Today’s readings:
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, Isaiah 54:1-10 (11-17), Galatians 5:1-15, Mark 8:27-9:1

It’s always darkest before the dawn. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. No pain, no gain. These and other clichés remind us most successes are preceded by a period of hard work, struggle, and failure. We usually hear these when someone is trying to offer us  comfort, or when we are doing the same for someone else. Unfortunately, they aren’t always helpful when we are in the thick of the darkness, the brokenness, or the pain.

As Jesus neared the end of his ministry, he spoke more bluntly with his disciples. He knew hard times were coming and he wanted them to be prepared. They had not been especially insightful when he taught through parables, so he told them in no uncertain terms he was going to suffer, be killed, and rise again.

The disciples didn’t welcome this news. Peter went so far as to pull him aside and rebuke him, prompting Jesus to utter his famous reply: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus knew fulfillment of his mission would require great sacrifice, and Peter’s misguided attempt at redirection embodied all the temptation he had resisted from the beginning of his ministry.

Are we willing to face the work and struggle it takes to follow Jesus (or any worthwhile goal), or are we listening to the Peters in our lives who may mean well but misdirect us to an easier but ineffectual path? Maybe our own inner voice is our Peter, the Satan loudly rebuking us in one ear while our more angelic conscience whispers urgently in the other.

It’s always easier not to voice the unpopular opinion, not to deny ourselves something we desire, not to risk losing what we’ve worked so hard for. The easy way is indeed tempting, and on extremely lucky days it may be the right way, but those cliches are common because they are true: success – especially spiritual success – requires sacrifice. Sacrifice of ego, comfort, money, time … whatever it is that stands between us and God. We have to crack that shell before we can get to the gold.

Comfort: This too shall pass.

Challenge: We offer clichés when we don’t know what else to say. Sacrifice a little time to think about and prepare for what you might say the next time someone you know is experiencing a difficult time.

Prayer: Thank you God for giving me the strength to endure so I may be triumphant in you. Amen.

Discussion: What’s something you’ve worked hard to achieve?

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Doubt, Pray, Love


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 26; 30, Ecclesiastes 11:1-8, Galatians 5:16-24, Matthew 16:13-20

No matter how strong our faith, we eventually have a day – or perhaps an achingly long series of days – when God seems far away. We don’t talk about those days much. Rather, we feel pressure to put on a brave face. Expressions of doubt during a Bible study prompt our friends to offer arguments for belief which are probably more about their reassurance than ours. A minor breakdown during prayer time is viewed as unseemly and inappropriate, maybe even fodder for parking lot gossip.

Loss and weakness are fine to discuss if we’ve already overcome them, but no one likes to watch the sausage being made. A story of beating a gambling addiction? Testify! A confession about how your ongoing blackout drinking leads to promiscuity? Better save it for the 12-step meeting. We talk a good game about brokenness, vulnerability, and healing but we really want to skip right to the “after” photo because the “before” mugshot is too upsetting.

The Psalms tell a different story. Many of them describe how we can be simultaneously faithful and in a wretched state. The author of Psalm 130 is crying out to God from the depths of despair. He recognizes his own failings and shortcomings. He finds himself unable to do anything but wait for the Lord and hope for the best. He still puts his trust in God but he’s not putting up a brave front.

Questions, moments of weakness, and despair do not demonstrate a lack of faith. They are the times that tell us whether we had any faith in the first place. Like the psalmist, sometimes the best we can do is beg God to get us through the darkness while we hunker down and hang on until daylight.

A healthy faith community will offer a safe space to rail against injustice, struggles, and the seeming distance of God. It will face darkness head on but shine a light into it. Since communities are made of people, the responsibility of creating such space then falls on each of us. We can be ourselves when we allow others to do the same.

Comfort: God is big enough to love you through your anger and doubt.

Challenge: It can be difficult to navigate when to express our pain and when to keep it to ourselves. Read this piece on how not to say the wrong thing.

Prayer: Loving God, my source of strength and security, thank you for weathering my doubts and fears. I will trust you to see me through this and all days. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever found relief after sharing something you had been keeping to yourself?

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