Home Altar: Week of September 19, 2021

by Beth Ernest

September 19
PSALM 31:1-8

A Fortress Seen and Seeing

The summer before the pandemic ripped through the cities and mountainous villages of northern Italy, my children and I toured through the area with a dear friend. High above the Dolomite’s famous, fruitladen valleys stand the towers of ancient fortresses, regularly spaced for optimal protection. Some fortresses are crumbling beyond repair while others now house museum exhibits, art galleries, restaurants, or wineries. The fortresses, large and small, were built high up the mountainside so watchmen could see incoming armies marching up the valley. It takes great effort to climb up the mountain, making the forts hard to get to and any siege likely unproductive. The psalmist calls God “my rock and my fortress.” God provides a lookout for us, scanning the horizon for danger, providing safety from evil, and a solid shelter when chaos threatens. This fortress is easily seen by all who seek refuge and will never crumble.

Strong God, be our lookout when our own eyes are tired or insufficient to notice the dangers that come against us. We commit our lives and spirits to you. AMEN. 

September 20
PSALM 31:9-18

When Anxiety and Trust Meet

God created time for human use. God has no need of time because he exists before and beyond time. The psalmist says, “My times are in your hand” (v. 15), one of four times “hands” are mentioned in this beautiful prayer of lament. We await tribulation and defeat at the hand of our enemies, but we find protection in the hand of God. The psalmist laments the unfaithful, accusing friends and scheming enemies, and bewails his grief and sorrow, all the while voicing trust in God. Have you experienced great anxiety and great trust at the same time? We don’t have to apologize to God for voicing fear or sorrow even as we believe in his goodness. God understands the confusing “times” of our lives.

Timeless God, look upon our days and hours for they are often filled with despair and sadness. Remind us daily of your care and blessings, and give us trust in your continued desire to work all things to good. Thank you. AMEN.

September 21
PSALM 31:19-24

Take Courage! Take Heart!

I believe one of the most overlooked spiritual gifts is courage. Pastors need courage. Parents need courage. Every believer needs courage. But what does that mean? Courage is not necessarily rushing into danger or facing strong opposition. “Telling it like it is” is rarely courage, rather, it’s often just our mouth voicing our own strongly held, human opinions. The root word for courage is “cor,” or “heart” in Latin. Courage is the action God propels us into when our heart is aligned with his heart. God’s heart beats with love for all and that is what our courage must show. If our so-called courage has the effect of beating others up, then we are out of sync with God’s heart.

Loving One, let our hearts beat with yours, keeping time to the strong rhythm of your love. Give us courage on behalf of those whose strength is gone. Give us courage to overcome our own wills so that your will may be done. AMEN.

September 22
MARK 9:14-29

Don’t Forget to Pray!

Perhaps you have had a loved one with a sickness nobody could heal and you longed for straight answers. The father in this passage has pursued all his options, and likely much of his money, ending with the disciples of a supposed miracle worker. They tried and failed to do what they had seen Jesus do on other occasions. Jesus doesn’t tell them they didn’t pray enough, rather, he says merely, “This kind can come out only through prayer.” Perhaps they hadn’t prayed at all.

We can’t enter into the spiritual fray successfully if we forget to pray. One of Jesus’s main works was to cast out demons, who instantly recognized his superiority. Will we be able to defeat demons and heal diseases? Our success is up to God, but we have no chance if we do not pray.

Lord Jesus, we rebuke all powers that threaten us, our families, our communities, and our world. Help our unbelief. May your will be done as we offer these prayers in your strong name. AMEN.

September 23
MARK 9:30-37

A Prayer for Humility

Notice the disciples feared asking Jesus questions about his odd statement on betrayal and death, yet actively debated who among them would be the greatest. So human. The deeper things of God remain mysteries to us because we are afraid to ask, but we easily bicker about livestreaming, church budgets, or the blessings we desire. The scariest prayer I know is called “The Litany of Humility,” by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val. This prayer asks that God deliver us from the desire to be loved, honored, and praised, while also asking for the grace to desire others to be chosen, praised, and preferred ahead of us. Do you find such a prayer hard to pray? Why?

“O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me. From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus….That others may be preferred to me in everything, that others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.” AMEN.

September 24
JAMES 4:1-10

Whose Friend Are You?

To be a Covenanter is to celebrate God’s friendship, which leads to joy, right living, and blessed community. God wants us to desire those things that keep us in communion with him and his people, rather than desiring time-sucking, soul-draining, self-aggrandizing, power-flaunting, persons-dividing, compassion-avoiding practices, experiences, and things. Those latter desires indicate a “friendship with the world.” Do we need to withdraw to the hills and live off the grid to seek God? No. How different this is from Jesus, who both withdrew from society to pray but also came back to celebrate life, heal, teach, spread joy, break bonds, build community, and even turn water into wine. This is friendship with the kingdom, leading us ever closer to God who yearns jealously for our return to his side. Let this be our desire.

Jealous God, show us the joy of proper submission to you, rather than to temporary cravings that seem so important in the moment. We confess our false desires. Cleanse us. AMEN.

September 25
JAMES 4:11-17

God Asks Us to Notice and Do the Right Thing

Sin is a double whammy—we sin by doing wrong but also by failing to do the right we know we should do. Do we know what the right thing really is? Even more, do we really want to know? We could be paralyzed lamenting our sins of omission or get active noticing what good there is to do. I have found that this best happens when I keep my eyes and ears open while keeping my mouth shut, lest the Holy Spirit waste valuable time trying to get my attention. What are you noticing today as you expand your horizons beyond yourself? Where might you do the right thing? The just thing? The humble thing? The creative thing?

All-seeing God, help us to notice the cries of the needy, the plight of the unheard, the suffering of the dying. Alert us to relationships gone awry, an earth in crisis, and our own complicity in sin. Guide our steps to truly do the right thing. AMEN.

About the Author: Beth Ernest

I am a Covenant pastor and spiritual director living near Grand Rapids, but my heart yearns for foreign places when the pandemic is over. My latest pastoral charge was Redeemer Covenant Church which closed last fall and became a legacy church. I have served 10 other churches, most as a transitional pastor. These congregations were undergoing cultural change, healing, or denominational discernment. I have also served as a hospice chaplain. Before my ordination in 1988, I worked for Scandinavian Airlines at O’Hare and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Vienna. My interests include writing, art and theology, learning and using other languages (Welsh is my latest), knitting, and British TV. My husband, James, works in Christian publishing. We have two adult children, Miriam and Sam. 

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  1. does this mean there will not be a print version of the Cov Home Altar? Some of us like to grab a booklet or magazine to read in bed before turning off the lights. Don’t want to have to sit at the computer for everything. I printed one week out and it took several pieces of paper, more than you used in a week of devotionals in the book.

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