Thursday, September 23

Genesis 22:13-14

“I can’t seem to do anything well,” he said. I suspect many agreed with his assessment. He had tried his hand at accounting, sales, and public relations. For a number of reasons, none of his ventures met with success.

“Tell me some stories of the times in your life you’ve felt most alive and useful,” I suggested. At first, he insisted he couldn’t recall any such episodes. Over time, and with a bit of encouragement, he began to remember some stories. Once he shared a few, other stories came to mind. A pattern emerged. Each tale centered in a time when he listened closely to another person’s story, then helped them identify their feelings, better understand the dynamics of the situation, and start to fashion a way forward.

When he paid attention to his life story, he discovered his calling. He ultimately became a counselor and continues to practice this vocation today.

Not too long ago, he shared something he had learned from the experience.

“For a long time,” he said, “I tried to fit myself into vocations for which I was not gifted. When I finally found my calling, I realized God had already given me the raw gifts I needed to pursue it. Of course, I needed training and supervision to hone those gifts, but they were already there, just waiting to be found and accepted. God had already provided me with what I needed to follow God’s will for my life.”

Consider

Have you sought to discover your God-given gifts? Might this discovery help you better understand God’s purpose for your life?

Pray

God, help us see clearly the ways in which you have provided what we need to live the life you have in mind for us. Amen.

Wednesday, September 22

Genesis 22:9-12

Once I’m committed to a course of action, I find it hard to change my mind.

For forty-six years I lived the life of a pastor. In my branch of Christianity, congregations usually secure the services of pastors by “calling” them from other congregations. Search committees and pastors work hard to discern God’s will. At its best, the process leads all parties to a shared sense of God’s leadership.

A search committee and I once talked, prayed, and reflected together for several months. They represented a healthy congregation with a well-deserved reputation for meaningful engagement in worship, pastoral care, and community ministries. The committee and I agreed God seemed to be leading us together.

I had made up my mind and the decision had not been easy. I loved my current congregation and its ministries. Still, believing I had listened for God’s guidance and heard it correctly, I decided to endure the pain of separation and take up new work at a new church.

The chairperson called and made the offer. Suddenly, I simply could not say, “Yes.” I got a strong impression God had something else in mind for my current congregation, the prospective congregation, and me. I felt embarrassed by this unexpected turn of events, but managed to tell the chairperson what was happening and declined the committee’s invitation. In retrospect, I know God intervened for the good of all of us, and I’m glad I listened.

Sometimes listening for the voice of God requires us to change our minds about what we believe God wants of us. That’s what happened to Abraham, even as he lifted the knife to sacrifice Isaac. It’s happened to me. What about you?

Consider

Can you recall a time when you changed your mind about what God wanted you to do? What did you learn?

Pray

Lord, grant me wisdom and courage enough to change my mind whenever you prompt me to do so. Amen.

Tuesday, September 21

Genesis 22:4-8

When I take a vacation, I like to go to places I’ve visited before. Why? I already know the travel route, places I like to stop for meals, where I’ll stay, and favorite haunts at the vacation site. In this area, I’m not into new adventures. I want everything to be familiar and laid out in advance.

My approach works well enough with regard to vacations. When it comes to following God’s leadership, though, I’ve learned I must be open to new experiences and the unexpected. I still find doing so difficult. On the occasions when I am afraid to start yet another journey with God, I remember what a friend once told me: “When you’re troubled over something God asks you to do, lean into your previous experience with God.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Just this,” she answered. “When God points me in a direction and tells me to start walking, I usually don’t know the destination, let alone how things will work out once I get there. So I admit that sometimes I freeze up. Unanswered questions will stop me in my tracks. But when I’m at my best, I keep walking anyway. I keep walking because I remember other journeys with God. I recall how confused I felt and how faithful God proved to be at the journey’s end. And, so, I keep on walking.”

She paused for a moment, looked me in the eye, and said, “You might want to try that yourself.”

Consider

Do I insist on knowing all the answers before I will take a journey with God? Why?

Pray

Lord, help me to start walking with you today and to keep on walking. Amen.

Monday, September 20

Genesis 22:1-3

Do I listen carefully for God’s voice in good times?

Listening comes naturally to me in challenging times. When I face vocational decisions, illness, family quandaries, or congregational quarrels, I actively listen for a word from God. When I feel the need for God’s guidance, I seek it.

Good times, on the other hand, can dull my spiritual hearing. When I’m fulfilled by work, enjoy good health, and see those I love thriving, I sometimes forget to listen for God.

To counter this tendency, I’ve assembled a few stories I review from time to time, stories of those who listen carefully for God’s voice even when life is going well. First in this collection is today’s passage: Abraham no doubt thinks his long journey with God has ended well. Each time he looks at his son Isaac, he sees God’s promise fulfilled. He has only to watch over him until Isaac grows into an adult, marries and produces grandchildren, and all God promised will be fulfilled. Surely his journey with God has reached a good stopping place. He need not worry that God might speak again, upset all his certainties, and send him on yet another trip. Why concern himself with listening for God’s voice in the midst of such a good time?

Abraham, though, chooses to keep listening. Because he does, he hears God speak to him. What he hears unmakes his world for a time, only to remake it into something that ultimately blesses us all.

Abraham’s story helps me remember the potential inherent in listening for God’s voice in the actual circumstances of each day, including the good times. Might it do the same for you?

Consider

Try starting each day by speaking aloud a core commitment: “I will listen for God’s voice today.”

Pray

Lord, help me focus on listening for your voice today in the midst of all the messiness of life. Amen.

Sunday, September 19

Genesis 21:1-3

The story of God’s faithfulness to Abraham and Sarah ranks among the most remarkable in Scripture. It’s the start of a much longer story that I’m drawn into through Jesus, who will descend from Isaac, the first promised child. Reflecting on the birth of Isaac leads me to pray:

O God, who walked and kept faith with Abraham and Sarah, accept my prayer.

Thank you, Lord, for the promise of your guiding presence in my life. You came to me, launched me on my unique life journey, and walk with me even today. Lord, you were with me in those times I failed to notice you. I could not drive you away by neglect, indifference, rebellion, or even disbelief. You stayed.

I confess I often find it difficult to act as if I trust you. Truth be told, when pressured by dangers, caught off guard, or exhausted by long trials, I easily default to taking matters into my own hands. Forgive me.

Even as you did with Abraham and Sarah, you have kept your promise to me. You gave them Isaac, the child of the promise. You give me your ongoing presence, fulfilling the pledge you made long ago when your Son said, “And, remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Take now my life and make it a blessing to others.

Consider

What situations are you facing that offer you the opportunity to trust God, yet also tempt you to take charge and chart your own course? What might help you choose to trust God?

Pray

Lord, grant me enough strength and wisdom to trust you at each step in my life journey. Amen.

Saturday, September 18

John 1:1-5

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (v. 5).

Light is our primary tool for perceiving the world and communicating with it. So what happens when light is absent?

The ocean covers more than seventy percent of the planet and has an average depth of about 12,000 feet. And as you descend, light disappears. First red light is absorbed. Then the yellow and green parts of the light spectrum disappear, leaving just the blue. By 700 feet deep, the ocean becomes a kind of perpetual twilight, and by 2,000 feet, the blue fades out too. This means that the majority of the ocean, the largest habitat on Earth, is composed of a seemingly infinite expanse of complete and total darkness.

And life still thrives here.

Throughout the ocean a secret language of light exists. Where ambient blue light still penetrates, there are animals like sharks and eels with hidden neon patterns of green, red, and orange—colors that should not exist at this depth, which humans can only see by mimicking special filters found in the eyes of these sea creatures. In the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean, many animals produce their own light through a process called bioluminescence, letting them glow like lanterns. These luminous creatures use flashes and patterns of light to attract mates, find food, ward off predators, and sometimes just say hello.

To some, light is simply external beacons that we switch off and on as needed. To others, light is the ambient glow that illuminates what is hidden only when we change our perspective. And sometimes, light is the soft, internal glow that radiates from our deepest places to overcome the darkness so that life can thrive.

Consider

What depths can my internal light penetrate for myself and for others?

Pray

God, make me a beacon of your light, so that I may light up the darkness in a way that always points back to you. Amen.

Friday, September 17

Genesis 2:1-4a

Scientists say that rest and productivity are partners that work together to create the whole output product of life. I’ve heard this partnership described as being different parts of a wave: you can’t have the high without the low. The better you are at resting, the better you’ll be at working. We’ve figured out the productivity part
of this equation (and maximized, optimized, and boosted it into overdrive). But resting and resting well? What does that even mean?

Restful activities that are vigorous and mentally engaging are often the most restorative because they offer a complete break from our normal working lives. This is why, after a long hike, I will usually feel physically exhausted but mentally exhilarated. I might have worked out a complicated problem on the hike or experienced the spark of inspiration for a new project or idea.

Some of the most creative and hardworking people spend intense bursts of energy focused on their work, but much of their time is spent engaging in restorative rest. Winston Churchill took up painting and bred butterflies. Maya Angelou meditated and did breathing exercises. Restful activities are also why there was a sudden yeast shortage at the beginning of the pandemic and your neighbor was ding-dong-ditching sourdough bread at your doorstep.

It’s always been difficult for me to picture God having a couch potato kind of day, lounging on a cloud, binge-watching the next episode of “Real World: Humanity.” But, imagining God engaging in restorative rest—the kind that rejuvenates and reinvigorates—is something that my loves-to-cook, goes-for-runs, Saturday-morning-
yoga-loving soul can get behind.

Consider

What does restorative rest mean to me? Am I honoring my Creator and myself by making space for that balance in my life?

Pray

God, help me to take a break when I need it. And when I do take a break, bless that time of rest. Amen.

Thursday, September 16

Genesis 1:26-31

I think my grandfather and God had a lot in common. Yes, my grandfather was a blessed child of God, created in God’s image, as we all are. But I see such strong similarities to God in my grandfather’s intentional way of giving a gift.

My grandfather took up woodworking later in his life. A different part of him came alive as he sawed, carved, and sanded. Every scrap of wood had unrefined potential. Each imperfection sparked inspiration for a new project, whether that was a box, table, or picture frame.

He loved the creating process and rarely started a project without its intended recipient in mind. Before the convenience of smart phones, disposable cameras documented each step of his projects. He sketched them, noting certain colorings, grain patterns, and knots. He listed which tools he used. He usually based entire projects around incorporating a specific feature or highlighting a flaw in the wood, because that made the piece unique and special.

When a project was complete, he developed the photos and made a scrapbook with all his sketches, notes, photos, and nubs of worn sandpaper. Then he gave it to the one he created it for. Whether a table or a tissue box, he presented it as though this was the rarest gift to ever exist because it was made with the receiver in mind.

When I read today’s text, I picture God going through the scrapbook of Creation, remembering all of God’s ideas, rereading notes about how God decided what a plant would be, how the cardiovascular system would work in mammals, or the bizarre thought that led to an armadillo. I see how generously God gave the most precious gifts that ever existed to the ones God created them for.

Consider

What talents do I have to offer? How can I be intentional about focusing on the receiver of my gifts?

Pray

God of purposeful intention, help me to mirror your generosity with my talents, offerings, and gifts. Amen.

Wednesday, September 15

Genesis 1:20-25

What does a snake with iridescent scales, a 16-foot-long beaked whale, a mushroom that grows next to Heathrow airport, and a tiny spider named after Joaquin Phoenix have in common? They were all new scientific discoveries in 2020! According to London’s Natural History Museum, over 500 new species were catalogued last year.

Even after thousands of years of observation we are still discovering new life on this planet—life as big as a 16-foot whale. How could we have missed that? Conventional wisdom says such discoveries shouldn’t be happening now because it always acts as if all the good stuff has already been discovered. In reality, as technology evolves, our ability to understand and uncover new life grows with it. Thanks to things like satellite mapping, DNA sequencing, and drones so tiny they can fly inside a beehive, scientists can study areas of the world that were previously unable to be studied.

The creation story overflows with hope, joy, creativity, and curiosity. As God takes on the role of Chief Creative Officer of All Living Things, God creates things easy to observe—goats and robins and bees—and God creates things that could only be known as humanity creatively explored new ways of observing the world. Last year, for instance, DNA sequencing revealed that the Greater Glider in Eastern Australia is actually three distinct species.

God’s power of creativity and our ability to explore it is an infinite resource and a trait we inherit from our Creator. Scientists estimate the total number of plant and animal species in the world to be between 10 and 50 million—but so far they have only described about 1.9 million. There are at least 8.1 million more things that God is waiting for us to discover and explore.

Consider

What areas of my life hold new and unexplored possibilities just waiting to be discovered?

Pray

God, continue to ignite the spark of curiosity in me so that I will keep exploring and discovering the goodness you create. Amen.

Tuesday, September 14

Genesis 1:14-19

My sister and I once traveled to Peru and hiked the Inca Trail. On our way to Machu Picchu, we picked our way across a mountain ridge at night without a flashlight. That wasn’t the plan. We had started under a sunny sky, but I overestimated the youthfulness of my “granny knees” and their ability to scramble up stairsteps as tall as I am. I was impersonating a rock-climbing sloth as the sun began to set. Panic took hold. My flashlight was back at our campsite. Our guide, who didn’t have one either, reassured me that everything would be fine. But every youth pastor analogy I’ve ever heard about trusting God in the dark still involved a flashlight.

The Inca are one of the only cultures to name both the luminous constellations and the dark spaces between them. They believed that the Milky Way was a sacred river, and that both the dark and light spaces would help them mark important times: planting and harvesting seasons; sacred celebrations; the natural cycles of life. Their intricate pathways between cities mirrored the path that appeared in the sky. They placed pillars on the mountains overlooking their cities, so that when the sun set or rose between them, they could determine the altitude at which they needed to plant.

As my sister and I traveled an ancient Incan path between sunset and sunrise, our guide told us stories about the serpent and the toad, the llama and the fox, and how the Inca’s descendants mark the beginnings and ends of seasons. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, the light from the moon and the sacred river above us illuminating our path, I wondered what else I might not have seen if I had been guided by my flashlight.

Consider

What signs mark sacred moments in my life?

Pray

God, help me to find value in both the light and dark spaces, and illuminate my path so that I may see more clearly. Amen.