Praying the Message of Jesus

Daily devotions and thoughts from Eugene Peterson

April 1

Just Give the Order

 

As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, "Master, my servant is sick. He can't walk. He's in terrible pain." Jesus said, "I'll come and heal him." "Oh, no," said the captain. "I don't want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I'm a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, 'Go,' and he goes; to another, 'Come,' and he comes; to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." Taken aback, Jesus said, "I've yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all direc­tions -streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sit­ting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up 'in the faith' but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and won­dering what happened." Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, "Go. What you believed could happen has happened." At that moment his servant became well.  MATTHEW 8:5-13 

 

The captain did what he knew best; he used everyday experience (his mili­tary training) to gain access to the operations of God. Faith, in this case, is not an extraordinary leap into the unknown, but a commonplace step into what is clear and present in Jesus.

 

Whom do you want Jesus to help?

 

Christ, there are so many pararyzed people around, so many servant-children helpless apart from you. Help them. I can't help them; I onry run to you and announce the "terrible pain" to which you are neither impotent nor indiffer­ent. Amen. 

April 2

Ready to Rough It?

 

By this time they were in front of Peter's house. On entering, Jesus found Peter's mother-in-law sick in bed, burning up with fever. He touched her hand and the fever was gone. No sooner was she up on her feet than she was fixing dinner for him. That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah's well-known sermon: "He took our illnesses, he carried our dis­eases." When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. "I'll go with you, wherever," he said. Jesus was curt "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know." Another follower said, "Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father's funeral to take care of." Jesus re­fused. "First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life." MATTHEW 8:14·22

 

Jesus responds to our desire for a closer walk with him by reading us the fine print of discipleship: a loss of creature comforts ("We're not staying in the best inns") and a setting aside of old priorities ("Your business is life, not death").

 

How does Christ change your values?

 

I want to go where you go, Jesus. I think I am willing to do anything. Then you confront me with where you are going and what you are doing, and I am not so sure. Give me, along with the desire to be with you, the courage to stay with you.Amen. 

April 3

Faint-Hearts


Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat-and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, "Master, save us! We're going down!" Jesus reprimanded them. "Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?" Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: "Silence!" The sea became smooth as glass. The men rubbed their eyes, astonished. "What's going on here? Wind and sea come to heel at his command!" MATTHEW 8:23·27


By this time these disciples should have known whom they were with, and what happened when they were with him. But they were more worried about the weather than they were trustful of their Savior.


Would you have been afraid?


My goal, Savior Christ, is to believe in you so deeply and thoroughly that my first response in every crisis is faith in what you will do, trust in how you will bless. But I have a long way to go. Lead me from my femful midgetfaith to mature adulthood. Amen. 

April 4

Get Out And Don't Come Back

 

They landed in the country of the Gadarenes and were met by two madmen, victims of demons, coming out of the cemetery. The men had terrorized the region for so long that no one considered it safe to walk down that stretch of road anymore. Seeing Jesus, the madmen screamed out, "What business do you have giving us a hard time? You're the Son of God! You weren't supposed to show up here yet!" Off in the distance a herd of pigs was browsing and rooting. The evil spirits begged Jesus, "If you kick us out of these men, let us live in the pigs." Jesus said, "Go ahead, but get out of here!" Crazed, the pigs stampeded over a cliff into the sea and drowned. Scared to death, the swineherds bolted. They told everyone back in town what had happened to the madmen and the pigs. Those who heard about it were angry about the drowned pigs. A mob formed and demanded that Jesus get out and not come back. MATTHEW 8:28-34

 

In Gadara, property was valued more highly than people. That two people were restored to sanity was a triviality compared to the loss of their pigs. They wanted nothing to do with Jesus if it meant they had more people to love and less property to hold.

 

What does Jesus do to your value system?

 

Where are my values, Lord Jesus? I pay lip service to the priorities of people, but I give an enormous amount of time and attention to things. Examine me care­fully; if there is any possession that is making it impossible for me to love people and praise you for your work in them, show me how to get rid of it. Amen. 

April 5

I Forgive Your Sins

 

Back in the boat Jesus and the disciples recrossed the sea to Jesus' hometown. They were hardly out of the boat when some men carried a paraplegic on a stretcher and set him down in front of them. Jesus, impressed by their bold belief, said to the para­plegic, "Cheer up, son. I forgive your sins." Some religion scholars whispered, "Why, that's blasphemy!" Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, "Why this gossipy whispering? Which do you think is simpler: to say, 'I forgive your sins,' or, 'Get up and walk'? Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both .... " At this he turned to the paraplegic and said,  "Get up. Take your bed and go home." And the man did it. The crowd was awestruck, amazed and pleased that God had autho­rized Jesus to work among them this way. MATTHEW 9:1-8 

 

Everyone, both the man and his friends, thought his basic need was physi­cal. How surprised they were to hear Jesus address the invisible spiritual need. Jesus got around to the physical, but he began with the man's heart.

 

What do you think of as your most pressing need?

 

God, I wish for and pray for many noble things that are secondary and periph­eral. My agenda of petition lacks theology-I fail to see my life in relation primarily to you. Deal with my needs as you see them. Get to my center and save me. Amen. 

April 6

Come Along with Me

 

Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, "Come along with me." Matthew stood up and followed him. MATTHEW 9:9

 

God in Jesus addresses us by a personal name and with a personal command. He does not impersonally recruit us as workers or functionaries. When we respond, we move out of a life in which what we do or others do is the main thing and into a life where God is the controlling center.

 

What do you know about tax collectors?

 

"Follow, I would follow Thee, my Lord, follow every passing day. My tomor­rows are all known to Thee, Thou wilt lead me all the way." Amen. 

April 7

Mercy, Not Religion

 

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?" Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders." MATTHEW 9:10-13

 

The key word here is merry-the divine will and energy of helping the hurt and saving the lost. It is set in contrast to religion-the human attempt to arrange appearances so that they are pleasing to God.

 

How do Jesus' words change your outlook on life?

 

When I see things from your point of view, Lord Jesus, though everything is the same, everything is different. Life is lived in grateful response to your merry, not in obsessive and fearful attempts to look good. I can relax. I can praise. I can live to your glory. Amen. 

April 8

Cracked Bottles

 

A little later John's followers approached, asking, "Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don't?" Jesus told them, "When you're celebrating a wedding, you don't skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!" He went on, "No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don't put your wine in cracked bottles." MATTHEW 9:14-17

 

Fasting was, and is, a noble religious discipline. But fasting was not an end in itself to be gradually perfected through the centuries but rather prepara­tion for a feast. And now the feast is served!

 

Do you ever confuse preparation with fulfillment?

 

Father in heaven, keep me flexible and responsive to your presence in my life so that I will be ready at any moment to stop what I am doing in getting ready for you and go with you in service or in praise, in witness or in celebration. Amen. 

April 9

Daughter

 

As he finished saying this, a local official appeared, bowed politely, and said, "My daughter has just now died. If you come and touch her, she will live." Jesus got up and went with him, his disciples following along. Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, "If I can just put a finger on his robe, I'll get well." Jesus turned -caught her at it. Then he reassured her: "Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you're well." The woman was well from then on. By now they had arrived at the house of the town official, and pushed their way through the gossips looking for a story and the neighbors bringing in casseroles. Jesus was abrupt: "Clear out! This girl isn't dead. She's sleeping." They told him he didn't know what he was talking about. But when Jesus had gotten rid of the crowd, he went in, took the girl's hand, and pulled her to her feet-alive. MATTHEW 9:18-25

 

The two daughters, the one twelve years old and the other twelve years sick, had their stories held together. The anonymous woman in the crowd was healed with the same attentive tenderness as the daughter of one of the most prominent men in town.

 

What comparisons and contrasts do you see between the two?

 

When, Lord, will I learn the grand and ever freshly documented truth-no one is beneath your attention, no person is beyond your help. Keep me from the sin of despair, always ready for your resurrection word. Amen. 

April 10

Two Blind Men

 

As Jesus left the house, he was followed by two blind men crying out. "Mercy, Son of David! Mercy on us!" When Jesus got home, the blind men went in with him. Jesus said to them, "Do you really believe I can do this?" They said, "Why, yes, Master!" He touched their eyes and said, "Become what you believe." It happened. They saw. Then Jesus became very stern. "Don't let a soul know how this happened." But they were hardly out the door before they started blabbing it to everyone they met. MATTHEW 9:27-31

 

The two blind men were typical of many: They enjoyed immensely the benefits of being with Jesus but blithely ignored his commands. As long as they needed help, they were all eagerness and attention; as soon as they got what they came for, they disregarded Jesus completely.

 

Why did the healed men disobey Jesus' command for silence?

 

Jesus Christ, I want to take your words to me just as seriously and personally as I do your acts for me. I need your help, but I also need your direction. Lead me from the faith that responds to your mercy into the faith that becomes obedient discipleship. Amen. 

April 11

A Huge Harvest


Right after that, as the blind men were leaving, a man who had been struck speechless by an evil spirit was brought to Jesus. As soon as Jesus threw the evil tormenting spirit out, the man talked away just as if he'd been talking all his life. The people were up on their feet applauding: "There's never been anything like this is Israel!" The Pharisees were left sputtering, "Hocus pocus. It's nothing but hocus pocus. He's probably made a pact with the Devil." Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So conf'used and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. "What a huge harvest!" he said to his disciples. "How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!" MATTHEW 9:32-38


To this point in the narrative, the emphasis has been on the ministry of Jesus. Now there is a transition as he enlists others in the work of compas­sion. Jesus not only helps us, he helps us to help others.


Where do you see a huge harvest?


"Come, labor on, who dares stand idle on the harvest plain while all around him waves the golden grain? And to each servant does the Master say, Go work today." Amen. 

April 12

Live Generously

 

The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives .... Jesus sent his twelve har­vest hands out with this charge: "Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, con­fused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light." MATTHEW 10:1, 5-10 

 

We don't just receive Christ's ministry, we share it. Each Christian is a nexus for grace, an intersection of redemptive traffic. All the vigorous ener­gies of joy (preaching), intelligence (teaching), and health (healing) spill out of our lives into the world.

 

What kind of ministry are you good at?

 

The sound of your commands, dear Christ, continues to ring in my ears: tell, bring health, raise, touch, kick out. May all the love I experience from you get acted out in my encounters with the people I meet today. Amen. 

April 13

Don't Make a Scene

 

"When you enter a town or village, don't insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave. When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don't welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they'll be mighty sorry - but it's no concern of yours now." Matthew 10:11-15

 

Ministry is not ingratiation. We must not conduct our lives of service so that people will like us; for if we do, we only become a servant to the neurotic needs of others, not a witness to the healthy promises of God.

 

How does it feel to have your witness rejected?

 

My commitment, Lord, is to you-not to success at any cost, not to acceptance by everyone. Keep me loyal, obeying your commands and doing your work, more interested in being faithful than in being popular. Amen. 

April 14

Before the Son of Man Arrives

 

"Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. Don't be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation just because you believe in me. Don't be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they've done you-and me-a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don't worry about what you'll say or how you'll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words. When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don't quit. Don't cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you've run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived." MATTHEW 10:16-23 

 

We live, spiritually and morally, in hostile country. We need co be realistic about chat. What we muse not do is write doomsday endings to chis experi­ence. Family strife, social discord, church unrest are not the end. Christ is the end.

 

What hostility do you experience?

 

In each obstacle I meet today, Savior Christ, I will look for your help, antici­pate your coming. Show me how to live in hard times with a light heart. Amen. 

April 15

Be Pleased

 

"A student doesn't get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn't make more money than his boss. Be content-pleased, even when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, 'Dungface,' what can the workers expect?" MATTHEW 10:24-25 

 

We don't mind suffering for things we do that deserve punishment; but when we suffer for doing the right, we mind terribly. That is exactly what we let ourselves in for as Christ's disciples-misapprehension and rejection in pursuit of the good.

 

In what ways do people misunderstand you?

 

Lord Jesus Christ, I want to understand exactly the ways in which you expressed the truth, and I want to patiently submit myself to experiencing that way of life, not trying to get out of the hard parts, not complaining about the unpopu­larity, but enduring and remaining faithful. Amen. 

April 16

More Than a Million Canaries

 

"Don't be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don't hesitate to go public now. Don't be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There's nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life -body and soul -in his hands. What's the price of a pet ca­nary? some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail -even numbering the hairs on your head! so don't be intimidated by all this bully talk. You're worth more than a million canaries. Stand up for me against world opinion and I'll stand up for you before my Father in heaven." MATTHEW 10:26-32 

 

In Christ's kingdom no person is subordinated to a principle or a cause, used as a case history in a dissertation on goodness or sin. We are not treated as a means to anything; we are valued for who we are.

 

How many times in this passage are we encouraged not to be afraid?

 

When I look, Lord, at what other people do and say I become fearful-and rightly so, for my life to them is merely something to manipulate. But when I listen to what you say and believe in what you are doing, I trust, sure that revelation will triumph over hiddenness and resurrection over destruction. Amen. 

April 17

You Don't Deserve Me

 

"If you turn tail and run, do you think I'll cover for you? Don't think I've come to make life cozy. I've come to cut-make a sharp knife­cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law-cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don't deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don't deserve me. If you don't go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don't deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me." Matthew 10:33-39

 

We commonly avoid conflicts and encounters chat require decisions between the good and the best, between the convenient and the excellent. We sink into a quagmire of domesticity, security, and self-gratification. The result is a conglomerate arrangement of habits and associations that we misname "community," sometimes even "church." But Christ has some­thing far better.

 

What has Christ come to do?

 

Better your knife-cut, Lord, than the world's peace. I want the clarity of sharp decisions, not the amoral smog of confused compromises. Separate me from the half-gods of this world;free me for total response to you. Amen. 

April 18

A Cool Cup of Water

 

"We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing." Matthew 10:40-42

 

Our acceptance of others and our service to others do not have to agonize over who is worthy, over what takes priority: Christ is present in everyone, everywhere. Our acts of trust and compassion, of witness and help, are anticipated by his, and fulfilled in his.

 

What are some of the small acts you can do in your life?

 

I dream, Father, of doing great acts of service in your name; meanwhile there are little opportunities for help all around us. Keep me faithful in the small tasks, discovering your presence in overlooked people and in obsettre places. Amen. 

April 19

Are We Still Waiting?

 

When Jesus finished placing this charge before his twelve disciples, he went on to teach and preach in their villages. John, meanwhile, had been locked up in prison. When he got wind of what Jesus was doing, he sent his own disciples to ask, "Are you the One we've been expecting, or are we still waiting?" Jesus told them, "Go back and tell John what's going on: 'The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.' Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!" Matthew 11:1-6

 

Jesus didn't get popular applause for what he did; he didn't overwhelmingly convince everyone of his truth. Even John, who prepared the way for Jesus' ministry, had his doubts. God in Christ doesn't come among us to meet our expectations, but to save us from our sins.

 

Why do you think John was in doubt about Jesus?

 

I have a lot of questions, Lord God, especially when things aren't going well in my life. I wonder if you are doing your job, if you have included me in your plans. And then, by faith, I get a larger vision, comprehend a deeper hope, and bless you for your mysterious and glorious work. Amen. 

April 20

What Did You Expect?

 

When John's disciples left to report, Jesus started talking to the crowd about John. "What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pajamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A prophet? That's right, a prophet! Probably the best prophet you'll ever hear. He is the prophet that Malachi announced when he wrote, 'I'm sending my prophet ahead of you, to make the road smooth for you.' Let me tell you what's going on here: No one in history surpasses John the Baptizer; but in the kingdom he prepared you for, the lowliest person is ahead of him." Matthew 11:7-11

 

Are we tourists, sightseeing in religion with binoculars and camera? Do we reduce the man of God to a spectacle? But the gospel is not a spectator sport; it is not window-shopping. God's rule has already broken in. The participation of the least, not the fame of the great, is what is important.

 

Why was John important?

 

It is a lot easier for me, Lord Jesus, to be an onlooker than a participant. I get all the pleasures of diversion and exitement and none of the stress of risk and discipline. But that is not what you want from me, and I know it. Forgive me for looking on, and enable me to enter in, by faith. Amen. 

April 21

Take It by Force

 

"For a long time now people have tried to force themselves into God's kingdom. But if you read the books of the Prophets and God's Law closely, you will see them culminate in John, teaming up with him in preparing the way for the Messiah of the kingdom. Looked at in this way, John is the 'Elijah' you've all been expecting to arrive and introduce the Messiah. Are you listening to me? Really listening?" Matthew 11:12-15

 

Intense listening is what is required from us, not religious poll-taking, not theological opinion-sampling. The spiritual danger that we face is casual­ness, the indifference that treats the Word of God on the same level as the newspaper editorial. True faith is energetic and single-minded.

 

Why is John compared with Elijah?

 

Your warnings, O God, are frequent and insistent-and necessarily so, for I let things slide, permit junk distractions to divert me from responding to your love and pursuing your will with my whole heart and mind and strength. Develop ardor in me, and keep me centered on you. Amen. 

April 22

This Generation

 

"How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, 'We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.' John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.'' MATTHEW 11:16-19

 

Every generation wants God to dance to its tune. And every generation complains that God doesn't meet its expectations-like bored and whin­ing children. But it is God who makes demands on us, not we on him. It is God who includes us in his plans, not we who include him in ours.

 

What was the difference between John and Jesus?

 

I pick up the consumer mentality, Lord, and shop for religion the way I shop for groceries-sorting through the shelves (the churches!) to find what suits my taste. Forgive me. Let me be still before you and respond to all that you are for me, in faith, in adoration. Amen. 

April 23

Doom to You!

 

Next Jesus let fly on the cities where he had worked the hardest but whose people had responded the least, shrugging their shoulders and going their own way. "Doom to you, Chorazin! Doom, Bethsaida! If Tyre and Sidon had seen half of the powerful miracles you have seen, they would have been on their knees in a minute. At Judgment Day they'll get off easy compared to you. And Capernaum! With all your peacock strutting, you are going to end up in the abyss. If the people of Sodom had had your chances, the city would still be around. At Judgment Day they'll get off easy compared to you." MATTHEW 11:20-24

 

We can always look around us and find people who are more wicked than we are and feel that we are not so bad after all. We get justification by comparison. But God does not grade on the curve. We are not judged in comparison with others, but by our response to God.

 

Why is Sodom famous?

 

Have mercy on me, Christ. I see myself in the mirror of your Word and see so much that I have done that is wrong, and so much that I have not done that is essential. I don't want to just get by with the approval of my peers, but to become whole by your grace. Amen. 

April 24

Spelled Out

 

Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: "Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You've concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that's the way you like to work." Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. "The Father has given me all things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I'm not keeping it to myself; I'm ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen." Matthew 11:25-27

 

God shows himself; he does not hide himsel£ God delights in letting us in on his plans and actions; he does not tease us with coquettish hints. There is mystery in the gospel, true, but it is the mystery oflight, not darkness, or more reality than we can take in, not arcane secrets withheld from us.

 

What is the most important truth revealed to you?

 

I am full of praise, Lord God, for all that you show me, for everything that you reveal to me. I thank you for including me in what you are doing so that I can participate intelligently, for telling me what you are doing so that I can live in the light and not stumble in the dark. Amen. 

April 25

Come to Me

 

"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," MATTHEW 11:28-30

 

The day teems with possibilities. Jesus' command rouses us out of a sleepy timidity. He doesn't tell us to go out into the world and conquer it; he calls us into a yoked companionship with himself He doesn't ask us to do anything that he doesn't promise to do with us. We are not so much sent out as invited along.

 

What does keeping company with Jesus look like in your life?

 

"Come unto Me, ye weary, and I will give you rest. O Blessed voice of Jesus, which comes to hearts oppressed! It tells of benediction, of pardon, grace, and peace, ofjoy that hath no ending, of love which cannot cease." Amen. 

April 26

In Charge of the Sabbath

 

One Sabbath, Jesus was strolling with his disciples through a field of ripe grain. Hungry, the disciples were pulling off the heads of grain and munching on them. Some Pharisees reported them to Jesus: "Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!" Jesus said, "Really? Didn't you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? And didn't you ever read in God's Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it's not held against them? There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant- 'I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual' -you wouldn't be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he's in charge." MATTHEW 12:1-8

 

Jesus concentrates on the personal. He cuts through the maze of regula­tions and customs that we accumulate and elaborate, and discovers the essential act, the core truth. Jesus is full of refreshing common sense.

 

Review 1 Samuel 21:1-6 as background.

 

Father, so many things-ideas, customs, concerns-intrude themselves into my life and separate me from devotion to you. Put all these things in their place so that I can be in my proper place, worshiping you and living in love in the world. Amen. 

April 27

How to Ruin Him

 

When Jesus left the field, he entered their meeting place. There was a man there with a crippled hand. They said to Jesus, "Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?" They were baiting him. He replied, "Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn't, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!" Then he said to the man, "Hold out your hand." He held it out and it was healed. The Pharisees walked out furious, sputtering about how they were going to ruin Jesus. MATTHEW 12:9-14

 

Jonathan Swift once remarked, "Most of us have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love." Here is an instance of it, people hating Jesus. The list of crimes planned and committed on behalf of the deity stretches into a long list.

 

Why were they plotting? Did they hate Jesus?

 

Like so many others, God, I want your stamp of approval on what I find comfortable, not a life of repentance and risky faith. Keep watch over my heart today. Quickly expose any scheming that masks itself as "religious concern" but has as its actual purpose the murderous removal of the Redeemer. Amen. 

April 28

Some Devil Trick

 

Jesus, knowing they were out to get him, moved on. A lot of people followed him, and he healed them all. He also cautioned them to keep it quiet, following guidelines set down by Isaiah: "Look well at my handpicked servant; I love him so much, take such delight in him. I've placed my Spirit on him; he'll decree justice to the nations. But he won't yell, won't raise his voice; there'll be no commotion in the streets. He won't walk over any­one's feelings, won't push you into a corner. Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers." Next a poor demon­afflicted wretch, both blind and deaf, was set down before him. Jesus healed him, gave him his sight and hearing. The people who saw it were impressed-"This has to be the Son of David!" But the Pharisees, when they heard the report, were cynical. "Black magic," they said. "Some devil trick he's pulled from his sleeve." Jesus confronted their slander. "A judge who gives op­posite verdicts on the same person cancels himself out; a family that's in a constant squabble disintegrates; if Satan banishes Satan, is there any Satan left? If you're slinging devil mud at me, calling me a devil kicking out devils, doesn't the same mud stick to your exorcists? But if it's by God's power that I am sending the evil spirits packing, then God's kingdom is here for sure. How in the world do you think it's possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first? Tie him up, though, and you can clean him out. This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you're not on my side, you're the enemy; if you're not helping, you're making things worse. There's nothing done or said that can't be forgiven. But if you deliberately persist in your slanders against God's Spirit. you are repudiating the very One who forgives. If you reject the Son of Man out of some mis­understanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you're sawing off the branch on which you're sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives." MATTHEW 12:15-32

 

People are always ready with an explanation of reality that eliminates God from their lives-anything to avoid dealing with the love of Christ. Our world is full of debunking, cynical explanations that flatten people and events into a sidewalk sameness.

 

Why is Jesus so vehement in his response?

 

Almighty God, I don't want to be in that crowd of people who are standing around on the sidelines criticizing and quibbling; I want to be with those dis­ciples who are listening, and believing, and following. Amen. 

April 29

The Power of Words

 

“If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree. You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” MATTHEW 12:33-37

 

“But I didn’t really mean it.” The excuse is familiar but unacceptable. Every word reveals what is already in the heart. Whatever the heart is full of, whether good or bad, spills out in the words of our mouths.

 

What do your words reveal about your heart?

 

Root, O God, my life deeply in your redeeming work so that the words that casually and accidentally come from my mouth will be words of praise and exclamations of trust. Amen.

April 30

Jonah-Evidence


Later a few religion scholars and Pharisees got on him. "Teacher, we want to see your credentials. Give us some hard evidence that God is in this. How about a miracle?" Jesus said, "You're looking for proof, but you're looking for the wrong kind. All you want is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles. The only proof you're going to get is what looks like the absence of proof: Jonah-evidence. Like Jonah, three days and nights in the fish's belly, the Son of Man will be gone three days and nights in a deep grave. On Judgment Day, the Ninevites will stand up and give evidence that will condemn this generation, because when Jonah preached to them they changed their lives. A far greater preacher than Jonah is here, and you squabble about 'proofs.' On Judgment Day, the Queen of Sheba will come forward and bring evidence that will condemn this generation, because she traveled from a far corner of the earth to listen to wise Solomon. Wisdom far greater than Solomon's is right in front of you, and you quibble over 'evidence."' Matthew 12:38-42


Evidence of God's presence and action is accumulating all around us in enormous quantities. If we don't see it, it is because we are looking for the wrong things-for marvels and for sensations instead of for grace and resurrection.


What evidence are you looking for?


Train my eyes, O God, to see what is to be seen in Christ-new life from the dead, fresh hope from the grave, divine love renewing human emptiness. Amen.