Weekly Guide to Prayer and Study

and Spiritual Practices Videos

January 18 – 23, 2021

Click on the day to expand the guide.

Monday, January 18

Read – Isaiah 61:1-3, Psalm 147:1-5

Notice – Broken hearts may not be a clinical term, but it nevertheless underlies many of the challenges we face. When something or someone breaks your heart (in any way), the pain’s intensity can convince you that healing will forever elude you. The prophet Isaiah wrote of a promised Messiah whose mission was to bring good news, including “to bind up the brokenhearted.” Jesus said that passage defined his mission (cf. Luke 4:16-21). Psalm 147 knew God doesn’t tell us to ignore our pain. Hearts break – but God does promise to heal the brokenhearted. Psalm 147:3 offered a word picture of God as a caring healer, tenderly bandaging the wounds life inflicts on all of us. A bandaged physical wound sometimes leaves a scar, and so does a broken heart. When has God given you healing, either directly or through one or more of God’s faithful human servants? How has God enabled you to go on with life despite whatever scars your spirit bears?

Pray – Healing God, when my heart breaks, you extend comfort and healing. As I meet others whose hearts are breaking, give me the courage and caring to offer them your healing. Amen.

Tuesday, January 19

Read 2 Kings 24:20-25:21

Notice – As we turn to prophetic words of hope, we first review the tragic events that made hope so necessary. The little kingdom of Judah lost its way spiritually after their last good king, Josiah, died fighting an Egyptian incursion (cf. 2 Kings 23:28-29). As they ignored their covenant with God, first Egypt and then Babylon put puppet kings on the throne and warned against any rebellion. 2 Kings 25 tells of the final disaster in 586 B.C. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, carried thousands of its people away, and “Judah was exiled from its land.” This is hard to read. But disaster did not come “out of the blue.” The prophet Jeremiah had warned that even the beautiful Temple Solomon built was no guarantee that God would keep protecting those who ignored God’s calls for justice and faithfulness (cfJeremiah 7:1-10). How can the tragedy of Judah’s descent into exile speak to you when there is tension between God’s ways and the pressures and demands of the culture around you?

Pray – O God, your heart must have wept as your children wandered away from covenant and into exile. And yet, even in exile you did not forget your

Wednesday, January 20

Read Jeremiah 29:1-14

Notice – This section of Jeremiah backed up a bit. Babylon first took Hebrew exiles away in 597 B.C. while leaving the puppet King Zedekiah in Jerusalem. Jeremiah sent a letter to those exiles urging them to settle down for a lengthy stay in Babylon. That message was not popular. Self-proclaimed prophets like Hananiah and Shemaiah thought the exile would end quickly. Shemaiah wrote from Babylon asking the high priest in Jerusalem to imprison Jeremiah (cfJeremiah 28:1-3, 29:24-32). Jeremiah told the exiles God had “plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.” But first he said, “When Babylon’s seventy years* are up.” “Jeremiah’s words presuppose that there’s no quick fix for the community’s situation. This doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. It does mean people need to be prepared to take the long view.”** Could anything requiring “the long view” actually give you hope? What makes trusting patience essential as you walk with God? Verse 13 summed up Jeremiah’s message of judgment and hope: “When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” How do you understand the meaning of searching for God “with all your heart”? What times or events in your life have driven you to seek God with all your heart? What steps helped you do that?

Pray -Loving God, with all my heart I want to be a part of your hope-filled future. It’s often hard for me to wait, so keep teaching me to trust your timing more than my restless demands. Amen.

  • * “seventy years, i.e., a long time or a lifetime; see Jeremiah 25:11.” Louis Stulman, study note on Jeremiah 29:4-14 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 1255OT.
  • ** John Goldingay, Jeremiah for Everyone. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, p. 146.
Thursday, January 21

Read Jeremiah 31:10-14, 17, 31-34

Notice – “The LORD will rescue the people of Jacob…. They will come shouting for joy on the hills of Zion.” But it was long-term hope, not immediate: “Your children will return home!” The key was for the people to choose a new covenant with God. This covenant would engrave God’s instructions on their hearts as they understood God’s profound desire to forgive and restore them. Jeremiah had voiced shock on God’s behalf at how the people forgot to worship and follow the God of Israel’s liberation from Egypt: “Has a nation switched gods, though they aren’t really gods at all? Yet my people have exchanged their glory for what has no value” (Jeremiah 2:11). How would that change? “God intends to pardon the people’s waywardness and restore them to their country. Maybe that has the power to change them.”* When have you experienced the transforming power of God’s forgiveness?

Pray – Lord God, you are the God who stays with me even in the moments when my heart strays away from you. Thank you for drawing me into the company of all who respond to your love and live in the grace and beauty of your covenant. Amen.

Friday, January 22

Read – Zechariah 9:9-12

Notice – Zechariah preached soon after Israel’s return from exile (cf. Ezra 5:1, 6:14). There were many challenges in rebuilding the city the Babylonians had sacked, but this prophet called on people to rejoice because God was with them (cfZechariah 2:10-12). He returned to the call to rejoice at the start of today’s reading. One result of God’s presence (at the end of the exile, and more broadly when the promised deliverer, the Messiah came) was that prisoners were set free. That promised freedom (both spiritual and physical) was why Zechariah called them “prisoners of hope.” Imagine yourself as an Israelite who had come back from exile in Babylon just a few weeks or months before hearing these words. How did Zechariah encourage his contemporaries? How would this message have lifted their spirits and given them strength to move ahead with the tasks of rebuilding? Now imagine yourself as someone dealing with global pandemic. In what way(s) can your trust in the God Zechariah served empower you, too, to live as a prisoner of hope?

Pray – Lord, you know the times right now when I feel cooped up, constrained, unable to do some of what I want to do. By your presence with me, help me to rejoice greatly even now, to be not just a prisoner, but a prisoner of hope. Amen.

Saturday, January 23

Read Isaiah 40:27-31

NoticeToday’s readings likely came from a time when the Israelites were returning to their ruined land (or about to return) after decades in exile. There were no “Babylon to Jerusalem” flights—words like “stumble” and “walk” reflected the only way most exiles got home. The walking exiles were weary and feared that God was too. But Isaiah said God “doesn’t grow tired or weary.” Israel (and we) could always trust in God, because God-given hope (not hope in our own power) renews our strength. Can you recall times when you have felt like the Israelites in Isaiah 40:27: “My way is hidden from the LORD, my God ignores my predicament”? Are there areas of your life that feel that way to you right now as we continue to deal with the conditions created by the Covid-19 outbreak? In what ways can you reconnect with the Creator who “doesn’t grow tired or weary” of caring for you?

Pray – Lord God, full of eternal energy, you remain the same creative, caring God you’ve always been. Help me learn more and more to trust your timeless love. Amen.

Spiritual Practices Videos