While I was writing the first draft of my next book, An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence, I enjoyed a few days at a friend’s remote home in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. One of the rhythms I practiced was morning prayer using the morning lectionary* passages.
My habit is often to take a meaningful verse or two from my readings to reflect on and pray through in my journal. It is a discipline that helps me pray the scriptures. Below is a journal entry from one of those writing days.
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7:30am. It was a toss and turn night, but I have risen more rested and grateful than I expected. I’ve showered and dressed, and made myself a nice cup of coffee. As I am here alone in the cool of the morning, I remind myself that this is a day that the Lord has personally crafted for us—for me—and for our life and pleasure.
Father, enable me to be today the temple in which you make yourself at home. Protect me from any and every unholy way. May the words I write or revise today be like that river of living water flowing from within me through the channel of trust. Grant me ears that hear, eyes that see, and a heart and mind that are attentive, receptive and responsive to you. I offer this to you as my morning prayer. Amen.
“Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again (Ps 78:38-39 NRSV).”
The psalm story up to this point has been one of Israel’s profound forgetfulness and waywardness. The two go together, of course. When we forget the journey we are on, we begin to lose our way. In the face of Israel’s rebellion and complaints, God remains compassionate and forgiving. God knows our weakness better than we do.
(Some men who are building a new fence on this property have just arrived. Bless them as they do their work just as you bless me in mine).
“For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” She left him there for the Lord. 2:1Hannah prayed and said, ‘My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God (1 Sam 1:27-2:2 NRSV)
Hannah gives thanks for Samuel, the son who was an answer to her prayers. She will give him to the Lord’s service for the rest of his life, which means that she will see him only once a year, perhaps on his birthday, as he grows up at the tabernacle under Eli. Somehow, even in an ungodly environment, he will grow up listening first to the voice of the Lord. May I be such a man in this world where so much of what is treasured and prized is worthless. There really is no one like you. No one. I exult you as you have graciously exalted me.
“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection. So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias (Acts 1:21-22 NRSV).”
These lines come after the story of Judas and his betrayal and death. The Eleven needed a twelfth to join them as witnesses. There had been many others who had also followed Jesus during his whole ministry, perhaps many of the 120 who were present on this day when the twelfth apostle would be replaced.
This person needed to have been with Jesus and the community of disciples from the beginning (John’s baptism) to the end (the ascension). This man needed to have witnessed the entire life of Jesus, not just to be able to give personal testimony of the facts of Jesus life, but to have walked with Jesus over those three years and been impacted by him. This is how spiritual authority works best. People are impacted just by being in community with those who have witnessed the real presence of God together. None of us as leaders are Jesus himself, of course, but there is the grace of his presence among us that is caught. There is a common life that makes a great difference in the influence of our work.
“’Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?’ They said, ‘The emperor’s.’ He said to them, ‘Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent (Lk 20:22-26 NRSV).”
This is just one of many moments when Jesus utterly confounds the Jewish leaders who tried to trap him in something he might say, especially publicly. Jesus was so wise—such a genius! He saw through everything. Enable me to be wise, Lord. Show me the way to answer those who would call me into question. May I do this humbly, gently and with grace, but may I speak words that carry authority and life. Amen.
I give you thanks, Father, for the gift of this morning prayer.
*A lectionary, for those unfamiliar with the word, is a book or listing containing scripture readings for each day of a year (or multiple years) from the gospels, epistles, Old Testament and perhaps the Psalms.