Hello NEW YEAR – Day 3

Pray | 

Lord, you know the number of hairs on my head, have seen my days, and have made a way for me. May I truly trust you this year.  

If you have left the previous year with joy in your heart and contentment in your soul, then rejoice and be glad in that! Or maybe you find yourself walking a new path this year that’s difficult, lonely, has traces of regret, or looks uncertain; maybe joy just isn’t coming easily. In our jobs, churches, and daily living we are shoulder to shoulder with ones who are in really good places as well as ones who carry heavy weights and shed quiet tears. If the latter is you, take heart because splashed all over the Bible are good and true words that call us to lift up our face.
Read |

Isaiah 43:18-19
Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the dry land.

Lamentations 3: 22-24
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Revelation 21:5
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

We have a tendency to ruminate on regret, anger and frustration, and no one’s better at beating ourselves up over the former things than our own selves. But God tells us not to dwell on the past, his word says to put our eyes forward to look for the new thing he is doing. If we’re lost in a wilderness or walking in a dry land, God says he’s making a way and creating streams. Do we perceive it? And God loves us so much, has such compassion that even when it feels like we are, we cannot be consumed by grief, anger, heartache, disappointment, or fill in the blank. In addition to all of that, believe it or not, his compassions never fail, his mercies are new, waiting each and every morning; we can hang on, he is indeed faithful to make everything new.

Consider pausing to assess how you’re really doing before pushing through this first month of the year. What do you believe you need from God and others to move through these days?

Hello NEW YEAR – day 2

Pray | 
Father, as I consider the days before me, help me to establish my plans in your wisdom. 

There’s just something about a new year and a fresh calendar with big empty squares. There are birthdays and anniversaries to mark, possibly vacations to plan. Meetings will creep in, events, gatherings, and on and on until before we know it the days are full, our minds are busy, and the months can feel cluttered. In our busy and full lives, in a culture that values doing more, it can be a challenge to stay intentional with our time. It can be even more difficult to leave some blank squares to create breathing space, rest, and quiet to listen for the still, small voice of God. 
Read | 
Proverbs 16:3, 9; James 4:13-15; Proverbs 27:1

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:9
In their heart’s humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

James 4:13-15
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Proverbs 27:1
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. 
Reflection | 

There are many good things, places, and certainly people that need our time, and planning is good, for if we’re simply blown around by the wind, waves, and whims, not much is accomplished. So, in planning our days, we should consider wisdom, balance, and intention. Even then, there is a call to hold loosely to our calendar and schedules, because we do not know what will happen tomorrow, despite what is written in our planners.

The truth of this life is that our days simply don’t always go as we think they will – plans get scratched off and new ones penciled in an instant. This year I’ve witnessed a dear friend walking through a vey difficult diagnosis, there have been unwanted and unwelcome struggles in the lives of people I love, and still triumphs and new paths for others. You likely find your own circles are similar. The reminder here as we begin anew is to be intentional with our days – to work, serve, and play, to both show up and slow down. Let us be – or get – comfortable with spending time with the Lord and his Word, to be quiet, and also to listen. This new year, let us establish our plans with wisdom as we fill our calendars, and may we not be in a hurry to leave the King’s presence ~ Ecclesiastes 8:3.

Consider the past year, do parts of it feel like it slipped through your hands? Could you be more intentional or wise with your days this year? 

Today’s lesson was written for DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church.

Hello NEW YEAR

Pray | 
Father, as I walk into this new year, may I seek you with all my heart, trust your plans for me, and walk in wisdom.

The new year has arrived! As we switch our calendars to 2024, some of us are sensing a refreshing and new beginning. Some of us feel loose ends, scuff marks, family strife, illness, loss, and unknowns leading the march into the new year, so flipping the calendar doesn’t necessarily feel refreshing. And just maybe it’s a mix of both anticipation and apprehension, wondering what these next 365 days will – or will not – hold.
Read | 
Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 29:11-13; Psalm 90:12

Psalm 139:16
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
Reflection | 
One thing we can know for sure is that God has seen these upcoming days, and they are ordained. Nothing will take his breath away even as we gasp with joy or bend in heartache. If promise is looming large in front of you, if your toes have been pointed to a new land, if a new day is showing itself to you, then call on the Lord as you go on your way. Come, pray, and seek him with all your heart, for he has plans to give you hope and a future. If job loss, family struggles, health concerns, or a busy mind and heavy heart is your current lot, then call on the Lord as you go through your days. Come, pray and seek him with all your heart, for he has plans to give you hope and a future. No matter our circumstances, whether light and abundant, or scarce and heavy, may we ask the Lord to teach us this year to seek him with all our heart and to number our days so that we may indeed gain a heart of wisdom.

As you enter this new year, are you feeling promise and a refreshing, or weariness? If all of your days are ordained and written in a book, do you trust the Lord to meet you where you need him?  

Today’s lesson was written for DailyLife Devotions for Five Oaks Church

The Book of Job ~ Day 3 of 3

Pray | Lord, may I turn to you, your Word, your Truth, and your promises when I am confused.

I JUST NEED TO TALK TO GOD

As we read through Job we see that he holds on to what he knows is true, he has done no wrong. After the ongoing, sometimes long winded (hello Elihu), monologues of friends, Job really just wants to talk to God. He wants to hear what God has to say, he begs to plead his case directly to the Judge, while also realizing God’s wisdom is so profound that Job couldn’t actually dispute him, but what he could do is plead for mercy. The wisdom in Job is this – I just need to talk to God. After loss, grief, pain, standing in integrity, then questioning, blaming, shaming and careless words, I love how chapter 38 begins, “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.” For what a storm it had been.

Read |  Job 38-42

Reflect | 

God gives this tour of the universe, asking if Job was there at the earth’s foundation, asking if he had given orders to the morning, entered the storehouses of snow, and on and on. God speaks in incredible detail about land, sea, animals, birth and more, showing Job (and us) It’s just not all about you. When God says to Job – Ok you do it, you run this universe, unleash your fury, crush the wicked where they stand, it creates a moment of deep humbling. I can’t think of one person who would truly believe they could run the universe; some of us might think we could run our universe, but given that power we’d see that so many other people and events are tied to ours that it would be beyond overwhelming to our eyes, hearts and minds and we would immediately realize our limitations.

The Bible Project’s podcast on Job points out God is displaying that the world is in order, but there can still be suffering because in many ways “it’s still got wild in it, and it’s still dangerous.” Not to mention the free will part and also the evil that exists. In the end Job’s response boils down to, I thought I knew, but now I know I don’t. I thought too highly of my abilities to understand how things work, and his mind, heart and posture changed.  I love when God points out that Job did speak this truth – he didn’t deserve what happened to him, it wasn’t anything he did.

We are so very intelligent, sending rockets to space – for science and now even for pleasure. We have learned incredible secrets of the universe, and can do more and know more than ever before, and what we don’t know we Google! We want to know and understand everything, and when we don’t, when things just don’t make any sense, when it seems there cannot be sense made of some things, what do we do? Do we write off God? Do we silently tell him, If I don’t see any good in this then you’re not good? Do we possibly want a God we are equal to?

Our true best hope in dark and confusing times is in humility before God. I don’t get this, it makes no sense, I am sure this grieves even your heart Lord. but I trust you still. To some this will make no sense, you have to know God to trust him. Understanding God’s character and deep love is a path to trusting him; and the truth is we can’t humble ourselves before someone we don’t trust.

Do you know and trust God? Where does your mind tend to go when you can’t make sense of things or events? When it seems God isn’t intervening, do you trust him still? What storm do you need God to speak out of?

The Book of Job ~ Day 2 of 3

Pray | Lord, you are good and trustworthy; by your Holy Spirit, help me to believe that when I’m confused by the difficult and tragic things of this world.

BUT IS HE REALLY RIGHTEOUS?

In the book of Job, in a counsel meeting of sorts, Satan tells God that Job, a man the Lord Himself called blameless and upright, is only that way because God has blessed him over and over, of course Job is a good man because he’s rewarded for it. And so begins the loss, suffering and responses of this man of integrity, this man who fears God and shuns evil.

Read |  Job 1 – 2

Reflect | 
In the Bible Project Podcast’s on Job they submit that the question of Job is “If God is just shouldn’t the world always be run by the principle of just compensation?” They surmise that what Satan might be saying to God is that if righteous people are always rewarded doesn’t that have potential to corrupt their righteousness? Will we maintain a posture of righteousness if, or really when, we suffer?

This question has had my mind busy this week; suddenly the book of Job wasn’t just about this man who was experiencing unexpected tragedy, but about me and my beliefs, which I now realize might sometimes fall under the just compensation theory. How many times has my heart whispered up to God, But they’re such good people, please, please fix this. Is it possible some of us accidentally, maybe sometimes believe that because God is good and just that he would, or even should, make sure that good begets good?

When situations don’t seem fair, that is a critical time to lean into God, to ask ourselves if we really believe and trust God. Could we pause to acknowledge I’m feeling like this seems not okay from my vantage point, but then also consider and trust that it has passed through the hands of God, taking in that his complexity and perspective is so much wider and deeper than ours – much more than our brains can even conceive. And that sometimes things and people grieve even his heart too.

In the podcast when speaking of our own limitations, they mention that dogs can’t learn algebra. In talking this through with my daughter Erin, she added, “And dogs don’t need to know algebra. We’re like that too, we don’t need to know everything; that to know everything is actually beyond our brains and capacity.” This is wisdom, to know we can’t know it all . . . but we can know the One who does.

Can you think of a situation where you maybe believed that good begets good? When was the last time you were confused by a suffering that hit you or someone you love? How did you, or do you, manage your confusion when that happens?

Feel free to comment, we can all learn from each other.

Written originally for Five Oaks Church Daily Life Devotional

Not Feeling It

Have you ever been in a season of just not feeling your relationship with God? One where you don’t really want to read the bible, and prayer feels a little empty, kind of bland? I believe most of us have from time to time walked in what feels like a spiritual dry land. I’ve been there for a minute, and I have to say, it’s not a great feeling.

I hear my own voice telling others, “God is not a feeling”, which is true, so I open the bible and read. I open my daily devotions and read. I open my prayer journal and let what seems like limited words, and even less emotion, fall on the pages.

In describing this funk to a friend she said something along the lines of doing it to check the box, which I instantly knew in my soul wasn’t true. I’m reading and praying not to check the box, but because I know this is good for my soul, even if it doesn’t feel it. I know the Word is true and has power to be life giving, correcting, soothing, encouraging and more. I pray because I believe it might matter that I pray, and I believe the Lord cares that I do, even maybe especially when I don’t feel it? Bottom line, I’m doing it because I don’t feel like doing it.

Another friend read Kneeling with Giants – Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers, more than once she spoke of how great it was, so I’m reading it on her recommendation. The book has chapters on spiritual mentors from church history like Benedict, Luther, Calvin and more, and offers different methods of prayer, such as the divine office, the Lord’s Prayer, healing prayer, Psalms and more. I’m only through chapter one, but I sense optimism and just may be on the cusp of freshness.

I’ve started with the divine office taken from the Common Book of Prayer (modeled from St Benedict). I’m praying old prayers that seem written for today, there are prayers for leaders, prisoners – justly and unjustly imprisoned, pastors, the aged and lonely, the hurting, conflicts and more. I’m singing along with hymns of old that are feeling right for now; there is a time of confession, scripture readings and more. In this prayer discipline there are four set times of day to pray, I’m currently committed to the morning one, and slightly committed to the noon one.

In chapter one, Praying with St Benedict – The Divine Office, there are two places I’ve underlined, on page 21 Gary Neal Hanson writes, “It (the divine office) stretches me to pray in a healthy range of ways. It renews my connection to deep and holy things. When times are hard, it can put my battered soul back together. I admit there are days when it feels like a ritual performed without conscious thought – though even that can help me. Whatever it feels like, it puts my day in a rhythm of prayer. As one of my students put it, Benedict envisioned a life of prayer with work interspersed, not the other way around.” And on page 34 he says,
“. . . but the more hours you pray and the longer you keep at it, the better chance you have of keeping all of life in perspective.” In my short time with this style of prayer I’m feeling both of those statements to be true. I’ve decided to hang out in this prayer style for awhile before I move on to chapter two, Praying with Martin Luther – The Lord’s Prayer.

In the meantime, it is written to be prepared in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2); I’ve been feeling out of season, but maybe this is where some of the work is done so that the in season will return.

If you find yourself interested in reading Kneeling with Giants and discussing it, comment on fb, instagram, this post, or email me at shericarlstrom@gmail.com and we’ll figure out a way to connect through a group zoom, email or maybe private fb group.

(I’m praying the Divine office through an app, Mission of St Clare – Praying the Daily Office, I just have to click the morning, noonday, evening or compline prayer, making it very simple.)