• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

My Little Blue Book

Updated: Jun 24

I have a little blue book, "A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants" by Upper Room Press. It was given to me by a spiritual mentor and coach. Inscribed on the inside it says, "To Joel Tolbert, whose gifts for ministry I admire... may you go deeper with God so that your ministry will simply be the overflow of your inner life with Christ."


I remember telling him after reading that, "Tom, that would be dangerous. In my inner life God and I battle and wrestle and argue. I try very hard not to let too much of that stuff leak out on the people around me."


God and I have been at battle lately. There's so much despair, pain, destruction, death. There's so much hatred, violence, anger, division. There's so much hopelessness, cynicism, sickness, selfishness. When I wallow in the realities of a sinful, broken world, my prayers become less about listening, and more about me shouting at God things like, "Oh, and one more thing...!"


That's when I will go to this book. This book breaks my habit. It returns me to old habits, disciplines of prayerfully listening to scriptures, writings, poems, and songs from saints who came before me. The book walks through the church liturgical year, week by week, offering daily readings and reflections. The book begins with the Monday before the first Sunday of Advent and ends with Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday.


In this little blue book, today is the Wednesday before Trinity Sunday. The suggested scripture is 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:


"12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts... there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good... wisdom... knowledge... faith... healing... works... vision... discernment... words... understanding. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each individual as the Spirit chooses."


There are enough gifted people in the world right now to heal the sick and to cure COVID. There are enough gifted people in the world to confront and end racism, to protest against the systems and structures that have racism baked into them and to redesign better systems without the prejudices. There are enough gifted people to expose lies and to present truth. There are enough gifted people in the world right now to make every vote count, and every voice heard, and every person sheltered, fed, and protected from harm. Can we trust God has provided those gifts? Can we imagine our gifts being put to use for all God is already doing?


Then, in my little blue book, there's a reading for today from "The Church" by Hans King:

"Sinful man thinks he can find freedom by self-confidently controlling himself and his own life. But he is warned that he can only win freedom by abdicating this control to another - not to men, who would reduce him to the rank of a slave, but to God, who will accept him as his child. To be able to do what one wants is only the appearance of freedom; true freedom is to will what God does."


May these scriptures and reflections enable your honest prayer with God today. May you sense God's unconditional love for you exactly as you are, and may you also sense God's loving pull on you to become all you are being called to be.


Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours,

Rev. Joel Tolbert

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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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