Prayer and Fasting – February
God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course. Give me insight so I can do what you tell me – my whole life one long, obedient response. Guide me down the road of your commandments; I love traveling this freeway! Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot. Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets, invigorate me on the pilgrim way. Affirm your promises to me – promises made to all who fear you. (Psalm 119:33-38, The Message)
The Breath of God
Our Scripture for this month is meaningful to me because it reminds me of the present-tense quality of the Bible. The psalmist desires to be immersed in God’s word, to understand God’s teaching, to make “my whole life one long, obedient response” (v34, The Message). This isn’t a desire for some future time. And it isn’t a reflection on an earlier time of insight. It’s a present-tense desire, a desire that right now, in this moment, God’s word would permeate the psalmist’s entire being. This present-tense experience is what I think of when I think of Scripture as being God-breathed. When we unite our voice with that of the psalmist, we are not simply reciting an ancient prayer; we are praying in the present-tense – teach me, give me insight, guide me…NOW.
The God-breathed nature of Scripture, it’s present-tense quality, becomes real for me over and over again as I read and reread the Bible. I become aware that Scripture is alive with the breath of God each time I read a familiar passage and come away with a slightly different understanding, one that fits my need at that particular moment.
My sister is an artist and last year she painted a scene from a story in Luke 5 called Shore Talk. It’s one of my favorites of her paintings and seeing it prompted me to revisit that story once again. A crowd had gathered around Jesus while he was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret. There were fishermen who were nearby washing their nets after a night of fishing. Jesus saw their empty boats and decided to use them for his purposes:
He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. (Luke 5:3-7, NRSV)
This has always been a favorite story of mine. Aspects of it have been very meaningful for me over the years. Jesus’ request that Simon move into “deeper water” has always been a challenging word for me. Simon’s obedience in letting down the nets even though he was tired and didn’t think his effort would bear any fruit has been a source of encouragement. This time, however, as I read the story those things didn’t jump out as they have in the past. In fact, as I read and reflected, nothing really hit me at all.
Then I realized that Shore Talk wasn’t painted during a typical season, and I wasn’t reflecting in normal circumstances. So, I began to read again and when I did, the passage began to come alive. I could feel God’s breath as it moved toward me from the page. I read what happened when Simon obeyed: “They caught so many fish their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners…to come and help them.”
My need in that moment was in front of me. 2020 was unbelievably difficult, but we met the challenges as best we could and prayed that 2021 would be easier. It wasn’t. As I read the story a second time, I was confronted with how alone I felt in my responsibility to lead WME in the middle of a global pandemic, and how heavy the burden was to guide others amidst suffering and spiritual questioning. But on the heels of that recognition was an even more important one: I was not alone. I had partners that I could signal for help. The breath of God awakened in me the need to reach out for support during those difficult days – and the need to make that support more readily available to others.
The Bible contains all the clues we need to negotiate our journey of faith. It’s our map and holds the very breath of God. I encourage you to open yourself to experiencing God breathing through Scripture. Open yourself to experiencing the dynamic, vibrant, “right now” quality of God’s Word. And as you fast and pray this month, I will be praying as well, that you would be aware of the movement of God’s Spirit breathing through the Word, and allow its power to touch you in the uniqueness of every situation in your life.