Week Four October 2, 2016
READ: Isaiah 43:1-7
Prayer is a spiritual discipline taught by Jesus to connect us with God. Brain research shows that when people pray, there is a lot of focused activity in the frontal lobe of the brain. It is like our satellite dish is opening up to the heavens so that we can meet God. This openness within our brain creates the possibility of new ideas, discovery, and innovation.
Prayer is two-way communication between God and me, or if I am praying within a group, us. Prayer is both listening to the whisper of the Holy Spirit as well as expressing my thankfulness, praise, prayer requests for me and intercession for others. We pray because we believe that God meets us in prayer and as a result things change. We ask, God listens. We listen and God speaks often in a still small voice or impression or maybe an idea.
We pray not to get our own way or to get things, but to invite God into our situation and life. We can ask in specific, but we know that God is God and that is one thing we are not. If God honors our prayer in the way in which we ask, we are no more blessed than if God answers in a completely different way. Simply having God join us in our circumstance improves our situation because God is there.
Praying for people, situations and countries increases our awareness of what is happening beyond ourselves. Awareness and attention carries over into our week and grows our compassion for others. This is all a benefit of prayer.
Consider this about prayer:
- It takes time to transition from the activity of the brain and the busyness of the day to enter into the prayer of the heart. Calm you mind, pay attention to your breathing, invite the Lord in as you breathe in and exhale your worries and concerns. When your soul has quieted, bring your prayers to the Lord.
- Conversational prayer can happen any time or any place. In a day of Bluetooth, I can pray out loud anywhere and bystanders just think I am talking on my cellphone. When I hear an emergency vehicle pass, I pray for the First Responders as well as the victims. If I see a need, I pray.
- Listening prayer can happen anywhere as well. However, space and some degree of solitude often helps us listen and attend to the voice of God. Speak Lord, I am listening was the prayer of Samuel 3. It can take repetition and persistence to learn to listen.
Gordy’s life is like a patchwork quilt of foster homes in which he grew up, some better experiences than others. When I first me Gordy through my friend Clarissa, he was thirty-five years old. As we sat and had coffee together, I was blown away by his story. Imagine growing up and switching schools three times when you are in second grade. All in all, Gordy was in over fifteen different foster homes. All this change was not because he was a problem child. It is just the nature of the foster home system. Things often change which impacts kid’s lives.
While Gordy holds down a twenty-nine hour custodial job at an area industry site, he pieces together his income so that he can have his own modest apartment, gets food from area pantries and has a collection of old Western movies that he watches because he cannot afford cable. In a simple way, Gordy’s life seems rather normal, except for the fact that he told me he has no information on family. Gordy is a functionally an orphan. There is nothing he wants more than to find his family but has no clue where to look.
God works in mysterious ways. Just a few weeks before this conversation with Gordy, I met an Episcopal family in my travels who shared the same not so common last name. In checking in with this family and asking if they had a relative by the name of Gordy, they said that they had a nephew with that name. I am not going to go into the details that led to this separation between Gordy and his family. When they agreed to meet Gordy with me, let me tell you I have not seen a bigger grin and a happier young man than Gordy! He was thrilled.
The story gets better. In our second meeting with Gordy’s uncle and aunt, we discovered they had done some homework, made some phone calls and his two older sisters wanted to talk to him. They also pulled out a few photo’s they had of Gordy when he was just a baby, before his parents died. They gave him a small photo book they had put together for him of his family. Gordy was overcome with emotion.
After a number of phone conversations with his sisters, they arranged last Christmas for Gordy to take a bus to one of their homes several hours from here. All Gordy was able to talk about prior to Christmas was his excitement of getting to meet his sisters and their families for the first time in his life. It is amazing when God works in a way to bring pieces together and restore life and joy to a person. Gordy is an orphan no longer. He has God and his family!
Today’s reading is divided into two parts: 1-4, 5-7. Claus Westermann writes in his commentary of Isaiah 40-66, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969, p. 11: The most characteristic form of Deutero-Isaiah’s words of salvation is the promise, or oracle, of salvation…it is introduced by the call ‘Do not fear…’ What Westermann calls Deutero-Isaiah, I simplify and refer to it as Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55). Isaiah 43:1-7 is a promise of salvation with both verses 1 and 5 using the phrase: Do not fear. The promise of God’s presence and activity follow each of these phrases. The other places in Second Isaiah were this promise of salvation form is used are: 40:9-11; 41:10, 13-14; 44:2-8; 51:7-8; and 54:4-8).
In verse 1, there are four claims of God upon Israel: the Lord created, formed, redeemed and called you. These are promises that Christians can claim for their own as well. While “created” implies our source of origin (Genesis 1:26-27), “formed” has a more intimate connection implied between the potter and the clay in her hand, as she artistically works it on the wheel (Genesis 2:7). The promise of being redeemed has a business sense to it. It implies that there has been a debt incurred which needs to be repaid. Earlier in Second Isaiah, we read that the penalty for her unfaithfulness to Yahweh has been paid in full (40:2c). Contrary to the lament expressing that Jacob has been forgotten, hidden from God’s eyes and whose requests have been disregarded (40:27), Yahweh speaks in a legal term of possession: “You are mine,” (43:1f). Period.
Fears of the ancient world include water and fire. The desert was seen as a wild place filled with demons and other wild creatures that would devour you. The road home to Jerusalem from Babylon required the Jews to return through the desert. When fear gets in your way, all options can seem impossible. Second Isaiah was speaking to a people who had given up hope during the 70 years of exile. Almost double the length of time the Jews spent in the wilderness following their exodus from Egypt, many of the adults taken captive would have died, the young now were adults and many children knew no other life than that of Babylon. Second Isaiah had to deliver a strong message of hope and salvation.
Yahweh assures the Jews that they will be safe upon their return home (43:2). Neither water nor fire will harm you. In fact, God has been at work in world among nations and leaders leading to the safe return of Jacob. This is implied in the vague reference to Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba (43:3c-d), and in the exchange of people among nations (43:4c-d). This first section (1-4) is capped off with more affirmations by God: Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…(43:4).
In the second section of the promise of salvation (43:5-7), “Do not fear, for I am with you” God announces that the chosen people of Jacob will be gathered from all the directions, east, west, north and south, and will be led home once again. This is all being accomplished according to the promise of God who called them, to bring ultimate glory to the Creator God (43:7). God is a promise keeper and a liberator.
The most basic of human need is to be loved and cared for by another. When this need is not met in childhood, it messes us up. Many of us have spent a whole pile of time and money with a therapist trying to heal this hurt. On a profound soulful level, we hunger to be loved and valued by the Author of Life. What peace and joy is ours when we experience these words: thus says the Lord, “You are mine. You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you,” (43:1f, 4a-b).
- The point is we all need affirmation. Who has affirmed you? Who do you intentionally affirm? Write down these affirmations and keep them in your Bible (43:1, 4) and read them daily as you begin your study.
- Rivers, lakes and fires were a major fear in the ancient world. Is there anything that causes you to be afraid? The Lord says to you: “Do not fear for I am with you.” In a time of prayer, think about your fear and envision the Lord with you in it. Focus on the Lord until you find peace in your heart and mind.
- In a similar way that God promised to gather all of the scattered people of the family of Jacob from the ends of the earth to Jerusalem and back into God’s presence, Jesus desires all people to know, worship and serve him. The people in your heart who are distant from God and the church are to be your prayer and your mission. Who are they?
- How does God show love and compassion to the Mel’s of our community? Who comes to your mind when you read her story? What is God saying to you?