Tag Archives: Devotional

No worries in the year of drought

The Year of Drought

For many of us, 2020 is a year of drought, a year when the precious rains of social, emotional, spiritual, and economic resources have been withheld, locked away in clouds that turn to vapor on the horizon. We wither under the heat.

The people in Jeremiah’s time knew this feeling, only more so. Their whole way of life was crumbling before their eyes. Collectively they faced the plague, famine, and the sword. To them Jeremiah wrote:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (emphasis added)

How do we become like that tree?

Careful readers of the Bible will immediately see the connection between these words and Psalm 1:

Blessed is the one
    … whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

These two trees share a common trait, they are planted by a stream. That stream provides unfailing resources by which the tree can sprout leaves and bear fruit, even during a season of drought. In Jeremiah 17:7 identifies that stream as trust in the Lord and confidence in him. The psalmist marks the stream as continual meditation on the law of the Lord.

To be a tree without worries in a year of drought we must take nourishment from God and his word.

Where is your trust?

Jeremiah 17:7-8 stands in contrast to 17:5-6

 “Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

Trust in God stands in contrast to trust in man. The people of Jerusalem had made a terrible mistake. Instead of trusting God, they put their trust in Egypt and Assyria to save them. They put their trust in idols and those who made them. They put their trust in false prophets. As a result, they neglected to trust God, stopped listening to him, and stopped obeying his Word, especially as it related to undefiled worship and public justice.

Instead of drawing their strength from God, they drew their strength from mere flesh. “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

To be a tree without worries in a year of drought we must beware of putting our trust in the wrong things.

Why trust God?

We can trust God – and draw strength from him – by looking to the past, present, and future.

The past: We know that God is trustworthy because of how he has acted in the past. For Jeremiah, two events stand out: He created the universe and he brought Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land.

The present: Even while the circumstances of Israel’s present were about as bad as they could get, Jeremiah had confidence that the circumstances did not alter God’s character, especially his everlasting love and unfailing kindness.

The future: Israel’s destruction and captivity would be long and painful, but ultimately temporary from a national perspective. Jeremiah calls the exiles to hope by pointing them to a future restoration.

To be a tree without worries in a year of drought we draw strength by recalling God’s past acts of salvation, contemplating his presence and faithfulness, and looking forward to his future restoration.

As we progress through this year of drought now is the time to send those roots down deep into the banks of the stream. God invites all who are thirsty to come and drink from the living water.

The Apostle’s Creed and Personal Worship

The Apostle’s Creed has long been a regular part of Christian worship but for me, coming from a Baptist tradition, it was never more than a blip on my radar screen. I have taken a greater interest in the Apostle’s Creed as of late and have even been using it in my times of personal worship, along with prayer and Bible reading. I see several potential benefits to reciting or reading the Apostle’s Creed (or other well established creeds) as part of personal worship.

1) It reminds me of my core beliefs. We are changed from the inside out and at the core of our being are our core beliefs. The Apostle’s Creed is one of the better succinct statements of core Christian faith.

2) It connects me with the universal church. Not only do you say, “I believe in the holy catholic Church” and “I believe in the communion of the saints,” you are also reciting a statement of belief held across history, continent, and denomination. I do not think we should shy away from important doctrinal discussions and distinctions, but I like to find common ground when possible.

3) It brings to mind each member of the Trinity. The Creed is patterned after Matthew 28:19 which refers to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not hard to get imbalanced in our conception of God so sometimes we need a good Trinitarian reminder.

4) It reminds me of the historical nature of the Christian faith. The Creed is not just a statement of belief about “ideas” or “truths” but about what happened in time and history, particularly when it comes to the life of Jesus. He was conceived, born, crucified, buried. He rose, ascended, and will come again.

5) It helps me look to the future. It ends on a hopeful note: the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. The moment matters both less and more, in all the right ways, in light of our glorious hope.

Praying with the Church, for the (my) City

Tonight at 7:00 a group from our church will be meeting together for our weekly prayer meeting. I have the privilege of leading it for the next few months with a study called Praying with the Church, for the City. The contents of the class will roughly cover the content and prayers of the book Prayers for My City: A Fixed Hour Prayer Guide for Wyoming, a book I worked on last year with colleague Jeremy Bouma, as part of a larger West Michigan series.

The books bring together a couple of concepts which I think work quite nicely together (and I can say that, because bringing together these concepts wasn’t my idea). These prayer guides combine the historical prayers of the Book of Common Prayer along with prayers written specifically for the particular city, in this case, Wyoming.

Why historical (common) prayers?

As a low-church evangelical I was wary of using historical prayers in my devotional prayer life but I’ve become convinced (obviously) of their value. I don’t recommend only using pre-written prayers, but incorporating many of these prayers has added value to my prayer life. Here are three reasons why:

1)      We can learn a lot about prayer from historical prayers. They are deep, balanced (including praise, confession, supplication, etc.), and biblical – literally, most of them are passages from the Bible.

2)      Praying common prayers gives us continuity with the Church across history. When praying the psalms, we participate with Israel’s prayer life. When praying the Lord’s prayer, we participate with the early Church.

3)      Praying common prayers gives us continuity with Church all around the world, and with believers of other denominations. It reminds us that the Body of believers, the Church Universal, though separated by space and denominational distinctive, find unity in, at least, our prayer life under the Lordship of Christ.

Why pray for the city?

It was easier for me to offer initial intellectual assent to having a prayer guide for a city. I like to think I care about my city. But, actually consistently praying for it is another story. My repeated failures in this shows that I still have a hole in practical theology. Here are two good reasons to pray for your city.

1)      You care about your city. In the case of our church, we believe we have a specific mission to our neighborhood, especially to the youth. We want to see God work. We want to see change.

2)      The only way change – real, lasting, God-honoring change – is if God Himself does it. Hence, prayer.

Why Together?

I don’t think these two concepts are unrelated. One is universal (in the sense that common prayers are shared by the universal Church across time, space, and denomination), the other is local. Our little group of Baptist believers is going to spend about 30 minutes a week praying for a city of about 70,000 people.

But that’s the beauty of how God works. He is Lord of the Universe and yet he works on the individual. The local matters and it matters in the context of the universal. The life of our local church, insignificant on its own, is significant in the context of God’s work in history. The common prayers remind us that God works across time and space. The local prayers remind us that God works in our time and in our space.

Please join us, in person or in spirit, in praying for your city.

Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.