Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. How much time have you devoted to God this week? If you are like me, my assessment looks pretty dismal. It’s just that every day I face so many things to do. But I have to ask myself – what things eat up my time and snatch away my focus.? Have you ever felt your life needs decluttering? That is what I have faced this week. As I prepare for bed, I list those things that I need to prioritize when I wake. But my morning to-do list often dissolves due to the clutter. Can you think of what clutter is in your life? While we are in this moment together, take a deep breath and let’s examine the ways we add clutter to our lives.
My obvious clutter often starts with the kitchen countertop. It usually collects a bit at a time. There is the flour canister that used to be stored in the pantry, but since it was being used often for a series of days when I cooked, it stayed out. Now in its place in the pantry stands a box of Bisquick, so the flour canister stays on the counter. Also on the countertop sits the recently purchased jar of garlic stuffed olives that hasn’t found a home and a towel on which set several pans, air-drying after being washed by hand. So the clutter grows and soon it needs a focused stretch of time to get everything in order. And there are other ways we add clutter to our lives.
Why do my morning plans dissolve and the to-do list suffer? Because I turn on the news to see what is happening and scroll on my phone to check news links. It’s amazing how I can be distracted by not-so-news-worthy items, like “50 Kitchen Hacks You Never Thought Of”. This seems like a worthy pursuit; however, when I check the time, I wonder how an hour (or more) could have possibly passed already. Has this ever happened to you?
It is far too easy to get distracted and let the clutter take over. When the flat surfaces in my home start to gather miscellaneous items, so do the spare moments when I react to things to do, read or research. Have you discovered Google? It is an amazing tool for the easily distracted mind. I’ve gotten to the point where any casual conversation can bring up a question where I must instantly turn to Google for an answer. It doesn’t matter if the answer is all that important, there are numerous answers, and then I also find other suggested queries that lead me down more Google “rabbit holes”.
Although it’s embarrassing to admit to the clutter in my life, I bring it up to show it’s a powerful force. The clutter of material things and the clutter or distractions for my mind detracts from the time I could be focusing on my relationship and communication with God. But how can I declutter? How do you eliminate the clutter so your focus on God is intentional and uninterrupted?
I’ve mentioned before that I find it easier to focus when I write prayers and thoughts in a journal. But the clutter of to-do lists distracts me. Here’s a thought! I should add journaling to my To-Do list. That is one way to be more intentional. I also find that if I don’t have the right kind of place in my house to get away from it all, I get in my car and drive to a nearby park. I have discovered multiple paths in the county parks.
I appreciate the time that I’ve just taken to examine the clutter in my life. It helps me understand it and, hopefully, control it instead of it controlling me. I pray the same for you. Look at your time and how you’ve spent it. How do you manage the physical and mental clutter in your life? This is a sincere question and I appreciate any suggestions that you may have.
Dear God, I thank you for your listening ear. Help me to declutter my mind so I can focus on the praise and prayer that I need to express. Hear my voice and help me be quiet and hear yours. Help me be released from the clutter of material things and the attention-seeking thoughts crowded in my head. I praise you for your power and strength and thank you for your never-ending grace. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. The lectionary theme this week is about prayer, using Luke 11: 1-13 where Jesus provided instructions about praying and offered a part of what we call The Lord’s Prayer as an example. This caused me to reflect on prayer life, in general, and mine specifically. What draws us to prayer? Joy, love, repentance, worries, sadness? What provides us with the best prayer experiences? Let’s take a deep, cleansing breath together, open our inner selves, and listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit as we prepare for our conversations with God.
Let me ask you – what is your prayer life like? When did you first experience prayer? When has your prayer life been strongest? What impacts your prayer life?
These last couple of weeks have brought me face to face with a full spectrum of absolute joy to deep sadness, and all of this has impacted my prayer life. My emotions overflowed in both directions, and, truthfully, rarely resulted in voiced full sentences to God. My prayers were, at times, unvoiced words and thoughts. But prayers don’t need to be worded in flowery phrases. Jesus taught, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
This last week I experienced friendships, some were newly formed and others were deeply-rooted and developed over the years, even decades. I offered my thankful praise to God in popcorn-type moments for the great joy that filled my heart. I was especially thankful for those moments because they helped me turn to God when my heart felt broken or scared. I took those feelings and requests to God, also, sometimes in sentences, sometimes in broken thoughts and concerns.
Often my prayers are quick reactions to moments of happiness or periods of need. But prayer life is incomplete if it is not given intentional and devoted time. Where do you find your intentional prayers best expressed? My drive to work or my walk from the parking lot to my office provided me with a time to pray. Now that I am retired, I seek out a quiet walk in the morning along one of the paths in a nearby park. How about you?
I also appreciate the shared prayers and guided meditations in our worship services, at retreat campfires, and in any group experiences where we have intentionally sought the presence of the Holy Spirit as a faith community. Sometimes I struggle to set the intentional time aside, but I never regret it.
Where and when are your best prayer opportunities? What do you include in your prayers? Have you included praise, thankfulness, repentance, and supplication? In the scripture from Luke, we are told to pray using all these aspects. As I reflect on my prayer life, I am reminded that I must slow down; pray in the moment, but also pray intentionally; pray in private and in community; pray for myself and pray intercessory prayers for others. I must designate intentional prayer time and remember the guidance that Jesus taught.
Now is an intentional moment for each of us to pray. Don’t worry about the smoothness of your words. Pray your heart. That is my prayer for you. Open your mind to communicate to God and allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to flow from your mind to your heart and from your heart back to the Holy Spirit.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Have you ever had a week where life seems to overwhelm your plans and schedules? Personally, I’ve raced to clinic visits, doctor appointments and trips to the lab and found little solace in the potentiality of solutions, because that is all we got – potential answers. So join me as I take a deep breath, close my eyes for a moment and just breathe in and out, cleansing my anxiety and removing the worries. Let’s turn our minds to the Holy Spirit to refresh and refuel. Let’s explore a Spiritual Practice where we center our thoughts, hopes and prayers on blessings for ourselves and others.
Today we will experience a blessing of Loving Kindness. Take a few moments to quiet yourself and find a comfortable position.
Allow the following words of blessing to resonate in your heart and mind. Pause at the end of each phrase and give yourself time to repeat it again.
May I be blessed with loving kindness. Pause. Repeat.
May I be blessed with health. Pause. Repeat.
May I be blessed with true happiness. Pause. Repeat.
May I be blessed with peace. Pause. Repeat.
Think of someone who is beloved to you. Visualize the person as you pray. Insert the person’s name into the prayer in your mind:
May my beloved __________be blessed with loving kindness. Pause. Repeat.
May my beloved __________be blessed with health. Pause. Repeat.
May my beloved __________be blessed with true happiness. Pause. Repeat.
May my beloved __________be blessed with peace. Pause. Repeat.
Now think of a close friend. Visualize the person as you pray:
May my friend be blessed with loving kindness. Pause. Repeat
May my friend be blessed with health. Pause. Repeat
May my friend be blessed with true happiness. Pause. Repeat
May my friend be blessed with peace. Pause. Repeat
Think of someone with whom you are in conflict or someone who has harmed you. Visualize this person. Breathe deeply and lovingly pray this blessing:
May the one who harmed me be blessed with loving kindness. Pause. Repeat
May the one who harmed me be blessed with health. Pause. Repeat
May the one who harmed me be blessed with true happiness. Pause. Repeat
May the one who harmed me be blessed with peace. Pause. Repeat
Praying for blessings for yourself and others, loved ones or your “enemies”, strengthens your own peacefulness and compassion. As your soul seeks contentment with a thankful heart, may you go forth filled with the spirit of loving kindness, thankfulness and peace.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. How has your life gone this week? I would love to hear the blessings that have poured upon you. In fact, I’m sure that could bolster all of us. But let me ask you, what issues have caused you pain? What has strained your soul? Some of you are, no doubt, asking why am I focusing on the negative? Why am I scratching at the irritants, digging at the abrasions, and focusing on the pain? I found myself asking this same thing. Especially since I have been reading the story of The Good Samaritan. Do you remember this story? Let’s review it.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” (Luke 10:30-35)
All the times I have encountered this story I have focused on the Good Samaritan, the person who was filled with compassion and put aside his distrust and ill feelings and helped someone in need. We learn that to help our neighbor, to love our neighbor, we see that person with the eyes of someone who lives the Enduring Principle “The Worth of All People”.
But there is another story here. There is the story of the divisions that cause us to distrust and pull apart from one another. Perhaps we have to identify those issues whether it be about social status, religious views, gender equality, gender identification, or whatever way we define “us” versus “them”.
Let me ask you what conditions (characteristics) might make you hesitate to help a person in need. Think of people you might describe as angry, outspoken, homeless, non-conforming, troubled, unclean, or mentally ill. What would you add? What about your neighbor – what do you think they would add?
Now I want you to fill in those characteristics using Love Your Neighbor.
Love Your Neighbor.
Love your ___________ neighbor.
Love your ___________ neighbor.
Love you ____________ neighbor.
You get the idea.
Now you need to ask yourself, what about these conditions make you respond the way you do?
We are challenged to love those neighbors who make us uncomfortable, those neighbors who upset us and don’t agree with us, and those neighbors who don’t love us back.
We must identify our issues and find a way to love each other despite our disagreements and our divisions. And that is part of our mission.
Dear God, forgive us our transgressions and help us learn from one another. You love us all. Help us embody your love as we struggle to love one another. Help us open our eyes, open our arms and open our hearts every day and truly live your commandment to love one another. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. This week I was overwhelmed with beauty. There was a picture on social media that as I gazed at it, it pulled me closer to the Holy Spirit. My heart began forming thoughts and a sense of invitation. This picture stirred so much in me that I would like to share it with you as our simple devotion today. So take a deep breath and exhale. I invite you to find the majesty of God as you gaze upon this magnificent expression of God’s sacred creation.
When I look at this tree, I see the outreached arms of God.
O God, I am only a small speck in this world, but I know you have room for me where I can shelter when I am afraid.
A place where I can be weak because you are strong.
A place that is sometimes distant, but never so far that you can’t reach me.
There are so many directions that I could go, but you are always there.
Look again at this picture. Where are you? Down low and well-grounded? Near the center, or up high? Perhaps you are out at the outermost tip of a branch. But are you confident of God’s strength or are you hanging on and fearful of falling? Somedays, are you snug at the center, resting well where the branch starts to spread outward, but close to the trunk of the tree?
I invite you to gaze again at this magnificent tree and create your own story, your place, in the arms of God.
Where are you?
Author: Bonnie Barber
Various authors throughout the Chesapeake Bay Mission Center and beyond provide these thought-provoking weekly devotions.