By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 7b, Oh, that today you would listen to his voice
While the concluding lines of this psalm may seem harsh, they are only a warning. And because they are a warning, they are literally beside the point. Put another way, the extended description of the hardened heart serves the ultimate purpose of underscoring the psalmist’s main point: we are able to, and we should, listen to God’s voice speaking to us. Don’t conjure up some image of Charlton Heston jerking his head heaven-ward as the booming baritone of God calls to him from somewhere offscreen. Sorry to disappoint, but that isn’t actually how God speaks to us! The truth is, God is speaking to us all the time, even—and some would say, especially—in silence. God speaks in creation, through circumstance, by our conscience, and with the wisdom of others. The difficulty, more often than not, is that we fail to listen. Lent is about practicing the turning of our hearts and lives toward the God of love and life. The disciplines we re-discovered Ash Wednesday—alms-giving, prayer, and fasting—all function as means by which we can re-discover our hearts. They are practices of renewed listening. In this moment, accept that God is really speaking, and your heart is big enough to listen.
Prayer O God, today you are speaking, and I am listening.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 8, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah…
The writer of Psalm 95 offers us a reflection on the events of Exodus 17 as the psalm concludes. Perhaps, when taken as a whole, the psalm is a meditation on what it is to be the people chosen by a saving and redeeming God, who is also its shepherding king. Seen this way, these last lines remind us that chosen or not, despite having been saved and redeemed in an extraordinary manner—and indeed, time and again—we can still harden our hearts to God’s present activity. Such hardening prevents us from entering fully into the restful peace—as ‘sheep of his pasture’—that God promises, that God wills for us. We might even say that this restful peace, this hope of wholesome wholeness, is the very goal of God’s saving. Yet we know that in fact we do harden our hearts. We do resist God’s saving activity in the present—even as we also long with our hearts for the wholeness only God brings. Lent is as good a time as any to examine our hearts, searching for the places where we have grown hard, for signs of our resistance to the attractions of grace.
Prayer God of life, I find my heart hard when I want it to be tender, closed when I want it to be open. Soften my heart so it may open without fear to your grace.
By: Brittany Fiscus
Reflection— v. 1, we were like those who dream
When reading this psalm, Dr. Martin Luther King’s powerful words ‘I have a dream…’ kept coming to mind. Here was a man who, in the midst of a broken system of inequality, was able to dream of a better world and live into this dream in a way that inspired others to take action toward change. Just as Dr. King’s dream led to change, so too can our restorative, hopeful dreams lead to change for a better world. But how can we hope to have such dreams if we never stop to rest, if we never stop to be still and pay attention to God? Dreaming requires deep sleep, peaceful rest, the ability to let go and give ourselves over. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep on the streets. Not only are we vulnerable to changes in the weather, we have to find someplace that is enough shelter to hide ourselves from artificial light. We want to be safe from the threats of others, but we can be told to leave at any moment. There is little rest when we are always on edge like this. For those of us in housing, how often do we too get so caught up in our own lives and ambitions that we are also unable to stop and rest? When we can let go, when we can stop and rest in the safety and peace of God’s presence, maybe we all will become like ‘those who can dream’ of better things.
Prayer God, give us true rest, in safe housing and in trusting hearts, that we may become those who can both dream and work for a better world.
By: Bethany Apelquist
Reflection—v. 6, teach me wisdom in my secret heart
Lent is a time to prepare the deepest parts of who we are to be transformed by the promise of the cross, a time for our secret hearts to be renewed. Our secret hearts are dynamic and sometimes complicated places. They are places in which we hold the very best of who we are but also the very worst of who we can be. They can, at times, be dark places. We all have a running narrative in our heads, and I suspect that for many of us that narrative is riddled with critiques and lies—that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, funny enough, beautiful enough, and on and on it goes. We believe that we can’t be, or don’t deserve to be, loved. These lies can plague our minds and sense of self. There is something beautiful about this prayer for ‘wisdom in our secret hearts’ which serves as an invitation to God to enter the deepest part of who we are. This initiation isn’t begging and pleading to a God who is reluctant to be with us, but rather a reminder to ourselves that even in those dark places, we can invite God. God wants us to know the truth that we are enough, that we are beloved, that we are good. This Lent, let’s let God flip the narrative of our secret hearts from darkness to a narrative that brings freedom, life, and joy.
Prayer God of secret places, open my heart to your love, joy, freedom, and generosity.
By: Bethany Apelquist
Psalm 80. 1-7
Reflection—v. 7, ‘Restore us, God’
Just like people in the Bible, we ask God for many things. Our prayer lists are long, which is not at all bad; God cares deeply for all those things that trouble our hearts. However, the psalmist is asking for something for which we rarely ask: ‘Restore us, God.’ I believe God wants to redeem and restore our world, so broken and battered by the many ways we harm one another and ourselves. Everyone can acknowledge things that need to be restored in our lives—our relationships, our mental and physical heath, a deeper spiritual integration, our focus on what really matters. But I don’t believe that in this context restoration just means being brought back to a replica of our old lives at their best. God wants us to experience love in deeper, more inclusive ways—ways that have the capacity to bring about hope, joy, and peace for all of us. God is constantly calling all of us who live on this planet toward new life, to more just and merciful life, to truly abundant life. Let us join our prayers with the psalms this Advent, crying out to God for true restoration and new life for a world in need.
Prayer God, restore us in your mercy, leading us from old to new.
By: Maggie Leonard
Psalm 80. 1-7
Reflection—v. 5, ‘bread made of tears’
Being saved doesn’t always look how we usually anticipate it. We may watch a friend be saved from choking, but still end up with a few broken ribs. We may be saved from our anxieties, but only with the help of medicines we never wanted to take. We may watch a loved one be saved from illness, but they find their true peace in their final resting place. We may want to be saved from our financial woes, but bankruptcy was not what we wanted to declare. Frequently, we have a hard time seeing how God is at work in the world. The difficulties of a saved life sometimes taste like bitter bread made from our tears. We resist it. We become picky. We want a different type of bread. We thought that salvation would come more easily. Perhaps one day we will see that our bread of tears is actually the bread of life.
Prayer Author of life, what you offer us we have a hard time imagining. Help us to see what your salvation might be—the space it can create for love in our lives right now. Help us change our expectations and learn to seek out the sweetness of your grace, even if we must endure some discomfort and tears.
By: Chad Hyatt
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Reflection—v. 2, ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…’
Ever been in a testimony service? It can be deeply moving and inspiring, funny and, if I am honest, a bit of a show sometimes: part spoken word, part performance art. New folks tell the story of what God has done for them, and old-timers preach the same old story again–sometimes word for word. Sure, ego gets involved, but is there anything free from that? More of our churches should make room for testimony–for letting those of us who have experienced the reedeming hand of the Lord say so. Even if it is the same old story, we need to hear it. And we need all the little stories still in the making, where just one day clean means a mountain climb. You can not know what I had to go through to get it or how Jesus reached way down to pick me up when I was steady sinking–unless you let me tell you. Twelve Steps realized long ago that getting well from our addictions and staying well means we have to talk about it. So tell somebody–it just may be you need to tell it as much as we all need to hear it.
Prayer Lord, I will tell the story of what you have done and listen as others testify.
Reflection—v. 24b, ‘…he did not hide his face from me…’
No part of this psalm and how it shapes our understanding of the cross needs to be heard more than these pivotal, transformative verses. The one who cried out in anguish, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ affirms in praise that God did not ‘hide his face from me’ but ‘heard me when I cried.’ Some suggest God could not look upon Jesus on the cross, holiness somehow trumping love. But the psalmist declares God ‘faced’ him in his suffering. Taken as Jesus’ prayer from the cross, and borrowing Trinitarian language, the Father could not turn his back upon the Son in his passion. God sees us–and does not waver–fully present to us, in all our suffering. Psalm 22 reminds us that faith gives us the freedom to express our fears in their rawest and most primal forms, but it also knows that God will not surrender us to our suffering outside his own suffering presence with us.
Prayer My God, my God, when I cry out to you, help me see your face, unhidden from my sorrows.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reading Psalm 22 as the prayer from the cross opens up for us a way into the inner meaning of the passion, while at the same time showing us the inner reality of our own discipleship. From the perspective of this psalm, the cross is Jesus-being-with-us. It is the sharing of Jesus in the suffering of humanity–in our abandonment and hopelessness, our experience of death and dusty burial. Choosing to be with Jesus is what following him means. Taking up the cross of discipleship, therefore, is making the choice to be with all who suffer, just as he did. In a profound sense, we are also choosing to be with ourselves, in the brokenness we so often hide from ourselves and others–even as he is with us there, too. To be with Jesus as a disciple is to be with Jesus on the cross, to accompany one another and ourselves in our own dereliction and very real feeling of God-forsakenness. Jesus has shown us the way by choosing our part, by being with us. Let us follow him.
Prayer Jesus, you are with us in our suffering; help me to be with you in your passion for the world.
By: Chad Hyatt
In Christian tradition, Psalm 22 is understood as the prayer of Jesus, the faithful but suffering servant, as he hung upon the cross. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ is known as the ‘cry of dereliction.’ These are the haunting last words of Jesus from the cross in both Matthew and Mark. They are also the opening lines of Psalm 22. In the ancient world, to quote the first lines of a longer literary work was to bring all of it to bear upon the minds of your hearers. Matthew and Mark are telling us that the whole of this powerful psalm is in the heart of Jesus as he lifts up his voice from the cross. The cry of dereliction is in fact a cry of faith–a profound faith that still prays even when prayer can be nothing more than anguished cry. When our emptiness and lament are addressed to God, they are, for all their sorrow and pain, powerful and profound prayer.
Prayer My God, my God, as I cry out to you, I trust in you; hear me in your great mercy.