Dear Lord, the world says to go one direction. You invite us into a different direction. The world says embrace busyness and chaos, taking as much as we can, because we deserve all we can get. You invite us to sit with you, to rest in your goodness, to find peace and stillness in trusting you. You give us life and you also give us a new way of seeing the world around us, of living within this world. Help me to hear your voice today and to see what you have made and have hope in what you are doing. Show me where I am getting off track or falling into traps that make it hard to live as you want me to live. Help me to be a messenger of your peace this week. Be with me in my struggles and provide answers to those real needs I have. Be with those I know who are dealing with some big problems and help me to know how I can help them. Guide me and teach me this week, gracious Lord. Amen.
1. Psalm 145
2. Reading through Hosea, Joel, Amos
As we finish reading the Old Testament in the next few weeks, we will be reading a lot of books with similar themes. These “minor” prophets are continuing to emphasize the message of God’s judgment and God’s invitation.
Judgment is a big sounding word, bringing images of courtrooms and laws-broken and defendants taken off in chains to serve their punishment. There’s definitely the latter in the Old Testament, but what’s interesting to me is how little the image of courtrooms are used. When we hear talk of God’s anger and judgment, we an get the sense of a stern judge sitting high above the room, banging a gavel, pronouncing decisions.
When we read these books, however, the imagery is quite different. All throughout, the analogy isn’t to dry legal issues, or even religious concerns. It’s full of love language, both commitment and betrayal. God is jealous. The people have prostituted themselves and had constant affairs. The judgment isn’t one of an objective judge but of a lover who catches their beloved in the midst of betrayal.
Yet, there’s a grace and commitment all throughout too. God seeks the best for those he loves and invites the people to a new way of life. Indeed, God promises to continue to work, to continue to woo!, and tells there will be better days coming when everyone gets what God is about.
What other images of God do you see in these chapters? What is God compared to? What are the people compared to? If you had to describe God and what God wants to someone based on these books, what would you say?
3. Reading Through Revelation 7-13
When we read the Bible, it’s easy to make it into what we think it should be, and far too often we think it should be a list of facts and figures and moral lessons and bullet pointed things we are supposed to believe. It has these things but it is a lot more than that. From the beginning, the Bible speaks of competing narratives about the world. It proclaims the narrative of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the fullness of revelation in Jesus and the continuing mission of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just a nice story, it is saying, “This is how the world truly is.” But we hear so many others saying this, our faith gets blunted, we get distracted or co-opted. When we’re in times of struggle, when things seem impossible around us and God seems far away, it can be all too easy just to throw up our hands and give in or give up. We don’t need a code book that adds to the complexity. We certainly don’t need more things to argue about or to get afraid about.
We need hope.
Revelation is, ultimately, a book of hope to those experiencing a lot of struggles in life. It tells the story behind the story, giving us a glimpse of the bigger reality behind what we’re experiencing and reminding us that this struggle is more profound than we can imagine. It’s not an empty struggle and it’s not just our own isolated struggle. When we commit to God, we’re committing to a view of the world’s past, present, and future. We’re committing to pressing on in this story when things seem overwhelming or unrewarding.
It’s easy to get caught in the symbols and images of Revelation, to try to wrap our mind around it and figure out the puzzle. People have been doing that for centuries. That’s missing the point, I think. Ultimately, Revelation isn’t about filling our head with yet more puzzles but about shaping our emotions, guiding us in reconceiving the world around us and our part in it. The images, events, twists, symbols evoke emotional response, sometimes overwhelmed by the darkness then profoundly relieved by God’s provision.
As much as you can this week, think about the emotions John raises in these chapters. What are the images supposed to evoke in us? What are they leading us to thinking about God and our current experiences? What are these chapters saying about how we should respond to hardship?
Revelation is certainly not about leaving us anxious or afraid. These chapters have a lot of disturbing imagery to be sure, but these aren’t the end of the story and we’re invited into living even now in light of the whole story of God’s work in the worst circumstances in bringing hope, renewal, victory.
The driving question really is how we are going to live now. Where we place our hope shapes how we live. How we live shows where we place our hope. What do these chapters say should be our hope?
4. Psalm 146
If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or haven’t started yet, don’t worry. Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week. Start where you can and then continue on.
I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff!
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 helps to share as we learn from each other.
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.