Amos 8:4-12 – A Spiritual Famine

Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak,
    you who treat poor people as less than nothing,
Who say, “When’s my next paycheck coming
    so I can go out and live it up?
How long till the weekend
    when I can go out and have a good time?”
Who give little and take much,
    and never do an honest day’s work.
You exploit the poor, using them—
    and then, when they’re used up, you discard them.

God swears against the arrogance of Jacob:
    “I’m keeping track of their every last sin.”
God’s oath will shake earth’s foundations,
    dissolve the whole world into tears.
God’s oath will sweep in like a river that rises,
    flooding houses and lands,
And then recedes,
    leaving behind a sea of mud.

“On Judgment Day, watch out!”
    These are the words of God, my Master.
“I’ll turn off the sun at noon.
    In the middle of the day the earth will go black.
I’ll turn your parties into funerals
    and make every song you sing a dirge.
Everyone will walk around in rags,
    with sunken eyes and bald heads.
Think of the worst that could happen
    —your only son, say, murdered.
That’s a hint of Judgment Day
    —that and much more.

“Oh yes, Judgment Day is coming!”
    These are the words of my Master God.
“I’ll send a famine through the whole country.
    It won’t be food or water that’s lacking, but my Word.
People will drift from one end of the country to the other,
    roam to the north, wander to the east.
They’ll go anywhere, listen to anyone,
    hoping to hear God’s Word—but they won’t hear it. (The Message)

Four hundred years of silence….  That’s how long it was between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. In that period, there was no word from God. No prophets sent by God. No divine message, at all, of either judgment or grace. There was complete silence from the Lord… until the fullness of time, when the incarnation of Jesus changed everything. Why so long to hear from God?

The prophet Amos delivered a scathing message to God’s people about their total disregard for the poor and needy in the land. Those in positions of authority and power in Israel merely looked on the less fortunate as commodities – as pawns to be taken advantage of for the rich merchants. 

Because the wealthy never took the time to listen to the poor, God would not listen to them. A famine was coming – neither about hungering for food in short supply, nor about thirsting for clean water. Instead, there will be a scarcity of hearing words from God. Folks can search far and wide just to get a wordy tidbit or even a crumb of a message from the Lord, but they won’t find it.

Whenever people refuse listening to the poor, the entire human community is at risk of experiencing a famine of God’s speech. That’s for all people, not just some. Justice is the responsibility of everyone, and not just a few.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

Mother Teresa

Scripture says people don’t live on food alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). God’s Word is necessary sustenance, just as much as the need for three square meals a day. Withholding both physical and spiritual resources from others, either through sheer inattention or blatant disregard, damns a society to experiencing famine in the total sense of the word – for all, not just some.

We live in a day when the poor are often disregarded. Either they are ignored altogether or are given hand-outs and services without ever having any significant human contact.  In other words, very few people take the time to listen and get to know the real face of poverty. After all, we are busy making money and checking our stocks, and…. 

Oh, my, perhaps we have the answer as to why there is such a lack of revival in the land. The Lord shows such solidarity with the poor that to ignore them is to ignore God. No matter our financial picture and outlook, every one of us can grace the poor with the gift of time and listening to them. For in doing so we might just be listening to the voice of God.

God identifies closely with the poor, distressed, and needy. The Lord listens to the lowly. So, we as God’s people, are to share this same concern.

God will rescue the needy person who cries for help
and the oppressed person who has no one’s help.
He will have pity on the poor and needy
and will save the lives of the needy. (Psalm 73:12-13, GW)

Those who mock the poor insult their Maker; those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will be punished. (Proverbs 17:5, NLT)

Those who are gracious to the poor lend to the Lord, and the Lord will fully repay them. (Proverbs 19:17, CEB)

If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard. (Proverbs 21:13, NRSV)

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who turn a blind eye will be greatly cursed. (Proverbs 28:27, CEB)

Give your food to the hungry
    and care for the homeless.
Then your light will shine
    in the dark;
your darkest hour will be
    like the noonday sun. (Isaiah 58:10, CEV)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor. (Isaiah 61:1, NIV)

 Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 19:21, CEB)

 If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God? My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action. (1 John 3:17-18, GNT)

We already have words from God. What will we do with them?…

Gracious God, you are found everywhere – both the halls of power, and the back alleys of slums.  As I seek you more and more, may I see the face of Jesus in everyone I encounter, whether rich or poor so that I can share the gift of life with them all in this season of anticipation.  Amen.

James 5:13-20 – Pray In Times of Trouble

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (New International Version)

This entire letter of the Apostle James to a suffering church is grounded in two important theological truths:  God is good; and God acts powerfully in the world for good. 

The foundation of Christian prayer is the conviction that God cares – that the Lord hears us and responds. Prayers can be lifted at any time. Yet, the God-focused and God-honoring prayer has a price. It will cost us time, effort, vulnerability, and follow-through with appropriate action. Biblical prayer is more than private requests; it requires something of us as a community of believers in Jesus.

When To Pray?

We are to pray whenever there is trouble in our lives which causes us to suffer. Whether physical trouble, emotional suffering, or relational difficulty, we are to pray about it all. We are to pray even when we do not feel like it. In short, we are to be pray continually because there is always a need for prayer.

The Apostle James practiced what he taught. The Roman historian, Eusebius, wrote concerning James that “his knees grew hard like a camel’s because of his constant worship of God, kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people.” James was in constant intercession to God for people. 

“His knees grew hard like a camel’s because of his constant worship of God, kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people.”

The fourth-century historian Eusebius, describing the Apostle James

Like James, we all need prayer is to be our default response in trouble and suffering. When in trying circumstances, a temptation is to lash out at the person who enabled the adversity. We may even become mad at God for allowing trouble in our lives.

Yet, when afflicted, suffering, or in trouble, we need to pray. Sometimes God will always take away our afflictions, suffering, or troubles. Sometimes not. However, by bringing our circumstances before the Lord and acknowledging our need for divine help, we can see God intervene in the situation we are presently facing. What’s more, prayer can give us the grace we need to endure and come closer to God.

So, when the bottom drops out; when you feel you are hanging by a thread; when circumstances are overwhelming or grow worse by the minute, we should pray. We should pray, whether afflicted, sick, or overcome by guilt and shame.

The cost of prayer is time. For many people, time is as precious as money. So, we try to fit prayer into our lives without ever altering our schedules. That will not do. Prayer takes time because it is a conversation with God, and it requires extended focused attention.

Who Should Pray?

Everyone is to pray – including everyone in the church who are happy, suffering, healthy, or ill. Specifically, James tells us the elders of the church are to pray for those who are sick – including physical suffering, mental illness, emotional hurt, and spiritual sickness. Prayer is for all those who are weak, weary, and worn down by life circumstances.

Notice the chain of responsibility here in today’s New Testament lesson. The onus is on the sick person to contact the elders of the church. Scripture clearly puts the need for communicating an adverse situation on the person who is undergoing the trouble. For many people, this is humbling and difficult, so they simply don’t do it. Prayer has a price: openness and vulnerability.

When the needy person communicates the trouble, then the elders are to anoint the person in the name of the Lord and offer a prayer of faith for the afflicted person. It is the leadership’s job to pray. In the ancient biblical world, anointing with oil was a deeply symbolic act of encouragement. It was a tangible way of lifting the person out of trouble.

And all kinds of sickness are in view: physical ailments of bodily sickness; heart problems of anger or bitterness; spiritual struggles of doubt; emotional challenges of depression or anxiety; along with anything and everything that causes ill health. It all should be prayed over, with people being anointed and encouraged.

Prayer is not a strictly private affair; it is a communal activity. Consider the thought that if you are not experiencing healing, wholeness, and health – whether physical, relational, or spiritual – then perhaps God is calling you and I to more than private prayer but to corporate prayer offered by the elders of the church. 

It is not just the prayer offered by one solitary individual that makes the sick person well – it is the collective faith prayer of the church’s leadership on the troubled person.

How To Pray?

Pray in faith. Pray earnestly. Trust God for healing and wholeness with prayers that are persistent, passionate, and prolonged. Again, this will cost the troubled person a profound willingness to be vulnerable, real, and honest. No vulnerability, no healing. No gut-level honesty with the true condition, no power to raise the person up. No willingness to stop fighting and let go of the pride and perceived ability to handle it ourselves, no end to the trouble.

Today, many people throughout the world are trying to independently get out of their trouble and do not want others to help them through the ministry of prayer. The cost of letting others see their terrible situation is too high for them. So, they suffer in silence, failing to confess and receive healing prayer.

Why Pray?

The goal of prayer is total and complete healing from physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual ills. In addition, it is through prayer that prodigals return from their wandering in the muck of the world.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. The Old Testament prophet Elijah simply believed God’s Word and prayed accordingly. Elijah knew from reading the book of Deuteronomy that God said whenever God’s people wander from the truth, there will be drought, no rain. 

So, Elijah prayed the words of God. He prayed that it would not rain, and it didn’t. Then, when there was a great revival of the people back to God, Elijah prayed it would rain with passionate, sincere, believing, and persevering prayer. And it rained a gulley-washer.

So, let’s pray…

Good and gracious God, we believe you are compassionate, willing, and able to heal people in the name of Christ. Today we pray for those requiring surgery; needing confidence and courage; trying to understand their suffering; having a sense of guilt or failure; experiencing great anxiety; lacking patience; feeling disappointed; tiring of limitations; wearying of old age; lacking sleep; and wandering from the truth. For all these people and their situations of trouble, we pray to you, Lord, for healing, health, and wholeness. 

Eternal God, send your Holy Spirit upon each person we are praying for right now. Drive away all sickness of body and spirit. Make whole that which is broken. Give deliverance from the power of evil. Provide strengthening of faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who suffered on our behalf, yet also rose from death so that we, too, could live a new life.

Most gracious God, you are the source of healing. We give you thanks for all your gifts to us, but most of all, for the gift of your Son, the Lord Jesus, through whom you gave and still give strength and deliverance to all who believe. As we wait in eager expectation for the coming of that day when suffering and pain shall be no more, help us by your Holy Spirit to be assured of your power in our lives and to trust in your eternal love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 102:12-28 – God Hears

But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
    your name endures to all generations.
You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
    for it is time to favor it;
    the appointed time has come.
For your servants hold its stones dear,
    and have pity on its dust.
The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
    and all the kings of the earth your glory.
For the Lord will build up Zion;
    he will appear in his glory.
He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
    and will not despise their prayer.

Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
    so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord:
that he looked down from his holy height,
    from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
    to set free those who were doomed to die;
so that the name of the Lord may be declared in Zion,
    and his praise in Jerusalem,
when peoples gather together,
    and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

He has broken my strength in midcourse;
    he has shortened my days.
“O my God,” I say, “do not take me away
    at the midpoint of my life,
you whose years endure
    throughout all generations.”

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
    but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall live secure;
    their offspring shall be established in your presence. (NRSV)

When you are destitute and hurting, it is easy to feel alone, as if no one really understands. The healthy, the wealthy, and the powerful do not often take notice of the needy. Whether in chronic pain, constantly dealing with sickness, continually drowning in bills, laboring long hours in obscurity with little pay, or all of them at the same time, there is good news: God specializes in such situations.

Contrary to popular characterizations of the Old Testament, God is merciful, gracious, and kind. The dominant motif is not a God of wrath but a God of steadfast love – a God who makes and keeps promises to people. God’s wrath is reserved for those who have the power and privilege to care for others, but instead, fleeces them of what little they possess.

This was the situation for the psalmist. He had no idea why he was the victim – he just knew he needed God.  So, he turned to the Lord – trusting that God is good for his promises – knowing that God will be attentive to the great needs of his life.

It is interesting there is no wonderful or miraculous answer to the psalmist’s plea to God recorded for us. There is only pain, petition, trust, and hope.

Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, all we have is faith, hope, and love. Yet, and I am just throwing out a notion to consider, if we possess these three virtues, we are the ones who are healthy, rich, and strong.

The Lord’s eyes watch the righteous, and his ears listen to their cries for help.

psalm 34:15, ceb

God is attentive to your prayer. God hears you when you adopt this psalm for yourself and pray it with fervor and flavor. The lack of immediate Divine intervention does not necessarily mean God overlooks a person’s situation. It just means the Lord is planning something supremely spectacular for you. 

To pray in a time of trouble is to dwell in the presence of God. To be in the presence of God is to find an answer to prayer you might not have been looking for to begin with. God hears. God will respond… in the proper time.

O God Almighty, sovereign of all, and the One in whom is my hope: Help!  I pray to you alone.  I know you bend your ear to pay attention, so hear my prayer for mercy in the middle of my hardship.  You are always the same, even though everything and everyone else changes.  Be my rock in a time of trouble; in Jesus, through the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Judges 2:16-23 – Listen

From time to time, the Lord would choose special leaders known as judges. These judges would lead the Israelites into battle and defeat the enemies that made raids on them. In years gone by, the Israelites had been faithful to the Lord, but now they were quick to be unfaithful and to refuse even to listen to these judges. The Israelites would disobey the Lord, and instead of worshiping him, they would worship other gods.

When enemies made life miserable for the Israelites, the Lord would feel sorry for them. He would choose a judge and help that judge rescue Israel from its enemies. The Lord would be kind to Israel as long as that judge lived. But afterwards, the Israelites would become even more sinful than their ancestors had been. The Israelites were stubborn—they simply would not stop worshiping other gods or following the teachings of other religions.

The Lord was angry with Israel and said:

The Israelites have broken the agreement I made with their ancestors. They won’t obey me, so I’ll stop helping them defeat their enemies. Israel still had a lot of enemies when Joshua died, and I’m going to let those enemies stay. I’ll use them to test Israel, because then I can find out if Israel will worship and obey me as their ancestors did.

That’s why the Lord had not let Joshua get rid of all those enemy nations right away. (CEV)

Listening seems to be a lost art and a forgotten skill. Genuine focused attention on another person through careful listening takes practice. Maybe that is one reason there is a paucity of authentic hearing these days – it is just so doggone hard. Throw into the mix that a lot of folks like hearing their own voice, and you have a recipe for poor communication.

God is good at everything, especially listening.

The Lord is the Master Listener. In fact, God is so good at it that divine ears hear the prayers of people all over the world. The same careful attention is given to both the little girl in the West who intercedes for her parents and teddy bear at night, as well as halfway around the world with the national leader who requests wisdom for decisions in a heated meeting.

The Lord God Almighty is gracious, merciful, and kind, hearing us when we call, and listening when we our hearts long for the divine. God always bends low in a posture of listening to all creation. As creatures in the image of God, we were meant from the very beginning of creation to listen well. Yet, ever since humanity fell into disobedience, people have the tendency to talk more than they listen, to sometimes refuse to hear what another is saying. There are even those who ignore God’s speech.

The ancient Israelites in the book of Judges were fickle in their attention to God. When things were bad, they cried out to the Lord. Because God attentively listens, they were heard, and a merciful divine response came. However, when things were better, the people went about their business and forgot about God’s deliverance.

It was God who sent judges, rulers, and leaders, to the people for their own welfare. Instead of graciously receiving such a gift from God, the people were quick to be unfaithful and to refuse even to listen the divinely sent judges. Listening, really listening, was not a high value to the people. They talked and talked, incessantly droning on, and so could not hear what God through the divinely appointed rulers was saying.

We are to listen well because God listens well.

We are to pay attention and hear because we are designed by our Creator to do so. Perhaps our society would not be so perpetually upset and polarized if we would just take the time to take notice and take advice through a posture of humble hearing.

Try this little exercise of listening: Take just ten minutes and do not talk, read, check your phone, or do anything but just listen to the sounds around you…. What do you hear?… What do you think God is saying to you through those sounds?… How will you to respond?

Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity, allowing us to hear the still small voice of God. Sound is amplified through silence. If we desire a clear word from the Lord, then stillness and silence are the spiritual practices that will allow it to happen. Life’s most precious moments are not all loud or uproarious, for silence and stillness have their own virtues which connect us with the divine. Never underestimate the power of doing nothing.

God of all creation, you have made me with two ears for listening. Help me to so hear and distinguish you through creation and the voices of others so that I will follow Christ with confidence in my daily life. Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve. Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.