Week 19: What does God Care About?

Readings for the week: Psalm 54-55, 1 Samuel 1-14, John 9-12Psalm 56-57, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for inviting us to spend time together. Thank you that you respond to prayers. Sometimes I run out of words, and you still know what I mean. Sometimes you seem silent, but I know you are present.  Continue to teach me and show me how you want me to use my time, my energy, my emotions. Help me see with your eyes and hear with your ears so that my hands can be your hands in helping out those around me. Help me to stop when I need to stop but don’t realize it. Help me to go when I feel tired or frustrated. Thank you for your continued presence in every part of my life. Amen.

1. Psalm 54-55

2. Reading through 1 Samuel 1-14

When we were making our way through the list of laws or census data of how many of this group and where they were supposed to stand on that occasion, it was important to provide some added perspective.  Because those are the passages that cause people to abandon the reading ship or to at least experience a bad case of eye glazing.  That’s behind us for now. Our current chapters lead us into some of the best reading of the Old Testament. Judges is exciting but we don’t know what to do with all the evil that happens when people get to do what they want. What lessons do we draw from those? Don’t make oaths?  Don’t get haircuts?

Yeah, it’s really about obedience and staying true to God in the midst of complicated situations, but the situations seem far from our own.  Ruth is a great story but it too lacks an immediate application. Maybe it’s not all about applications, about what lesson the Bible can teach us. Maybe, just maybe, it’s actually telling a story about God’s work in this world. While stories have applications they’re not told with those in mind, but to show what happened and why.

Now that we’re in Samuel, we get the stories and the lessons. We start recognizes names and places.  We get back to the stories we heard about in Sunday School or that get featured in movies made about the Bible.  We get stories of radical faith from regular folk trying to make their way that have far reaching consequences and we get stories of powerful leaders who lead in wrong directions.

Samuel is another major transition in the story of God’s work. We have the beginning of Israel in Genesis. We have the Exodus narrative in which slaves become an established nation. We have the era of Judges where people do their thing and run into all sorts of problems. Now we’re getting to the era of kings, where authority is vested in a distinct hierarchy, and Israel fulfills its dream of social conformity with other nations.  It’s not the ideal, but God seems okay in adapting the mission to the human situation.  It’s an odd thing to think about but clear throughout the Bible.  God steers and God isn’t in a hurry. Though he has expectations.

The story of Samuel is the story of one era moving to another. Samuel is the last of the judges, and is a particularly prophetic judge. He’s a hero for God, and that means he has an edge to him. The people are often afraid of him, what he will say and what he will do. Saul is the first of the kings, a guy who fits the casting call.  He’s tall, intelligent, all the rest. Except he’s also double-minded. He second guesses himself and second guesses God. While he doesn’t do horrific sins, he keeps veering away from obedience.  As a leader, that means he steers Israel away too.  Being a leader is not necessarily a safe calling in Scripture. It’s not just about leading, it’s about where and how a person leads that seems to count.

How is Saul a leader in these passages? How is Samuel a leader? Where does Saul go wrong? What does God care about?

3. Reading Through John 9-12

How do we best serve God? That’s a driving question for many, even if most people don’t like to say it out loud.  We get anxious. Are we doing enough? Doing what’s wrong? Is everything in order? What about those people over there? Anxiety creeps in and then we find our faith filled with chaos. Adding to the problem, how do we know if we’re on track?  The usual way is to look at what’s happening in life. Are good things happening? Then we’re good. Are bad things happening? Then either we’re doing what’s wrong or somebody certainly is and we’d like to talk to management about that.  We get filled with guilt or we get obsessed with other people’s guilt.  We get caught up in trying to fix what we think is broken. And then we find our faith filled with chaos.

In these chapters, we see Jesus encountering these patterns and providing an alternative way of life. He is inviting us into this life. It’s not a life of blame or of accusation or of frenzy.  It’s a life of peace–inviting those who need healing to experience healing. Inviting those who need rest to rest. Inviting a different way of life that disregards the usual assumptions and is transformative for how we life. It’s counter-intuitive. But who will we believe? Our intuition? The intuition of those who act like they have all the power? Or Jesus?

What is the invitation of Jesus in our lives today? As we consider the elections this week, how do these chapters reframe all the rhetoric that calls us to engage in division and frenzy because politics says it is the only way of hope for our world? What system is our Lord? Who gives life? Who calls us to peace? Where does our hope come from?

4. Psalm 56-57

5. Respond

If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or having started year, don’t worry.  Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week, and catch up with what you’ve missed in future years.

Also, I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff! 

And, since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.

Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other. Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering.   Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.

Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.