Praying the Message of Jesus

Daily devotions and thoughts from Eugene Peterson

May 1

Far Worse

 

“When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place. That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in.”  MATTHEW 12:43-45

 

The goal of the Christian way is not human purity, but divine fellowship. Our task is not to sweep and beautify the house so that there is not a speck of evil dust to be found, but to invite our Lord to dwell with us and fill the house with the laughter of forgiveness and the conversation of grace. How do you apply this Scripture to your life?

 

Lord, you know how I am always coming up with a new scheme for self-improvement and reducing my role in the spiritual life to that of charwoman, scrubbing and dusting and polishing my moral image. What I need is you, your presence. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus! Amen.

May 2

My Mother and Brothers

 

While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you.” Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, “Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” MATTHEW 12:46-50

 

No one is born into an intimate relationship with Christ. We cannot presume on him. But everyone has access to an intimate life with him—a life of mother or brother or sister. No one is left out by accident of birth; everyone is included by an act of faith. What is your relationship with Christ?

 

Lord Jesus, thank you for the newfound intimacies of faith—that there is a family in which all are accepted equally, all loved uniquely, and that I am included in the “all.” Amen.

May 3

Listen

 

At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories. “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. Are you listening to this? Really listening?” MATTHEW 13:1-9

 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree in making this the first of Jesus’ stories. Every word God speaks to us is seed. We must not treat it casually, waste any of it in uncommitted enthusiasm, or permit it to be crowded into oblivion by the words of others. What kind of earth are you?

 

Keep speaking, dear Christ, and keep me listening. Let your Word take deep root in the soil of my life and bring forth a crop of faith and love and hope, a life lived to the praise of your glory. Amen.

May 4

Why Tell Stories?

 

The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again: ‘Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won’t have to listen; they screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.’ But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.” MATTHEW 13:10-17

 

The story is a tool for deciding, not discussing. For those who want to have conversations about God, the story is opaque. For those who will look and listen and pray, the story becomes a means for participation in the life of faith. Why do you like stories?

 

Thank you, Lord God, for sharing your secrets with me, for speaking in love and listening in kindness. My life is filled with the sights and sounds of the gospel. How privileged I am! How blessed! Amen.

May 5

He Produces a Harvest

 

“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” MATTHEW 13:18-23

 

Every aspect of life is given significance by the word that Christ addresses to us. We understand our empty, barren hours as a failure to respond to Christ, and we understand our full, fertile days as a result of Christ’s triumphant word working in us. What part of the story are you living today?

 

Father, interpret my life for me by means of these words so that I may understand everything that takes place today in relation to what you have done and are doing and will do. I don’t want to evaluate anything in terms of my effort, but only in the light of your intention and love in Jesus Christ. Amen.

May 6

Thistles

 

He told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too. The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’ He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’ The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’ He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’” MATTHEW 13:24-30

 

Jesus shows no panic in the presence of evil. He does not give his seed-word greenhouse protection. He is confident that good seed has vastly better survival strength than thistles. What thistles are in your life?

 

Dear Christ, train me in such trust that I am able to share your poise. No more doomsday gloom when I find a thistle in the garden! I want your confident, relaxed case in the face of the opposition. Amen.

May 7

Like a Pine Nut


Another story. “God’s kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it.” Another story. “God’s kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises.” MATTHEW 13:31-33


Frequently, our excuse for being irresponsible is the claim that we are insignificant. Jesus’ stories of the pine nut and yeast put a stop to that. It is the unnoticed, invisible movements of Christ in us that become the forests and banquets of his kingdom. What insignificant, invisible obedience can you engage in today?


I keep looking, God, for the dramatic moment when I can engage in a glorious sacrifice for the faith; you keep presenting me with daily opportunities for belief and obedience and hope. Help me to forget my dreams of melodrama and accept the reality of your kingdom. Amen.

May 8

The End of the Age


Jesus dismissed the congregation and went into the house. His disciples came in and said, “Explain to us that story of the thistles in the field.” So he explained. “The farmer who sows the pure seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the pure seeds are subjects of the kingdom, the thistles are subjects of the Devil, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, the curtain of history. The harvest hands are angels. The picture of thistles pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act. The Son of Man will send his angels, weed out the thistles from his kingdom, pitch them in the trash, and be done with them. They are going to complain to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen. At the same time, ripe, holy lives will mature and adorn the kingdom of their Father. Are you listening to this? Really listening?” MATTHEW 13:36-43


We live in an antihistorical age. Everyone, it seems, has amnesia. We are immersed in “presentness.” Both past and future are drained of content. Taught by Jesus, we comprehend the past as our own story and anticipate the future as his promise and live with sharp-edged gratitude and vivid hope. What do you hope for?


Too many people around me, Lord, think of the future, when they think of it at all, with dread. Taught by you, I will anticipate it with joy, knowing that your will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

May 9

Everything

 

“God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field. Or, God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.” MATTHEW 13:44-46

 

The two stories have one word in common: “everything.” There must be no equivocation, no hesitation, no calculation before God’s offer of new life. All we have is traded in for all that God has for us. What, for you, is included in the “everything”?

 

O God, I don’t want to bring a bookkeeper’s mind to the life of faith, anxiously adding up columns of what I must give, columns of what I might get. I give all and accept all. Amen.

May 10

Cull the Bad


“Or, God’s kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. That’s how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish and throw them in the garbage. There will be a lot of desperate complaining, but it won’t do any good.” MATTHEW 13:47-50


Grading, judging, deciding on relative merits—all that is very much a part of the world’s life. But we are not good at it—nobody is good at it. Leave it to the angels. The story emphasizes the reality of judgment, at the same time that it says we have no part in doing it. Whom are you tempted to judge?


I know, Father, that you are the judge of all the earth and that you will execute your judgment both firmly and mercifully. I leave all that to you as I throw myself into the work of believing you and loving my neighbors. Amen.

May 11

Trained in God’s Kingdom

 

Jesus asked, “Are you starting to get a handle on all this?” They answered, “Yes.” He said, “Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly as you need it.” When Jesus finished telling these stories, he left there. MATTHEW 13:51-53

 

The mixture of old and new is what Jesus does so well, and teaches us to do. The gospel does not specialize in either ancient history or modern problems, but rather develops the skills to appropriate diverse treasures of the kingdom for redemption goals. How does God train you?

 

What a rich heritage of truth and experience you have given me, God. And what fresh and creative materials you hand me day by day in situations and people. Daily train me in the skills that will make me a good disciple. Amen.

May 12

Taken for Granted

 

[He] returned to his hometown, and gave a lecture in the meetinghouse. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise, get such ability?” But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “We’ve known him since he was a kid; he’s the carpenter’s son. We know his mother, Mary. We know his brothers James and Joseph, Simon and Judas. All his sisters live here. Who does he think he is?” They got their noses all out of joint. But Jesus said, “A prophet is taken for granted in his hometown and his family.” He didn’t do many miracles there because of their hostile indifference. MATTHEW 13:54-58

 

We do it too. We domesticate Jesus. We think we know all about him and precisely what he can do and cannot do. We label him and define him. Our sophomoric knowledge becomes a substitute for a faith in him. Does familiarity with Jesus breed contempt?

 

Lord Jesus, don’t let my minuscule knowledge of your humanity detract from the enormous mystery of your divinity. Keep me open in faith to the majesty and glory of your being, and responsive to your power to change and save. Amen.

May 13

Five Loaves and Two Fish


At about this time, Herod, the regional ruler, heard what was being said about Jesus. He said to his servants, “This has to be John the Baptizer come back from the dead. That’s why he’s able to work miracles!” Herod had arrested John, put him in chains, and sent him to prison to placate Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. John had provoked Herod by naming his relationship with Herodias “adultery.” Herod wanted to kill him, but he was afraid because so many people revered John as a prophet of God. But at his birthday celebration, he got his chance. Herodias’s daughter provided the entertainment, dancing for the guests. She swept Herod away. In his drunken enthusiasm, he promised her on oath anything she wanted. Already coached by her mother, she was ready: “Give me, served up on a platter, the head of John the Baptizer.” That sobered the king up fast. Unwilling to lose face with his guests, he did it—ordered John’s head cut off and presented to the girl on a platter. She in turn gave it to her mother. Later, John’s disciples got the body, gave it a reverent burial, and reported to Jesus. When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw then coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick. Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.” But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.” “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said. Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed. MATTHEW 14:1-21


A hillside of hungry families was changed into a well-fed congregation by Jesus’ fourfold action: He took, he blessed, he broke, he gave. Those four acts continue to be reenacted, and our poverty transformed into affluence, wherever people gather in Christ’s name. How is this miracle continued into your life?


When I examine my own resources, O Christ, I never seem to have enough. When I worship you, I never seem to run out of blessing. Thank you for your abundance, for your never-diminishing power to meet my needs and complete my joy. Amen.

May 14

Courage

 

As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night. Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror. But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.” MATTHEW 14:22-27

 

While the disciples had been struggling in the boat, Jesus had been praying on the mountain. Their work was getting them nowhere; Jesus, strong from his hours of prayer, gave them what they needed. What is one of the most frightening times of your life?

 

Thank you for your prayers, Lord Jesus: for bringing God to me, for bringing love to me, for invading my terror with your courage, for saving me. Amen.

May 15

Master, Save Me!

 

Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come ahead.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!” Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!” MATTHEW 14:28-33

 

Peter moved from brash, untutored enthusiasm, to disabling doubt, to reverent worship. We, like Peter, have to be rescued from the excesses of presumption and saved from the disabling doubt. Worship, not walking on water, is what we are created for. In what ways are you like Peter?

 

So many times, God, I venture into things that are over my head, and instead of looking to you to command and direct I look at the impossible odds and the overwhelming difficulties and sink dangerously. “Master, save me!” Amen.

May 16

Touch the Edge of His Coat


On return, they beached the boat at Gennesaret. When the people got wind that he was back, they sent out word through the neighborhood and rounded up all the sick, who asked for permission to touch the edge of his coat. And whoever touched him was healed. MATTHEW 14:34-36


The terrible loneliness of the ill is shown in their desire to touch Jesus. His willingness to be touched, to be intimate with people in need, shows that he shares his complete person, his body as his spirit, with those who crave contact with wholeness. What do you need from God?


I reach out to you, Savior Christ, hardly knowing what I need much of the time, but knowing that I need you. And you are there, ready to change my emptiness into wholeness. Thank you for your love and compassion. Amen.

May 17

Blind Leading the Blind

 

After that, Pharisees and religion scholars came to Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, criticizing, “Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules?” But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father and mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules. Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye: ‘These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.’” He then called the crowd together and said, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.” Later his disciples came and told him, “Did you know how upset the Pharisees were when they heard what you said?” Jesus shrugged it off. “Every tree that wasn’t planted by my Father in heaven will be pulled up by its roots. Forget them. They are blind men leading blind men. When a blind man leads a blind man, they both end up in the ditch.” MATTHEW 15:1-14

 

Rules and traditions are useful. They are useful the way bark on a tree is useful: to protect the life within. They preserve truth, but they are not truth. All truth must be lived firsthand, from the inner life. Why are rules dangerous?

 

O God, let me never suppose that because I have inherited a few rules and traditions, I therefore have the living truth. Keep me in touch with the immediate acts of faith that respond to your living word in Christ so that I am resilient and growing in grace, not stiff and fixed in old ways. Amen.

May 18

Put It in Plain Language


Peter said, “I don’t get it. Put it in plain language.” Jesus replied, “You, too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That’s what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands—that’s neither here nor there.” MATTHEW 15:15-20


We are always turning religion into something that we can control and use to demonstrate that we are all right: a system of rules, an arrangement of traditions. Jesus is always probing to the heart, showing us that our disposition, our faith, and our thoughts are at the center of our relationship with God. What traditions do you have that are worthless?


Forgive me, merciful Christ, for trying to hide behind conventional morality when I should be opening up myself to you for deep and eternal healing. Examine my inner thoughts and create the kind of life in me that will live to the praise of your glory. Amen.

May 19

Mercy, Master!


From there Jesus took a trip to Tyre and Sidon. They had hardly arrived when a Canaanite woman came down from the hills and pleaded, “Mercy, Master, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit.” Jesus ignored her. The disciples came and complained, “Now she’s bothering us. Would you please take care of her? She’s driving us crazy.” Jesus refused, telling them, “I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel.” Then the woman came back to Jesus, went to her knees, and begged. “Master, help me.” He said, “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.” She was quick: “You’re right, Master, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table.” Jesus gave in. “Oh, woman, your faith is something else. What you want is what you get!” Right then her daughter became well. MATTHEW 15:21-28


The Canaanite woman with her bold simplicity, absolute lack of guile, and persistent directness teaches us how to ask Christ for what we need. Too often we elaborately and piously negotiate, rather than simply throwing ourselves on the mercy of our Lord. How do you feel about the disciples in this story?


Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May 20

Four Thousand Ate Their Fill


But Jesus wasn’t finished with them. He called his disciples and said, “I hurt for these people. For three days now they’ve been with me, and now they have nothing to eat. I can’t send them away without a meal—they’d probably collapse on the road.” His disciples said, “But where in this deserted place are you going to dig up enough food for a meal?” Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?” “Seven loaves,” they said, “plus a few fish.” At that, Jesus directed the people to sit down. He took the seven loaves and the fish. After giving thanks, he divided it up and gave it to the people. Everyone ate. They had all they wanted. It took seven large baskets to collect the leftovers. Over four thousand people ate their fill at that meal. After Jesus sent them away, he climbed in the boat and crossed over to the Magadan hills. MATTHEW 15:32-39


The meal is one of Jesus’ favorite places for ministry. Here a quite ordinary picnic becomes, under Jesus’ words and acts, a messianic banquet. The needs that food meets in our bodies, Christ meets in our lives. Compare this with the earlier meal in Matthew 14:13-21.


Never permit me, Lord, to sit down to a meal without being at least dimly aware of your great precedent-setting actions, whereby inadequately provided food becomes, because you are present, abundantly experienced fullness. Amen.

May 21

Pharisee-Sadducee Yeast

 

Some Pharisees and Sadducees were on him again, pressing him to prove himself to them. He told them, “You have a saying that goes, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ You find it easy enough to forecast the weather—why can’t you read the signs of the times? An evil and wanton generation is always wanting signs and wonders. The only sign you’ll get is the Jonah sign.” Then he turned on his heel and walked away. On their way to the other side of the lake, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to bring along bread. In the meantime, Jesus said to them, “Keep a sharp eye out for Pharisee-Sadducee yeast.” Thinking he was scolding them for forgetting bread, they discussed in whispers what to do. Jesus knew what they were doing and said, “Why all these worried whispers about forgetting the bread? Runt believers! Haven’t you caught on yet? Don’t you remember the five loaves of bread and the five thousand people, and how many baskets of fragments you picked up? Or the seven loaves that fed four thousand, and how many baskets of leftovers you collected? Haven’t you realized yet that bread isn’t the problem? The problem is yeast, Pharisee-Sadducee yeast.” Then they got it: that he wasn’t concerned about eating, but teaching—the Pharisee-Sadducee kind of teaching. MATTHEW 16:1-12

 

The Pharisees wanted a Jesus who would dazzle and delight them with signs and miracles; Jesus was only interested in sharing the life of God that would change them into being people of faith who praise. What are you interested in?

 

Will I ever, dear Jesus, get over the immature fantasies that dream of great signs and wonders? As if there were not enough of them provided already in both creation and salvation! Purge me from the leaven of sign-seeking so that I may live by faith and in adoration. Amen.

May 22

You’re the Christ


When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out. And that’s not all. You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is a no in heaven.” MATTHEW 16:13-19


At the same time that Peter realized and confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the one who reveals God to us, Jesus named Peter as the rock on which the church will be built. The moment that we make Christ our Lord, Christ makes us his foundation stones for the building of his living temple in the world. Have you confessed that Jesus is your Lord and Savior?


Be Lord and Savior to me, dear Jesus. I receive your presence as God’s presence; I believe your words as God’s words to me; make me what you will, use me how you will. No longer my will but yours be done. Amen.

May 23

Anyone Who Intends to Come

 

Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive. Peter took him in hand, protesting, “Impossible, Master! That can never be!” But Jesus didn’t swerve. “Peter, get out of my way. Satan, get lost. You have no idea how God works.” Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?” MATTHEW 16:21-26

 

We want to follow Jesus, but like Peter we also want to tell Jesus where to go. Jesus doesn’t need our advice; he needs our faithful obedience. Discipleship means learning how to listen to Christ, not getting him to listen to us.

 

What are the supreme conditions for discipleship?

 

Jesus calls us: by Thy mercies, Saviour, may we hear Thy call, give our hearts to Thine obedience, serve and love Thee best of all.” Amen.

May 24

Changed Right Before Their Eyes

 

Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him. Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?” While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.” When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus. MATTHEW 17:1-8

 

Because he makes himself so accessible to us, we are in constant danger of reducing Jesus to a hail-fellow-well-met. But there is a terrifying majesty in him that occasionally becomes apparent to us. When it does it is unthinkable that we should treat him as a cosmic buddy; we can only fall down in awe and worship.

 

What do you think of Peter’s proposal?

 

Lord Jesus Christ, open my eyes to the reality of your glory, to the splendor of your loveliness. I worship you. I praise you. I center my life in you, and only you. Amen.

May 25

Don’t Breathe a Word

 

Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. “Don’t breathe a word of what you’ve seen. After the Son of Man is raised from the dead, you are free to talk.” The disciples, meanwhile, were asking questions. “Why do the religion scholars say that Elijah has to come first?” Jesus answered, “Elijah does come and get everything ready. I’m telling you, Elijah has already come but they didn’t know him when they saw him. They treated him like dirt, the same way they are about to treat the Son of Man.” That’s when the disciples realized that all along he had been talking about John the Baptizer. MATTHEW 17:9-13

 

Visions are not for telling. They are too easily turned into gossip—sensational stuff for entertaining dull lives. And they are not to be used for advertising in a world greedy for the latest novelty. Visions are for faith—to put a cosmic scaffolding around the passion.

 

How was John the Baptist like Elijah?

 

Thank you, O God, for showing me the essential identity of the Changed Christ and the Crucified Christ, the Christ who is one with me in suffering. Amen.

May 26

A Kernel of Faith

 

At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of waiting people. As they approached, a man came out of the crowd and fell to his knees begging, “Master, have mercy on my son. He goes out of his mind and suffers terribly, falling into seizures. Frequently he is pitched into the fire, other times into the river. I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him.” Jesus said, “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here.” He ordered the afflicting demon out—and it was out, gone. From that moment on the boy was well. When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, “Why couldn’t we throw it out?” “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.” MATTHEW 17:14-21

 

The world’s program is self-improvement: resolutions and calisthenics. Jesus’ program is faith and prayers: believing and praising. We fail in the work of grace and love when there is too much of us and not enough of God.

 

What do you find yourself unable to do?

 

What I usually do, God, when I find that I am inadequate for a task, is to find some way to become more adequate, and you seem to be telling me that what I need to do is to deepen my dependence on you. Amen. 

May 27

Children Get Off Free

 

When they arrived at Capernaum, the tax men came to Peter and asked, “Does your teacher pay taxes?” Peter said, “Of course.” But as soon as they were in the house, Jesus confronted him. “Simon, what do you think? When a king levies taxes, who pays—his children or his subjects?” He answered, “His subjects.” Jesus said, “Then the children get off free, right? But so we don’t upset them needlessly, go down to the lake, cast a hook, and pull in the first fish that bites. Open its mouth and you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to the tax men. It will be enough for both of us.” MATTHEW 17:24-27

 

The freedom of the Christian is not tied to economics or politics or a judicial system. It comes from a relationship between Father and son (and daughter). It is not achieved by human violence, but is the quiet result of divine grace.

 

Compare this with Galatians 5:1.

 

Instead of demanding the freedom that I don’t have, show me how to discover and enjoy the freedom that I do have—the freedom that flows from being in relationship with you, Father, and which releases me to a life of service and praise. Amen.

May 28

Start Over Like Children


At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?” For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me. But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck.” MATTHEW 18:1-6


Jesus is not asking us to do anything that he did not do himself. He entered our humanity in the form of infancy. All his commands and counsel were first lived out in his own life. As children before the Father, we live in expectant awe and joyous trust.


What is characteristic of children?


Return me, gracious Christ, to the basic realities of life that are conspicuous in children, but obscure and unattended in adulthood: an eagerness to believe, a readiness to receive, a willingness to love and be loved. Amen.

May 29

On Solid Rock


"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit - but nothering moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." MATTHEW 7:24-27


Visible behavior is built on invisible truth. Jesus provides the commands that, as we obey them, are solid, foundational underpinnings for eternal life.


What are some items in your life foundation?


All praise to you, O God, for giving me such weighty, sure, foundation-making commands. Thank you for giving me the desire to respond to them in obedient belief. Give me daily directions for building upon Christ the rock. Amen.

May 30

The Best Teaching


When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying - quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard. MATTHEW 7:28-29


The world is so full of people who attempt to shock, startle, and surprise us that we finally become blasé. Then our Lord comes along and speaks the truth simply and truly. The sheer authenticity and naked reality of it shakes us out of our ennui.


What is most astonishing to you in Jesus' words?


My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand." Amen.

May 31

Master, If You Want To


Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, "Master, if you want to, you can heal my body." Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, "Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done." MATTHEW 8:1-4


The leper is the needy person in sxtremis: cut off, lonely, shunned. But no needy condition is so extreme or so absolute that we are consigned to despair. There is hope in God. The approach, timid and tentative - "if you want to" - unexpectedly finds a bold and pistive desire to save: "I want to."


What was so bad about being a leper?


I want cleansing, dear Christ, quite as much as that leper. But in your way; what you will. I want my life to be shaped not by my demands, but by the sure and mysterious movement of your grace. Amen.