What Do You Need?

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 31

What Do You Need?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 18:16-24 | Exodus 12:14-13:16 | Matthew 20:29-21:22 | Proverbs 6:12-15

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 20:29-21:22

“Jesus stopped and called them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.’ ‘Lord,’ they answered, ‘we want our sight.’ Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.  Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:32-34 TNIV).

Like the blind men, we all stand in need of God’s grace and mercy. Their need was to see their sight restored. Christ saw the need and responded to their request out of his heart of compassion. What can we learn from the blind men?

They were not shy about their need. Often we do not have because we do not ask. The blind men were not afraid to make their need known to the one who could meet it. So too, we should bring our requests to God.

They were persistent. Even when the crowds tried to quiet them, they cried out all the more intensely. Persistence is an important quality to prayer. We are tempted to give up, but we ought to persist in faith.

They were specific in their request. Jesus asked them to be more specific. Sometimes our prayers are so generic and without specificity. That kind of praying gets us nowhere. The blind men made their need plain, “we want our sight.” Be specific.

They trusted Christ. Their faith is clear. It was demonstrated in their request. It is seen even more clearly in the fact that they became disciples of Christ: they followed him.

What is your need? Bring it to Jesus. Like he did with the blind men, he asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Compassionate Lord, I bring my need to you. I ask, seek, and knock. I look for your answer. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Better Than Fair

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 30

Better Than Fair

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 18:7-15 | Exodus 10:1-12:13 | Matthew 20:1-28 | 

Proverbs 6:6-11

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 20:1-28

“Friend, I am not being unfair to you…Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13, 15 NIV).

I had a professor that tells the story of Alex, a student at the time, coming to her office to speak about a paper that he had turned in late. He apologized to her for the late arrival of the paper knowing that it meant a lower grade. She asked him, “Do you want grace or justice?” He answered, “I don’t deserve grace, so I guess I’ll take justice.” She recalls having a hard time not laughing at the irony of the answer for grace is never deserved. Grace always means God treating us better than we deserve.

That is certainly the point of Jesus parable. God is generous and treats us all better than we deserve. Grace is not fair. It is better than fair.

In the parable Jesus describes a vineyard owner hiring workers for his vineyard. The first group starts working early in the morning for the promised wage of a denarius for the day. A few hours later, he finds another group of workers who are hired on the promise of “I will pay you what is right.” Throughout the day at noon, three, and five, he adds to his workforce.

When it was time to pay them, each group is paid the same wage: one denarius. Some worked all day, others worked only an hour. But to each group generosity was shown.

Grace is not fair. It is better than fair. God always treats us better than we deserve. Some will need more grace than others. We all come into the kingdom at different times and at different places in our spiritual journey. Yet we all need the grace of God—we all need the undeserved generosity of God. We never deserve grace. It is always a free gift from a generous God.

Gracious God, thank you for always treating me better than I deserve. Thank you for your grace which abundantly supplies my need. Teach me to return again and again for the grace and mercy I continue to need. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Where is Your Treasure?

January 29

Where is Your Treasure?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 18:1-6 | Exodus 7:2-9:35 | Matthew 19:13-30 | 

Proverbs 6:1-5 

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 19:13-30

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NIV).

Where is your heart’s treasure? Is it found in the things you possess here on the earth? Or is your treasure found in heaven?

It is a crucial question in a materialistic age. Many find security in money and possessions. Christ calls us to abandon our misplaced security and trust him to provide all we need for this life and the next.

For the rich young man, his misplaced security in possessions became his stumbling block—the ultimate test of whether he could really trust Christ. Many have found their possessions to be a similar stumbling block.

Do we really live our lives in pursuit of the kingdom? Do we really live with an eternal perspective? The way we handle our money and possessions is a key answer to that question.

Paul gives advice on handling worldly wealth with an eternal perspective:

“Command those who are rich in this present world, not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19 TNIV).

Don’t walk away from trusting Jesus by trusting instead in your possessions to bring life’s meaning and security.  Put your hope in God and lay up treasures for yourselves in the age to come.

Gracious God, thank you for your abundant blessings. Teach me to trust you rather than my possessions to bring meaning and security. Help me to trust you to provide everything I need for this life and to lay up treasures for the life to come. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Forgiven to Forgive

January 28

Forgiven to Forgive

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 17:10-15 | Exodus 5:22 – 7:24 | Matthew 18:23-19:12 | Proverbs 5:22-23

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 18:23-19:12

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant’, he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:32-35).

We are all like the man who owed ten thousand talents. Having accumulated an enormous debt of sin, our only hope is to cry to God for mercy–looking for grace and forgiveness.

Our Heavenly Father freely forgives the debt and sets us free.  He is pleased to lavish his grace and mercy upon us.

We are to follow the example of the Father, showing mercy and forgiveness to those who sin against us. Those who receive mercy should be the first to give it to others. We, like the man in the story, must each learn to “forgive your brother from your heart” (35). “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

Yet many who have received mercy from God, act just as the man in the story. They withhold forgiveness–they refuse to forgive from the heart.  

Jesus teaches that those who are forgiven must extend forgiveness. This was also the teaching in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

Forgiveness is not optional for the follower of Christ. It doesn’t matter how great the offense. It doesn’t matter how many times we were sinned against. We must forgive even as we have been forgiven.  

You have carried your burden of unforgiveness too long. It is eating you up on the inside. Let it go. It is time to take the offenses to the cross and leave them there. It is time to forgive—really forgive— from your heart.

God of Grace and Mercy, forgive me where I’ve sinned and enable me to forgive those who have sinned against me. Help me to take the offense and the hurt to the cross and help me to leave it there. Help me to find the freedom that comes from receiving and releasing forgiveness. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Two or Three

January 27

Two or Three

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 17:6-9 | Exodus 4:1- 5:21 | Matthew 18:1-22 | 

Proverbs 5:15-21

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 18:1-22

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19 NIV).

God loves prayer meetings. Many people avoid them. But God always shows up. He loves to be a part of any meeting where two or three of his children come together to pray.

Be assured that whenever you gather to pray, Jesus is right there in the middle of your group interceding along with you. The Holy Spirit is there too, interceding according to the Father’s will. And of course, so is the Father, listening and answering prayers. Your group may be small, but know that you have the ear of the Father. Praying together, God’s kingdom purposes are achieved, his will is accomplished on earth as it is already being done in heaven.

There is power in agreeing together in prayer. Praying in a group is different than individual prayer. In a group, you are encouraged by each other’s faith. Often there is boldness and faith that comes as you press in to the heart of the father together.

As you pray together, you bring your various gifts that work together to pray more effectively.  One may be gifted with wisdom and have insight in how to pray for something that you wouldn’t by yourself. Another’s knowledge of scripture enables them to pray boldly because they are able to claim a promise pertinent to the situation that gives them faith to really believe. Another may bring a gift of faith and have the ability to touch God’s heart with the purity of their childlike trust.  

God loves prayer meetings.  He loves to show up.  What about you?

God Who Hears, help my heart to find joy in praying with others. May our various gifts work together to cry out as with one voice. Help us to agree together in faith and expect you to work through our prayers. Remind us that when we pray together—even two or three of us—you are present with us. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Am I?

January 26

Who Am I?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 17:1-5 | Exodus 2:11-3:22 | Matthew 17:10-27 | Proverbs 5:7-14

Today’s Scripture Focus: Exodus 2-3

But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:11-12 NIV).

God appeared to Moses in an extraordinary way: he appeared in the form of a bush that keeps on burning without any signs of being consumed.

God called Moses to a huge task: to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Leading any large group of people is filed with challenges, but this one also required confronting one of the most powerful rulers of history: the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Confronted by the difficulties ahead, Moses began to doubt his abilities. He began to question whether he was really up to the task. He expresses his self-doubt and insecurities with a question many of us can relate to: “Who am I?” 

God doesn’t answer that question directly. Yet his reply more than answers the question. His reply? “I will be with you.”

When confronted by a huge task, the real question is not “Who am I?”, the real question is “God are you with me?” It’s not a matter of who I am, but of who my God is. I may not be able to do it by myself, but if God is with me, I can do whatever he calls me to do.

Whenever God calls us to do something–especially something that will stretch us, something we are not sure we can do–be assured that God will be with you. He will be there to empower you, to give you wisdom and to comfort you. He will be there to lift you up when you fall down.

Don’t limit yourself by self-doubt and insecurity. God is with you. That’s all that really matters.

Emmanuel, thank you for calling me, gifting me, and providing the opportunities that stretch me. Remind me that it isn’t who I am that matters. What really matters is that I know that you are with me today and always. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Purposes

January 25

God’s Purposes

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 16:7-11 | Genesis 50:1 – Exodus 2:10 | Matthew 16:13-17:9 | Proverbs 5:1-6

Today’s Scripture Focus: Genesis 50

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20 NIV).

We live in a world where many evil things are done. People are hurt and wronged all the time. But that isn’t the whole story.

As in Joseph’s life, God is also at work. What others do to us with the intention of harm, God is able to turn around for his purposes to accomplish good.  

His brothers’ evil intentions of selling Joseph into slavery led to God’s good intention to make Joseph a powerful ruler in Egypt who would provide food for many during a time of famine (including his own family).

Romans 8:28 states the same principle: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

In all things, even the hardest to understand, God is at work shaping actions brought about by man’s evil intentions into opportunities for his own good intentions and our growth.  His ways are beyond our understanding—truly amazing.

When circumstances get you down, when people hurt or take advantage of you, look to the Lord and his amazing ways.  Look for a hidden purpose.  Wait in hope and look for the good that God intends to bring from your situation.

God of Hope, your ways are beyond my ability to completely understand. Yet I wait, I trust, I hope in your faithful, unfailing love. Work all things for my good and your glory. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Marvelous, Miraculous

January 22 

Marvelous, Miraculous

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: Matthew 14:13-36

“Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33).

The gospels are filled with the marvelous and miraculous things that Jesus did. Those who grew up with these stories can sometimes become immune to the awe-struck wonder they must have produced in the disciples and in the observing crowds.

I find it interesting that these miracles happen in the course of Jesus trying to get away for some quiet time. “Jesus withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (13). Working through the grief of the loss of John the Baptist, he rightly sought a quiet place. Yet the crowd would not leave him alone: “the crowds followed him on foot” (14).

Yet, in spite of his intention to find a quiet place, Jesus responds to the crowd with compassion and spends the day healing the sick—a day of the marvelous, the miraculous. But there was more to come.

As evening approached, the disciples urged Jesus to send away the crowd. Jesus wanted to stretch the faith of the disciples, so he said to them: “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

The disciples marveled at such a request, “we have only five loaves of bread and two fish.” It seemed an impossible task.

Yet it was a simple matter for Jesus to feed the Five Thousand with the available bread and fish—there were even basketfuls of food left over.

Jesus sent off the disciples by boat, and he finally found the quiet place on a mountainside to be by himself and to pray.

Then he walked on water, scaring the disciples half to death: “Take courage, It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Impetuous Peter tried to follow Jesus by walking on the water. He started well, but eventually lost sight of Jesus for the wind and the wave. Jesus rescued Peter and encouraged his faith: “You of little faith, why do you doubt?”

In all of it, the disciples were beginning to realize just who Jesus is. The one who does these marvelous, miraculous things must truly be the Son of God (33).

Compassionate Jesus, Son of God, meet me in my need today. The wind and the waves threaten to overwhelm me, help me to keep focused on you and follow you. Strengthen my faith. Be with me today. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment