Zechariah and Elizabeth have revealed some wonderful things to me this week about prayer. Prayer: a conversation with the One who created us, knows us, loves us. Sometimes, though, we may feel like our prayers don't make it beyond the ceiling of our own minds. It is as if they get stuck somewhere between our lips and the ears of the Father.
Re-reading Zechariah and Elizabeth's story in Luke 1, three truths stand out to me. Take a look.
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
1. Zechariah and Elizabeth are acquainted with desire and disappointment. As a young couple they had wanted to have children like everyone else. They prayed and experienced the crushing disappointment of no pregnancy month after month and year after year. And during the years of unfulfilled longing they were both "righteous in the sight of God" and continued their daily liturgy of worship and work and faith. Though they were sinners just like us, Luke records that they lived in righteousness. They did not let their disappointment turn to toxic bitterness and anger against God, nor did they take their loss out on the community around them.
2. When Zechariah was 'on duty' as priest, "all the assembled worshipers were praying outside." The community was gathered together engaged in the liturgy of corporate worship. Together, they lifted Zechariah's incense-burning and prayed that the Father would receive their worship and hear their prayer. They were waiting for the Messiah. Like Simeon, the whole community was "waiting for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25). Like Anna, they eagerly anticipated the "redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). We, too, gather in corporate worship. I wonder, however, how important we truly believe this gathering together to be. How eagerly do we anticipate the redemption of our individual and corporate lives; how fervently do we pray for the consolation and redemption of our culture?
3. The angel tells Zechariah, " your prayer has been heard." Which prayer is the angel referring to? I've read this story of Zechariah and Elizabeth countless times and have skipped over the implication of the angel's statement. I've assumed that the prayer heard was the prayer accompanying the act of incense-burning. But the angel immediately goes on to tell Zechariah that he and his aged wife will have a child. Years of longing lifted to God, month after month of anguished disappointment. Did they assume that God had not even heard their prayers? By the time of Zechariah's service as priest in the temple, he and his wife have accepted that childlessness was a component of their story. They were old and beyond child-bearing. But the angel tells him that the time has come for those prayers to become a tangible, physical 'Yes'.
Of these verses in Luke, one commentator writes,
Prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten. Prayers made when we were young and entering into the world, may be answered when we are old and going out of the world. Mercies are doubly sweet that are given in answer to prayer. Zacharias shall have a son in his old age, who shall be instrumental in the conversion of many souls to God, and preparing them to receive the gospel of Christ.
What is my ah ha?
Though we don't hear "yes", "no" or "maybe", even though there is no concrete fulfillment of our beseeching prayer, God hears our prayer. There may be reasons beyond our understanding for why our prayers are unfulfilled.
Will we live by faith and not by sight? Though we don't receive what we want when we want it, do we live out of the truth that God is good and generous or do we turn to belief that God is stingy and withholding of his grace? God invites us to live faithfully, to earnestly pray our longings, and to pursue the righteousness of Christ-in-us. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, will we reject bitterness and continue to seek his face individually and in corporate worship? Will we affirm that God is God even when our experiences disappoint?
Thank you, Father, for your living Word — Jesus Christ, our Lord. Lord, we believe that you hear us; help us in our unbelief.
'Tis the first week of Advent and the first week of the Christian calendar. It is fitting and right that these occur at the same time. It is a Do-Over and a beginning again.
Advent is the time of anticipation of the Christ-child who came and who continues to come. Our singular focus for these weeks is to prepare our hearts to receive Him. Sadly, the Incarnation, Jesus' leaving the throne room of the Father and coming to humans to be Immanuel, often gets lost in the midst of "holiday" celebrations. But the Incarnation changes everything!
Because Christ came, lived, died, was raised, and is coming again, we can now approach "the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb 4:16). But this confident approach of the Father would be impossible without the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the definitive declaration that God so loved the world. . . . There is no greater love!
So in this first week of Advent and first week of the Christian calendar, we're reminded to focus and to re-focus on the Christ who came. It is a Do-Over. The "holiday" celebrations are only the beginning of the myriad ways that our focus is drawn away from the Christ who is Immanuel — God with us. Because we are seriously distractible people, our lives' busyness of family and work and recreation draws us from a Christ-centered life. Our sicknesses and our failures and our fears seem to lead us beyond Jesus as if more important and practical considerations require our primary allegiance.
But Jesus is our focus. Jesus is our allegiance. Every day of the year we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2).
Jesus, I'm sorry for — being distracted and losing my focus upon Immanuel.
Jesus, it was wrong because — I know that true and abundant life is found only in Christ, my Savior.
Jesus, next time I will — surrender to your mercy my distractions and temptations to pursue lesser loves. I will seek the Spirit's gracious enabling to remain focused and centered in You.
Jesus, will you forgive me? Jesus, this Advent may I have a Do-Over to live my God-with-us life?
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Last week was a full one. I had the privilege of companioning several individuals who hungered for more of the abundant life that Jesus died to give us. In prayer, we went to places of hard questions, difficult memories and confusing outcomes.
God was gracious. He led us and gave clarity to confusion and comfort in the difficult memories.
Then one night I woke from a terrible dream. It was bad!
Here's what I prayed in that 2:00a.m. moment:
In the morning, the lyrics to an old hymn was my prayer for the day:
Fortress of my life, hear me when I cry.
You're my sole defense when
I come against the mighty foe.
Safe from arrows in their flight.
Safe from terrors in the night.
Safe in you I'll win this fight.
You're the fortress of my life.
Lord God, you are indeed our fortress and our strong tower.
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. Psalm 31:1-5
When you experience "terrors in the night," anxieties for tomorrow, or just simply a bad and disorienting dream, cry out to the Fortress of your life. The Triune does indeed still meet those who cry out to Him.
Turn all over to Him!
photos taken by Nancy in Glendalough, Ireland.
Father of Creation,
Painter of sunrise and sunset,
we surrender to you and your purposes for this day.
May our lives today bring you even the tiniest fraction
of the glory of your sunrise this morning.
In Jesus we pray.
O, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever!
Amen. Romans 11: 33-36
I'm at my desk. Commentaries, Bible versions, and other resources are open around me. Two computer screens and three pair of glasses are necessary -- red computer glasses, tortoise shell readers, and the black bifocals. For comfort, a red rose from my garden sends its sweet scent across the pages.
I'm reading and re-reading the scriptures and the rabbit trails of related texts that inevitably emerge and I'm loving and learning from what smart people have written about the Parables of Jesus. It's a new study that I've committed to preparing and teaching this academic year. In preparation for the first class in a couple days, I'm trying mightily to soak it in and distill it down.
As I sit here, I feel the familiar panic. This is too much. Beyond me. What was I thinking? So, I ask myself, "How do you eat an elephant?" Obvious answer: one lesson at a time!
Last Spring, I organized myself and my students with a four-fold way to engage a text.
╬ Knowledge: What can I learn from this text and this lesson? What information fills gaps in my knowledge and increases my curiosity for more?
╬ Understanding: What are the implications of this lesson for my life? Is God the Spirit inviting me to something new here? How would my life be changed if I let this sink into my heart and soul, my past and my wounds, my relationships, and my attitudes and behaviors?
╬ Wisdom: Christ himself is the "wisdom of God" (1Cor 1:24). What does Christ−the Wisdom of God−want me to do? Is there a response of obedience and righteousness that I should not, dare not, ignore?
╬ Mystery: Is there Mystery here that requires my surrender to faith and greater trust in God?
I'm using this four-fold model again for this new study of Jesus' Parables. The Knowledge -- what I don't know -- is very great!
The Understanding of the implications of Jesus' intent in his stories exposes the disciple's continual need for repentance and increasing humility.
The Wisdom of his truth requires response and action. No resting on perceived maturity; we are invited to enact righteousness daily.
The Mystery already revealed in Jesus and yet-to-be-revealed in the culmination asks for faith and trust in the God of mercy, of love, and of holiness.
"Whoever has ears, let them hear" (Mt 13:9; Mk 4:23; Lk 8:18).
"In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of
gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. . . ." (Isaiah 29:18)
Father, I may have three pair of glasses to help me see, but it is by your enabling grace that the eyes of all hearts and minds are enlightened to receive your truth. Speak Lord, your servants are listening.
My computer battery is wimpy.
It runs out of
juice quickly and my screen is grainy
I plug it in. . . .
the fuzz goes away and the screen is bright and light.
Today I told a friend that this morning I woke up grateful for the Lord's abiding presence. "The Lord is near" (Phil 4:5).
Truth is, regardless of whether we are aware or attentive, He is near always. But we have to plug in.
The choice to stay on battery power is like relying on yesterday's breakfast for today's nourishment. You need breakfast today for today's endeavors.
When we forget to plug in to His presence, a lot of things get dull and fuzzed. I forget who I am in Christ with the great hope, inheritance and power that are mine in Jesus (Eph 1). I forget who He is and that all things are held together by His love. And, I forget what He has done to reconcile to Himself all that is lost and broken (Col 1:15-23).
O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done . . . . Psalm 105:1-5
Don't forget to plug in. It makes all the difference.
There are things that I love -- family, Jesus, nature, flowers, and as you already know, birds.
I'm a birder. As a young child my grandmother introduced me to the wonder and delight of birds. I started young as a seer and lover of the little feathered creatures. As an adult, I don't very often "go birding." Rather, I feed and attract to my home and watch from my chair or my kitchen window. I bird while I drive and try to name that creature on the electrical pole as I speed past.
There are big-deal, serious birders in Colorado who are constantly monitoring the skies, waters and trees of the state. In fact, Colorado has a bird alert website that tells you when something special is sighted. Like a flash flood warning or thunderstorm alert, these notices come to those who care to know.
Rarely do I let myself chase a bird. To leave family and responsibility to chase down a bird feels selfish, silly, a waste of time. Self talk is powerful, to be sure. "More important things" are left undone if I drop the urgent, grab my binoculars and bird ID book, a hat, a bottle of water and head for the bird.
A friend who lives on the East coast gets the bird alerts for Colorado. When she texted me that there had been nearby sightings of hummingbirds not often seen in Colorado, this morning I let myself throw responsibility and to-do list to the wind and went to see the hummers!
Feeling a little guilty now; I had some important work to do this morning that didn't get done. But guilt aside, this was important self-care for me today. Unscheduled and spontaneous, I let myself say yes to something that gives me great joy. I'm glad I did.
I didn't see the rare-for-Colorado Calliope Hummingbird afterall. But the morning was well spent, my heart is full, and I am thankful. Soul-care and self-care.
What do you love that you don't let yourself engage? Consider giving yourself permission to say yes to what nourishes you. You'll be glad you did.
I can lose myself
in the woods.
The smells, the sights, the sounds.
The smell of the forest is something I'd like to bottle and enjoy in dry Colorado!
The details of the forest overwhelm me and delight me. It's hard to take it all in --
I'm obsessed with trying to "name that tune."
This is a Red-Eyed Vireo on a nest just
outside my window.
It's song is a lovely constant in the
I can lose myself in the woods.
On a walk in early June, a tiny warbler caught my eye and my ear. Black, yellow, and white with a Grammy award-winning song, the Black-Throated Green Warbler made a diehard fan of me. I first saw the brightly colored male. He posed on a branch and took my breath away.** The female was nearby and soon flitted into view. She had grass in her beak and when she stopped in a crook of a birch tree, I realized she was making a nest. A magical moment!
In the next few weeks I returned to the spot often. I saw the nest form into a perfect cup, a receptacle for the female to lay her eggs. I saw her sit..., and sit..., and sit. Unmoving, patient, keeping the nest warm and protected with her own body and soft, lovely feathers.
One day she was absent from the nest. I saw her return with something in her beak. A chick had hatched and a tiny pink beak opened wide to receive a tasty morsel from the mother.
A few days later I watched both parents hunt and return to the nest to nourish their growing chick. Then . . .
Last night we experienced yet another violent thunderstorm and a deluge of rain. Over an inch fell in just a few minutes. Would the little warbler family survive? I wondered.
My question was answered today as I studied the place of the nest. It had been destroyed by the storm.
Nest remnants hung sadly from the branch.
My heart stopped as my mind raced through possible scenarios. Neither parent was to be seen or heard. Ravaged as the nest was, the one chick that had been held safely in the cup of the tiny nest and who had so eagerly accepted food from its parent, was not there.
I ventured into the woods to look under the tree,
hoping to find a chick to rescue or a chick to grieve. But, none was to be found.
A tiny Black-Throated Green Warbler was lost in the woods last night.
What do I make of this twist of the story?
I can lose, and find, myself in the woods.
**Adult male photo from https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=black+throated+green+warbler
All other photos ©2017 Nancy Buschart
June in the Northwoods of Wisconsin is a magical time. I've been here since the first day of this mid-year month and have tried to listen deeply as life has unfolded before my eyes. It is a sacred experience. To watch deeply, to observe with the eyes of one's heart, is to see hiddenness and obscurity revealed. Words fail me.
My camera has helped me capture what words cannot.
In the next several posts on Ruminations from my Journal, I'll let photos of my experience speak what my mind stumbles to articulate. There is meaning here. I'm still seeking language. Maybe you can help me find the words that elude me.
Look. See. Pay attention.
"Look at the birds of the air, . . . See how the flowers grow.. . ." Mt 6
Nothing much to see here.
But wait. Watch.
Oh, the beauty of these struggling fronds. The God-given power at work to break through to fullness. It takes time; we can't speed up the process. Rain, sun, warmth, and the fullness of days. . .
The lovely becoming journey.
Already, but not yet.
Then, in a blink of an eye, while I forgot to be attentive,
they are full and mature and so lovely.
"To stop moving around, to sit quietly on the grass, to switch off the world and come back to the earth, to allow the eye to see a willow, a bush, a cloud, a leaf, is an 'unforgettable experience.'"
June 1, the beginning
Thank you, God of Creation and Lord of Creativity!
"Be still and know that I am God." Ps 46
I just came across these few lines on making space for God. It has lots to ruminate upon. It's a simple idea that has profound implications for the way we live. May you make space so that you might be open and receptive to receiving all that Christ has to give you. . . .
by Digitalnun on November 18, 2011
With the week-end approaching, it is worth spending a few moments thinking about the old monastic injunction vacare Deo, to make space for God. The Cistercian equivalent is the otium sanctum, holy leisure, which St Bernard characterised as otium negotissimum, very busy leisure. How do we make space for God in our lives? What kind of sacred leisure should our lives contain?
The first thing to note is that making space is not the same as doing nothing. Doing nothing worried St Benedict, for example, who saw it as idleness and the enemy of the soul. Making space for God, by contrast, is more a change of gear, adopting a slightly different focus. We make space for God by attending to him. That may mean we have to think about what we do, but it doesn’t mean that we necessarily stop doing things. Have you ever thought of inviting God into your week-end activities, for instance? Of course prayer and reading the scriptures matter, but so do the other activities in which we engage. Time spent with others is not time stolen from God unless we are selfish and self-indulgent about it.
I sometimes think that one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to create a God in our own image and likeness: exacting, a bit of a policeman, rather a killjoy, if truth be told. Yet in Jesus we see a much more attractive image of God, one who taught us to expect miracles at parties and holiness among the outcasts of society. The whole week-end, not just Sunday, can be filled with God. We just have to make space for him.