The Blessing

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 24

The Blessing

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 16:1-6 | Genesis 48:1 – 49:33 | Matthew 15:29-16:12 | Proverbs 4:20-27

Today’s Scripture Focus: Genesis 48:1 – 49:33

“Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh…” (Genesis 47:8, 10 NIV).

“Bring them to me so I may bless them” (Genesis 48:9, NIV).

“Then he blessed Joseph. . .” (Genesis 48:15, NIV).

“Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come” (Genesis 49:1, NIV).

“All these are the twelve tribes of Israel and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him” (Genesis 49:28, NIV).

Throughout these chapters, the emphasis is on the blessings given by Jacob. He blessed Pharaoh. He blessed his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. He blessed Joseph. Then in chapter 49, he blesses each of his twelve sons.

In these blessings we see some of the common characteristics of blessings. There is often physical contact, usually placing one’s hand on the one being blessed. The blessing is spoken over the person so they can hear the blessing. The one blessing looks to the Lord for insight, and speaks words of insight and expectation.

In more informal ways, we often bless people through our prayers when we pray for them, seeking God’s best—his blessing. We also bless people through our words of encouragement. These are important too. But there is something even more powerful about the traditional blessing seen here, where one places their hand on you and looks to God for insight as they speak words of blessing over you.

In a world where we hear and experience more curses than blessings, these words of blessing are needed and encouraging. Blessings bring healing to wounded emotions and encouragement to the discouraged and disheartened. They bring joy, peace and hope–and we all need that.

Too often our words wound–they bring a curse rather than a blessing. James says, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:10, ESV).  Allow God to control your tongue, then you will become the source of blessing he intends for you to be.

Blessed Savior, bless me with words of encouragement, hope and healing that I might bless others. Replace the words that were intended to curse, with words that bless. May my mouth demonstrate the fruit of a heart that has been changed by an overflow of words that praise you and bless others. Amen.

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Faith that Refuses to Give Up

January 23 

Faith That Refuses to Give Up

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 15:1-5 | Genesis 46:1 – 47:31 | Matthew 15:1-28 | Proverbs 4:14-19

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 15:1-28

“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 

“Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed that very hour” (Matthew 15:22, 23, 28, NIV).

She refused to give up. She had heard of Jesus and knew that he could help her daughter. She sought him out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”

At first there was no answer. “Jesus did not answer a word.” Sometimes our cries for help seem to go unnoticed. Sometimes it seems that Jesus isn’t listening to our requests. But he always hears.

Not getting a response, she kept crying out, trying desperately to get his attention. Her persistence got the attention of the disciples who wanted Jesus to do something about it. “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

The Canaanite woman refuses to give up. Jesus engages her in conversation, but doesn’t seem to give any hope that he will answer her request. Sometimes the answers to our cries for help seem to be delayed indefinitely. Everything suggests to us that the answer is no.

She continues to make her case. Her persistent cries for help—her persistent faith—have not gone unnoticed. Jesus is amazed to see such faith in a Canaanite woman, and is pleased to grant her prayer. “‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed that very hour.”

Don’t give up. Persist in your faith. Press on with your prayers. Wait expectantly. Jesus sees and, when the time is right, will answer.

Faithful God, give me a faith that refuses to give up. Hear my persistent cries for help. Meet me in my need and make me whole. Amen.

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The Forgiving Heart

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 22 

The Forgiving Heart

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 14:1-7 | Genesis 44:1 – 45:28 | Matthew 14:13-36 | Proverbs 4:11-13

Today’s Scripture Focus: Genesis 44:1-45:28

“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . . God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt” (Genesis 45:4-8 NIV).

Does God, in his sovereignty, use even the unjust acts of humans for his purpose? Does God, use painful, hard times to prepare us for the things he has planned for us? Does God really work out all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose? All things?

That is exactly what Joseph believed. Despite the injustice and pain of being betrayed, abandoned and sold into slavery, Joseph knew that God was using that event for a greater purpose. Joseph could see the hand of God in it all, and he grew through the experience. The tough times in Joseph’s life were the very things that caused growth and maturity of character. They were the things that caused him to trust God and become the leader God was preparing him to become.

Understanding this truth, allowed Joseph to release forgiveness to his brothers. I’m sure that the work of healing had long been done in his heart—he had already dealt with the matter and brought the injustice, pain and hurt to God. For these are the words of a man whose heart has found healing and wholeness, not the words of someone who refuses to forgive and holds on to anger or bitterness.

When people hurt us, we are sometimes tempted to withhold forgiveness, thinking we retain some power over those who have hurt us by refusing to forgive. But the truth is, we cannot hold on to these things—they eat us up inside. The need to forgive deeply from the heart is a daily need (Jesus taught us that in the Lord’s Prayer). As we take the hurt to Jesus, he helps us to forgive and move beyond the pain, the anger, and the bitterness.

When you are hurt, take the wound to Jesus. Place it in his scars and allow him to take it from you. Allow him to enable you to forgive. Then you will find freedom—a heart that is free. Only a heart that has found such healing is able to deal with the situation with the maturity we see here in Joseph.

Yes, God uses even the hurts from difficult people and the wounds from difficult circumstances to accomplish his purposes. Forgive those who’ve hurt you and move on. Expect that God will use even this to prepare you for the good things he has ahead for you.

Sovereign God, I trust that you are at work even in this trial. I believe you are developing mature character within me. Even when life seems unfair, I rest in your wisdom. I wait with expectation as to how you will work even this for my good and for your glory. Amen.

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How Long, O Lord?

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 21 

How Long, O Lord? 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 13:1-6 | Genesis 42:18 – 43:34 | Matthew 13:47 – 14:12 | Proverbs 4:7-10

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalms 13:1-6

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? . . . But I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13:1-2, 5-6 NIV).

We’ve all had times when we can relate to the psalmist’s questions. There are times when we wonder if the Lord is really listening—times when the answer is slow in coming.  

In those times, we too wrestle with our thoughts and emotions. It is easy to become discouraged—easy to become disheartened.

So how do we handle those times when God seems distant and the answer we seek never seems to come? The same way the psalmist does.

We lament. We openly and honestly cry out to God. We lay out our thoughts and feelings. We get it all out on the table.

We trust in his unfailing love. We can always rest in the character of God–even when we don’t sense his presence. This is a time to remember his names and attributes. This is a time to remember his promises. As we remember his greatness and rest in his love, despair turns to hope; rays of truth begin to push aside the darkness of our doubts and fear. 

In time we are able to sing, “I will sing to the LORD, he for he has been good to me.” Nothing breaks through the shadows of circumstance like worshiping God through singing.  As we sing and remember God’s goodness, we break free from discouragement. Questions begin to fade as the joy of the Lord becomes our strength.

Dear Heavenly Father, teach me to lament, to wait in hope, and to rejoice in you. Help me to refocus from my problems to your promise. Replace my worries with songs of your faithfulness. Let your light shine in my darkness. I wait on you. Amen.

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Can We Find Anyone Like This?

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 20 

Can We Find Anyone Like This?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 12:1-8 | Genesis 41:17 – 42:17 | Matthew 13:24-46 | Proverbs 4:1-6

Today’s Scripture Focus: Genesis 41:17 – 42:17

“So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “since God has made all this know to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you” (Genesis 41:38-40, NIV).

Joseph had been through quite a journey of ups and downs. Rejected and betrayed by his brothers, he was sold into slavery. Taken to Egypt, the hand of the Lord was upon him and he proved faithful and successful. He was taken into the service of Potiphar. There again, the Lord prospered him, and he proved faithful. Potiphar’s wife made advances and his integrity was tested. Joseph proved faithful, but Potiphar’s wife’s deceitful ways meant that he suffered great injustice again: he was thrown in prison. There again he proved to be faithful and successful. But further injustice was seen in the cupbearer who fails to follow through on his promise.

Yet, in all of this, Joseph waited patiently on God. When the time was right, God exalted Joseph. The times of testing, the perseverance through difficult and sometimes unjust circumstances had taught him lessons of faith and trust. Now he was ready–and God brought him from the lowest place to the highest place.

Joseph, relying on God’s Spirit, is able to interpret the dream of Pharaoh. He carefully gives the glory to God. Yet Pharaoh is impressed by his discernment and wisdom. He knows that this is a man who evidences the “Spirit of God” (38). What a powerful testimony.

Joseph proved faithful through incredibly difficult and unjust circumstances. He continued to trust when things seemed hopeless. He refused the temptation to allow bitterness to poison his spirit (despite the injustice, rejection and betrayal he suffered). When God exalted and used him, he proved humble and trustworthy–and he exalted and magnified the Lord.

The world, like Pharaoh, is looking for men and women of like character–people of integrity, men and women who are spirit-filled and walking in intimacy with God. May others look to us and say, “Can we find anyone like this, one in whom is the Spirit of God?”

Trustworthy God, help me to wait patiently and may my example of integrity shine forth when the time is right. May others see the Spirit of God at work in me and may I always exalt and magnify you, Lord. Amen.

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Resist

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 19 

Resist

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 11:1-7 | Genesis 39:1-41:16 | Matthew 12:46-13:23 | Proverbs 3:33-35

Today’s Scripture Focus: Genesis 39:1-41:16

“Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused.

“How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:6-7 and 9, NIV).

“Come to bed with me!” she says. How would he respond to the unexpected advance of his master’s wife? How would Joseph deal with temptation?

Instead of giving in to the passion of the moment, he looked at the situation rationally and righteously. His split second decision made the difference between falling into sin and standing strong as a righteous man.

Joseph resisted temptation because he looked at the situation rationally (8,9). He knew that he was a steward of his master’s property and was being held accountable for how he handled his responsibility. To sin against his master by giving in to the temptation, would clearly have serious consequences when his actions were discovered. Sin brings pleasure for a season, but it always has consequences. Realizing this helped Joseph resist temptation.

Joseph resisted temptation because he looked at the situation righteously–from God’s perspective. Joseph rightly understood that his sin would not only be against Potiphar and his wife, but would be against God himself. “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”(9). Sin is rebellion against God. Our failure to recognize this, makes us vulnerable to temptation. Joseph was very aware that to give in to temptation was to sin against God.

Joseph resisted temptation because he stuck to his decision resolutely.   He determined that he would not give in. He stuck to his decision stubbornly. “And though he spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her” (10).

Joseph resisted temptation by fleeing rapidly. He knew that willpower itself would only go so far. He refused to give in and “made a run for it” when he was in a particularly vulnerable place. 

Temptation is an everyday reality. We would do well to follow Joseph’s example in standing up resolutely to temptation.

God of Strength, enable me to resist temptation. Be with me when I am vulnerable and teach me when to flee. Amen.

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Careless Words

January 18 

Careless Words

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 10:16-18 | Genesis 37:1 – 38:30 | Matthew 12:22-45 | Proverbs 3:27-32

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 12:22-45

“A tree is recognized by its fruit . . . . For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33-38 NIV).

Our words say a lot about who we really are on the inside. They are one of the fruits of our inner life. Jesus reminds us: “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Our words often say a lot more about us than we realize.

You expect an apple tree to bear apples, a peach tree to produce peaches and a pear tree to bring forth pears. Similarly, you expect an angry person to produce angry words, a dishonest person to speak lies, and a negative person to criticize and put down other people. You expect a loving person to speak loving, encouraging words.  A joyful person can be counted on to brighten up your day with words that bring you laughter.

Your words really do reveal your character.

To the follower of Christ, those words should be words that bless rather than curse; words that lift up rather than words that tear down.  Instead of gossip and slander, the changed heart speaks words of hope and love.

Jesus also reminds us that we are accountable for our words.  We will one day be accountable for every careless word we have spoken.  

Do your words reflect a heart being transformed into the likeness of Jesus? As he changes you from the inside out, you should expect the fruit of your words to be consistent with the transformed heart within.  Open your heart to Jesus.  Allow him to transform your heart into his likeness . . . and your tongue.

Heavenly Father, cleanse my heart and let my words reflect the transforming work of your Spirit. Produce in me good fruit and words appropriate to the life of Jesus within me. Amen.

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The Blessing of Wisdom

January 17 

The Blessing of Wisdom

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 10:11-15 | Genesis 35:1 – 36:43 | Matthew 12:1-21 | Proverbs 3:21-26

Today’s Scripture Focus: Proverbs 3:21-26

“My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way with safety, and your foot will not stumble; when you lie down you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet . . . . The Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared” (Proverbs 3:21-26, NIV).

The Proverbs present practical wisdom for everyday living. To apply these principles to life brings great blessing (3:13). The writer mentions some of those blessings: “long life are in her right hand, in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace” (16-17).

Perhaps the greatest blessing is the peace and assurance of knowing that you are walking in right relationship with God–of knowing that he is “your confidence” (26) and the one who will keep your foot from being snared.

Knowing that he can be trusted, that he is “our confidence,” brings peace in any circumstance. Knowing that he is there to keep us safe helps us deal with our fears. Resting in His everlasting arms, we are able to sleep at night (24).

To fail to heed God’s wisdom is to invite trouble and turmoil. Failing to live by his Word brings anxiety and fear. The fool who deviates from God’s path of wisdom has trouble sleeping at night.

God intends for us to live in the blessing that comes from walking in his wisdom. Knowing and applying these practical principles leads on the right path and keeps us from stumbling. The principles bring the potential for long, full lives lived with honor and under the blessing of God. As we walk in his truth, he becomes our peace and confidence and we are able to sleep sweetly without fear. This is the blessing of walking in God’s wisdom.

God of Wisdom, direct me toward the pleasant paths of peace. May I find the rest that comes from trusting your ways and leaning on your wisdom. Amen.

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Is Your Soul at Rest?

January 16 

Is Your Soul at Rest?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 10:1-10 | Genesis 32:13 – 34:31 | Matthew 11:7-30 | Proverbs 3:19-20

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 11:7-30

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt 11:28-30 The Message).

Jesus isn’t looking for relentless religious activity. He is looking first and foremost for a relationship with you. Religious activity burns us out. It makes us tired and weary. Trying hard to perform rather than resting in his grace, leads to a treadmill of activity. But it is activity in one’s own strength and for the wrong motives.

Instead of that, Jesus calls you to come rest–to spend time with Him–to get to know him and his ways. To enter into his path of discipleship. Then you walk together in his strength–he comes alongside you and enables you to live and work from his strength, and not just your own.

He is not calling you to laziness, but rather to grace-filled living. Resting in Jesus and his grace, rather than our own strength, our lives find balance and fruitfulness.

I still find it easy to take up the yoke on my own, to try to trudge ahead in my strength. Yet, every time I do, I find myself exhausted and burned out. How about you?

Jesus calls us first to a relationship with himself. Come, find rest for your soul. In his presence, the broken, wounded soul finds forgiveness, healing, and renewed strength. Walking with Him as he bears the yoke, enables us to accomplish much more than we could ever accomplish on our own.

Stop rushing around, and let your soul rest in the presence of the one who loves you with an everlasting love. Refreshed and renewed in his presence, we are prepared for the tasks of the day in the “unforced rhythms of grace.”

Lord of the Sabbath, I am tired and need your rest. I take up your yoke so that we can walk and work together. Teach me the unforced rhythms of your grace. Amen.

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Counting Hairs

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 15

Counting Hairs

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 9:13-20 | Genesis 31:17 – 32:12 | Matthew 10:26 – 11:6 | Proverbs 3:16-18

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 10:26-11:6

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30, NIV).

Jesus call to his disciples is not an easy one.  He asks them to leave everything behind–even their families (35-37)–to take the good news from town to town. He is clearly calling for sacrifice–for wholehearted commitment whatever the cost. “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To follow him wholeheartedly will likely bring persecution and hardship; for some, it will mean losing their very lives.

Yet, Jesus tells them that there is no reason for fear. God knows every detail of their lives, right down to the number of hairs on their heads.  God not only knows every detail, he loves and cares for his people. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30, NIV).

The road ahead may have uncertainties and challenges. It may be filled with sacrifice and hardship. But whatever it brings, we know that the heavenly Father knows–and he will care for us in every step, right down to the last detail. This is what gives us confidence to surrender all to him. His loving care gives us every reason to trust and follow him wherever he takes us and whatever the consequences.

God knows your needs. He knows what you are going through. He knows it right down to the last detail. He cares and he will see you through it. Open up your heart and share your needs. Don’t be afraid to trust him.

Loving God, I surrender myself completely to your will. I am willing to follow you whatever it may cost me. I entrust myself completely to your care. Amen.

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