Your Pulse and Your Breath as Pathways to Prayer

Put two fingers on your neck
and feel your pulse—
the current of blood coursing life
from your heart throughout your body.
You did not think to your heart, “Beat!”,
or to your blood, “Move!”,
and yet here you are:
alive, upright, and living.
Quiet yourself amidst
the din of the world
and listen to your beating heart.
In every beat, God whispers,
“I love you! I love you!”

Pause and take in a deep breath
followed by a deep breath out.
Feel the air filter up your lungs
as you inhale
and carbon dioxide release
as you exhale.
You did not think to your lungs,
“Take it in! Let it out!”,
but instead you have been breathing
since you awoke and eve while you slept.
As you breathe in and out
rest in the breath of God,
Who made you and sustains you,
Who whispers in each breath,
“You are mine!”

Walking through this day
let each breath, in and out,
remind you of God’s gracious presence with you.
Let each heartbeat, thrumming through your body,
remind you of God’s loving presence with you.
These simple rhythms of the body,
persistently present in each day and minute,
become pathways of prayer in the everyday.
Let each breath and heartbeat whisper back to God,
“I, too, am Yours!”

What is Epiphany?: a brief summary

Edward Burne-Jones, The Adoration of the Magi; silk, wool and cotton fabric; 1904.

Today, January 6, we celebrate Epiphany, which is also known as Three Kings Day. Epiphany begins a season of the church year that runs up to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. (Some traditions celebrate Epiphany-tide through Candlemas, the feast of the the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, on February 2, marking 40 days from Christmas day.)

Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia (ἐπιφάνεια), which literally means ‘appearing’ or ‘manifestation.’ The word appears in Paul’s second letter to Timothy in a passage which sheds light on the heart of Epiphany:

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing (epiphaneia) of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

Epiphany celebrates the appearing of Jesus as the Savior of the world, and particularly his revelation to the Gentiles, or nations. This is why Epiphany is often associated with the arrival of the Magi to acclaim Jesus as king and offer their gifts to him in Matthew 2:1-12. Two other episodes of Jesus’ life often associated with Epiphany are Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17) and the first miracle of turning water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-12), both of which are manifestations of Jesus’ identity and power, marking the beginning of His public ministry.

Epiphany offers an important opportunity to thank God for the light we have received through Jesus Christ and the significance of His saving work, not just for one people group, but people from around the globe. We can also reflect on how our ordinary lives are impacted by the light found in Jesus Christ, both His teaching and His life.

These words from Isaiah 60:1-3, are often read on Epiphany, and serve as a wonderful basis for worship today:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

O my soul, know the love and care of God

O my soul, know the love and care of God

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3)

O my soul,
know the love and the care of God.

When you breathed your first breath,
He heard it for He gave it.
When you took your first step and spoke your first word,
He saw and heard it for He gave the capacity for it.
At your greatest pinnacles of joy, He was there—
in that which brought you joy,
in the rising up within your spirit sensed as joy,
and din the creation of joy within human experience.
At your greatest depths of grief and brokenness, He was there—
in the sense of something good being lost,
in the longing for all things to be made right,
and in the comfort you sense in His presence.

O my soul,
know the love and the care of God.

The greatest abilities and talents you have
are a gift from Him out of love,
and your capacity to hone them, too,
is a gift from Him in love.
The most foul or broken place in your life
He knows and still loves you there,
and your sense that such places were made for more
is also a gift of His holy love to you.
The beginning of your life
and the end of your life
is treasured by Him in tender love,
and the everyday ordinary of your life—
meals and conversations, friendships and foes,
projects and recreation, longings and pursuits—
all is held in His loving hands and merciful gaze.

O my soul,
know the love and the care of God.

Look at the lilies of the field swayed
by Him in beautiful splendor,
and watch the birds of the skies
soaring to great heights on the wings He has provided.
If He cares for and loves these,
how much more does He care for and love you?
Look at the Cross where He hung transfixed
as a revelation of how far divine love will go,
and gaze into the empty tomb radiating the fullness
of divine love’s victory over all things.
If He has accomplished such great acts,
how much must He care for and love you?

O my soul,
know the love and care of God.

Stepping Forward into 2021 with Dedication and Praise

Emmaus Road

This week, I am sharing some spiritual practices for reflecting on the previous year and stepping forward into the new year.

Stepping Forward with Dedication

Related to this focus on God is a dedication of our lives from the inside out. Psalm 86 is a one of my favorite psalms. Verse 11 has become particularly important for me.

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
(Psalm 86:11)

That phrase about God giving us “an undivided heart” is a powerful picture of what it means to live with focus on God and dedication of life. It means that the center of our being – our heart; the place from which our life flows – is dedicated to God entirely. There is a unity – an integrity – to it.

Francois Fenelon describes that in this way:

What God asks of us is a will which is no longer divided between him and any creature. It is a will pliant in his hands…which wants without reserve whatever he wants and which never wants under any pretext anything which he does not want.[1]

The New Testament describes this a life given over to God with the word “discipleship.” Discipleship has God as its focus, and gathers our desires around God in such a way that our everyday living is ordered by God through the power of the Holy Spirit. We live dedicated to God from the inside out, both in our desires and in our decisions.

Dallas Willard says:

The priorities and intentions – the heart or inner attitudes – of disciples are forever the same. In the heart of a disciple there is a desire, and there is decision or settled intent. The disciple of Christ desires above all else to be like him…[and there is] the decision to devote oneself to becoming like Christ.[2]

So we enter into this year not only with focus upon God, but also with our whole lives dedicated to God.  We want an undivided heart – a life that has integrity in the fullest sense – both in the form of our desires and our decisions as disciples of Jesus.

So we can ask ourselves, “How will I order my life as a disciple of Christ this year? How will I bring my desires to God as part of my discipleship? How will I make decisions this year that reflection my discipleship to Christ? Is there any area of my life that is held back from Christ, such as time, finances, relationships, work?

Jesus said this: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).

Moving Forward with Praise

The final word of the psalms, as seen in Psalm 150, is praise. Psalm 150 provides the capstone of the entire structure of the psalms. It is a psalm of high praise.

Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
(Psalm 150:1-2, 6)

As we head into the year, we remember that this is more than the passing of time, more than the setting of priorities or establishing of resolutions, and more than the lament, confession, or thanksgiving. All of life, according to Scripture, is worship. We live in the daily presence of the Living God and He is worthy of praise. The end of our days, according to the book of Revelation, will rise up in the heavenly scenes of worship in the presence of God.

Julian of Norwich says,

All of the strength that may come through prayer comes from the goodness of God, for he is the goodness of everything. For the highest form of prayer is to the goodness of God. It comes down to us to meet our humblest needs. It gives life to our souls and makes them live and grow in grace and virtues. It is near in nature and swift in grace, for it is the same grace which our souls seek and always will.[3]

The sum total of our life is a response of worship to God. As the calendar turns from December 31, 2019, to January 1, 2020, we continue to respond to the ultimate goodness of God with a life of worship.

And so, perhaps the end of the year can be more than just a celebration of an apple sliding down a pole in Times Square or a thronging party with friends and family. None of this is bad, but might we remember there is something more: worship of the Eternal Creator who has made us for Himself.

So, what are your plans for the New Year? In the midst of all that is happening as we count down the days and hours into the new year, let me suggest setting aside some space and time in our lives to look back and step forward.


[1] Francois Fénelon, “A Will No Longer Divided,” in Devotional Classics, ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 49.

[2] Dallas Willard, “The Cost of Nondiscipleship,” Devotional Classics, 15.

[3] Julian of Norwich, “The Highest Form of Prayer,” in Devotional Classics, 77.

Stepping Forward into 2021 with Focus

Emmaus Road

This week, I am sharing some spiritual practices for reflecting on the previous year and stepping forward into the new year.

Stepping Forward with Focus

Just as we look back at the previous year gone by with thanksgiving, lament, and repentance, it is important to step forward into the coming year in a personally engaged and meaningful way.

First, let me encourage us to step forward into the new year with focus. Psalm 63 is a beloved psalm reflecting both our need for God and the power of right focus upon God.

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)

The psalmist is apparently in a difficult time, an important moment, but it is clear that the psalmist is stepping forward into that moment with focus on God.

Some will say that the most important thing we can do is to put “first things first.” As we step into this year, there is nothing more important – nothing that should more truly be a first thing – than God Himself. Our focus must be on Him.

Jesus also emphasized this when He said:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Entering into the new year, we must consider how to keep our focus on God. We need to consider what it looks like to prioritize relationship with God in the midst of all the relationships in our lives. We want to establish some specific ways to do that this year that more than a resolution, but is a prioritization of the Living God in our live.

A good question to ask ourselves is: what is one thing I will do to prioritize life with God this year?