Holy Week Devotional - Monday

First, read Luke 22:39-46

On the Mount of Olives Jesus speaks to his beloved disciples about prayer during temptation as he himself enters temptation. Te scene is honest, painful, and empowering. Jesus kneels to pray and lays out his request in prayer to the Father. In this tender moment, Jesus asks for the cup, what should be the culmination of his journey to Jerusalem, to be taken from him. Hasn’t this been what our year and half series in Luke has pointed to? Tat Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem? Yet, in this prayer we see the Son plead with the Father to change the plan. Jesus ends his plea submitting his want to the will of the Father amidst the vulnerable cry for change. What Jesus receives during this trial surprises me. He does not receive the changed path of his plea but instead strength for the path ahead. He receives renewed strength for the coming rejection, not alleviation from it. His prayer came out in an honest plea during this time of temptation to deviate from the will of the Father and now the Father has supported him with strength to carry on.

Meanwhile, the disciples fell asleep during Jesus’ firsthand lesson on prayer. They fell asleep and Jesus wakes them to remind them of the prayer that he has just experienced, “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

The passage gives me hope. Jesus is more than the example of how I am to pray to the Father during temptation, he is the one in whom I overcome the temptations of this world. In Christ I am found by God the Father as obedient and clothed in the righteousness that he wins for me in this scene. Because Jesus overcomes the temptation to deviate from the path before him, no matter the pain, I am empowered, finding that in him I can hold fast and not sway, submitting myself to the Father in prayer during trials as I await to be strengthened.

- Reagan Keith

Five Phrases for Soul-Care


One-on-one conversations, with members of our church family, is a large part of my pastoral work. My two young boys often ask me, “Daddy, what do you do at your work all day when you aren’t reading your Bible and praying?”

Usually, my answer is “Meet with people.”

To which, they say, “You can have that as a job?”

To which, I say, “Kind of.”

In spite of my children’s confusion, it is one of my favorite pastoral duties. I call it caring for souls.

These care, counsel, and encouragement sessions give me profound joy. There is something unspeakably sweet about listening to someone think carefully and critically about what it means to live a life in light of the person and work of Jesus.

I also think that handling these pastoral talks with wisdom is a skill to be honed and practiced over time, rather than an inherent talent certain pastors either have or do not have.

There are five phrases that I find myself saying often, or that I’m learning to say more often. I propose that in these phrases lies a helpful framework for these conversations.

1. “Tell me about it.”
Listening is an underrated and often untried pastoral practice. Especially when we are young, we tend to think that the bulk of our work is about sharing words with people. The truth is that we are supposed to do that (see below) However, we will not know exactly what words to use, in what order, and with what tone without careful pastoral listening.

It also should be noted that thinking about what you are going to say when they stop talking for a minute is not the same thing as listening.

2. “Can you say more about that?”
Often, in pastoral care and counsel, our folks will not know how, exactly, to explain themselves. They will talk in circles and even ramble it. This, of course, is normal and completely okay.

I’ve learned that asking for those in our care to elaborate demonstrates that we are listening. It helps them find a roadmap for transversing the difficult terrain of the conversation. This simple question helps us carefully diagnose the spiritual issues at play.

3. “I’m sorry and/or I can (or cannot) imagine.”
Empathy is a basic pastoral skill. If you understand, say so. If you cannot imagine, do not pretend to. I’ve found that our folks have a deep desire to be heard and understood. The hard work of developing empathy (usually through our own pain) and expressing empathy become an all-important basis for wise pastoral care.

4. “I’m not quite sure, but let’s see if we can talk this out.”
When we are young pastors, we feel the pressure to have a quick answer for everything. But here is the thing: we don’t have a quick answer for everything.

The intersection of the truths of the gospel with the actual lived experience of a human being is not always plainly obvious. Real life involves such a greater degree of nuance. At the end of the day, of course, we believe that Jesus’ person and work become the answer for any issue, but how this plays out is complicated.

I’m trying to learn to help my folks think out loud with me about the various ways the truths of the gospel can shape their daily lives. It’s a privilege to see them struggle with the tensions of living as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom in a world in which his reign is not yet completely made manifest.

5. “Can I tell you something?”
We have to remember our role. We care for souls. And one important way that souls are cared for is when, at the right time, words that outline the good news of Jesus are said out loud.

I’ve found that after careful, empathetic listening (sometimes over the course of multiple meetings), our folks truly want us to tell them something about Jesus. It is a special privilege to look someone in the eye and to announce the unique hope of the gospel and its application for their specific situation. This will rarely make anything easier. But it will offer great hope.

Be encouraged in this work. It is a holy task.

The Pharisees Were Right

Photo by Megan Murphy

Photo by Megan Murphy

In Luke 14, Jesus tells a story at a Pharisee’s dinner party. In short, Jesus’ story is about a master who wants to throw a banquet. The invitees have lots of excuses and they choose not to attend. Instead, the host invites unlikely guests, more specifically, the poor and crippled and blind and lame.

There is a lot going on in this scene. Suffice it to say that Jesus is using this parable to describe the glories of the Great Messianic Banquet (Isaiah 25) which he is now hosting, before the Pharisees’ very eyes. These glories are mostly lost on them, for all sorts of reasons.

Most prominently, however, is that the Pharisees had come to a place where they did not conceive of themselves to be hungry and thirsty for the feast Jesus offers. See, Jesus offers a feast for the poor and crippled and blind and lame. And he offers a feast only for those people. They do not think of those words when they think of themselves. To extend another metaphor from Luke 5, Jesus has come as a doctor for the sick, and only the sick. He has come for sinners and for sinners only. They are at a point where they do not deem themselves to be sick or sinful. Therefore, is is simple logic: what Jesus offers is not necessary for them.

To understand the magnitude of this story we have to understand that the Pharisees are exactly right. They were on to something essential about Jesus’ work. Their instincts told them, “If you are not hungry or thirsty or poor or crippled or blind or lame or sick or sinful then you have no need of Jesus.”

The Great Banquet Host only feeds hungry stomachs and only quenches parched throats. The Great Physician has never once healed anyone who was already well. He doesn’t do check-ups. The Great Savior only saves sinners. Martin Luther wrote:

“God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life to one but the dead. He does not give saintliness to any but sinners, nor wisdom to any but fools. In short: He has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace. Therefore no arrogant saint, or just or wise man can be material for God…”

-Luther W.A. 1.183f

To be clear, if you are none of those things that Luther mentions, you have no need for Jesus.

But if any of those markers mark you in any way, then the banquet table has an infinite number of leaves that can be added to expand it very, very (infinitely!) large. The finest fare, dishes of true and rich food, tumble out from the kitchen. The wine, well-aged and well-refined, flows in abundance (Isaiah 25). For the poor, riches unimaginable await. For the blind, eyes can be opened and sight restored. For the lame, leaping is possible (Isaiah 35:5-6). For the sick, health and wholeness are there, for the taking. For the sinner, forgiveness is right on the table.

All of these glories can be for the Pharisee, too. This is the whole point of Jesus’ prophetic pleading. The only fitness that he requires from them, however, is that they know their need of him.