. Psalm 23 reversed that, saying, “goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.” Were there times when you, like so many of us, tried to ignore or avoid God’s presence? In what ways have God’s goodness and faithful love pursued you even if you were trying to get away from them? Talk with Jesus now about the deep desires (thirsts) of your heart. Ask that you may see how his goodness and faithful love are pursuing you now.
SATURDAY JOHN 15:1-4 Faithfully following Jesus requires us to stay connected to Jesus. Just as a branch dies if it becomes disconnected from a tree; our souls wither and dry when disconnected from Jesus. The following pages provide you an opportunity to reflect back on your week and take into account where you have been connected and where you have been disconnected from Jesus. It takes a holistic approach to being connected with Jesus. It isn’t just about your prayer life or scripture reading
though that is included. It invites us to look at our physical well- being, our relationships, and our spiritual energy. This reflection
will not change your life, but it can open a window to discovering areas of our life where Jesus is inviting us to grow. This is not meant to discourage you in any way, only to begin to become aware of our relationship with Jesus. Ideally, this would be shared with someone you trust. We say a corporate prayer of confession when we prepare for communion, and we may even pray private prayers of confession and forgiveness to God. It is possible to do both of these practices and remain “alone in our sin” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once put it. Being alone in our sin never frees us from the sinful habits we have created. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” It may be uncomfortable to practice confession because we fear feeling guilty. Confession frees us from guilt by helping us experience grace and forgiveness that comes from Jesus. There is nothing like a life free from guilt, set free to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Begin by praying this prayer and spending a moment in silence to prepare your heart. Prayer: Father God, As I look back upon my week, help me to be honest with myself and with you. I long to remain connected to Christ so that I may live in him. Guide me in these moments closer to your heart.

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