How Long, O Lord? (Jan 21)

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? (Jan 20)

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 13:24-26 | 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 (Jan 19)

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 (Jan 18)

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 (Jan 17)

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. 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 (Jan 15)

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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