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Daily devotions, written by the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church,
are available via email (sign up online or send addresses to devotions@fourthchurch.org), Facebook (www.facebook.com/fourthchurch), Twitter (@FourthChicago), online, and in print (from the church literature racks)


September 1–6 | September 7–13 | September 14–20
September 21–27
| September 28–30

Monday, September 1, 2014

Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days;
let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love;
take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.

Frances Ridley Havergal’s “Take My Life” (tune: Hendon)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
The word consecration literally means “association with the holy,” and this hymn beautifully illustrates what consecrating our life to God might look like. This is not a new idea, although it may be new to us. This hymn from Frances Ridley Havergal reflects a theme that we hear throughout the Bible but especially in 1 Corinthians.

We learn in 1 Corinthians that our bodies are to be temples of the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19). Let’s think about that for a moment. Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?

That does seem to suggest that our bodies can be holy. How then are we to treat our bodies? How then are we to use our bodies? What words come out of our mouth? Are they worthy to come forth from a temple? What thoughts are in our heads? Are they appropriate for a temple?

Rather than scare or shame us, this call to consecrate our lives, to understand that God’s Spirit is within us, calls us to be transformed from the false images of the world to the image of God.

Don’t let this frighten you, but let it free you. You, yes you, are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Draw near to the Spirit, and as the hymn invites us, let your life flow in ceaseless praise.

Prayer
Loving God, we praise you because, as the psalmist tells us, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Let us recommit ourselves to understanding our lives as consecrated to you. This is uncomfortable because most of us don’t feel very holy, so mold us for your purposes and guide us to do your will. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King;
take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold;
take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose.

Frances Ridley Havergal’s “Take My Life” (tune: Hendon)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I struggle to believe it— that God is interested in my life (Genesis 17:7); that Jesus truly is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:6); that the Trinity is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). I can articulate these truths. I went to school and learned it. I parsed it out—verse after verse and doctrine after doctrine. I can walk you through the ongoing redemptive story—Genesis to Revelation. I can talk with you about the significance and meaning of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I can communicate the reality of our original sin and the immense power and transformation of Jesus’ resurrection. Yet amidst the rolling out of all this information, I struggle to hold it, ingest it, and believe it—down in the deepest parts of my organs and bones.

Despite this struggle to believe, I will have these moments, varied spots and times, like in the car down the highway and the music takes me in and I sing. It’s hard to explain, but you know it, the moment when something deeper inside of you is connecting. The song leads and overtakes your emotions. It’s like a spring and it flows within to without, often tears mark its work. You’re not even sure what it is, but you know that it is,and then reality hits and you’re knee deep in tears, you’re singing and you’re driving down the freeway—but you feel so much better, like you just let go of something.

I wonder if these are the moments when I believe the most. The inarticulate “crying in the car because a song got me” moment. I tell myself that I struggle to believe and yet my bones and organs say “No! You believe!” and they lead me and I well up, spring out, and release—praise, deep and meaningful praise—to a King and Lord who knows my name and is making me new.

Prayer
Father God, the Loving One, please take my life and my voice and make me new, from the inside out. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own:
it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my life; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store;
take myself and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.

Frances Ridley Havergal’s “Take My Life” (tune: Hendon)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
We possess so many things that fill our thoughts, distract us, and sometimes lead us down a selfish path. Sacrificing our daily routine or our extraneous possessions is already difficult when we do it voluntarily but almost impossible when it’s beyond our control. I lived in an intentional community during college, and the group of students that were finishing up their spring semester before I moved in unfortunately lost all their possessions in a sudden electrical fire that engulfed the house right after Easter.

My friends lost some replaceable possessions, but they also lost handwritten journals, photographs, and prized family objects they regarded priceless and safe in their home. As they experienced different stages of loss and frustration, they decided, after their home was rebuilt, to pay tribute through a mural to this loss. The central image of the mural was a quote: “You are not what you own.”

The acceptance of a sacrifice sometimes feels impossible, but the ultimate release of things, distractions, and negativity allows us to surrender our own needs and wants to God. Frances Ridley Havergal’s own sacrifice is more joyful in this hymn through her fervent devotion to, and trust, in God. 

Think how freeing it would be to hand over all those distractions and all the negative emotions that weigh us down. At first it might be hard to imagine such a sacrifice, but knowing and trusting that God will gladly lead us down a righteous path can foster a sense of humility. Let us remember that our complete devotion to God keeps us safe and comforted.

Prayer
Dear God, help us surrender our lives to your work and deeds. Let us rest our concerns in your hands and sacrifice our own desires to do your will. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Associate Program Manager,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

O Jesus, I have promised
to serve thee to the end;
be thou forever near me,
my Master and my friend;
I shall not fear the battle
if thou art by my side,
nor wander from the pathway
if thou wilt be my guide.

O let me feel thee near me!
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle;
the tempting sounds I hear.
My foes are ever near me,
around me and within;
but, Jesus, draw thou nearer
and shield my soul from sin.

John Ernest Bode’s “O Jesus, I Have Promised” (tune: Angel’s Story)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
When I stand and hear the organ introduction to a hymn I usually go into musician-mode. If I am being completely honest, I have real trouble being spiritual during hymns, thinking, “This is a great key for my range,” or “If I combine the tenor and the alto lines, I can virtually stay on one note the entire song!” Things deteriorate from there, with egocentric thoughts of, “I’m going to try for the high descant,” then, “I can’t believe my voice just cracked like a twelve-year-old!”

I usually read ahead in the lyrics so I can look away from the hymnbook while singing. “Boy, if someone saw me, they would think that I have verse 4 memorized. What an outstanding Christian I am!” By the end of the hymn, I am mentally exhausted and slightly embarrassed. I feel like I’ve just finished a musical crossword puzzle rather than lifted my voice in praise. Help! Am I spiritually sinking because of my musical training? I think not!

I am blessed by these devotionals, which isolate and shed light on the wonderful poems and psalms of our hymns. Let me reflect on today’s hymn. In the first stanza, John Ernest Bode writes with conviction and self-assuredness. He has no fear, nor will he wander from his promise to follow Jesus. In the very next verse, however, all the confidence seems to evaporate and he cries out for Jesus to draw near so that the writer can feel Jesus’ nearness.

How often do we profess our strength of faith, only to cry out for reassurance with the very next breath? Why is it that of all the sights and sounds that we are aware of, we cannot sense our Savior, who, by the Holy Spirit, lives within us?

Prayer
Dear God, we are so sure of things that we see and hear. Help us be just as confident in the One who is always near. Amen.

Written by Katy Sinclair, Associate Director of Music for Children and Youth

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Friday, September 5, 2014

O let me hear thee speaking
in accents clear and still,
above the storms of passion,
the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me,
to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen,
thou guardian of my soul.

O Jesus, thou hast promised
to all who follow thee
that where thou art in glory
there shall thy servant be.
And, Jesus, I have promised
to serve thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow,
my Master and my friend.

John Ernest Bode’s “O Jesus, I Have Promised” (tune: Angel’s Story)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection

Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love. Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will. At least the ancient Greeks were being honest.

Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk

John Ernest Bode wrote the text of “O Jesus, I Have Promised” to mark the confirmation of his daughter and his two sons. This beautiful plea on his children’s behalf, to the Savior they have vowed to follow, is a beautiful encapsulation of the search for help, comfort, and assurance that begins when a believer decides to dedicate her or his life to following Jesus.

Bode must have been proud of his children on this special occasion, but also somewhat sad and fearful on their behalf as well, for as a dedicated man of faith himself, he must have known that a life of discipleship is full of challenges and struggles as well. During the Victorian era in which he lived, with England at a fever pitch of modern industrial development, what parent would not have been concerned for the ways in which a child might be swayed away from a solid relationship with God by the “storms of passion” or the “murmurs of self will?”

In our own time author Chuck Pahlaniuk has also questioned our ability to exercise our free will and sound judgment because of a world that seeks to trick us into doing what marketers or corporations would have us do. Are we not equally in need of someone to cry out to the guardian of our souls, “O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still?” If we could hear that voice, even amid the confusion of the world around us, we might find in us the grace to follow Jesus and the assurance that we will be united in him in the world that God is making new.

Prayer
Almighty God, whose glory rises high above the bustle of our world but whose love was willing to come right down into our messiness and to live in the person of Jesus, help me remain firm in my commitment to following you. Grant that I might hear your voice speaking clear and still in the depths of my heart, so that I might not be swayed too much by my own passions or the ways of the world, but instead be drawn always to do your will and to be close to you. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

May the God of hope go with us every day,
filling our lives with joy and peace.
May the God of justice speed us on our way,
bringing light and hope to every land and race.
Praying, let us work for peace;
singing, share our joy with all;
working for a world that’s new;
faithful when we hear God’s call.

Alvin Schutmaat’s “May the God of Hope Go With Us”
(tune: Argentina)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I remember once, as a kid, seeing a book called Round Trip by Ann Jonas featured on Reading Rainbow. I was enthralled by this book, which told the story of a trip into the city, creatively illustrated with silhouettes in all black and white. The real twist of the book came when you reached the final page, only to realize, upon turning the book upside down, that the story continued in the opposite direction. The black-and-white silhouette illustrations on each page formed a different picture to tell a different part of the story when looked at upside down. As a kid, I was fascinated by the idea that something could appear one way and then look totally different from an opposite perspective, and yet somehow they could both be part of the same story.

I think often it can seem as though those of us who think first of God as peaceful, joyous, and kind and those of us who think of God first as one who calls for justice and uplifts the oppressed are worshiping different—even opposite—Gods. One image of God suggests that faithfulness means being kind and peaceful no matter the cost, while the other idea suggests that doing justice ultimately trumps kindness and peace. The truth is, it all matters.

This hymn serves as a reminder that there is only one God, who is both kind and just, merciful in the face of sin and compassionate toward those who suffer. Our call on this journey of faith—as we work for a world that is new—is to remember that we are all bound up in this one same God.

When we hear one another and encounter in one another different perspectives and stories, we are invited to know that even those perspectives that seem like the total opposite of our understanding might indeed be a crucial part of God’s story. And it is that one God—of hope and justice—who goes with us, not just on our own individual way, but on our collective way—on God’s way.

Prayer
God of justice and hope, help us to know you better by coming to know one another better. Help us encounter, in each other’s stories and perspectives, an ever-expanding understanding of who you are and who you call us to be. Go with us on this way that you have called us all to follow as we move toward a better world. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Jesus loves me! This I know,
for the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong.
They are weak, but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
as he loved so long ago,
taking children on his knee,
saying, “Let them come to me.”
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Anna Barlett Warner and David Rutherford McGuire’s
“Jesus Loves Me!” (tune: Jesus Loves Me)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
“Jesus Loves Me” is one of those hymns that has embedded itself into our consciousness. It’s nearly impossible to read the hymn lyrics without singing along! Many of us associate this song with our childhood, and indeed this hymn from the 1860s is still an important part of the repertoire of any children’s ministry program. The simple tune and lyrics translate beautifully to singing with children, and it allows them to walk out of our doors with an understanding that they are each known and loved by God—a goal that we as a church set before any biblical instruction or mission work.

However, we don’t do this hymn justice if we merely view it as a relic of our childhood. Its simple lyrics nonetheless contain a deep theological truth: Jesus loves each one of us no matter whether we are weak or strong, young or old. That may not sound deep at all, but it is Christ’s love for us that is the basis for our entire faith, from Jesus’ teaching to his ministry to the cross. It is from that base of love that our work and ministry and hope are founded.

If we do not have that love at the center of our shared life together, then who are we?

Prayer
Dear Lord, thank you for showing your love in the gift of your Son. Grant me an increased sense of the unfathomable depth of your love for me, and allow that love to guide all that I do this day. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Monday, September 8, 2014

I love the Lord, who heard my cry
and pitied every groan.
Long as I live and troubles rise,
I’ll hasten to God’s throne.

I love the Lord, who heard my cry
and chased my grief away.
O let my heart no more despair,
while I have breath to pray.

Isaac Watts’s “I Love the Lord, Who Heard My Cry”
(tune: I Love the Lord)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
I must admit, I prefer the original language of Psalm 116, the psalm on which Isaac Watts based this hymn. It has an earnestness and a weight that is lost to me in the sing-song nature of this hymn. (Though I love the story of how Isaac Watts was so inclined to rhyme in his speech that he risked being disciplined for it.)

And I cannot sit easily with the notion of God “chasing my grief” away.
I have learned from my times of grief, even when it sat heavily on me and I could not in that moment see the righteousness of it. I yearn for a God who will sit with me in my grief, not for one who will take it away.

But yes, let my heart no more despair, that utter loss of hope and faith. Let me always have breath to pray; let me remember to use my breath to pray. And the surest way I know to do this is given in this quote (attributed to St. Augustine): “He who sings, prays twice.”

When I am in despair, when I cannot think to pray, sometimes I can remember to sing. And in that singing I am opened again—to breath, to spirit, to feeling God’s presence, with me, always. What a great gift it is, to sing and have it be prayer. All song can, when needed, be prayer.

Prayer
I love the Lord, who hears my song, and restores me. May I never forget you offer this grace. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My faith looks up to thee,
thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray;
take all my guilt away;
O let me from this day
be wholly thine!

May thy rich grace impart
strength to my fainting heart,
my zeal inspire,
as thou hast died for me,
O may my love to thee
pure, warm, and changeless be,
a living fire!

Ray Palmer’s “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” (tune: Olivet)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Zeal is a word that could use a good publicist.

It has a pretty negative connotation. To call someone a zealot is usually not a compliment. The etymological root of zealous is identical to the root for jealous: that burning, not-to-be-reasoned-with emotion that we know we’re not supposed to feel and of which we’re ashamed when we do. All of us can get too intense, sometimes, about the wrong things: our own desires, our own agendas, our own appearances. That’s zeal gone wrong.

The flip side of zeal, though, is the kind of enthusiasm that produces amazing results. It can be the capacity to make connections with others that builds community. It can be the thirst for justice that works tirelessly, over a lifetime, to right one particular wrong. It can be the sense of beauty that creates more beauty. It can be love that generates new life.

That’s the kind of zeal the hymn’s author is asking God to inspire. The author wants to be “on fire” for God and for the kind of life that comes from that ardor. And when we sing or pray this hymn, that’s what we are asking for, too.

Let’s rehabilitate the image of the word zeal by the lives we lead: lives of intensity toward the good and true and loving.

Prayer
O God, source of faith and grace, breathe your life into our zeal. Make it the good zeal that glorifies you and drives us out beyond ourselves. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
Center for Life and Learning

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

While life’s dark maze I tread
and griefs around me spread,
be thou my guide;
bid darkness turn to day;
wipe sorrow’s tears away;
nor let me ever stray from thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
when death’s cold, sullen stream
shall o’er me roll;
blest Savior, then,
in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

Ray Palmer’s “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” (tune: Olivet)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
One of the ministries in which I participated when I was in North Carolina was the ministry of walking alongside people as they died. I am sure it is what our own Judy Watt does each day in her pastoral ministry here, along with our other pastors, Deacons, and Stephen Ministers too. For me, it was a great honor to be invited into that space of grief and new birth. In particular, I was always very humbled to pastor retired clergy into their own deaths. That North Carolina congregation has historically had around fifty or so retired clergy as a part of its life. So I often found I was helping another pastor breathe into his own death, doing for them what they had done for countless others in their own days of active ministry. My soul was formed as a part of that work, and I have no doubt my pastoral ministry has been greatly impacted by their witness of faithfulness in the face of death.

Indeed, that is what I saw. So many of them died as they had lived. By that, I mean the great majority of them died with gentleness and peace, often with the words of hymns or scripture surrounding them in their final hours. Honestly, I cannot remember one single retired clergyperson who died with a sense of anxiety. It was as if their years of being professionally immersed in scripture and prayer finally took full hold and set their minds at ease. Doubt and fear seemed to vanish. I finally decided God must have given them some extra doses of courage and faith in those final days and hours, for the Spirit was always so clearly present.

I tell you that because I am reminded of those experiences when I ponder these verses of “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.” In this final verse, death is spoken of not just as a future reality but also almost like a friend, for it is only when death’s stream rolls over us does the promise of our baptism become completely fulfilled. And all of us, not just the preachers, are invited to trust that in that time, our own doubt and fear will vanish, or as the hymn says, “Blest Savior, then, in love, fear and distrust remove.” And we will all be borne safely into God’s presence, our home. That is a promise we have all been given. And so I wonder, could it be that if all of us were to more fully engage in prayer and in scripture, we, too, would find God’s comfort and peace taking hold of us, not just as we move into our own deaths, but on each day of our active living, too? May it be so.

Prayer
Holy One, you are our guide. You are the one who wipes away the tears of the world. And so we pray for all those who grieve on this day and ask your comfort and peace to surround them. We pray for ourselves, that you might continually open us up for transformation through prayer and your Living Word. Take full hold of us, O God, and keep reforming us into more faithful living. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

God is my strong salvation;
what foe do I have to fear?
In peril and temptation
my light, my help is near.
Though hosts encamp around me,
firm to the fight I stand;
what terror can confound me,
with God at my right hand?

Place on the Lord reliance;
my soul, with courage wait;
God’s truth be thine affiance,
when faint and desolate.
God’s might thy heart shall strengthen;
God’s love thy joy increase;
mercy thy days shall lengthen;
the Lord will give thee peace.

James Montgomery’s “God Is My Strong Salvation” (tune: Wedlock)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
It helps to know that the words of this hymn are based on Psalm 27. If the twenty-seventh psalm is familiar to you, you’ll recognize “The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear?” Reading the words of both the hymn and the psalm makes me think about war and fighting. I resist, because war and fighting seem to be all around us. I imagine a soldier in the midst of fierce battle, reciting over and over again “God is my strong salvation; what foe do I have to fear?” But I imagine certain members of Congress saying the same.

Admittedly I’m not crazy about the fighting images these words evoke, because I wish discord and threat were not so prevalent in our world. And yet life presents battles of all kinds. What are yours? Preserving or earning enough money for retirement or unexpected health care costs? Living each day without the spouse you lost too early? Gaining enough courage to confront someone who has hurt you deeply? Providing the right care for a disabled or mentally ill child?

The hymn reminds us to “place on the Lord reliance.” In some of our struggles, that’s absolutely all we can do. And then there’s the issue of “waiting.” Sometimes there is a lifetime of waiting for a struggle to be resolved or a challenge to be conquered or a grief to be healed. “My soul, with courage wait.” It takes a lot of courage to wait for God’s answers, to trust in God’s leading, to claim God as our salvation. I like the instruction in the psalm itself: Wait for the Lord.

Prayer
Dear God, remind me that you are my strong salvation no matter what challenge or discord or battle I face. Give me strength to wait for mercy and grace, for the unfolding of your plan in my life, for the peace that you promise—the peace that only you can give. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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Friday, September 12, 2014

God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power;
crown thine ancient church’s story; bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

Lo! the hosts of evil round us scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have found us free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

Harry Emerson Fosdick’s “God of Grace and Glory”
(tune: CWM Rhondda)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
My job working as a veterinary assistant couldn’t be more different than my job here at the church! Fourth Presbyterian Church is a place where people gather to enrich their relationships with God and with others. Christian values are placed at the forefront, and kindness and respect for coworkers are a given. It’s a pretty great place to work, and I’m thankful for that.

My first day on the job at the veterinary clinic was quite a change. There was a snow storm that left 4 inches of snow outside the clinic, but that didn’t stop the twenty dogs boarding there from needing walks at 7:30 a.m. or keep the three frantic clients waiting at the door with their sick pets from needing help right away. My first lesson as a veterinary assistant was that this was a business first, which meant that the priority of providing the best care possible for clients and patients sometimes puts mentoring and camaraderie second. In the name of providing healing and compassionate care, one ends up dealing with such things as “jabs” about this vet’s incompetency or that vet assistant’s laziness, shouting matches with difficult clients, fractious cats, barking dogs, angry ferrets, and an office manager overwhelmed with employee issues and a tight budget.

After my first intense day at the vet, I found myself saying the infamous Serenity Prayer each morning as I headed up the walk to the clinic. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Somehow those words felt like a shield that protected my heart against the challenges of the world and kept it open and receptive to the good around me and that those of us at the clinic were called to do.

Harry Emerson Fosdick’s words in “God of Grace and God of Glory” have the same affect on me. To me, they are about holding tight to God’s strength, power, to a sense of wonder and love, despite the evils of the world that bombard us every day—things like hatred and pettiness, insecurities, anxiety, even sickness and death. The words are about living each day with the power and grace of God behind us no matter what happens in the world. I can’t think of a better attitude-changer. I love my job at the veterinary clinic. The staff does so much good for animals. But I think I may memorize the lines to Mr. Fosdick’s hymn to add to my morning serenity prayer.

Prayer
God of grace and God of glory, grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days. Now and evermore. Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cure thy children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to thy control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.

Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore.
Let the gift of thy salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving thee whom we adore,
serving thee whom we adore.

Harry Emerson Fosdick’s “God of Grace and Glory”
(tune: CWM Rhondda)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
What is it that I live for? What is it that I would die for? What is it that I would fight for? These are the questions that come to mind as I sing these verses of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s hymn. They are questions that require me to be discriminating—to make choices, the right choices.

At every juncture, when I faced a decision to be made, my father’s counsel would be “What would be more meaningful in the long run?” In his wisdom he knew that if I took this question seriously, many of the options I was considering could be knocked out of the running. If I took this question seriously, the options that met my immediate desires, my selfishness, or my pride would have to be discarded.

There are questions like this that can help us to be more discriminating about what occupies our lives and motivates our endeavors. For the hymnist the question, I think, would be “Would this help us to achieve the goal of God’s kingdom?” Knowing that much of what preoccupies us misses the mark, the hymnist, in repeated refrain, sings, “Lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.”

Prayer
God, grant us discriminating minds. Help us to make each decision and each day count, lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

O come and sing unto the Lord;
to God our voices raise;
let us in our most joyful songs
the Lord, our Savior, praise.

Before God’s presence let us come
with praise and thankful voice;
let us sing psalms to God with grace;
with grateful hearts, rejoice.

“O Come and Sing unto the Lord” (Psalm 95) (tune: Irish)
from The New Metrical Version of the Psalms
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
The most wonderful part of my job is leading a thousand or more people in singing the hymns every Sunday during worship services. Not only is it the most enjoyable, but it is also by far the most important thing I do each week.

When we sing together we are united in one thought, contemplating words that were recently written or words that have shaped Christians for more than a thousand years. As we sing the musical phrases, we even become united in one breath, breathing together at the end of the musical phrase and between each verse. There has been evidence that after a few of these breaths, most of our heart rates even become synchronized, beating together like one heart.

But the unity goes beyond just those in the sanctuary itself, for we are united with generations who have sung these words and notes before us as well as the generations who will sing them after us—one continuous thread of praise to the God who made us.

I am so thankful that Fourth Church is a congregation that loves to sing, lifting our voices to God in an unending hymn of praise. I have a theory that you can tell if a church is healthy just by the way that a congregation sings, and judging from that, Fourth Church is a very healthy church. Thanks be to God!

Prayer
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship, help us to sing your praises in all that we do. Help us to sing with joy, knowing that you alone are being glorified. Help us to sing with understanding so that we may know you more fully. Help us to sing with abandon so that we may be lost in your love and wonder. Amen.

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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Monday, September 15, 2014

The Lord our God is King of kings,
above all gods enthroned;
the depths of earth and mountains high
by God alone are owned.

To God the spacious sea belongs;
God made its waves and tides,
and by God’s hand the rising land
was formed and still abides.

O come, and bowing down to God,
our worship let us bring;
yea, let us kneel before the Lord,
our Maker and our King.

“O Come and Sing unto the Lord” (Psalm 95) (tune: Irish)
from The New Metrical Version of the Psalms
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Today we are reminded that the whole world is God’s. God is our Maker and our King. But we worship a God that is not just for the good days, but also for the bad, and that is another reason to sing praises even louder.

When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we state that Jesus “descended into hell.” This is a controversial line within the creed and some versions omit it. The Bible does not explicitly state that Jesus descended into hell, and so scholars are mixed on their views of its inclusion. Its inclusion reminds us, however, that there is nowhere that God will not go and has not been.

We love to think of God in the majesty of nature, but God is also present in the darkest places that we can imagine. As Romans 8:39 reminds us, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Let’s remember that today and be pleased to sing “The Lord our God is King of Kings, above all gods enthroned; the depths of earth and mountains high by God alone are owned.”

Prayer
Loving God, you are indeed God of all. Not just the God of beautiful sunrises and cute animals, but God of all of life. In confidence then, O Lord, we can share all of ourselves with you. There is nothing and no one that you cannot redeem. Out of death you bring new life. Be with us this day, O Lord, and help us to feel your renewing presence. Create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lord, speak to me that I may speak
in living echoes of your tone.
As you have sought, so let me seek
your erring children, lost and lone.

O lead me, Lord, that I may lead
the wandering and the wavering feet.
O feed me, Lord, that I may feed
your hungering ones with manna sweet.

Frances Ridley Havergal’s “Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak”
(tune: Canonbury)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
There are several scripture passages that reveal that God provides what we need. When Jeremiah heard God calling him to be a prophet, he protested, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” God responded saying, “Do not say ‘I am only a boy’” and promised to be with Jeremiah and give him the words he needed (Jeremiah 1:4–10).

Moses, who stuttered, also protested when God called him to liberate the Hebrew people: “I have never been eloquent . . . but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” God responded by enlisting Moses’ articulate brother Aaron to do the talking, promising, “I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you what you shall do” (Exodus 3:10–15).

When the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., planned to build a residential rehab center for former drug addicts, some neighbors sought to sue them. The pastor, Gordon Cosby, asked two church members who were to defend the plans in court how they felt. They responded, “We’re afraid—we don’t really know what to say.” Gordon said, “Good—then you must rely on God to give you the words.”

God does not call us to do that which we can do by ourselves. God calls us to serve in ways in which we must rely upon God for ability and strength. Turn to God and trust that God will provide everything you need for service.

Prayer
Gracious God, I feel inadequate. Speak to me so I may speak. Lead me so I may lead. Feed me so I may feed. Love me so I may love others. I know you bless me so that I may be a blessing to others. May it be so. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

O teach me, Lord, that I may teach
the precious truths which you impart.
And wing my words that they may reach
the hidden depths of many a heart.

O fill me with your fullness, Lord
until my very heart o’erflow
in kindling thought and glowing word
your love to tell, your praise to show.

O use me, Lord, use even me,
just as you will, and when, and where
until your blessed face I see,
your rest, your joy, your glory share.

Frances Ridley Havergal’s “Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak”
(tune: Canonbury)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
There are times we all feel so inadequate. I had one of my many this weekend. A dear friend was riding her bike on a local path with her husband when they were caught in a fast-moving storm. A second after she said that they should seek cover, a tree fell and hit her. She sustained severe head and spinal injuries and never regained consciousness, leaving her husband and two teenage boys.

What do you say? What do you do? Doesn’t it all seem so small, so pathetic in the face of something so random and horrible?

“Teach me, Lord, the words that may reach the hidden depths of the heart” . . . don’t I wish. But I’m a writer, and I know all too well the limitations of words, no matter how glowing. If I can’t come up with words, then what good am I to anyone, really?

The response to this terrible event was immediate and enormous. Everyone who knew Molly shared their love for her, their sorrow, their love for her husband and sons—a great outpouring of love that touched and ministered to a lot of broken hearts. Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, atheist—love sprang from every corner of our community, and while it doesn’t wipe away the grieving, maybe it’s the only thing with a chance to sustain us all in this terrible time of loss.

In the end, there is only that one word, love, and only that one act. It’s all that’s left for us to do. As Molly’s husband posted to all their friends on Facebook, “Love hard, people. Love hard.” In the end, what else is there?

Even I can try to manage that. Love hard, people. Love hard.

Prayer
Use me, O Lord, use even me, for that one word and that one act—to love hard and hope for healing in the world. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

I want Jesus to walk with me;
I want Jesus to walk with me;
all along my pilgrim journey,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

In my trials, Lord, walk with me;
in my trials, Lord, walk with me;
when my heart is almost breaking,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me;
when I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me;
when my head is bowed in sorrow,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

“I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” African American spiritual
(tune: Walk with Me)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s quote has been one of my favorites for a long time. It is impossible to imagine the strife, tribulations, and suffering that so many individuals and families experienced having to submit to the wretched experience of slavery. But every history book and hymn recounts the undying hope that was so fervent and strong.

The spiritual we reflect on today is no different. That hope takes the form of faith in God and knowing that everything our sisters and brothers had to suffer through here on earth was only temporary. Their faith in Jesus to walk beside them, lift them up, carry them, give them grace and peace in their hearts—that kept their souls alive during a very dark time.

We are constantly on a pilgrimage, whether we admit to it or not, until we find ourselves united with Christ. We may not be traveling to Jerusalem, Mecca, or Lourdes, but our hearts and our minds are always set on this faith-filled journey as we try to decipher what earthly matters truly warrant our time and energy.

Though our daily human concerns may be nothing in comparison to the dark experiences like slavery, famine, war, and violence that are still very present today, we know that as Christ’s pilgrims our hearts can rest easy in God and peaceful in prayer.

Prayer
Dear God, guide me as your faithful pilgrim. Let me unload my momentary worries and burdens into your hands as you walk with me and carry me closer to you. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Associate Program Manager,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Friday, September 19, 2014

My shepherd will supply my need;
Jehovah is his name.
In pastures fresh he makes me feed,
beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
when I forsake his ways
and leads me, for his mercy’s sake,
in paths of truth and grace.

Isaac Watts’s “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”
(tune: Resignation)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” or in the words of this hymn by Isaac Watts, “My shepherd will supply my need.” As a child, I would stare at a print of Jesus holding a lamb in his arms, and I would think, “That little lamb must know he is loved. I mean, how lucky could you get to have Jesus as your shepherd?”

These images imply to me that the sheep knows and appreciates all that the shepherd does for it. But really, am I giving the sheep more credit than it is due? Sheep are simply wired with a strong instinct to follow the herd. They become very agitated if separated. A shepherd need only guide one and the rest will follow. This is not a relationship where the sheep experiences love and gratitude; it is just a system that works. Sheep are creatures that instinctively know two things: stay with the pack and run from perceived danger. The trouble with this is that they perceive everything as danger! They do not do well without a shepherd.

The psalmist doesn’t write of the sheep’s desire to be led and nurtured by the shepherd, just that the shepherd provides for it. Our needing God is not the reason God is there for us—God simply is. Like the shepherd leading the herd, it is a system that works. I am the sheep in this psalm—a fearful, fleeing creature that sometimes cannot even recognize the life-saving protection of my Shepherd.

Prayer
Dear God, the system is in place. You protect me. Thank you for the beauty of your Word. Help me see the message and rest in your protection. Amen.

Written by Katy Sinclair, Associate Director of Music for Children and Youth

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

When I walk through the shades of death
your presence is my stay;
one word of supporting breath
drives all my fears away.
Your hand, in sight of all my foes,
does still my table spread;
my cup with blessings overflows;
your oil anoints my head.

Isaac Watts’s “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”
(tune: Resignation)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
The same week I moved to Chicago fifteen years ago to attend seminary, one of my uncles went into the hospital with cancer and was gone by Christmas. That following year one of his sons also died from cancer. It was a dark and troubling time for me. Far away from my Southern family, I felt isolated and alone in my new city. In the words of this setting of the Twenty-Third Psalm, I was walking through the shades of death.

I faced a theological crisis that many of us have known. How could it be that the faithful prayers of my family for the healing of my uncle and cousin went unanswered? Where was God in the midst of their suffering and deaths? Where was God in the midst of our grief?

Looking back on that time, I realized that perhaps I was looking for God in the wrong places. In hindsight, I could see that God was present in the love our family shared with each other, a love I could feel even though I was far away. This experience of the biblical contention that “God is love” has been the abiding foundation of my faith ever since. Seeking God in the love we share helps me to recognize God’s presence, the word of supporting breath that drives my fears away.

Prayer
God of love, help me to recognize your presence even in the midst of suffering and grief. Amen.

Written by John W. Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

The sure provisions of my God
attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode,
and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
while others go and come;
no more a stranger, or a guest,
but like a child at home.

Isaac Watts’s “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”
(tune: Resignation)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
“Like a child at home” resonates deeply with me. To be cared for and nurtured, to find settled rest, these are all things I associate with my home in Indianapolis. I love going home to my parents’ house, there really is no better feeling. No matter how old I get, I always want the approval of my parents; I always want them to care for me; I will always be their child. However, I cannot always go home and be nurtured for by them.

After living in Chicago now for almost six years, I have created a different kind of home for myself here. I will always be Christ’s child, always, and the closer I am to him in my walk of faith, the more the tangible ideas of home in Indianapolis do not seem as important. Home is where I find peace in Christ.

We have all heard the saying “Home is where the heart is.” The more I pursue Christ, the more I dwell in him and his safety. 

Prayer
Lord, I pray that you continually show me how to find rest in your presence. Help me to remember that you will provide for me and that your company is the only thing that I need to abide in when I feel lost. Amen.

Written by Ashley Elskus, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Come down, O Love Divine; seek out this soul of mine,
and visit it with your own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near; within my heart appear,
and kindle it, your holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming.
And let your glorious light shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
shall far out-pass the power of human telling.
For none can guess God’s grace, till Love creates a place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

Bianco da Siena’s “Come Down, O Love Divine,”
trans. Richard Frederick Littledale
(tune: Resignation)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Whenever I lead a Bible study, the first questions I always ask are, “What sticks out to you? Is there a word or a phrase that captures your attention?” I asked myself those questions this morning as I read these verses from the hymn. (By the way, I cannot read any of these hymn verses without singing them to their hymn tune. Do you do that too?!) In response to my own question, the thing that caught my attention the most dramatically this morning was God’s other name. Did you catch it? God’s other name in this hymn is Love, with a capital “L.” The author calls God “Love Divine” and implores Love to come as fire and as grace.

We also hear allusions to John 14, where Jesus promises that the Advocate (or Comforter) will come and be with humanity as Jesus returns back into the triune reality of God. I also hear other Gospel of John references as the author speaks in the last verse about the Holy Spirit making a dwelling in us once “Love creates a place.” I translate dwelling as home, which is so close to what John often speaks of as “abiding.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks consistently about abiding in the Father and his followers abiding in him. He is talking about where we make our home. So here, in this hymn text, we are praying and singing for Love to create a place in us where the Holy Spirit can make a home. It is a powerful prayer and an evocative image to picture Love constantly creating in us space for God’s Spirit to be at home, to dwell, to abide.

And so I wonder, what happens in you as you call God by God’s other name of Love? Does calling God Love shift the way you pray? Does it affect your imagination about the way God works in this world? Does it help open up even more space in your spirit for God’s Spirit to dwell? What does calling God by God’s other name, Love, do to you?

Prayer
O Love Divine, we are so grateful for your dwelling in us. We are so grateful that out of your grace and goodness, you have chosen to be at home in us and have called us to make our home in you. On this day, grant that we might see you as Love. And may that vision impact how we live, how we interact with others, and how we see ourselves. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Come, thou almighty King,
help us thy name to sing; help us to praise:
Father, all glorious, o’er all victorious,
come, and reign over us, Ancient of Days.

Come, thou incarnate Word,
merciful, mighty Lord, our prayer attend.
Come, and thy people bless, and give thy word success;
Spirit of holiness, on us descend.

“Come, Thou Almighty King,” (tune: Italian Hymn)
from Collection of Hymns for Social Worship
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
“Come, Thou Almighty King” is a beautiful hymn intended for the opening of worship—the lyrics function as an extended invocation in which God is invited to be present in our midst during this time in which we have gathered together. What makes this hymn somewhat distinctive, however, is the way in which it paints a very clear Trinitarian picture in evoking God’s presence.

The first three stanzas are addressed to each member of the Trinity before addressing the Triune God in the final stanza, and the lyrics stress the ways in which each member of the Trinity interacts with us as worshipers. Oftentimes when we offer prayers of invocation we limit our words to the language of Spirit rather than addressing all three persons, but the understanding of Creator, Word, and Advocate draws out a reminder that God’s presence appears in a myriad of ways throughout our lives.

It can be very hard to sense God’s presence in our lives, particularly in periods in which the tumult and noise around us threatens to drown out that still, small voice. But this hymn reminds us that we need only ask to invite God’s presence into our lives and that slowly, but surely, we will come to a deeper understanding of the ways in which God is with us every step of the way.

Prayer
Almighty God, I humbly ask that you be with me throughout every moment of my day today, both in the quiet moments as well as the loud ones. Give me a sense of your abiding presence, and help to guide my steps. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Come, holy Comforter,
thy sacred witness bear
in this glad hour.
Thou who almighty art, now rule in every heart,
and ne’er from us depart, Spirit of Power.

To thee, great One in Three,
eternal praises be,
hence evermore!
Thy sovereign majesty may we in glory see
and to eternity love and adore.

“Come, Thou Almighty King,” (tune: Italian Hymn)
from Collection of Hymns for Social Worship
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
If you know the tune of this particular hymn, you know there are two phrases that have a distinctive and somewhat declarative feel to them musically: “in this glad hour” and “hence evermore.” The phrases stand out because of the way they are meant to be sung. They sound somewhat like a doorbell chime. It’s as though we should take notice.

The words in these verses are like a Call to Worship, much like how we begin our worship services—asking God to be present with us. We ask God that “thy sacred witness bear—in this glad hour.” The prayer is that we would sense God’s presence in the hour of worship—that “in this glad hour” the sense of God’s presence would “rule in every heart. “

On one hand, it seems silly that we should ask God to be with us when, in fact, we proclaim all the time that God is always with us. I’m reminded of a plaque that hung on the chaplain’s office door at Evanston Hospital: “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.” Perhaps, the words “in this glad hour” are meant to stand out because they encourage us to slow down and to pay attention to the moment at hand, to whatever hour is in front of us, because when we do, when we take a deep breath and try to take in the moment, we stand more of a chance to see how God is present, even before we asked. 

When we get those glimpses of God’s presence, the response is gratitude and praise—or it should be, if we took the time to notice. “To thee, great One in three, eternal praises be, “hence evermore.” Maybe that phrase, as it is sung, is meant to remind us that praise should become habitual. Maybe there was a time when you felt particularly close to God and praise came naturally. And perhaps now that feeling has escaped you. The reminder that our praises should be “hence evermore” is a reminder to thank God even if that sense of God’s grace and love and presence was something you once felt but has seemed long forgotten. “In this glad hour” pay attention to the moment. And “hence evermore” remember to be thankful.

Prayer
God, whose presence and faithfulness is steadfast, slow us down to pay attention to these glad hours you have given us, to the people who enter our lives and the tasks that come our way, to the joys and to the struggles. Give us the discipline to remember our manners, to say thank you, to praise you, hence evermore, for the glimpses of your presence, for the people who encourage us in faith, for the beauty that brings us hope in the midst of a world full of troubles. In this glad hour, let us give you thanks and continue to do so hence evermore. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might:
thy justice, like mountains high soaring above;
thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

Walter Chalmers Smith’s “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” (tune: St. Denio)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Someone once told me to “pray as if your prayers have already been answered. Thank God for God’s great wisdom and love.” When I remember that advice, I can’t help but think, what a tall order! Isn’t that a little presumptuous, assuming God already has my problems all figured out? Or that my prayers are even on God’s radar with all the other billions of prayers? To me, that is a stretch even for the most imaginative of minds!

Yet after reading the wonderful words from Walter Chalmers Smith’s hymn, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” I am convinced that God is just that powerful and wise and that God’s love goes far beyond what I can get my head around. God’s glorious plan leads to the ultimate victory for us all. God’s wisdom and justice include every one of us. And God’s fountains of goodness and love leave no one out—not even me, with my daily prayers and requests.

So when I pray from now on, I will work to pray with faith that this journey I am on is part of God’s plan for me. And I will believe that my prayers have already been answered and will be revealed to me in time. What a peaceful feeling knowing that God is on it, has my back so completely, and that victory is already mine.

Prayer
God, help me to talk to you in faith, not doubt. Help me to remember that my prayers have already been answered by the One “most glorious” and “victorious.” Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Friday, September 26, 2014

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small.
In all life thou livest, the true life of all.
We blossom and flourish like leaves on the tree,
then wither and perish; but naught changeth thee.

Thou reignest in glory; thou dwellest in light.
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight.
All praise we would render; O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!

Walter Chalmers Smith’s “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” (tune: St. Denio)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Sometimes while singing the words of a beloved hymn they make me think of a related story such as . . .

“Then wither and perish” . . . On the 2013 music mission trip to Havana, Cuba, Hector Mendez, the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church there, told our group about the struggle churches had, especially during the 1980s, to remain open in a country that was officially atheistic. He said that every Sunday he would open the doors of his church built for 1,000 people and only one elderly woman would enter for worship. Anyone who wanted a job did not dare to go to church, and it was this way across the country. The church had withered and quite nearly perished, and it was only the elderly women who did not care what the government said who kept it open. Pastor Mendez said there were Sundays when he wondered why he should even prepare a sermon or open the doors, and yet he did.

“But naught changeth thee” . . . While the churches were struggling to remain open, seeds for their rebirth were being planted by the same government, because the government was teaching everyone how to sing and play instruments. In recent years, as the Cuban government has become slightly more tolerant of churches and religion, people come to church thrilled to sing together, play instruments, and use the musical training provided for them by the Cuban government. The churches that struggled to stay open now have such vibrant and enthusiastic worship because everyone loves to sing together. Because the churches persevered in the face of struggle, they now shine as beacons of light. Indeed, First Presbyterian Church in Havana has borrowed the Fourth Church motto and calls itself “A Light in the City.”

Prayer
Lord, thank you for always being present, working through us in ways we may not know or understand. Amen.

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above,
the Ancient of Eternal days, the God of love!
The Lord, the great “I AM,” by earth and heaven confessed,
we bow before your holy name, forever blest.

Your spirit still flows free, high surging where it will.
In prophet’s word you spoke of old and you speak still.
Established is your law, and changeless it shall stand,
deep writ upon the human heart by your strong hand.

Moses Maimonides’s “The God of Abraham Praise" (tune: Leoni)
trans. Thomas Olivers
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Lest we think that the church of our day invented interreligious dialogue, the remarkable history of this hymn teaches us otherwise.

How did Moses Maimonides, the twelfth-century Jewish philosopher, end up being credited for a hymn in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal? His articulation of Jewish dogma, The 13 Articles, the basis for the Yigdal, was usually sung at the beginning of morning prayer and the end of evening service. The Yigdal was what Thomas Olivers, the translator of “The God of Abraham Praise,” heard in the Great Synagogue of London in 1770. Olivers, a follower of John Wesley, was so moved by the tune and the praise of God that it expressed, that he preserved it into the earliest version of this hymn, which was included in Wesley’s 1780 publication Sacred Harmony (Michael C. Hawn, “History of Hymns: ‘The God of Abraham Praise,’” gbod.org).

And so? Where this story directs my thinking is to the long history of salvation of which we are a part. There are the 2,000-some years of Christianity, but there are also the 2,500 years of Jewish history before that. And then there’s the life of God, the “Ancient of Eternal Days,” which we are pulled into when we pray, sing, work, and play. Indeed our very existence is praise of the One who told Abraham that the One’s name is “I AM.” When our lives start to close in on themselves and seem very small, that kind of broad perspective is a gift.

Prayer
O God of Abraham and Sarah, you whose story is everlastingly wonderful, help us find the ways in which we are meant to praise and bless you in our time and place. Give us the desire and the vision and the means. We ask this through Jesus, the human expression of your perfect love. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
Center for Life and Learning

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Your goodly land we seek, with peace and plenty blest,
a land of sacred liberty and Sabbath rest.
There milk and honey flow, and oil and wine abound,
and trees of life forever grow with your mercy crowned.

You have eternal life implanted in the soul;
your love shall be our strength and stay, while ages roll.
We praise you, living God! We praise your holy name:
the first, the last, beyond all thought, and still the same!

Moses Maimonides’s “The God of Abraham Praise" (tune: Leoni)
trans. Thomas Olivers
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
Growing up in rural Kentucky, I was surrounded by farmland and landowners. Though my family did not own or work the land, I became familiar with the kinds of things farmers would regularly talk about. Having a livelihood much more directly dependent upon the land and what it produced than I did, my neighbors seemed to me to have a keen sense of the interconnectedness of things. They recognized that the crops, the land, the water, the soil, and the air all matter to one another. They knew that the way we eat and drink, how we sow our land and get food to our tables, and how we treat the laborers of the land all matter in relation to each other.

There is wisdom in this knowledge. Drawing on those passages from scripture in which wisdom has to do with how we relate to the natural world, the author of this verse knows that everything, even our survival, well depends on our awareness of and care for the interconnectedness of all things. This hymn verse reminds me of the personification of wisdom in the book of Proverbs, in which Lady Wisdom says.

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
. . . when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

That wisdom has been with God from the time God made the world should give us a clue about how indispensable wisdom is to sustaining and managing God’s cosmic household.

We are lucky that the wisdom we need is accessible to all of us. It is available everywhere we see connections among the things in God’s created order. We don’t have to look far. We just have to take the time to look. When we do take the time to marvel at the order, design, and interconnectedness of all things, we will likely find ourselves all the wiser for it.

Prayer
Great God, we give you heartfelt thanks for your wondrous creation and for the wisdom it engenders in us. Make us a wise people who, today and every day, sing of your wondrous works. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life


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Monday, September 29, 2014

Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne
we pour our ardent prayers.
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.

John Fawcett’s “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (tune: Dennis)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection

“It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

A great new feature in Glory to God, our new Presbyterian hymnal, is the inclusion of notes that tell us about the world behind the hymns. Below the well-loved hymn quoted above, for example, we are told that the hymn was “written to express a pastor’s unwillingness to leave a beloved congregation.” Church historians tell us that in 1772 John Fawcett, the poorly paid pastor of a struggling congregation, was offered a prominent post and a handsome salary. He decided to decline the offer, in spite of his family’s need, and the words of the hymn describe the feelings that undergird his choice.

We admire the sentiment, and our hearts are warmed to know that, in Fawcett at least, there was an individual of faith who opted for relationship and commitment over money and prestige. But would we truly respect such a decision today? Would we make such a choice ourselves?

I oversee the membership rolls at Fourth Church, so I have many conversations with people about their decisions to move to or from Chicago. More often than not the factors behind those decisions involve employment: better employment, higher compensation, exclusive perquisites, exotic travel opportunities. Whether through our words or our actions, so many of us make it clear: we are going to do everything we must to get a job that pays us enough money to buy what we want, live wherever we choose, and travel anywhere we want to go.

But there is the question I want all of us to consider. What good is money to buy anything we want, the option to live anywhere we choose, and the freedom to travel everywhere we want to go, if we don’t have people with whom to share our wealth, if we don’t friends or family to greet us at the end of the day, and if we don’t have a community that makes us feel at home?

Prayer
Great God of heaven, keep me grounded here on this earth, so that I might comprehend what is worth pursuing. Help me to resist using my freedom and my strength in search of status and wealth that will never satisfy. Instead help me to find, by your Spirit, relationships and bonds of community by which I might have a foretaste of the fellowship of your blessed world to come. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We share our mutual woes;
our mutual burdens bear.
And often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.

When we are called to part,
it gives us inward pain;
but we shall still be joined in heart
and hope to meet again.

From sorrow, toil, and pain,
and sin we shall be free;
and perfect love and friendship reign
through all eternity.

John Fawcett’s “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (tune: Dennis)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Reflection
This is, of course, an old familiar hymn. Although I don’t think we sang it particularly often in my church growing up, every time I read or hear these words they conjure images in my mind of warm, long-standing church communities who experience life together season after season and year after year.

That strong sense of community—of shared life—was my favorite thing about church growing up and ultimately what led me to pursue a call to ministry. I loved the way my church community cared about each other and walked together through both good times and bad. It was the one place where I always felt like I belonged and was loved.

When I moved away from home, I was worried about leaving my home church and worried that I would never find another community like that again. But in each new place where I have lived, I have found new communities who love each other in God’s name. I can already tell that Fourth Church is certainly just such a place.

As this song reminds us, life sometimes calls us to new paths and adventures that take us away from people and communities, but by the grace of God we are able to carry those people with us in our hearts and find new reflections of God’s love in human relationship wherever we go. These relationships that bind us together even when geography or circumstance draw us apart give us just a glimpse of the divine Love that never lets us go and connects us all to one other and to God.

In this autumn season of new beginnings, let us give thanks to God for the gifts of relationship and community—the blessed ties that bind us all together.

Prayer
Loving God, we give you thanks for all the meaningful relationships in our lives and the communities you bless us with. Help us to remember that we are always connected to those we love and that those connections are reflections of your great love for us all. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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