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True Religious Experience

Today’s Reflection

ACCORDING TO JOHN, Jesus, like most observant Jews, would have been a more or less regular visitor to [Jerusalem] and also the Temple. Jesus had taught there, healed there too, and more than once. He was familiar with the place and its particulars. …

Money-changing was perfectly legal, of course – and a real service, it could be argued, for those who traveled long distances to worship. But penury had overtaken prayer. Business had swallowed the sacred.

And on that Monday, Jesus tore up the place. He cleaned, as it were, God’s house. …

During each of [the reformers’ – Hezekiah and Josiah’s] reigns, the Temple had become cluttered with stuff – booths, people, furniture, and behaviors that did not belong in God’s sanctuary. ….Though God had commanded that the faithful “have no other gods” before God nor make room for any “graven image” to stand in God’s place, gradually the people had cluttered the Temple with unholy things.

We are likewise guilty, of course. The churches we attend, the temple of our hearts, the architecture of our souls – spaces are carved, built, or emptied to provide a proper venue, a meeting place, for us to experience God: a space for God alone to fill. Gradually, though, we begin to fill in the emptiness with stuff. … Such things come between us and God, are “before God,” shielding us from the terrible and wounded intimacy that engenders true epiphanies.

Church “work” is one of those buffers. Behind the wall of her kitchen in Bethany, Martha is busy making dinner for Jesus. Her work for keeps her safely away from him. Similarly, there is a danger that for those who are busiest for God, many times these things are “before” God – in terms not just of priority but also of proximity. Our works are often a shield against religious experiences, places to hide, self-styled protection against the terror and wonder of real prayer and worship.

– Thomas R. Steagald
Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn

From pages 130-131 of Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus by Thomas R. Steagald. Copyright © 2010 by Thomas R. Steagald. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books. http://bookstore.upperroom.org/ Learn more about or purchase this book.

Today’s Question

What stands “before” God in your spiritual life as a wall, a buffer, a shield against real religious experience? Share your thoughts.

Today’s Scripture

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Exodus 14:21-22, NRSV

This Week: pray for opportunities to serve. Submit your prayer to The Upper Room Living Prayer Center or share it in the comment section below.

Did You Know?

In need of prayer? The Upper Room Living Prayer Center is a 7-day-a-week intercessory prayer ministry staffed by trained volunteers. Call 1-800-251-2468 or visit The Living Prayer Center web site.

Saints, Inc.:

This week we remember: Margaret Clitherow (March 25).

Lectionary Readings

(Courtesy of Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

Sponsored by Upper Room Ministries ®. Copyright © 2016 | PO Box 340004 | Nashville, TN 37203-0004 | USA


{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Jill March 21, 2016, 4:25 am

    A very sobering reading this morning – heart probing, soul searching. Father – I pray that the activities that I engage in for You are true intentioned…that Your love is being exchanged, that You are and will be ultimately glorified. Father – may I be compelled only by Your love.
    Father – I praise You for the awareness that I needed – to clear out “idols” that were placed ahead of You. Father – I need ongoing discernment and wisdom to see when relationships are out of balance. Though recognition and passage involved pain, Your Presence was constant. Keep calling me, Father.
    Yesterday was so very good – thank You, Father. So grateful for church and a message to prepare my heart for this Holy Week. Grateful to quickly run an errand and then home – finished my final 3 tasks for school – and had a good chunk of the afternoon to relax. Grateful for a new recipe tried – very simple and very tasty.
    Father – might each of us who visits here this week be ready to hear Your call to us. Prepare our hearts for what You would have us receive this most Holy Week.

  • Rusty March 21, 2016, 6:51 am

    A difficult question. The obvious “barrier” in my life is the double-faceted overwhelming fact of my life that 1) my dear wife lives with constant struggle, pain and health unpredictability due to illness and disability and 2) the fact that she is not on this Christian faith journey with me. What that means (and is acutely felt during certain seasons of the church like Holy Week) is that my life must exhibit as much routine and predictability as I can muster – because so much else in our life cannot be predicted. Therefore, my church life necessarily omits many of the “extracurricular” experiences that could give rise to special religious experiences. Our pastor yesterday encouraged us to make the most of our Holy Week by attending as many of the extra services this week as possible. (In my mind, I found myself smirking inwardly and saying, “Yeah, right.”)

    The other side of the coin, though, is that my individual worship experiences, plus other experiences I have found like early morning Bible study with Christian men who do not belong to my church – with whom I can gather when my wife is sleeping – can sometimes be incredibly rich. I guess that is what God is teaching me. To search out ways to know him that are maybe unique and non-traditional.

    So, thank you, Lord – what may through one lens look like a barrier is probably in fact your grace. Praise you, and bless you, father. Amen.

  • Betsy March 21, 2016, 7:10 am

    Today’s devotion can seem harsh in it’s criticism of the busyness of the “church machine”, but I see what the author is trying to say. As members of an organized church body, we often get bogged down with the committees, budget meetings and other day to day runnings of the physical building. Do I see that as an obstacle that can keep me from God’s grace? Yes. I am reminded of the very early church, described on the Book of Acts. All that was needed was a simple gathering place with like minded Christians; praying for one another and taking care of each other’s needs. Help me, Lod, to focus on those aspects in my Walk with you.
    I am praying with you, Rusty, as you continue to care for you wife. I can tell you love her deeply and want her to experience God’s love as you do.
    Grateful for this Holy Week that will bring us to the Cross, and then to His Holy Resurrection. Open my eyes to this experience and renewal. Amen

  • Edy March 21, 2016, 7:43 am

    There are all kinds of idols that come between our being with God. I find that I really have to focus, be disciplined to study scripture. Earthly things get in between God and me. Help me, Lord Jesus, and give me strict discipline this Holy Week, as you gave your life for my sins. Give me the ability to conquer satan and totally be with you. Also please help me to be a good example to my grandchildren so they will turn to you.

  • Andrea March 21, 2016, 12:21 pm

    Yes, I have too much stuff. I have been giving it away, I have gotten down to just the essential clothes I need, yet there is a long ways to go wit possessions. May I also continue to clear out the clutter in my thoughts through prayer and meditation.

    Bless you, Rusty, and all the caregivers here – Robert, Betsy, Carol, and those whom I have omitted or who read the comments but have not actively posted.

    Gracious God, may I have a steadfast mind and trust in You. Thank You for taking me by the hand through dark times. May I be a light to others. Wishing God’s blessings on the whole UR community this Holy Week.

  • Mary Ng Shwu Ling March 24, 2016, 10:52 pm

    Help me God to live a simple life. Let no stuff stand before you in my spiritual life as a wall against real religion experience. I want to experience more of you in my life.

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