Home Altar: Week of May 2, 2021

by Natalie Swanson

Pruning to Produce Much Fruit

Sunday, May 2
John 15:1-8

I recently was in a class where one of the instructors was a part of raising a small vineyard. His experience taught him that pruning—the act of subtracting and redirecting—allows every branch to bear even more fruit. The act of subtracting and redirecting in the life of those plants is an act of grace. This concept challenges my heart and my faith. Subtracting can bring pain. Redirecting can lead to places that are unfamiliar and scary. Being pruned is hard to endure. I hold this truth while also holding the truth of this whole passage: God desires for us to bear much fruit, abide in his Spirit, and reflect his love and joy to the world around us. This promise fills my heart and provides sustenance to endure the pain of being changed.

Lord God, where do you desire to prune me so that I might grow in fruitfulness? Show me. I desire to remain in you and bear your kingdom’s fruit. AMEN.

Greater Things Will You Do

Monday, May 3
1 John 4:7-12

Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John that those who believe in him will do even greater things than he has done. This idea baffles me—how am I to do greater things than Jesus himself?

Today’s passage gives me a glimpse of how we might do greater things than Jesus, together. Jesus is God—he came to earth physically as a Middle Eastern man. The church has now received the Holy Spirit and the same God also lives in us. Now we see the image of Christ reflected in an elderly man, a young woman, children all over the world from every ethnicity all at once. As verse 12 tells us, “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us” (NIV). Be empowered—greater things will we do together as we love as God loved us.

God, what a gift it is to be the manifestation of your eternal Spirit, to be your dwelling place. Empower me to love like you love, and see people like you see people. AMEN.

Live in My City

Tuesday, May 4
1 John 4:13-21

Consider the city or town that you live in, and consider it before social media connected you to a bigger circle of people. Your world is that city—your friends, your groceries, your physical home, your fun, your values, your perspective, your everything. I think about that picture when I hear “live in love” or “live in God” in this letter. I think God desires to be our everything, the first place we turn when we need something, much like we do in our towns and communities. What would our world look like if we turned to love first when we needed answers to crises? What would our world look like if we turned to God first for perspective and values? Christ’s invitation to follow him is an invitation to make God’s Spirit our city, our dwelling place.

Jesus, thank you for inviting me into your city. God, I desire to turn to you as I truly live in your love. I desire to reflect your values and your perspective. AMEN.

Open Eyes on the Journey

Wednesday, May 5
Acts 8:26-31

I’ve never been a big fan of road trips; I much prefer the fun that comes after the long car ride. For me, the journey has always been more about getting to the destination than the actual journey itself.

What if Philip had only had eyes for his destination in this story? What if he had just gone on autopilot as he walked to Gaza? The encounter of this story doesn’t happen in Gaza, it happens along the road—on the journey. When we are in between two places in our walk with Christ, are we aware of his nudging? Or do we shift to autopilot until we get to where we think we’re supposed to be going? It’s not always about our perceived destination—maybe God desires to do something important on the journey.

Walk with me, Lord God. May I never go through the motions in between destinations. Instead, will you remind me of your presence and guide me so that your will might be done? Thank you for always being near me. AMEN.

Posture of Curiosity

Thursday, May 6
Acts 8:32-40

Curious kids are my favorite kind of campers. I love when they ask uninhibited questions that come from a genuine desire to understand more. When Jesus tells us to enter the kingdom like little children, I think of these campers. I consider how they can hold a posture of curiosity and genuine desire to understand more, and not be afraid to ask questions. The Ethiopian man in today’s passage reminds me of this posture—his desire to follow Jesus comes because of his curiosity. Philip is faithful in showing up and telling God’s story, but that only comes after the Ethiopian man asks uninhibited questions—he desires to understand more.

What is holding you back from this uninhibited question-asking, this posture of curiosity?

Lord God, I trust you. I always want to know more about how I can reflect you well. Instill in me a deep desire for wonder—for awe and curiosity about who you are and what you’re doing and desire to do in this world. AMEN.

Spirit of Unity

Friday, May 7
Acts 10:44-48

I believe our God created each of us unique to better reflect God’s own self. I alone am created in God’s image, but I better reflect God when I stand alongside people who have different experiences from my own, friends who offer important diverse perspectives. When the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles in this passage, they weren’t transformed into something that was uniform. Peter says, “Surely no one can stand in the way….They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (v. 47, NIV). Standing alongside differing voices, opinions, and perspectives can be hard. Amplifying other voices is challenging. I see Peter doing this in this passage, and I’m personally challenged. Are you creating space for people who are different from you to share? Who might you be standing in the way of?

Give me your heart, God, that I might soften to perspectives that are different from my own. Help me stand alongside men, women, elderly, children of every race and ethnicity—so that all together we might reflect your own self. AMEN.

Love One Another

Saturday, May 8
1 John 5:1-8

This Johannine letter tells us in verse 3: “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands” (NIV). We began our week together with the vine and branches image in John 15. In that same story, Jesus tells us, “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17, NIV). We are empowered because Jesus took on flesh to show us God’s deep, deep love. In the past year in the midst of the pandemic and racial justice movements, I’ve gotten a taste of the deep, deep love Christ commands us to. Love for God is love for my neighbor, and I desire to demonstrate both as Christ shows. We are empowered with God’s own Spirit, so let us reflect “the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ” (v. 6, NIV) with authentic love.

Thank you for taking on flesh, Jesus, and for showing us the fullness of God’s Spirit and God’s deep love. Give me courage to love deeply and grace when I mess it up. AMEN.

About the Author: Natalie Swanson

I serve as the year-round program director at Covenant Pines Bible Camp in McGregor, Minnesota. I’m passionate about crafting retreat spaces where campers and guests of all ages and backgrounds come to play, have fun outside, and listen for Christ’s voice. When I’m not working, I love exploring Minnesota state parks with my dog, Leia, and finding spaces for retreat for myself. I can often be found with a cup of coffee in conversation or hanging out at the beach on a warm summer day listening to the laughter and joy of camp.

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