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Lent Devotional 2020 – March 4

PRAY

Show me Your glory, I pray.
Exodus 33:18

READ

Say therefore to the Israelites, “I am the LORD, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.  I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.”  Moses told
this to the Israelites;
but they would not listen to Moses,
because of
their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.
Exodus 6:6-9

Has life ever felt so painful that you could not imagine healing? Have you ever felt so far down you could not hear good news? I have! My mother called it feeling lower than a snake’s belly. Psychologists talk about Learned Helplessness in which people feel so far down that they just give up and give in to the mess they’re in. Learned Helplessness is seen in lab animals unable to escape painful stimuli so that they behave as though completely helpless. And, as a chaplain and pastor, I have been with people feeling so ground down by life that they cannot imagine a new future. They give up! “What’s the use of even trying?”

In today’s scripture we see the Israelites sunken deep into Learned Helplessness after 400 long years of bondage and misery. So, when God sends Moses to them with the good news of deliverance they will not even listen to him, “because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.” In the Hebrew text, “broken spirit” is literally, “shortness of spirit.” The Israelites are short and depleted of the spirit “that is the spiritual and psychic energy that motivates action. Its absence or attenuation signifies atrophy of will.” (Nahum Sarna, Commentary on Exodus). The Israelites are so drained of spirit energy, so broken, that they cannot imagine a new and better life.

Once, when I was depleted and short of spirit, I came across heartening words of Frederick Buechner in his memoir, Sacred Journey:

“To do for yourself the best that you have to do – to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst – is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you that is more wonderful still.”

I saw that God could and would do for me what I could not do for myself! Yes, Ben Franklin did say that God helps those who help themselves, but thankfully you don’t find that in the Bible! God helps us when we are sunk deep in Learned Helplessness!

Note in today’s scripture how God takes on His shoulders the responsibility for delivering the Israelites out of their bondage and misery! See this in the first person singular, unilateral, repeated ‘I wills’ in today’s scripture: “I will free you – I will redeem you – I will take you as my people – I will be your God – I will bring you into the land – I will give it to you.”

Thank you, Lord! I can’t do it, but You can! And, You WILL!

REFLECT

  • Take a moment to re-read and reflect on the “I will” statements of God in today’s reading: “I will free you – I will redeem you…”
  • In the words of Frederick Buechner ask God to do something “for you that is more wonderful still” than you have been able to do for yourself.

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