Welcome to today’s devotional. Thank you for being here. I hope you are finding encouragement in these devotionals. I plan to post one on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday until – well – until after this viral interruption is behind us. I do want to tell you that these devotions are coming to you from your friends at Bethel Presbyterian Church in Kingsport, TN and Windsor Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bristol, TN. Those folks are kind enough to allow me to be their minister and I am grateful to them.
As we get started – will you join me in prayer –
Prayer / Confession / Thanksgiving for Pardon:
Father, these days are strange, and we are trying to figure out how to do something that most folks in living memory haven’t had to do. Staying away from one other – not gathering over meals with friends and family – not gathering to worship – not spending time in each other’s company isn’t something we are used to. Lord, I think we probably took that for granted. But Lord, here we are faced with a weird set of circumstances and trying to make the best of it and trying to stay healthy and connected. We want to do this thing well. We want to love our neighbors and help them where we can – and we want to stay close to you and to each other. But Lord we need your help to do that. Will you draw us near to yourself through your Spirit and be with us as we take a few minutes to hear your word? We need that – help us, Lord. I ask this in the name of Jesus – Amen.
Text: Deuteronomy 4:9; Luke 18:1–8
I want to read a few passages of the Bible to you. It is coming from the English Standard Version. Here it is:
- Deuteronomy 4:9  “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—
- Luke 18:1–8  And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.  And there was a widow in that city who keptcoming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’  For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”  And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (ESV)
This is God’s word. We are grateful for it.
I became a fan of Chris Pratt when he played Andy on the TV show Parks and Rec. He’s also been in a few movies. He was in the most recent Jurassic Park movies and he was in Guardians of the Galaxy as well. But I became a super fan of Pratt after his acceptance speech when he was awarded the Generation Award from MTV in 2018.
Pratt gave a list of 9 life essentials – some of which are goofy – but there are others that have significant depth and they have the ring of truth. For instance, Pratt said “You have a soul. Be careful with it” and “Learn to pray. It’s easy and it’s so good for your soul.”
I love that Chris Pratt encouraged people to pay attention to their souls and to the fact that we need to take care of them and a good way to do so is through prayer. Now I don’t want to get into any sort of debate about body and soul and spirit because that’s not my point. The point is we are more than flesh and blood and if we are honest, a part of us that often gets overlooked or neglected is our soul. But that’s not good.
Without getting overly philosophical or theological, the soul relates to the idea that we have an inner part / an inner life – it’s that part of us that responds to other people, responds to beauty, to relationships, to concepts – but more important the soul is that part of us that responds to God and the things of God – it is the part of us that responds to God’s Spirit and the work of Christ.
And – just like our bodies – a soul can be healthy or unhealthy. And – we need to pay attention to our soul – just as much – if perhaps not more than even our physical self. And – before I get too far down the road, and before you start to push back on me – let me point out that the Bible is clear that the soul is something that people ought to be diligent about.
In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy God’s people are given instructions on how to live. There are instructions on how to live in a relationship with God, with neighbor, and with ourselves. And in Deuteronomy 4:9 we read this admonition: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.”
“Keep your soul diligently” is a strong admonition from God to His people. It is important to note that the soul here refers to everything that drives us as a person. It is the inner being, the self, the seat of appetites, emotions, passions, the activity of mind, the character – the thing that makes us human. And the admonition is to keep the soul diligently or in other words, to guard it, to watch out for it, to preserve and protect it. We know that there are things that can damage our souls and we also know that there are things that can keep our souls healthy and strong.
Chris Pratt was right. Prayer is good for the soul. Prayer is a way for us to keep our souls healthy and strong enough to respond to God and to others and even ourselves. But I don’t want to give Chris Pratt too much credit for this notion about prayer as means of being diligent about our soul because, well, he isn’t the first one to point to that.
In fact, look at Luke 18:1 “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Do you see how prayer and the notion of not losing heart are mentioned together? Well, there is a reason for that. Now – I hope you’ll pardon me for a second – but let me lay some New Testament Greek on you – but know I’m doing so only because it is a key to getting something out of this text. The word that is used here is the word ἐγκακεῖν (enkakein).
The word – means to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted. It is the idea of being discouraged and one of the places that we feel discouragement is in our soul / our heart. In the Bible, often, the word heart means the seat of emotion which is how this word that Jesus uses here ties in with being more than simply physically tired. It is an emotional weariness where something has worn a person out from the inside. It has to do with – well – being worn out spiritually. The place where that happens is the soul.
So you see –Jesus is giving his disciples a parable about the fact that they ought always to pray which is a means by which they will not be utterly spiritless, wearied out, exhausted spiritually. In other words, prayer is a means by which we keep our souls diligently.
Christ Pratt was right. Prayer really is good for the soul. Prayer helps us to keep our souls diligently so that we don’t grow weary and lose heart.
Friends this interruption in our lives has actually given us space in our lives to do – what some people call – soul care and prayer is just the ticket to get that soul care going. I’d like to encourage you today to invest some of your time each day learning to pray in perhaps a deeper way than you’ve ever done before. Prayer is a means by which we diligently keep our souls.
I’m sure many of you – most of you – have a solid prayer life and don’t need much help from me. And I have to say that I have a lot to learn about prayer; in no way am I claiming to be some sort of expert when it comes to prayer. In fact, I am quick to say I am now and will always be an elementary student when it comes to prayer. In fact, I love C.S. Lewis’ advice to his friend, Sheldon Vanauken. Vanauken and Lewis met in Oxford and talked at length about the Christian faith. The two continued to correspond via letter for years afterward. At some point, Vanauken came to faith in Christ. In a letter to his friend, Lewis encouraged as new Christian to “be busy learning to pray.” That’s solid advice even for folks who have been Christians for years.
One of the keys to diligently keep our soul is to be busy learning to pray as Jesus tells us and as Pratt and Lewis affirm. But I must admit that sometimes learning to pray has some challenges to it. Not too long ago I was reminded of something that speaks into those challenges quite well and it comes to us from another guy named Pratt.
In his book Pray With You’re your Eyes Open, theologian Richard Pratt wrote, “Our concept of God affects every aspect of our prayer life. Many Christians, for instance, are bored with prayer largely because their perception of God is so narrow. It is no wonder that we lose interest in prayer when we severely limit our conception of God. By emphasizing one or two of God’s characteristics to the near exclusion of all the others, we unwittingly reduce Him to a two-dimensional, black-and-white picture.”
What do you think about that? How does your concept of God impact that way you are diligently keeping your soul with prayer? How does your understanding of God shape the way you pray? Where does your concept of God come from? How closely tied to the Bible is your understanding of God?
I think that’s an important part of diligently keeping our soul in prayer. I say that because of what Deuteronomy 4:9 says. It says one of the reasons to keep our soul diligently is so we will not forget the “the things that your eyes have seen” so they don’t “depart from your heart (perhaps soul) all the days of your life.” What are the things that are mentioned here? Well, remember this is Deuteronomy and these are all people that God led out of bondage – out of slavery. They have seen God do amazing things and they are being told to keep their souls diligently by keeping that memory of what God has done in their soul – so that they don’t forget what God has done.
Richard Pratt encourages people to pray by keeping their eyes open to the things God has done so that their concept of God – who He is – what He has done – is at the forefront of their minds when they pray. A key part of prayer is being reminded that it isn’t just words going up in the air, but it is rather a conversation with God the Father – which is one reason why Jesus taught us to begin our prayer with “Our Father.”
Prayer is good for the soul because we are reminded of all that God has done in the past and that memory will give shape to our present and our future. Prayer that focuses on a biblical concept of all that God has done is a key part of diligently keeping our souls. We can pray and not lose heart because we recognize just to whom it is we are praying.
Will you allow me to wrap things up with questions – maybe just to get your wheels turning.
- What things have you seen God do in your life and the lives of your family and friends?
- How do those things come up when you pray?
- How do the things that the Bible says about God and what God has done come up in your prayer life?
- How does the memory of what God has done encourage you? How does it build you up?
- How are you at diligently keeping your soul through prayer?
Speaking of prayer – let me pray and I’d ask you to pray the Lord’s Prayer with me in a moment.
Prayer / Lord’s Prayer:
Father, Jesus told us we ought always to pray so that we don’t lose heart. Truth be told, we get pretty busy doing a lot of other things – but now Lord – we don’t have the excuse. Father, help us to use this time – this viral interruption – as a means of learning to pray all the time. But Father, as we learn to pray – as we diligently keep our souls – will you bring to memory all the things you’ve done? Will you remind us of what the Bible tells us about you? Will you remind us and show us all the things you’ve done in our lives and the lives of our family and friends? Will you help us to see you as our Great God?
Father – we pray now for our country and our community as we deal with this pandemic. It is cause for being anxious but we don’t want to be afflicted with anxiety. We want to remember all that you’ve done and promised to do. But we are human so help us to see you at work. Lord bring healing to our world. Lord help those who are ill and those who are caring for those who are sick. Prepare our health care workers. Lord be with us in tangible ways. Lord be with our leaders. Give them wisdom about what to do.
Father, we pray for your churches. We pray that you would help us to bear witness to the world around us, to be ready to sacrifice, to be ready to step in and do what you’d have us to do.
Lord, we pray that you’d help those who have been impacted by this virus – folks who have lost their jobs already. Lord all we can say is help them – and give your people wisdom about stepping into the gap to help. Lord – our constant prayer is help us.
Lord be with our teachers and school officials as they try to provide instruction to their students. Please give them strength. And Lord be with those who are making sure that people have enough food and water. Lord these days can become dark quickly – so help your people to be light.
All this we ask Lord – in the matchless, marvelous name of Jesus Our Lord – who taught us to pray saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Will you join me now in reaffirming your faith in Christ –
“I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”
Friends, God loves you. He’s made his love known to you through His Son, through His Spirit, through His word, and through the fellowship we have with one another. Now He sends us out into the world to bear witness to His deep and abiding love. He does so with this blessing, “Now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you His shalom.” Go now in the Shalom of Christ.