Daily Lent Devotions: Anatomy of the Soul

L ent is a season of preparation for Christ’s death and resurrection. Devotions are a great way to prepare your heart during this important season of reflection. These daily Lent devotions invite you to meditate on the Psalms.

Reflect on the Psalms this Lent

John Calvin called the Psalms “an anatomy of all parts of the soul.” It’s an apt description. The Psalms contain the whole range of human emotion—from grief to joy, from hatred to compassion, from doubt to praise. Meditating on the Psalms is a fitting way to move through Lent, a season when we ponder our humanity, grieve our sinfulness, and give thanks for Christ’s gift.

These devotions that reflect on the Psalms were written by RCA chaplains.

Each entry in this Lent devotional series includes:

  • A Psalm to read and a featured excerpt from the Psalm.
  • A personal devotion that reflects on the Psalm.
  • A prayer that reflects the theme of the devotion.

First Week of Lent Devotions

Day 1: Psalm 6

By Leigh Boelkins Van Kempen

Psalm 6

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O Lord—how long?

4 Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.

I have a confession to make: I have a hard time saying, “I’m sorry.” Or, perhaps, more accurately, I say, “I’m sorry, but …” My acknowledgement of how I have hurt someone or disappointed someone is often followed by my excuse for why it happened. However, I don’t think I’m unique in this. Perhaps you, too, have a hard time saying, “I’m sorry.”

Psalm 6 is the first of seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) frequently used as part of the Christian church’s Lenten observance, starting with Ash Wednesday. The theme of these seven psalms is consistent: the psalmist expresses deep sorrow for his sin, asking God for help and forgiveness. In today’s psalm, David itemizes his distress. Both his body and his soul feel overwhelmed with terror. David realizes he is experiencing the consequence of his own sin. He cries out in physical and spiritual pain, knowing that God’s discipline is justified for the ways he has disobeyed God.

David’s confession before God is anchored in his confidence that God will forgive. He calls out for God’s deliverance, convinced that God will hear and answer because of God’s steadfast love. In spite of the situation in which David finds himself, he knows that he will not permanently abide in terror and distress because of God’s unfailing love. “Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer” (vv. 8-9).

As we enter this Lenten season, we can say, “I’m sorry” before God. When we confess before our merciful Lord, we are assured of God’s forgiveness. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, but,” we can say, “I’m sorry because of your steadfast love and forgiveness!” What a wonderful God we serve!

Prayer: Holy One, we confess before you our sinfulness, our brokenness, and our need to experience your abundant mercy. Help us, each day, to come before you and say, “I’m sorry.” In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

Leigh Boelkins Van Kempen is a chaplain at Resthaven Care Community in Holland, Michigan. She and her husband, Case, also an RCA minister, have three adult, married children and four (and a half!) beloved grandchildren.

Day 2: Psalm 1

By Tim Ehrhardt

Psalm 1:

1 Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Near my home is a small grove of oak trees. Every chance I get, I stroll through the little forest of majestic trees with their strong trunks, thick bark, and gnarled branches. I must confess that there are four particular trees that I talk to on a regular basis. I call them “Mama Oak,” “Papa Oak,” “Grandfather Oak,” and “Elmer” (“Young Oak”) because they stand together looking like a family. I speak to them for the primary reason that they are good listeners. I also speak to them because, as God’s creation, I have this intuition that they can actually hear me.

In his book The Hidden Life of Trees, veteran forester Peter Wohlleben has written a winsome and fascinating account of what he has learned about trees. His primary thesis is that trees are social—they communicate with and care for each other. Trees planted by streams of water are not a group of individual trees. Rather, through their extensive root system in the ground, they share vital nutrients with each other when one of them is sick; send something akin to electrical impulses with one another to warn of danger; and take ownership of helping the entire forest grow together in health and strength. And they are not in a hurry. Their slow growth is deliberate and careful, a testament to their resilience and longevity. Wohlleben describes this intricate care and communication system as “the wood-wide web.”

As we move through the season of Lent, we are not alone. We do not attempt to shed the old sinful nature by ourselves through sheer willpower. We assist one another. We depend upon the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. We embrace the slow, patient, and deliberate work of soul-craft as we anticipate meeting Jesus.

Prayer: God Almighty, your strength and wisdom are seen in all of creation. May you enable me, together with all your people, to embrace the path of patient righteousness and forsake the way of hurried wickedness. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit, amen.

Rev. Tim Ehrhardt is an ordained minister of Word and sacrament, currently serving as a Clinical Pastoral Education chaplain resident at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tim has been married to Mary for 33 years. They have three daughters and three grandsons. 

Day 3: Psalm 8

By Kathy Jo Blaske

Psalm 8:

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens. …
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

While a seminarian, I joined a canoe trip led by Dr. Gene Osterhaven into the Canadian wilderness. As stories of French voyageurs were read nightly around the campfire, I remember gazing into the heavens. The skies were so luminous! There were glowing bands of color I hadn’t seen before. Away from the light pollution of populated areas, the celestial views gave new meaning to the word magnificent. I was left in awe of our Creator. I was humbled to be one of the family of God.

Truly, we can be left with a feeling of insignificance in comparison to the wonder of our Creator’s celestial canvas. “Yet,” the psalmist counters, “you have made them a little lower than [elohim] (angels/divine beings) and crowned them with glory and honor” (v. 5). God esteems each and all with royal regard.

As the psalmist continues, God gave humanity dominion over the works of his hands. God calls us to be stewards of life: to use our God-given minds and hearts to further blessings for all.

We’re surrounded by people who do follow God’s call with their hearts. Today, I’m in particular awe of cancer researchers. As a survivor of stage 4 melanoma, my gratitude for the “fruit” of immunotherapy is foremost. Dr. Jimmy Lin, during Calvin College’s January Series, recognized immunotherapy as redemptive oncology, a way of leveraging the natural immune system that God has given us to treat the disease. In my case, it was a lifesaver.

I am humbled by the cooperative efforts of generations of observant, systematic scientists who have reached today’s height of cancer treatment. My own vocation seems to pale by comparison, yet the psalmist confirms that God honors the service given by all of us. By our combined contributions, may God’s majestic name continue to be known in all the earth.

Prayer: Majestic God, give us eyes to see the wonders of the works of your hands, from the heavens above to those stewards of your graces all around us. Inspire us, too, to contribute ourselves to magnifying you as our Creator. Amen.

Kathy Jo Blaske serves as a long-term care chaplain at the Christian Health Care Center in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Previously, she served as a minister of Christian education in Holland, Michigan; as minister for Leadership Development in the Synod of Albany; and as a specialized interim minister in several churches in New Jersey and upstate New York.  

Day 4: Psalm 13

By John Arthur

Psalm 13 (NIV):

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

The book of Psalms was a collection of songs for ancient Israel. Of the 150 lyric poems present in the hymnal, 67 are psalms of lament—songs that cry out to God in complaint. This is the single largest category of psalms. All psalms of lament have one thing in common: the focal point of the song is complaint. For some readers, this may be hard to hear. Complaint! How can this be? There are certainly words of address, confession, trustworthiness, petition, and hints foreshadowing salvation within these songs, but these elements are not the primary focus. It was suffering, not praise, that inspired these songs of the heart.

Working in an acute regional healthcare system, I have seen much suffering. Surely, the human condition is fraught with illness, decline, anxiety, isolation, fear, confusion, and ultimately, death. It is in these moments that we, like the psalmist, seek God’s face. The hiding of God’s face mentioned in Psalm 13 may remind of the priestly benediction in Numbers 6:24-26, as could the thrice-mentioned Lord and the seeking of light for renewal contained in its verses. In these dark times, though the soul still retains its capacity for faith, hope, and meaningful encounter, there is still an urgent need within us to cry out to God in complaint. The hefty inclusion of psalms of lament in the biblical canon assures us that God not only welcomes our complaints, but also that these are music to his ears. Imagine that: a God who does not feel defensive when we shout at him in honest agony! Rather, ours is a God who wrestles with us through pressing anxiety to urgent prayer and, ultimately, to expectant rejoicing as we crave light for our eyes and a turning of God’s face toward us.

Lent is a time for wrestling within as we wander through our wildernesses. It is a time of lamenting the felt separation from our Creator. It is also a time of coming to a deeper experience of the One who has called us to himself. My hope for all of us during this season is that we are able to live honestly before God and find within us the boldness to struggle with God so deeply that at times, only a well-crafted poem of complaint will suffice.

Prayer: May the Lord bless us and keep us. May we see him this day in new and surprising ways. May we feel his fixed gaze upon us and know his peace. Amen.

John Arthur is a chaplain, psychotherapist, and manager of spiritually integrated health for the Brant Community Healthcare System, in Brantford, Ontario.

Day 5: Psalm 18

By Brent Mulder

Psalm 18 (NIV):

I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and I have been saved from my enemies.

This psalm is set in the context of war. “War is hell,” my late grandfather and World War II veteran once told me. He never said much more than this. War profoundly changes people. How can it not? The ones who survive certainly have reason to sing praises as David did. Many of their stories are remarkable and a bit unbelievable. I have been in war and heard these testimonies myself, first-hand. The most memorable one was from a soldier who had been shot in the head. It was not as bad as it sounds, though. The bullet hit his helmet and ricocheted off. He was obviously in shock, but he did not have any injuries, not even a concussion or traumatic brain injury. This soldier was so stunned and thankful that he could hardly speak. He just sat there, on the hospital bed, looking down at his helmet. I eagerly watched as he stared and felt the little indent and scratch mark. As a chaplain, it was good to know that another warfighter was safe that day.

As I wrapped up my shift, I rejoiced and said a prayer of thanksgiving for a God who saves people from their enemies. God still saves people from fatal bullets and charging insurgents. God still saves soldiers surrounded in battle with no way out. But God also saves people from less dramatic enemies outside the context of battlefield warfare, from enemies that are a bit more relatable, like divorce, financial ruin, a co-worker who seems to be “out to get them,” depression, addiction, and failure. Our God is a God of salvation.

Maybe we cannot relate to the war stories of victory, but this Lenten season, we can all draw near to the God who saved us—and is still saving us—from our enemies.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for miraculously saving people from their enemies. Thank you for miraculously saving me from my enemies. Teach me to always put my trust and hope in you. Continue to be my strength for the rest of my days. Amen.

Brent Mulder is a chaplain in the United States Air Force, currently assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska.

Day 6: Psalm 25

By Phyllis Palsma

Psalm 25:

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. …
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths. …
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Lent is a time for a soul lift. Psalm 25 begins with a declaration of trust in God before going on to name several issues with which we can identify.

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. … in you I trust” (vv. 1-2). The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, which represents the whole self, not just the soul. As we journey through Lent, it is good to affirm the foundation of our faith, to praise our God who guides us along life’s paths that are not always straight and well groomed.

Psalm 25 is an acrostic poem with the first letter in most lines beginning with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and 22 verses to this psalm. The use of the acrostic helps the psalmist paint a broad landscape with pathways that are detoured and overgrown with shame, malicious acts, a troubled heart, entrapment, loneliness, and affliction. Within these paths is written an instructional “ABC’s” of God’s teachings, forgiveness, and salvation. For every trouble or obstacle, there is an affirmation of God’s grace.

The psalmist implores God: “Do not remember the sins of my youth … according to your steadfast love, remember me, O Lord” (v. 7). This soul-lift moment is filled with confidence and hope. God is reminded, as are we, of God’s promise to be merciful and steadfast in love while leading and teaching us along the path.

So, lift up your soul! Give thanks and praise for God’s steadfast love and trustworthiness.

Prayer: O God, I lift up my whole self in praise to you because I trust in you. As I look to you for help, be gracious to me. Relieve the troubles of my heart that I may receive your mercy. All glory and praise be to Christ, our redeemer. Amen.

Rev. Phyllis Palsma is chaplain and pastoral resource coordinator at the Christian Health Care Center in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Her path in ordained ministry began with hospital chaplaincy, journeyed through parish ministries (central New York and northern New Jersey) and regional synod staff ministry before returning to chaplaincy.

Day 7: Psalm 22

By Joe Brummel

Psalm 22:

 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

A light-hearted sign hanging in our house reads, “Our children are welcome if invited. Our grandchildren are welcome anytime!!” Don’t misunderstand, we get along great with our daughters—they laughed when they first read it. It simply means we adore our grandkids, and we miss them when we are separated from them. I can go about a week away from them, and there seems to be an internal alarm that screams, “You need to find a grandchild and hug them quick!” Separation sucks: for the soldier who leaves family, for the college student who departs for the semester, and for the child left in the church nursery!

Psalm 22 is about a heart that feels separated from God. It reflects a time when God doesn’t feel close. He doesn’t seem to care. How we feel often conflicts with the truth we know about God. The lyrics of a Lauren Daigle song (“You Say”) share this struggle:

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh, you say that I am yours
And I believe.

Feelings tell us God doesn’t care; faith reminds us of his love. Feelings fool us into thinking God has hidden his face from us; faith convicts our hearts that he will never leave or forsake us. Feelings are fickle and often crush the spirit; faith gives hope.

Jesus deliberately quotes Psalm 22 from the cross, beginning with feelings of separation, but as he suffers, the entire psalm runs through his mind until his heart hears, “He has not hidden his face from him, but answered him when he called” (v. 24). Jesus clings to faith, not feelings, in his trials.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, we know that in your humanity you felt suffering and pain, thirst and hunger. But the feelings did not sway you away from your mission and call to give your life away! Help us in our weaknesses to not just focus on how we feel. May our commitment to live for you be unwavering. May all lies be silenced. May we live knowing you are a strong tower, a deliverer, a refuge, our strength! Amen.

Joe Brummel has been chaplain at Central College in Pella, Iowa, for 19 years. Joe and his wife, Diana, live in Pella and enjoy life with three daughters and their families. They enjoy mission trips with college students, an active summer of Christian camping ministry, and traveling.

Second Week of Lent Devotions

Day 8: Psalm 23

By John Boyer

Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

Let’s be honest: life can be full of so much noise—so many distractions, so much busyness—and the temptation for many can be to just get swept away by all of it. There are meetings to be at, functions to attend, demands to be met, and if we’re not careful, we can be in danger of drifting away from our Lord. Though we live in a society that seems to continually clamor in both speed and noise, our passage today reminds us of a bygone era when the pace was a bit slower and the noise was a bit less. The psalmist’s words invoke an image of peace, rest, and tranquility taken next to a stream of quiet beauty—an image that has resonated with souls over millennia.

I count myself blessed, having experienced in nature my soul being rejuvenated next to peaceful pastures and streams of quiet waters. And though I don’t always have the means of picking up and physically traveling to a location where this image can be experienced, I do have the ability of reading the passage, closing my eyes (wherever I am), and imagining myself in this place Scripture reveals. On many occasions, even in the midst of the busyness and distractions of life, I have recalled the words of the psalmist, imagining myself in this place of tremendous beauty and peace, and there I center my spirit and quiet my soul.

I encourage you, in this season of Lent, to take a moment today and ask our Good Shepherd to lead your spirit next to a place of green pastures and quiet waters—so that he may restore your soul.

Prayer: Good Shepherd, today would you help to quiet the noise and limit the distractions so I can hear your still, small voice? Lead me in the way of green pastures and quiet waters, and guide me in your paths of righteousness—for your kingdom and your glory. Amen.

John Boyer is an active duty wing chaplain (Lt. Col.) for the largest fighter wing in the Air Force, located at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. John has been an RCA chaplain since 2003, serving both in the Army and in the Air Force. He and Crystal have been married for 18 years and have four children (Kyndra, Caleb, Brennan, and Aubree).

Day 9: Psalm 27

By Ken Sampson

Psalm 27 (The Message):

1 Light, space, zest—
that’s God!
So, with him on my side I’m fearless,
afraid of no one and nothing. …

13-14 I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again: Stay with God.

On a recent trip to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, I visited Gallery 901 of the Modern and Contemporary Art section. On the near left wall, seven 11-by-23-inch panels, entitled “The Seven Deadly Sins,” caught my attention.

To me, these paintings by American artist Paul Cadmus seemed surreal, garish, showy. Rather than works to be pondered and admired, they gave rise to a feeling of distaste, even revulsion.

The description adjacent to the paintings told of the artist’s 1945-1949 egg tempera on Masonite renderings of a subject common since the Middle Ages—deadly sins. The account detailed Paul Cadmus’s interpretation, his being prone to excess, vulgarity, and gore. Then the narrative ended: “Of the series, Cadmus explained, ‘I don’t appear as myself, but I am all of the Deadly Sins in a way, as you all are, too.’”

Wow! The frank words confronted and challenged me. Immediately, I seemed faced with my own sinfulness. I thought, gluttony? Don’t tempt me with freshly popped mushroom popcorn, coated with melted butter and salt—I’ll consume it uncontrollably. Greed? It takes all the willpower I can muster to bypass a Costco-sized pack of Cheez-It Grooves (sharp white cheddar), the crunchy snack crackers.

Lent encourages us to deepen our devotion to our triune God. Yes, our hearts can be a “teeming horde of infamies” (John Calvin). A chaos-inducing carnival of sinful, intrusive thoughts and desires can be present within each of us.

As we discipline our minds, bringing “every thought into captivity to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), explore and celebrate our baptismal vow identity that centers upon union with Jesus and empowerment by his Holy Spirit, and anticipate the Good Friday assurance that God’s grace enables our repentance and renewed status before him, we find that confidence, assurance, and acceptance replaces disappointment, failure, and frustration. We enjoy “Light, space, zest—that’s God!” (v. 1) and go forward enriched and refreshed.

Prayer: Generous God, when “vandal hordes [of sin] roll down, ready to eat me alive” (Psalm 27:2), may we take heart and refuge in you. Your Son’s victory-defining resurrection and our empowerment by your Holy Spirit give us supernatural life, strength, courage, and direction. Enable us to stay the course with you this Lenten season and always. In Jesus’s sacrifice-offering name we pray. Amen.

Chaplain Ken Sampson is a retired U.S. Army chaplain. He lives with his wife, Kate, in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. Kate is a spiritual director, and Ken serves as military liaison with Guideposts.

Day 10: Psalm 28

By Kate Meyer

Psalm 28:

To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, do not refuse to hear me,
for if you are silent to me,
I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear the voice of my supplication,
as I cry to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary. …

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

When people learn I am a hospice chaplain, what I receive in response is the human version of the Labrador head tilt. In case you don’t know, when Labs are engaged in conversation with their humans, they maintain eye contact and tilt their head back and forth, signaling their engagement. Their eyes are very expressive and change depending on key words. For instance, the word walk leads to bright, excited eyes, while the word no results in something bordering on betrayal. When they are told their human is sad or hurt, however, their head tilts even more, their eyes fill with sympathy, and a paw of comfort is extended. It is this last tilt I receive from people, usually accompanied by this verbal response: “I can’t imagine. That must be really hard.” I normally respond with a word or two about how it is also an honor and that I’ve been blessed to witness many holy moments.

In many senses, my patients are in the pit; what makes them unique is their willingness to be open to all things that make up their pit. A quiet energy fills the room as we talk and open the Word. We feel the Holy Spirit descend as everything is laid out on the table.

God enters into the pit with them and hears their cry to the One, the only One, able to remain firm in their final season of transition. They lift their hands to that same One, and God helps. Their hearts are exulted and they give God thanks.

In this season of examination, no matter the pit you are in, name it and lay it bare before God. Do so and that same One will lift you with strong, protective arms from darkness to light.

Prayer: God, who accompanies me, even into the pit, help me trust that you never refuse my cry. Give me ears to hear you and a willingness to be moved by you. May my song of thanks flow freely from my lips. Amen.

Kate Meyer is the counseling services manager for Hospice of Holland in Holland, Michigan, where she lives with her husband and their two chocolate Labs.

Day 11: Psalm 30

By Jim Daniels

Psalm 30 (NIV):

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

To me, Psalm 30 is a song sung outside of time. As I read it, I am transported both backward and forward. I look backward and hear the psalmist speaking to me in the midst of my trials, my moments amidst enemies, and my careening toward the pit. I remember those times when I cried out for help and thought it may never come.

This passage also speaks to me in the moment. It creates within me a sense of hope that my weeping will come to an end and that rejoicing is before me. In this same way, it sends me into the future. I am reminded of those times when I was almost destroyed, but God made my mountain stand firm. And, in this remembering, I am propelled into a hopeful future.

During this season of Lent, when the darkness is gathering, I can often find myself drawing the curtains and wallowing in self-pity or focusing on brokenness. And so, this psalm at this time is perfect because it buoys me up above the waves to see a horizon where my wailing will be dancing, where I will be clothed with joy, where I will sing and not be silent, where I will give thanks forever—even now, in the midst of the diminishing light.

Prayer: God outside of time, remind me of your continual presence. Clothe me with joy, and fill my heart with gratitude. Amen.

Jim Daniels is married to Dana, has two teenage children—Alex and Madalyn—and serves as a chaplain for Hospice of Holland in Holland, Michigan.

Day 12: Psalm 32

By Heino Blaauw

Psalm 32 (NIV):

Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Lent is a season of repentance. Today’s psalm highlights the blessings in this way of life that searches for those deeds, words, thoughts, even motives, displeasing to God—and owns them mournfully before him.

The first blessing is forgiveness. The repentant are the forgiven (vv. 1-5). In the psalm, this forgiveness is confirmed by David’s deliverance (vv. 6-7). Troubles had surrounded him like mighty waters. It seems then that David doesn’t just look for his circumstances to change; he offers himself to be changed through his repentance. And the deliverance he receives confirms the forgiveness of the guilt of his sin.  Would that we all approach our troubles with such priorities! The repentant are the forgiven—and in that forgiveness is our deliverance.

Another blessing in repentance is who David is becoming through it. This is alluded to in verse 8 of our psalm. He is becoming someone intimate with the teaching and counsel of the Lord, growing in his will. I find this to be a source of much encouragement for the life of repentance. Our repentance now has everything to do with who we are becoming for tomorrow. The seeds of your future self are in your repentance today.

This tomorrow that we repent toward includes the age to come, the new earth. The season of Lent comes to its end on Easter Sunday. In the resurrection of Jesus, we are promised our own future resurrection! Who will we be on that day? We learn from Jesus’s resurrection that there is an organic unity between our present and future selves. Just like the crucifixion marks of his resurrected body (John 20:20), the wisdom Jesus gained in learning obedience became part of his future self, a wisdom by which he leads us into salvation (Hebrews 5:8-9), enthroned on high.

Therefore, learning obedience through repentance today, we are being shaped for our future life. Who you are today affects who you will become in the day of Christ’s tomorrow. Every confession of deceit today promises a truer you tomorrow, or certainly a deeper enjoyment of your true you!

So let us journey on in the blessed life of repentance. It brings us the assurance of forgiveness and the promise of who we become through it!

Prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart today; try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray. See if there be some wicked way in me; cleanse me from every sin and set me free. Amen.

Rev. Heino Blaauw is a chaplain with Providence Life Services in Chicagoland, a ministry committed to serve the injured, ill, aging, and dying in the name of Jesus.

Day 13: Psalm 33

By Tom McCrossan

Psalm 33:

8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm. …

18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.

Every quarter, I facilitate a group on “Distorted Images of God.” One topic is always the fear of God.

Many come from dysfunctional, violent homes. On the streets, in prisons, and in homes, it is common to fear authority figures. Misuse of power, emotional inconsistency, trying but failing to earn love—all these can lead to a wrong kind of fear, as John writes about: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18).

Yet the Bible tells us to fear God as if it is one of the best things we can do.

I have visited the Grand Canyon several times. Each time is breathtaking. I notice people want to get as close as possible to the edge to peer into the depths. Some even try to climb the barriers for a closer look. They fear falling into the abyss, but they still want to get as close as possible. They know they could die, but they go as far as they dare. Facing something so awesome, their fear makes them respectful even as they’re drawn to the dangerous beauty.

This is like the biblical fear of God. Psalm 33 calls us to praise God’s faithfulness, righteousness, and justice. This is the almighty Creator whom we should fear and in whom we stand in awe (v. 8). The One who judges nations; the One who delivers his people; our just and righteous God.

But never take this One for granted. Always respect God’s power. Fear God—our hope and shield against all that the world, the flesh, and the devil throw at us. God who comes to us, invites us to draw as close as we dare to him—with his awesome power and steadfast love.

Prayer: Your Word says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. And it says that in the end, the greatest thing is love. Awesome and loving God, help us to fear you more than any person or thing. Help us to open ourselves to your love that surpasses knowledge. Fill us with wisdom and love. Fill us with yourself. Amen.

Tom McCrossan is currently assistant chaplain, guest advocate, and compliance coordinator at City Mission of Schenectady, New York. He has served as pastor of three RCA churches, and he continues to preach as pulpit supply. He also composes music for worship.

Day 14: Psalm 34

By Dan DeVries

Psalm 34 (NIV):

12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

What is it you desire most? There could be all sorts of answers to that question depending on who you ask and when you ask. “Life” and “many good days” is the promise held in this verse. Even if one doesn’t not love life, not many of us would say we don’t desire “good days.” In fact, if I were asked, I might say, “Yes, what do I need to do?”

The psalmist’s paraphrased response is, “What we speak is really important.” We choose every day between having our tongues speak evil or praise. And if we choose to keep evil and lies from crossing our lips, we also need to ask forgiveness for the times we have allowed evil and lies to escape. In asking for forgiveness, whom do I also need to forgive? How relentless am I pursuing forgiveness and the forgiving of others?

Pursuit is an active word that suggests vigor. Pursuing peace found only in God delivers us from all our fears. And if our daily newsfeed is to be believed, we have much to fear. Fear is the most natural response to the unknown, and it blinds us to the freedom that we have to pursue peace and seek God.

As the old hymn assures us, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.”

According to this psalm, orienting our life in God’s ways—fasting from evil speech and lying lips and turning from evil—promises an abundant and joyful life. It comes to fruition through peace-making—pursuing peace.

Good days. How does one whose very life has been saved by God respond? With enthusiastic joy. Verse one of this psalm answers, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.”

Prayer: Prince of Peace, thank you for the “grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.” Thank you for the promise of life and many good days. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Dan DeVries is the religious services coordinator at Hope Haven, Inc., a faith-based agency in northwest Iowa providing community living, vocational services, and mental health services for more than 1,600 people in Iowa and Minnesota. He lives in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Third Week of Lent Devotions

Day 15: Psalm 37

By Tim Ehrhardt

Psalm 37:

23 Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
when he delights in our way;
24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand.

My wife and I raised our girls in West Michigan. One of our favorite things to do in the summer months was to spend as much time on the beaches of Lake Michigan as we could. The sand was wonderful, and I built my share of castles and animals with my girls. When we would finally leave after a day at the beach, it sometimes meant traversing up a dune or on some slippery steps. I was typically the pack-daddy, so it was no easy feat getting up those stairs to the parking lot. I, more than once, slipped and dropped all the gear I was carrying. I wasn’t the only one, either. I saw other dads in similar predicaments utter divine expletives upon stumbling and falling.

Our view of God matters. If we see God as primarily punitive, looking to put heavy loads on us and cause us to slip when we get out of line, then guilt and shame will likely dominate our thoughts. Yet, if we see God as gracious, merciful, kind, and good—all the time—thoughts of security and peace will likely be our default mode. It is inevitable that we will stumble and fall. The real issue is how we discern the divine in such situations.

The psalmist gives us a view of God as the one who delights in us, has us by the hand, has our backs when we stumble or mess up, and is our source of firm support in difficult times. This is a vision of God who willingly receives our confession, extends forgiveness, and provides what we need.

Prayer: God of all the ages, you have revealed your grace in our savior, Jesus Christ. As we wait patiently on your mercies, strengthen our steps to live in your justice, so that with our hands held firmly by you, we may hear and accomplish your will, through Christ, who lights the way to life everlasting. Amen.

Rev. Tim Ehrhardt is an ordained minister of Word and sacrament, currently serving as a Clinical Pastoral Education chaplain resident at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tim has been married to Mary for 33 years. They have three daughters and three grandsons.

Day 16: Psalm 40

By Jon Cooper

Psalm 40 (NIV):  

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

I can’t think of a much deeper ditch or thicker mud to be stuck in than to find oneself in prison. To be separated from family and stripped of all the comforts of life is a very painful experience. After 13 years spent working inside prisons as a chaplain, I’ve witnessed the worst of what humanity is capable of, but I’ve also seen the best.

Recently, I watched a prisoner stand before a group of 50 other men and publicly ask forgiveness from three men he felt he had wronged. One by one, the men accepted the apology and came forward to embrace the one seeking forgiveness. Later, I asked him to explain what had happened. He cracked a huge smile and said, “When I was young, I remember being told that God is not complicated, but we make him complicated. It’s taken me a long time to realize what I need to do is simply take daily steps of surrender towards him. The more steps I take, the better I feel about where I’m headed. I finally feel like I’m breaking out of the shell I’ve been trapped in.”

So it is with us on our journey. A fellow prison chaplain reminded me, “We all move back and forth on a continuum between the two extremes of weariness and wonder.” Some days may be filled with wonder at what God is doing, and other days, we may struggle to get out of bed to face life again. With God’s help, we can rise up, put our feet on firm ground, and break out of our own shell or whatever pit we may find ourselves in. If you’re struggling today, I challenge you to take a step toward the God who hears us, lifts us up, and is able to put a new song in our mouth.

Prayer: God of all confined persons, both physically and spiritually, thank you for reaching out in love and lifting me from the mud and mire I sometimes find myself in. Please put a new song in my mouth, so that I may live today fully aware of your presence. May others see Christ in me and follow you with all their heart. Amen.

Jon Cooper is a chaplain at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan. He manages the Life Connections program, a faith-based residential reentry program for inmates in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Day 17: Psalm 37

By Lisa Hansen-Tice

Psalm 37:

Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.

It seems that in the course of history, we need to be reminded over and over again to stop worrying about people who do bad things. We sloganize and trivialize our propensity to worry, as is demonstrated by the recent resurgence of “Keep calm and carry on” posters. If we could just keep calm, stop worrying, and carry on, everything might just turn out all right. Trivial as it might seem, David is saying just that: keep calm, trust in God, carry on with your life as a faithful follower, and let God take care of people who do bad things.

David reminds us that there is something more important than worrying about the prosperity of the wicked, and that is focusing on the everlasting faithfulness of God. The psalm weaves back and forth between the action of trusting and waiting for God to act in God’s time and the justice that God will serve toward the actions of the wicked. In the end, patiently doing what God calls us to do and finding refuge in following God’s ways leads to security and hope in the future.

Lent is a season of waiting and refocusing on God’s ways. In this psalm, David reminds us that our words and deeds make a difference. So, set aside worry. Refrain from negative, destructive emotions like anger and envy. Be satisfied with what you have, for it is enough. Trust that God will provide you with eternal security, even if you feel threatened by the evil around you. Care for the weak and helpless and give to those in need, because it helps everyone. Basically, keep calm and carry on speaking words of justice, seeking peace, and following the righteousness of God.

Prayer: Righteous Lord, help us to wait patiently for your justice. Keep us from envying those who have much because of their wrongdoing. Bend our actions toward the poor and those in need. May your law live in our hearts, and may our mouths utter your wisdom. In this time of great anxiety, may we find refuge in you and your ways. Amen.

Lisa Hansen-Tice is a chaplain in the United States Air Force currently working at the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center in San Antonio, Texas. She serves as the center chaplain and provides oversight of Chaplain Corps personnel, budget, and readiness at Air Force bases throughout the world.

Day 18: Psalm 43

By Brian Dykema

Psalm 43 (NIV):

Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.

I would dare say I am not alone when I share that lately I have struggled with feelings of doubt and discouragement. At times, it would appear that deceitfulness and wickedness are widespread and just keep getting worse. Our nation claims to fear God, but behind all the speeches exist actions and decisions that contradict the teachings and commands of God by choosing a path that looks more like oppression and unfaithfulness.

This country is still my home, and yet my heart mourns over how far we have wandered from God. And still, as the psalmist says, there is always hope and a way back. “Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell” (v. 3). My mother has a saying: “Keep looking up.” God is faithful and that is what truly matters. God will not fail, and I believe God’s love is still stronger than all the evil in the universe. God’s unconditional love can move the stars, change the world, and heal the human heart. There is always a way back home where rejection ends and God is ready with an embrace.

During this Lenten season, I pray we will choose to look up to God and ask the Spirit to dwell within us to help us believe the world can change. It begins with love, or like it says on the stone in the story “The Old Turtle and the Broken Truth,” “You are loved and so are they.” Dear friends, take heart. God is still on his throne, and his kingdom will not fail. Peace be upon you, and to God be the glory now and forever.

Prayer: To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Brian Dykema was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on September 5, 1979. He is the son of Doug and Leah Dykema, brother to David Dykema, and husband to Sarah Dykema. Upon graduation from Western Seminary, he served the family of the Johnstown Reformed Church in upstate New York for ten years, and he presently serves as a full chaplain with the Community Hospice of Saratoga County in New York.

Day 19: Psalm 49

By Jim Daniels

Psalm 49 (NIV):

 10 For all can see that the wise die,
that the foolish and the senseless also perish,
leaving their wealth to others. …

20 People who have wealth but lack understanding
are like the beasts that perish.

As a hospice chaplain, I have the honor of walking with people as they live out their final months. If we are fortunate, we get to talk about what is most important to them. All patients have wanted to talk about their families—whether still living or deceased. And though I have met some very wealthy people, I have never once heard them talking about the wealth they had accumulated as what was important to them at the end of their lives.

Psalm 49 discusses how wealth cannot purchase a person’s life or buy an escape from decay, but that it is God alone who can—and will—redeem a life from the grave. This Lenten season is one of walking toward the cross with Christ, and I, for one, use it as a time to contemplate the end of my life. I attempt to reorient my thoughts and actions in a way that allows me to die as a person with understanding—a person who relies upon God for redemption.

On the first day of Lent, the ashes are imposed, and I am reminded that I am dust and to dust I shall return. It begins a time of remembering what is important and what is passing. I am reminded to trust in God for redemption, and not for some act or accumulation of wealth or status. I am marked by the reminder that I follow the path of all flesh.

This does not bring me sorrow now as it used to. I now count each day as part of my riches, and my understanding expands with each day of gratitude. As we walk this Lenten path toward the cross, let us pray for understanding.

Prayer: God outside of time, grant us the ability to rightfully prescribe import to the people and things that bring us joy and treasures that do not rust. Grant us, too, understanding and gratitude. Amen.

Jim Daniels is married to Dana, has two teenage childrenAlex and Madalynand serves as a chaplain for Hospice of Holland in Holland, Michigan.

Day 20: Psalm 46

By Ken Sampson

Psalm 46 (NIV):

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Uneasiness. Apprehension. Dismay. The journey of Lent invites us to examine these feelings of unrest, express sorrow that we’ve submitted to such fears, and seek restoration and renewal.

Early this year, I headed to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles office to renew my license. The DMV is adjacent to a distressed section of the city. A sense of reluctance, nearing dread, marked my frame of mind as I entered the crowded storefront-like facility.

With warmth and grace, the uniformed officer by the door directed me to the publication rack and handed me an enhanced license renewal form. A pleasant counter agent looked over my documents, sympathized with my not having correct paperwork to signify “veteran” be stamped again on my renewed license, gave me a ticket number, and instructed me to wait my turn.

The repurposed church pews for seating were crowded full. I took an empty counter stool, feeling content to participate in my civic responsibility along with fellow Orange County citizens.

After a long delay, due in part to reduced Thursday afternoon staffing, the new year, and computer rebooting, my number appeared. The agreeable administrative officer processed my documentation and speculated that my veteran status might transfer over. After taking a photo and paying the fee, I needed to sign one final form. With a satisfied smile, the agent pointed to the “VET” designation on the temporary enhanced license. I left the facility with the feeling that the church pews were singing regarding my uplifting experience.

As we are aware of generous, Jesus-shaped love active in our communities and give thanks for evidence of God’s grace, we release fear, tension, and strain. Composure—a state of rest and balance—is restored. Quiet joy returns as we realize “the Lord our God is with us” and with our world.

Prayer: God of angel armies, in one moment in history—your Son’s death on the cross—the sinful powers of the world were robbed of their power. Enable us to see signs of your kingdom, evident in lives, institutions, and the expansive world around us. In the name of our crucified Lord, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

Ken Sampson is a retired U.S. Army chaplain. He lives with his wife, Kate, in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. Kate is a spiritual director, and Ken serves as military liaison with Guideposts.

Day 21: Psalm 51

By Timothy Dunn

Psalm 51:

6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

We are familiar with Psalm 51; an adaptation of it is used as a prayer of confession in the liturgy of the Reformed Church throughout the year.

In Psalm 51:6, David says that God desires truth in the inward being, and he prays that God would give him wisdom in his secret heart. Among the truths God desires for us is to know who God is and who we are. We may learn truth from external resources, but God also desires that we learn and assimilate truth deep within ourselves. God desires that the truth that we know and understand with our minds be also in our hearts. David refers to the heart as “the inward being,” and “secret heart,” the place where God is truly known.

Our digital-information society provides us with access to knowledge instantly. However, the accumulation of knowledge does not equal wisdom, which is the ability to apply knowledge to life’s circumstances. When we find ourselves in a crisis or need direction to make major decisions, we may need wisdom.

The heart of the matter is that God desires to teach us truth and wisdom in the inner person. This requires that we take time to be mindful of what is going on in our hearts. The result may be that we will discover wisdom and joy in our hearts from being renewed by God.

Prayer: God of my salvation, you desire truth in my inward being. Cleanse and renew my heart and teach me wisdom in my secret heart. In Christ Jesus’s name, amen.

Rev. Timothy Dunn is a chaplain at the Christian Health Care Center in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He is an ordained minister in the RCA. He is also licensed in the state of New Jersey as a clinical social worker (LCSW) and a clinical alcohol and drug counselor (LCADC). He lives with his wife, Alicia, in Hawthorne, New Jersey.

Fourth Week of Lent Devotions

Day 22: Psalm 62

By Leigh Boelkins Van Kempen

Psalm 62:

5 For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

She had been an indomitable woman! She was strong, independent, wise, determined, and faithful. She was a woman I knew from the community, long before she became a resident in the nursing home where I serve as chaplain. I had incredible respect for her. At least a generation older than I was, she demonstrated for me how a strong woman could manage in a world that didn’t always respect her gifts. I learned a lot from her.

Then dementia invaded her life. It began to undermine her independence. It eroded her wisdom. It depleted her strength. In spite of her determination, she became less and less able to navigate the daily activities necessary to survive unaided, until she finally needed residential care for her safety. This was overwhelmingly distressing to her and to many who had known her self-sufficiency.

But her faith remained intact. We would talk about God—her rock and refuge, her hope and fortress. And as so much was stripped away by dementia, her faith remained. Until. Until dementia took her ability to speak. Until dementia eliminated every shred of her personality, and she spent her final months unable to respond at all, unable to give any indication she was even aware that others were around her.

Even in the silence of profound dementia, God never stopped being her refuge, her hope, her rock, her fortress, her salvation, her deliverance. She waited in silence for a God who never forgot her. And those who loved her kept vigil, waiting for God to call her home.

What was true for her is true for us as well. Whatever our struggle, whatever our trouble, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (v. 8). In silence—or in speech— God is our only hope!

Prayer: God, our refuge and deliverer, we come before you acknowledging our deep need. Help us trust in you at all times, regardless of our circumstances. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

Leigh Boelkins Van Kempen is a chaplain at Resthaven Care Community in Holland, Michigan. She and her husband, Case, also an RCA minister, have three adult, married children and four (and a half!) beloved grandchildren.

Day 23: Psalm 69

By Mara Joy Norden

Psalm 69:

I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children. …

20 Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.

21 They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

In my yard during Lent, the snow melts, and I take stock of my outdoor plants. It isn’t pretty. The voracious mint patch has choked out the salvia my mom planted two falls ago. The lilacs close to the house bow low with buds, but the lone one at the edge of the yard shows no signs of life after a late frost.

The season of Lent invites us to take stock of our spiritual lives as we wake up from the dormancy that sets in after the Christmas season. What bad habits have crept up, choking out life-giving intentions? What has died and needs to be cleared away? Where have forces outside your control caused hurt?

The author of Psalm 69 (let’s call him David) takes stock of his life and speaks the misery he finds—rejection, hatred, and harm by people who are supposed to love him. Why? Not because David has forgotten God, but precisely because he is trying to live a faithful, authentic life (vv. 9-12). The hurt runs so high and so deep that he feels like he’s drowning (v. 2). I’ve been there. Have you?

If David were standing in my Lenten garden, I imagine he would identify most with the lone lilac, isolated and barren. We might be tempted to keep quiet, but David does the most faithful thing: he speaks it before God, raw and honest. While speaking his pain, he finds the energy to pray for himself: “Rescue me from sinking in the mire” (vv. 13-14). While praying for himself, he finds the energy to remember the goodness of God: “I will praise the name of God with a song” (vv. 30-33). While remembering the goodness of God, David begins to come to life again.

Prayer: Oh God, remind us that your shoulders are big enough to handle our hurt, anger, and pain. Give us the courage to speak these things to you and others. Thank you for bringing new life out of death. Amen.

Mara Joy Norden is a board-certified chaplain who is currently serving an RCA congregation called The Community Church in Ada, Michigan.

Day 24: Psalm 71

By Mark Tjepkema

Psalm 71 (NKJV):

For you are my hope, O Lord God;
you are my trust from my youth. …

16 I will go in the strength of the Lord God;
I will make mention of your righteousness, of yours only.

17 O God, You have taught me from my youth;
and to this day I declare your wondrous works.
18 Now also when I am old and grayheaded,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I declare your strength to this generation,
your power to everyone who is to come.

It was during our morning staff meeting that one of our team members blurted out, “I feel marginalized.” The term was new to me, but, as we stunned chaplains listened attentively, we learned that our colleague felt unrecognized and unappreciated, and from that day forward, we endeavored to let her know that she was a gifted chaplain and a viable part of our ministry.

Personally, I had not been plagued with that feeling until I retired. Then, I learned what it felt like to be marginalized, for as the phone quit ringing and the beeper quit going off, I felt like I was no longer needed; there was a void in my life. So, I turned to my go-to psalm, namely, Psalm 71. It was there, interestingly enough, that I found comfort—yes, in the Scripture itself—but also in the margins, in the notes I had made, especially as I was moving in to my older years.

Let’s start with verse 16: “I will go in the strength of the Lord God,” which brought to mind the notation about God’s protection when I took a 6,768 mile Harley fundraising ride at the age of 71, for our hospital’s new Memory Care Facility. Then, in verse 18: “Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare your strength to this generation.” This brought to mind my notation, “Yet to preach? Would God bring me ‘full circle,’ to where I started?” Finally, in verse 9, at the age of 78, I read: “Do not cast me off in the time of old age.” As I find myself pastoring a small church part-time, even serving as the youth minister, I reflect during this season of Lent, that if one is willing to remain a willing servant, and as health allows, God will see to it that we will never be marginalized.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that there always will remain sources and resources of courage and encouragement for the journey, most often from our daily Bible readings and the notes we make in the margins, for you are, indeed, our hope and trust, from our youth, keeping us young in spirit. Amen.

Mark Tjepkema has spent 53 years in the ministry, about half as a pastor and half as a hospital chaplain, and now serves Homer Presbyterian Church in Homer, Georgia. A native of Michigan and graduate of Michigan State University, he still enjoys golfing and fishing. He has given up the Harley riding, though he was once called “The Easy Riding Rev.” because he had taken several fundraising rides for causes such as a hospice house.

Day 25: Psalm 74

By Keith Krebs

Psalm 74:

We do not see our emblems;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is no one among us who knows how long.
10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forever?

11 Why do you hold back your hand;
why do you keep your hand in your bosom?

12 Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the earth.

I write this devotion for when the lights of faith have gone dim. Enough of the day has been experienced to know that it is now night. And you cry out, “How long, O God?”

For we can no longer find you in the familiar, routine places where we have always found you. We go to church and you are not there. It feels like someone has hacked into pieces (v. 5) all the memories and symbols of our faith. There is no longer a word spoken (v. 9), at least that we can now hear and understand. The church used to be filled with worship and Word and sacrament. Now it is filled with the inner emptiness of our hearts.

Yet, yours also is night. God is with us in this dark valley. The psalmist reminds us, “You have fixed all the bounds of the earth” (v. 17). You know how this spiritual darkness descended and how long it will endure. You promise, as in times of old, you will be working salvation into our situation (v. 12). So we pray:

Prayer: Lord God, in this Lenten season, we turn to you. Yours is the day; yours also is the night. When shadows cover our hearts, come alongside us. Increase your intervention and chase the shadows of doubt away. We ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Keith Krebs is the chaplain at the American Mission Hospital in Manama, the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Day 26: Psalm 77

By Jordan Helming

Psalm 77:

I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.

You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

A mentor of mine once told me, “Soldiers will look you dead in the eye and tell you everything is fine as long as their nose is one inch above the water.” This has certainly been my experience in chaplaincy. I have found that soldiers will quietly endure the type of pain described in this psalm for weeks, months, or even years on end, until they finally plunge into the water. This often takes the form of a divorce, an arrest, or a suicide attempt.

What do we do during the “day of trouble?” We cry aloud to God to find comfort, but for some reason, “my soul refuses to be comforted.” We lose sleep, and we cannot even describe the anguish we are in. On top of all of this, we experience a theological crisis: God promised to never leave or forsake me, but now he has turned his back on me.

Every now and then, soldiers will reveal to me that they have reached out to God during those particularly dark seasons of life, but they have heard no response. They asked for relief, or, at the very least, sustainment, but it doesn’t seem to be working. They are praying like they’ve never prayed before, but still their pain overwhelms. “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (v. 9).

I suspect maybe that is the whole point. The Bible reminds us over and over that God is merciful and abounding in steadfast love (Exodus 34:6-7), that God never changes (Hebrews 13:8), and that God desires an intimate relationship with his people (Isaiah 43:1; Jeremiah 31:33). I do not believe that God causes our suffering, but he can certainly use it that we might “cry aloud to God,” “think of God,” and “meditate and search my spirit.” The psalmist reminds us that even amid our suffering, it is out of God’s character to spurn or abandon, to be unloving or to withhold compassion. Even on our darkest days, God is inseparable from his goodness and mercy.

Prayer: Gracious and almighty God, we give you thanks during this season of Lent. Forgive us for those times we seek lesser comfort than that which only comes from your warm and loving presence. Continue to refine your people, Lord, that we may seek you alone, regardless of our circumstances. In good times and bad, may we be assured of your unchanging love and mercy toward your people. Thank you for your unending faithfulness. Through Christ, our Lord, amen.

First Lieutenant Jordan Helming is a chaplain candidate assigned to 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery Regiment, Iowa Army National Guard. He lives in Sioux Center, Iowa, with his wife, Luralyn, and three children: Josiah (6), Magdalena (2), and Matthias (8 months).

Day 27: Psalm 90

By Richard Huls

Psalm 90:

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. …

12 So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

The writer of this psalm makes us aware of the brevity of life, something we are reminded of every time we pass a mortuary or cemetery. And yet, with our consumptive behavior, we often live as if there is no end to our days. Lent is a perfect time to reconsider our life style and belief systems. It is a call for not only penitence (abstaining), but also repentance (changing). Christ makes us aware of our pursuits and what is essential with these words: “What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (Matthew 16:26). The psalmist reminds us that our very life is from God (v. 1), and later in the Psalms, we are reminded of the reality of life’s brevity: “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Psalm 103:15).

As a chaplain who has served in many capacities, first in the military, then in law enforcement, in hospice, and presently in the retirement community, I am more aware than ever how fragile and transitory life is—impairment, sickness, frailty, and death are the realities of life. We might make it to age 70 or, if by reason of strength, 80, then it is over, says the author. The psalmist then gives us a word for our Lenten thought in this transitory life in verse 12, “So teach us to count our days that we might gain a wise heart.” In order to reach this place in our lives with conviction and success, it will take time in reflection, prayer, and perhaps even fasting, which is what the Lenten experience is all about. Jesus himself in his journey to the cross, prepared for death with wisdom.

Prayer: God of strength and grace, teach us to number our days that we might present to you a heart of wisdom. In Christ, we pray. Amen.

Richard Huls is a graduate of Hope College, Western Seminary, and Chapman University. He served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, then with Kaiser Hospice, the Escondido Police Department, and various retirement homes. He continues to provide services to each as needed. He currently is an RCA chaplain for retirees in the area of San Diego, California.

Day 28: Psalm 91

By Lindsay Bona

Psalm 91:

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

I have walked with many people on their medical journeys. This psalm brought them comfort in the knowledge that God was with them even in the darkest hour. These dark hours come in the middle of the night or in the day as the sun shines in through the window. Light creates shadows. The length of your shadow is determined by the time of the day. The length of God’s shadow is determined by your situation and is always God’s comforting presence. Sometimes the longest shadow of comfort comes at 1:00 a.m. when the doctor delivered the news we all had feared.

I remember one patient who was in the hospital waiting to have her first child. She was also diagnosed with cancer that could possibly take her life. We discussed how God was present with them now and how God would be with them in the future. We cried over all the moments that she would miss—her child’s first words, first steps. She wondered how God would guide her child. She had faith that God would be with her child. She knew that no matter what, her child would never be alone.

We are all children of God. We are all sheltered by the shadow of the almighty. In our darkest moments, it is hard to see the shadow of God protecting us. We may forget that God never leaves us. On this day, no matter how high the sun is in the sky, may you remember that when you call upon the Lord, God will answer. When you are in trouble, God is there. May you abide in God’s love always.

Prayer: Almighty God, my refuge and my fortress, shelter me in your shadow. Help me to know your shadow is protecting me and that you never leave me nor forsake me. Help me to know your love and abide in it. Amen.

Rev. Lindsay Bona is the vice president of Mission and Spiritual Care at Advocate Children’s Hospital. She is married to her wonderful husband, Mike, and a mom to her son, JJ. When Lindsay is not at the hospital, she loves running and knitting, which she does not do at the same time.

Fifth Week of Lent Devotions

Day 29: Psalm 103

By David Blauw

Psalm 103:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Many of us recite these words in unison after every observance of the Lord’s Supper. They uplift and give a perspective on life according to the loving grace of God.

But really? All your diseases? Good things as long as we live? Like an eagle’s youth? Really? I sometimes feel like I’m in the pits, as are others around me. As a hospital chaplain, I see the progression of age and disease that challenge us to the core. I am witness to both forgiveness between people and folks who hold grudges to their last breath. I am present at death due to age, trauma, sudden cardiac or respiratory failure, genetic syndromes, and neurological explosions or withering.

I believe we are challenged by Psalm 103 to know that while there can’t always be “cure,” there can always be “care.” For instance, forgiveness by a God who does not hold grudges; steadfast love and mercy, even in the deepest valley. Good things are folded, sometimes secretly, within intrusions such as brain or spinal cord injury; sudden, devastating loss; or the fact that all will lose capacity and abilities with age and disease. Good things, even then. I’ve seen them.

Bless the Lord that there is care and love for us, even if there can’t be cure. This is shown in crisp and awful clarity, as our Lord suffers execution.

Prayer: We bless you, Lord, even in the pit, even in despair or change, even in our waywardness or weakness. Help us soar like eagles as we prepare for early morning, the first day of the week. Amen.

Chaplain David Blauw has been leading the department of Spiritual Care at Holland Hospital in Holland, Michigan, for almost 25 years. Before that, he served as pastor of Blawenburg Reformed Church in Blawenburg, New Jersey. He is board certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains.

Day 30: Psalm 107

By Alan T. “Blues” Baker

Psalm 107 (NIV):

26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.

Every seasoned sailor experiences storms at sea. In rolling darkness, their ship sways and shudders by the strength of the wave. As a Navy chaplain, I’ve been thrown from my rack to the deck by the force of the storm. I’ve served alongside sailors unable to sleep because we were overwhelmed by uncontrollable circumstances.

Throughout the past two centuries, the RCA has sent chaplains to sea. The chaplains bring comforting words of the Bible to fearful sailors. Beyond words, they bring the incarnational presence of Jesus among those in the storm. When the waves are strongest, chaplains remind sailors that Jesus is even stronger. They remind mariners who are scared and stressed that they aren’t the first to fight against the storm. Chaplains retell the story of a group of first-century fishermen, wet and wind-burned, caught in a terrifying squall on the Sea of Galilee. These seasoned sailors panic. They cry out to Jesus. Like the calm eye of a savage hurricane, Jesus brings stillness because, no matter the circumstance, he abides with his father.

You may not be at sea, but you may be reeling from waves beyond your control. Are you sinking in frustration, anxiety, fear, depression, or anger? Whatever your storm, call upon the comforter, the Holy Spirit, who will bring the presence and peace of Jesus to your anxious, fearful, and frantic circumstance. God promises to fill your cloudy sky with his bright moonbeams shining against the wave of your stormy sea.

Prayer: Lord, save us in the storms of life and remind us of your promise to never abandon ship: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Amen.

Alan T. “Blues” Baker is RCA supervisor of Chaplain Ministries and has served as a military, campus, and corporate chaplain.

Day 31: Psalm 109

By Tom McCrossan

Psalm 109:

21 But you, O Lord my Lord,
act on my behalf for your name’s sake;
because your steadfast love is good, deliver me.
22 For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is pierced within me. …

27 Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O Lord, have done it.
28 Let them curse, but you will bless.
Let my assailants be put to shame;

may your servant be glad.

We’re four days from Holy Week. Jesus clearly knew the psalms. Did this one come to mind in the next week and a half? Did he empathize with the psalmist? Jesus was human. Would he have felt this way?

The psalmist is facing false accusation and cries out to God for vindication. Leave out verses 6-20 and there’d be no problem. But if these verses are directed at his chief accuser, we shake our heads and think, “How un-Christ-like and unforgiving.”

Consider, though, forgiveness says that in spite of the wrong done me, I’ll not hold it against them. I will cancel the debt and not try to collect. I will leave debt collecting to God. He is the master I serve and the one to whom all debts against me are owed, since I am his.

But forgiveness does not involve letting the wrong behavior continue—either to me or to others. What is wrong must stop. Thus the same person can—even must—pray both prayers: forgive them, and turn them from their wicked ways.

That the psalmist is so specific in the ways he asks God to stop injustice seems over the top to us. But what are we asking God to do when we pray for the end to evil? End wars, and many will still die in the process. Bring down evil rulers, and nations will be in turmoil. The unjust rich will be sent away empty along with their dependents.

“O Lord, act on my behalf for your name’s sake. … Let them know that this is your hand; you, O Lord, have done it” (v. 21, 27). The Lord is the debt collector. Like the psalmist, even if we make suggestions, we leave it to God to save and judge in his perfect wisdom.

Prayer: Merciful Lord, who knows both our hearts and the hearts of all, even our enemies, we pray for your kingdom to come, your will be done. As we seek your will for ourselves, you will lead us to forgiveness, mercy, and love for others. Protect and deliver us from opposition. Help us be quick to forgive that we might be free from bitterness and hatred. For Jesus’s sake, amen.

Tom McCrossan is currently assistant chaplain, guest advocate, and compliance coordinator at City Mission of Schenectady, New York. He has served as pastor of three RCA churches and continues to preach as pulpit supply. He also composes music for worship.

Day 32: Psalm 113

By Michael Weaver

Psalm 113:

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
praise the name of the Lord.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.

Is God always worthy?

How does this question strike you today? Is there no question in your mind and heart? Does it bother you that I would even pose such a question? Wherever you find yourself today, I invite you to linger with that question, or even just the word worthy for a little bit. Take five minutes or more (even 15–20 minutes) and sit in silence with that word. Breathing in, breathing out, and repeating the word as you do so. What happens within you as you do this?

Psalm 113 proclaims God’s worthiness. You could say it’s even a little excessive in doing so; in just the first three verses alone, we’re already admonished to praise the Lord four times. Today, we’ve just passed the six-week mark in the season of Lent. That’s 32 days of 40, starting with Ash Wednesday (Sundays are traditionally omitted as resurrection celebrations through the season). Yesterday, you spent some time in Psalm 109. I don’t know what verse, section, or part as I write this, but that psalm is an ardent cry to the God of our praise (109:1). David desperately cries out, “God, do not be silent! Vindicate and deliver me in your steadfast love.” David proclaims that, even in the midst of great difficulty, he will praise the Lord (109:30). And that’s exactly how we learn, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is always praiseworthy.

I love the paradox of the rest of Psalm 113 as it proclaims God as high and lofty, and yet personally and intimately involved in your life and the world in every way. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: God of our praise, blessed be your name and reign in our individual lives and the world from this time on and forevermore. In your grace today, raise us to your throne of grace. And as evening comes, may we find ourselves still singing your praise. Amen.

Rev. Michael Weaver is in his fourth year serving as a hospice chaplain with Hospice of Michigan on the lakeshore area from Holland to north of Muskegon. He resides in Holland, Michigan, with his wife and two kids, ages nine and seven.

Day 33: Psalm 116

By Darcy Lovgren Pavich

Psalm 116:

I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.

This is a song of gratitude and absolute awe and wonder. The desperation and brokenness experienced by the singer is a lonely and hopeless place. The exact causes of the suffering are unknown, but the anguish is very apparent. Something that is not so clear is that this is a request for mercy, not a simple request for help. Mercy, pardon, and grace are gifts offered to those who have found “sorrow and trouble,” usually by their own actions and choices. Self-defeat keeps them from feeling worthy, and so they continue to follow the pathway into deeper misery and darkness. The way out becomes obscured.

By grace, the word of a friend, the memory of another time, and a glimmer of light appears. A small crack opens in the walls we create, revealing an avenue to venture and a voice of prayer is found. The psalmist remembers a promise and prays: “I implore you. … I beg you to save me.” The prayer is not conditional. It is not “If you save me, I will follow you.” The prayer embraces the assurance that God will deliver salvation. The response to the deliverance is gratitude, a promise to continue to call upon the Lord, a promise to remember, and a wondrous understanding of humility.

The psalmist extols the grace and mercy and is suddenly impacted by just how big this is. God is righteous and merciful. How is this possible? Righteousness is often synonymous with justice. Justice is more often associated with consequences and punishment and rarely associated with mercy, grace, and pardon. How great is God who unconditionally forgives, accepts, and restores one who is not righteous or just!

In our deepest, desperate moments of life, the Lord “inclines his ear” to our prayer, reaches toward us, and sets us free.

Prayer: Lord, may I be humbled by your mercy and set free to rejoice in your grace. Direct this day in gratitude, for the blessings I have received are that I may be a blessing to others and a faithful servant in your kingdom. Amen.

Darcy Lovgren Pavich is the chaplain a Veterans Village of San Diego, ministering among homeless and at-risk veterans and their families.

Day 34: Psalm 121

By Caryn Baham

Psalm 121 (NKJV):

1I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
from whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1 is the very first verse I memorized in my childhood. Memorization was easy because that verse was etched on a window at the front of our church, which, in fact, did look up to the glorious “hills” west of Denver (the direction that our sanctuary faced). As a young girl, I would look for opportunities to be up near those windows, and I would trace each letter with my finger as I overlooked the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

Many childhood days were spent hiking those mountains, and many spiritual lessons were learned while exploring the forests. I learned the value of looking at the terrain ahead and being prepared. I learned that seeing light ahead meant that I had reached a new plane but not necessarily the summit, which always seemed over the next horizon. I learned that the journey is almost always longer than I thought it would be, and, most importantly, I learned that I must always keep track of where the campsite and safety were located.

Though this psalm is not referenced or alluded to in the New Testament, it remains a popular psalm and has even been set to the glorious music of Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Leonard Bernstein’s “A Simple Song.” I think this popularity stems from the fact that we are all, in our own way, making a pilgrimage in this life. We all wonder what will come next, how we will deal with it, and when we will at long last reach that final summit that God has planned for our lives. The psalmist aptly points out that “my help” comes from the Lord, who is not only mighty enough to make the heavens and earth, but also intimate enough to be called “mine.” Though I know not what the light or darkness I see ahead will bring, I can rest knowing that God will continue to watch over my life through eternity. This will lead me to continue to look upward, to acknowledge the source of hope and strength in my life, both now and forevermore.

Prayer: Lord, may I ever look upward to the source of my greatest strength and help as I journey through this life. Thank you for the promise that you watch over my life, for the path you set before me, and for the guiding hand you offer every step of the way. Amen.

Caryn Baham is a chaplain at Friendship Village of Schaumburg, a senior facility in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. She makes annual trips to national parks as a source of renewal and strength for her ministry.

Day 35: Psalm 150

By Kathy Jo Blaske

Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

Praise the LORD! Where?

“ … in his sanctuary.” Not in a bounded place, but wherever we experience God in life—as we gaze from our own yards into the heavens; as we walk barefoot along the shore of a lake; as we listen to a choir from pews or concert hall seats; as we pray in the solitude of our homes or sing in a congregation of worshipers. We praise God whenever and wherever our hearts are inspired to do so.

Praise the LORD! Why?

“ … for his mighty deeds, according to his surpassing greatness!” Praise the Lord for the rain, which nourishes the earth; for the wonder of a sunrise; for the cry of a newborn child; for the inquisitiveness of young children; for healing bodies through the medical community; for comforting hearts as the Lord works through ministers, priests, counselors, and friends.

Praise the LORD! How?

With a diversity of instruments! I’ve employed most of them: a trumpet graced my ordination service. And though 40 years have passed since then, I can still hear the melody of the oboe during productions of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by the first church I served. Now, at the assisted living residences where I conduct worship, we are blessed regularly with harp and piano accompaniment, and frequently we welcome a cellist when he is home from college. I distribute tambourines on occasion to enliven our singing. Liturgical dancers have engaged worshipers. And, I, myself, have clashed cymbals during the singing of “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!” (Praising God with a lute, however, remains on my bucket list!)

Praise the LORD! Who?

Everything that breathes is to praise God! Breath is a sign of spirit, of life. Let’s all take note of the goodness of God in our lives today. Let’s be instruments, ourselves, and praise the LORD!

Prayer: Give us pause, today, O God, to breathe in and out, to look, to listen, and so to notice and celebrate your goodness. Move us to applause, to song, to prayer, to smiles, to words and acts of gratitude, which praise you with our whole selves. Amen.

Kathy Jo Blaske serves as a long-term care chaplain at the Christian Health Care Center in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Previously, she served as a minister of Christian education in Holland, Michigan; as minister for Leadership Development in the Synod of Albany; and as a specialized interim minister in several churches in upstate New York and New Jersey.

Sixth Week of Lent Devotions

Day 36: Psalm 139

By Susan Dorward

Psalm 139 (NIV):  

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

David wanted to analyze his motives and behavior, asking God to guide him and help him see what thoughts or actions may not align with God’s thoughts. Why would David ask God to do this? Because David knew that his way of thinking might cause a chasm separating him from God, and that was the last thing David wanted.

Many of us are motivated in Lent to ask God to forgive us for doing anything that has offended God. Sometimes, though, don’t our attempts at doing this feel more like empty rituals or dutiful prayers? We say a quick prayer and soon end with “amen.” Then, after the amen, how long do we usually sit around waiting for God to point out anything God found in his search? Do we do this because we are busy or because we fear what God will do after he completes his search?

David knew that he had nothing to fear in allowing God to search his heart. Not because he felt there was nothing offending there, but because he knew that our God is a loving, merciful, and gracious God.

Don’t be afraid to allow God to explore your heart, mind, and spirit. God loves you and longs for a closer walk with you.

Pause. Ask God to search you. Then, sit and wait long enough for God to point out what you need to see and work on. God will lovingly help you transform and will lead you along the right pathway, bringing hope and joy to your journey through life.

Prayer: Lord, you know me better than I know myself. Search the deepest parts of my heart for anything that is displeasing to you. Examine my attitudes and actions. Show me what needs to be transformed and help me to change it so that I will not only be closer to you, but will also be able to go where you lead me and do what you are calling me to do. Amen.

Susan Dorward has been a chaplain at ECCR for 11 years. ECCR is a non-profit organization located in Wyckoff, New Jersey, that provides residential programs and services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Day 37: Psalm 140

By Lisa Hansen-Tice

Psalm 140:

Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;
protect me from those who are violent,
who plan evil things in their minds
and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a snake’s,
and under their lips is the venom of vipers.

As children, we used the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” As we said this, we hoped that the hateful words tossed at us would bounce away without causing any harm. Unfortunately, the reality is that words do hurt us. Slander and name-calling can hurt us deeply. They wound our psyche to such a level that it can take years to overcome the wounding. That is why bullies use the tactics of words as well as violence against people—they know how wounding they can be.

David, God’s anointed, was not immune to slander nor to the pain that words produce. So painful were they to him, that he equated them with the venom of the most poisonous of snakes: vipers. Without legal recourse, without position or authority, David turned to the only one who could help him in his deepest distress, God. Out of his deepest pain, David raised a prayer to God for protection. His confidence in God—the deep understanding that God takes up the cause of the needy—led him to seek God’s protection not just from the weapons of war, but from the weapons of words.

When people say things that are hurtful, we can have confidence like David that God will hear our cries and will bring justice, a justice that might not be present in this world, but a justice that will allow us to stand before God with praise upon our lips. Trust that God will deliver us from the slings and arrows of hurtful words and provide a balm that will heal all our wounds.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for hearing our plea. Keep evil words from hurting and wounding our hearts and minds. Provide protection from the pain of words used as weapons. Help us, Lord, to mind our tongues that we may only provide words of hope and encouragement to the people who surround us. Thank you for listening to the cause of the needy and providing justice for your people. Amen.

Lisa Hansen-Tice is a chaplain in the United States Air Force currently working at the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center in San Antonio, Texas. She serves as the center chaplain and provides oversight of Chaplain Corps personnel, budget, and readiness at Air Force bases throughout the world.

Day 38: Psalm 123

By Cindi Veldheer DeYoung

Psalm 123:

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

It’s Maundy Thursday: watch the hands of Jesus. We see Jesus’s hands holding and cleaning dirty feet, then breaking bread and lifting up the cup, sharing food and his very heart.

We lift our eyes to the heavens, for mercy. Our appeal to the cosmic reign of God becomes manifest in the gestures Jesus makes to care for the disciples. Jesus’s intimate gestures extend throughout the cosmos—far beyond that table.

Asking for mercy is easy, until we realize how much we’ve enthroned ourselves with contempt. We don’t so much fear the contempt of others as we cringe at the way our own contempt indicts us of being so graceless. Who are we to ask for mercy?

We swim in contempt these days—so many people do not see the world the way we do! Might our contempt get arrested in the awareness that God in Christ cares for those whom we’ve held in contempt. Then, Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer. And may we not only see your gestures of grace, but do them, as you command. May we have mercy, Lord, we pray, so that those whose eyes watch us see your mercy.

Prayer: May your mercy work through me so completely that my soul pours out ever more freely to all. Amen.

Rev. Cindi Veldheer DeYoung is a hospital chaplain, serving primarily oncology and intensive care unit patients, at Spectrum Health Medical Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Day 39: Psalm 130

By Melody Meeter

Psalm 130 (NKJV):

Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications. …

My soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning—
yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
for with the Lord there is mercy,
and with him is abundant redemption.

When I think of this psalm, I hear the organ playing in a minor key. It’s a hymn by Martin Luther from 1524. Luther’s lyrics are a paraphrase of Psalm 130. Aus tiefer Noth is the name of that hymn tune—out of the depths. You can Google Aus tiefer Noth if you want to hear it. The first note is high C, the second note dips down to F, getting down there with the speaker, calling out to God from the pit. The tune climbs and falls again, up and down, hoping and then losing hope, returning at last to that F, the lowest note in the hymn. It’s not a happy clappy hymn or a happy clappy psalm. Rather, it’s slow and solemn; it’s a “waiting for redemption” song.

Down there in the pit, the psalmist is in despair, not only about her own iniquities, her weaknesses, her sins of omission and commission, but also about the iniquities of her people Israel. The individual sins are entwined with the sins of the nation. But it is also down there in the pit the psalmist remembers something else: “ … there is forgiveness with you,” and “with the Lord there is steadfast love,” and “with him is great power to redeem.” There is hope in the waiting for God’s redemption. Twice the psalmist repeats the phrase “my soul waits” and twice repeats the image of the soul waiting for the Lord “more than those who watch for the morning.”

As a chaplain, I get to wait for a little while with souls that are waiting for God to show up. It’s really dark down there. But in the very act of crying out, sometimes a light surprises—a healing, a surrender, a peace, a hope. The song rises.

Prayer: Dear God, grant us to see your light though we may be in the depths. Grant us to feel your steadfast love though we may feel unlovable. And grant us companions to wait for you in hope. Amen.

Rev. Melody Meeter is the director of the spiritual care department at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn. She is a member of Brooklyn Classis and belongs to the congregation of Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where her husband, Rev. Dr. Daniel Meeter, is the pastor. With that congregation, she waits in hope for God’s redemption.

Day 40: Psalm 147

By Kate Meyer

Psalm 147:

10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

The tattoo on my wrist is a dumbbell with the word abide written on the bar. The word, written in Greek, is also the only part of the tattoo comprised of color: purple and green.

There is no shortage of scriptural images for finding our strength in God, so I won’t take space here to elaborate on the layers of that part of the tattoo. The word abide is also commonplace in the New Testament, but, for the purposes of my tattoo, the full meaning of it cannot be understood without also looking at the color choice.

In the liturgical calendar, purple occurs during Advent and Lent. The color is tied to words such as mourning, waiting, and reflecting. Green, alternatively, is liturgically used to represent ordinary time, as well as renewal and new life.

So, when I look at my wrist, I am reminded to abide with God in times of mourning and in ordinary times. When things are great, neutral, or terrible. But, it is also a reminder that the ordinary times will come again; though the times of mourning and waiting appear to far outweigh the rest, we have strength to endure if we but abide.

Abide with God always. Even on this Holy Saturday, this in-between time, trust in God’s steadfast love that does not end in mourning. Rather, God’s steadfast love always, yes always, carries us through to new life. Abide with God and see.

Prayer: In all of my in-between times, God, I pray you strengthen me to but abide in trust of your steadfast love. May I honor you by holding fast and resting in the assured hope of redemption. Amen.

Kate Meyer is the counseling services manager of Hospice of Holland in Holland, Michigan. She is writer, speaker, and minister. You can read more about her work at www.katejmeyer.com.