Season 7 - Ordinary Time meditations

by Tim Isbell,  posted May 8, 2020 (written the previous year during Ordinary Time)

These Ordinary Time meditations are the seventh part of the seven-part collection for every season of the Christian calendar. Unless you read it earlier, please read the introductory material at Responsive Prayer Meditations.

Ordinary Time extends from Trinity Sunday through the end of the Christian year (around Thanksgiving). During this season, we fill in the rest of the major themes of Christian faith.

Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine. – Kathleen Norris

Coinherence & the Trinity

Ordinary Time - Pilgrim Year Series (PYS) Ordinary Time, ch 2. John 17.20-23

Steve Bell writes about playing his guitar alongside his go-to piano player on a night when "the sound was perfect, the audience was electrified, and the orchestra was intensely engaged. It was the kind of night that musicians live for. At the end of the evening, Mike took an extended piano solo. Although I was accustomed to his stellar performances, this night was elevated far beyond my expectations. He was dialed-in and playing as I’d never heard before.

“As his fingers flew over the keys, Mike’s eyes locked onto mine while I was concentrating as hard as I could to make sure everything I played on my guitar enhanced and fueled his own playing. Together we entered into an unrehearsed yet consuming musical dialogue until I realized that as intently as I was investing in Mike, he was doing the exact thing in return. No one was leading. The best words I can think of to describe what was happening was that we were each pouring into the other, mindless of the self. Suddenly, the whole scene froze in time and space. There seemed to be no movement, no sound, except a voice welling up inside me, saying, ‘Pay attention. This is who I (meaning God) am.’“

That night you (God) gave two musicians an instance of the joy of “everyday” life inside the Trinity. Theologians call this coinherence, the “pouring into the other, mindless of self.” It is the basis on which we can rightly say, God IS Love. And my friend George points out that it also indicates that we are spiritual beings. Thanks for these glimpses of your inner life.

My friend George tells me about experiencing coinherence through singing in a choir with his wife in her last year. I’ve experienced instances of coinherence during worship, in family times, while working collaboratively with colleagues, and even in some neighborhood fellowships.

In marriage, we experience instances of coinherence in times of private romance, reading scripture and praying together, and when reminiscing about the life that you are giving us. Through these instances, you lift marriage above the contractual to the sacramental.

Such times, often facilitated by meditation based on scripture, art, music, and noticing an aspect of your creation grow our capacity to experience moments of coinherence with You in this life.

Thank you for these glimpses of your inner joy, which helps prepare me for an eternity of coinherence with you. Please help Robin and me know how to share this with others.


Ministering to troubled people

Ordinary Time - Luke 8.26-39

After reading Luke’s telling of your (Jesus) ministry to the demon-possessed man, I meditated on how it might inform my ministry to troubled people such as I meet on the street.

I notice that you didn’t approach the man; he recognized and approached you. His appearance and shrieking indicated that evil spirits possessed him. So you commanded the demons to leave. Apparently, through the man’s voice, they pleaded for mercy, and you asked, “What is your name?” Some combination of the man and the demons answered, “Legion.”

Similarly, I sometimes notice a person on the street who is disconcerted by life events or mental illness. Unless he/she spews spiritual nonsense and uses your name, it seldom occurs to me that evil spirits may be involved. If he/she is lingering near a fast-food restaurant, I sometimes approach, look the person in the eye, and say something like, “My name is Tim, what's yours? Are you hungry?” If he/she says "yes," I offer them food. If possible, I may join them at a table.

If the troubled person is on a street corner or bench with a shopping cart full of belongings, I start a similar conversation before giving them one of the homeless bag some of us carry in our cars.

And from the scripture, I notice that you eliminated the demons from the man’s life. You spoke them away. I don’t have such power, but this story and others make it clear that you do. So I can imitate your actions by creating an opportunity to pray along the lines of, “Lord Jesus, please push the troubles out of <name>’s life and fill <name> with your presence.” If it’s not possible to pray in his/her presence, I can do so after we separate. (I have learned not to close my eyes, though - that can be dangerous)

So, Lord Jesus, please keep me alert to such opportunities and use these insights with the troubled people you bring into my life.


Climate change, an apocalyptic threat?

Ordinary Time - Genesis 1.26-31, Genesis 2.15, Psalm 8.3-9, 1 Peter 4.7-11

I wrote a meditation on this topic in July 2019, but then turned it into an article for my website. You can read it here: Climate Change - apocalyptic?

Dwell on these things

Ordinary Time - Philippians 4.8-9

Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I memorized this scripture in this New American Standard Version decades ago, so I’ll cling to that version in this meditation. I have long used this acronym as a memory aid: THRPLGR. Though there are no vowels, it is pronounceable. While meditating on THRPLGR, I decided to do what the passage suggests: dwell - meditate - on each item long enough for you (the Spirit of Jesus) to add texture.

  • True. I am convinced of the truth of your incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection and accept these as the core truth-claim of Christian faith.
  • Honorable. I know of nothing more honorable than your voluntary endurance of the cross to offer redemption to anyone who will receive it. Romans 5.6-11.
  • Right. Similar to steadfast. Despite knowing the crucifixion was just up the road in Jerusalem, you were “determined to go to Jerusalem.”
  • Pure or holy. Both Matthew and Luke describe your purity, despite the wilderness temptations: 1) To do good and practical things at Satan’s bidding, 2) To wrap yourself in fame and influence in the world, and 3) To dazzle onlookers.
  • Lovely. I’ve recently been intrigued by the three transcendentals: truth, goodness, beauty/elegance. Item 1 on the Philippian list is a direct hit on truth. Items 2, 3, 4, and 6 point to your goodness. And lovely is another word for your beauty and elegance.
  • Good repute. Because of your reputation, a parade of people came to you for healing, advice, and teaching. Here are a few examples: sick people, more sick people, people occupied by demons, the rich young ruler, Nicodemus, and crowds that come to listen to Jesus.

Thanks for embedding these two verses in my head for decades. And thank you for all the times when I was beginning to drift that your Spirit pointed me back to THROPGR, reminding me to put you back at my center.

Internal & instrumental motives

Ordinary Time - Luke 10.25-37

I recently talked with a few people about internal and instrumental motivations, especially as these pertain to their careers. The concept comes from a New York Times article:

THERE are two kinds of motives for engaging in any activity: internal and instrumental. If a scientist conducts research because she wants to discover important facts about the world, that’s an internal motive, since discovering facts is inherently related to the activity of research. If she conducts research because she wants to achieve scholarly renown, that’s an instrumental motive, since the relation between fame and research is not so inherent. Often, people have both internal and instrumental motives for doing what they do.

Last week, I re-read this Luke 10 passage where an expert in religious law asked you (Jesus), “What should I do to inherit eternal life?“ The inquirer sought a To-Do list of instrumental motives that would lead to eternal life. So you pointed him to the Law, which he summarized in just two extraordinarily concise sentences:

  • Love the Lord your God with all of who you are - your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  • And love your neighbor as you love yourself.

These distill the entire Law down to the single internal motivation of loving in two dimensions - loving God and others. It’s not clear if his answer flowed naturally from the internal motivation of the love that was within his heart or the instrumental motive of securing Jesus’ approval.

Then he asked this followup, “Who, exactly, qualifies as a neighbor I’m supposed to love as I love myself?” To this, you responded with the Good Samaritan story, expanding his understanding to love whoever he finds needing love along his path.

Thanks for patiently building internal motivations into my life. They have led to a life of freedom that is only available in you. Even so, I sometimes miss a distressed person who needs some love. This year, please help me recognize them and react at the moment, like the Good Samaritan.

Descendants galore

Ordinary Time - Genesis 12.1-2, 15.1-6; Hebrews 11.8-16; Galatians 3.6-7, 26-29

Thank you (God) for using these scriptures to stretch my thinking - again!

The Genesis passages contain your first offer and promise to Abraham. “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to a land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and bless. Look up into the sky and count the stars. That’s how many descendants you will have.” Because he put his confidence in you, you counted Abraham as righteous. From the start, your promise was about more than who a person's ancestors were; it was about faith in you.

Hebrews reminds me of how Abraham and Sarah accepted the invitation to live in your promise, though they would die centuries before seeing the promise fulfilled.
In Galatians, Paul reminds readers that you counted Abraham as righteous because he trusted you enough to follow you into the unknown. Furthermore, Paul wrote that even we can become “children of Abraham” by putting our trust as fully in the Lord Jesus as Abraham put his trust in you. And the promises and benefits you gave to Abraham extend to us: a place in your eternal household, surrounded by our spiritual ancestors and our spiritual descendants. In the meantime, you promised an even more robust direction and presence through your Spirit.
I understand that you want me to spawn spiritual descendants.

  • By sharing your story with others.
  • By nurturing many as they grow in the Lord Jesus.
  • By extending love and grace to everyone within reach.

Thank you for the life you created for us.

Especially, thank you for how these concepts result in innumerable spiritual descendants for people without natural children, as well as for parents whose biological children chose other paths. It is common in churches for such people to share your story with those seeking a new life. Often the “childless” is among the most faithful nurturers of all kinds of people.

Now I see that long ago in your covenant with Abraham, you included this strategy to surround "childless" people with spiritual descendants. And, now I see how it applies to biblical characters like the prophet Daniel, the Apostle, and even Jesus. How elegant and beautiful a strategy! Yet, again, I am so impressed with you and your ways. And I’m grateful for how your ways provide for our future together in your eternal household.

A marriage in need of a savior

Ordinary Time - Colossians 1.1-14

This week, the lectionary pointed me to the first chapter of Colossians. It records Saint Paul’s prayer for a church that emerged from his ministry but which he had never visited. Paul addresses them as holy people and faithful brothers and sisters in you (Jesus). I read and reflected on Paul’s prayer multiple times over five days. I can tell that he cared deeply for these people, which prompted him to ask for your blessing in a long list of ways that would encourage and enlighten them

During these same five days, a young couple with a 1-year-old daughter reached out to me for help in her marriage. I listened for a long time and offered some practical counsel, but I don’t think I helped much. They need a savior, and I’m not up to it. I should have pointed them to you much more directly than I did. Please forgive me, prepare their hearts for the Good News, and give me another opportunity.

Yesterday, you connected Paul's prayer for the Colossians and this couple's crumbling marriage.

There is a difference between the Colossian church and the couple. The Colossians already lived in a saving relationship with you; the couple does not. But they know they are failing and on the verge of giving up. And they’re humbly asking for help. I am confident that once they give their sin and brokenness to you and invite you into the center of their little family, you will do what you always do: transform their fading love into something beautiful.
In the meantime, I will adapt Paul’s prayer for the Colossians to my prayer for this couple. Here goes:

Please, Lord Jesus, prepare this couple to receive your Good News. Lead them to a believing community of God’s holy people who will nurture their little family. Give them a confident hope of the inheritance reserved for them in heaven. Guide them through your Spirit into a life of spiritual wisdom leading to fruitfulness. Strengthen them with endurance and patience. Fill their marriage with joy and thanksgiving. Transition them fully into your Kingdom of freedom and forgiveness. – Amen.

The power of testimony

Ordinary Time - Deuteronomy 11.1-21

I meditated on this passage all week as part of the preparation to teach the MeetUp this morning. On the way to church, I stopped by a coffee shop, reread the scripture, and you (God) showed me something fresh. Here it is:

When Moses wrote this passage, the Israelites who were 20 or more years old at the time of the Exodus had died - except for Joshua and Caleb. Moses begins saying, “You must love the Lord your God and always obey his requirements… Keep in mind that I am not talking to your children…”

The first thing I noticed was that Moses was mainly addressing the older people who were children and youth when you freed their families from Egyptian slavery 40 years before.

And Moses told them that you require two things: their love and their obedience.

Finally, I notice that you realized that the younger listeners had not personally experienced the Exodus. They were not yet born when you used ten plagues to pry their parents out of Egypt's grip. They were not alive when you sent their parents to their Egyptian neighbors to request gold and silver. So they never saw the reparations miracle, which was part of your ancestors’ sustenance in the wilderness. Many of them were not old enough to appreciate how you fed, protected, and prepared them for nationhood during those 40 years in the desert.

So, the younger part of the crowd lacked the experiences that would provide the basis for loving you. From living as children under your discipline of their parents, they must have had some sense of the importance of obeying you. But they didn’t have the foundation for the profoundly loving relationship you had in mind.

The remainder of this passage instructs the older ones, those who experienced life with you, to witness to those experiences. In other words, the testimony of the older people to the younger people was to become the catalyst and basis for their children’s love for you. Eventually, they’ll have enough of their own experiences to replace the stories of their ancestors.

I see that strategy continuing today in your Kingdom. We older Christians must testify about our experiences of your love and care as a way of helping younger Christians begin the journey to love for themselves. It’s another one of those instances of the Third Transcendental: the beauty and elegance of your ways. Please help me create more opportunities for spiritual conversations with my biological descendants, as well as with my spiritual descendants.

God & data analytics

Ordinary Time - Psalm 14.2, 121.8, Proverbs 15.3, Hebrews 4.12; 1 Samuel 16.7, Jeremiah 17.10

I am fascinated by the application of data analytics to professional basketball over the past few years. One example is tracking the real-time position of every player on the floor and the ball for a whole game.

Here’s top map of the path of a player (guard) for an entire NBA game (25 samples/second!). The bottom map is the path of the ball.


Real-time position tracking, along with several other big-data technologies, is changing the game by changing coaching techniques in basketball and many other sports.

Recently it occurred to me that you (God) “invented” real-time position tracking technology thousands of years ago! Indeed, your big-data technology remains far advanced over ours! For example, scripture says that you know much more about each one of us than just our physical location every 1/25th of a second for a 60-minute window. Beyond position, you know what we’re thinking and feeling and even more! Your Spirit, our spiritual coach, uses this insight to help us improve our game! That’s mind-boggling!

Since it’s now Ordinary Time in the Christian calendar, I searched this season’s scriptures say about the parameters of your technology, and found these:

Psalm 14:2 You look down from heaven on the entire human race; you look to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks you. (You see more than just our location over time!)

Psalm 121:8  You keep watch over us humans as we come and go, both now and forever. (Not just in 25 samples/second but continuously, and not just for a 60-second window but our entire life)

Proverbs 15:3  You watch everywhere, keeping your eye on both the evil and the good. (You’re not limited to just the players on the floor. Your big-data includes all the people in the stands and those still coming in from the parking lot!)

Hebrews 4:12  Your word is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Lot’s more than position tracking going on here!)

Then, in the process of finding the above, I noticed a couple more from outside the Ordinary Time lectionary season:

1 Samuel 16:7  You said to Samuel (when discussing the future king David of Israel), “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. I don’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but I look at the heart.” (NBA officials must sometimes stop the game to judge an action’s intentionality. You assess that directly and in real-time.)

Jeremiah 17:10  But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (Even with NBA technology, some games are determined by the judgment of the officials. But we know that you are entirely just in every decision.)

I’m often impressed by the level of our human technology until I consider yours. You must find it fascinating to watch us humans stumble forward in technology, discovering things you’ve known forever. You and your ways are amazing.

Even in old age

Ordinary Time - Ps 71 (In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust, let me never be put to confusion. v1.)

Similar to the writer of Psalm 71, I have walked imperfectly in your (God’s) grace since childhood. As my strength diminishes with age, I fear a time when mental confusion could lead to disgrace.

I am thankful for the same things as the psalmist, most notably for your presence! And I trust that you will remain near even if I am “put to confusion.”

Also, like the psalmist, I praise your justice, righteousness, and faithfulness. But I’ll add one more: the elegance and beauty designed into your creation and its inhabitants.

Again, like the psalmist, I'll praise you to all generations as you open the “doors” and provide the words. Please, increase such opportunities, especially with my children and grandchildren.

Let’s Start with Jesus

Ordinary Time - Psalm 139

The first three parts of this psalm were easy to understand and are a welcome guide for prayer. But the fourth part troubled me. Fortunately, you (God) taught me to start with Jesus when interpreting scriptures, and keep Jesus in mind throughout the interpretation process. Here’s my outline of Psalms 139.

Versus 1-6. Omniscience. David is in wonder that you know everything about him.

Versus 7-12. Omnipresence. David is grateful for your presence with him.

Versus 13-18. Caring. David is thankful for your tender loving care.

Versus 19-24 (The “ask.”) David finally makes the (troublesome) ask: "O God if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers! They blaspheme you; your enemies misuse your name. O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you? Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you? Yes, I hate them with total hatred, for your enemies are my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Verse 20 caught my attention because of the increase in white supremacy in our country. At least partially, this rise is facilitated by self-identified Christians misusing the Bible to justify an evil practice. There’s just no way to support white supremacy when we start with Jesus.

David’s hatred of evildoers and his call for their destruction also disturbed me - until I dwelled on verses 23-24. There David caught himself and wrote, “If I’m asking the wrong thing, point it out to me.” So I decided to start with Jesus and realized that a thousand years later you responded to David’s request through Jesus: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” What a change in focus!

David made some “asks” in Psalm 139. Here are mine:

  • Convict those who “misuse your name” to promote the evil of white supremacy.
  • Grant discernment to Christians who are drawn to this evil.
  • As I minister among and to people in a broken world, help me always start with Jesus - and never lose sight of Jesus through the process.

Remaining clear-headed

Ordinary Time - Luke 21.5-36

This broader context of the Gospel reading is challenging, mostly because the timing is unclear. Is it about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, your (Jesus) Second Coming, or both and more? Regardless, you warn me to expect deception, persecution for following you, discord all around, natural disasters, and even betrayal by loved ones and friends. Even so, you call me to remain clear-headed because I trust in your promise that things will work out in the end. Good to know, but in my power, I cannot pull this off. My only hope is to keep my eyes on you, “the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hmm, it looks like Hebrews 12.1-3.

Jesus, I’m quite aware that my lot is much less challenging than many others. So I’ll lift to you the many displaced people trying to pass through chaos to safety: Syrian refugee kids in our Nazarene schools in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria as well as Syrian refugees seeking a foothold in Europe. Central American refugees who our current government is confronting with blockades at our southern border. And people such as those living in East Toledo, Ohio. Please have mercy.

Ministry at the edges

Ordinary Time - Leviticus 19.9-10, 33-34; Deuteronomy 24.19-22

Thank you (God), for these passages. Here is what I hear them saying to Robin and me.

Lev 19:9-10. When harvesting, don’t be too efficient. Leave some around the edges for the poor and foreigners. You give them this right, which is yours to give, and ours to honor.

Lev 19.33-34. Treat foreigners as native-born citizens, love them, and remember that our ancestors were once foreigners.

Deut 24.19-22. Adds orphans and widows to those with a right to harvest at the edges.

These passages indicate that you want Robin and me to manage our resources for more than our family. You expect us to give a portion for those at the edges. In modern economies, much of this occurs through taxation. Even so, you call us to support vulnerable people.

These scriptures confirm my understanding that our responsibilities to the poor and vulnerable extend beyond financial charity. For one thing, they affirm the concept of making non-financial resources available to the under-resourced - things like our time, expertise, connections, education, and other things.

Your call for us to love those at the edges includes building relationships across the economic spectrum - the kind of connections through which the gospel travels. Please show us more opportunities to serve you through ministering at the edges with what remains “in our tank.”


Ordinary Time - Matthew 15.31-46

In Matthew’s passage, you (Jesus) teach me to treat the poor as I would treat your brother or sister. It’s striking that you identify so closely with the poor! I have a brother, children, grandchildren, and other family members for whom I care, too. And it matters to me how the world treats them. Knowing how you feel about the poor gives me more reason to help them than just compassion, driven by pity.

Dwelling on your sibling analogy brings to mind the concept of a surrogate, someone I deputize to represent me. For example, I can give my Power of Attorney someone so they can act in my place for legal or medical matters. Or my employer can send me out to represent the company in negotiating its business. Or I delegate a charity to receive donations instead of giving birthday or Christmas gifts to me.

Similarly, Matthew 25 says that you delegate the poor to receive the kind of gifts and care that I would give to you.

Also, you designate me as your surrogate to the world around me. By extension, I expect that you evaluate people by how they treat followers like me.

In still another sense, you being my surrogate on the cross. That is at the core of everything.

Christ is supreme

Ordinary Time - Colossians 1.15-28, William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series.

In this passage, Paul writes that you (Christ) are more than a representation of the invisible God, you are God’s fullness (v15 & 19). And you are God’s agent who created everything: heaven, earth, things seen and unseen (v16). I take these to include spirits, demons, angels, and all that became powers of darkness. The entire creation belongs to you (v16), and you are its King; it is your Spirit holding things together from day to day (v17).

Finally, Paul writes that you came to earth to reconcile humans to God by shedding your blood on the cross. Somehow, this extends to also reconciling the rest of creation to God - including the things seen and unseen (v20). 

William Barclay extended your work even further when he wrote: “It was not that the heavenly angels were reconciled to God, but that they were reconciled to humans, and the work of Christ took away their wrath when they saw how much God still loved humans.”

I’m not sure what I think of this last point, or even if it needs to be true. Please show me how to think about it.

Three things are evident to me as the Christian year wraps up. 1) You are supreme over everything. 2) You are worthy of my worship and praise among the fellowship of believers. 3) And you deserve my witness as I live in this world.

Blessings, Tim

End Notes

1. You can print this webpage by going to the very bottom of this page and clicking on Print. Or, if you prefer a Google Doc version, complete with a Table of Contents and live links, just CLICK HERE or type into the address bar of any browser.)

2. For news from this site, including notifications of new content, please subscribe to the RSS or email feeds or email feeds.