“Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God, and give the Almighty all that you promised. Call to me when trouble comes; I will save you and you will praise me.” Psalm 50:14-15
It’s not about what we can do for God, but what He can do for us. God doesn’t need us to do anything for His benefit. The world and everything in it belongs to Him. So what does he want from us? He wants our gratitude. He wants us to depend on him when we’re in trouble so He can save us. When He does, we will praise Him. Does God need our thanks and praise? No. Thanking God and praising Him is for our benefit, not His.
Thanking God doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice, does it? Think again. When we thank God and praise Him for what He has done for us, we are sacrificing our self-sufficiency and our sense of being in control. We are sacrificing the ego-stroking that tells us we are the center of our own little universe. Giving thanks to God honors the Giver and acknowledges our proper place. We didn’t create ourselves and the idea of a self-made man or woman is an illusion. We can’t control many things about life. When we come to the end of our rope we find God waiting there to catch us and bring us to a new and better place.
If we wait to go to God when we don’t need Him, we’ll be waiting a long time. On our own we can’t guarantee our next breath of air. When we open our eyes we can see all the ways in which He is providing for us and guiding us. When we count our blessings, we find ourselves in the humbling truth that despite all our necessary and appropriate hard work and effort, God does for us what we could never do for ourselves. What else is there to do but lay our false pride at His feet…and what a loving way He gives us to do that: by thanking and glorifying Him instead of belittling ourselves.
Our God truly is an awesome God. Let’s tell Him so—not because He needs to know it, but because we do.
Prayer: Almighty God, to You alone belongs the glory.
Reflection: Write a thank you note to God.
Herod was very pleased when he saw Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been wanting to see him for a long time. He was hoping to see Jesus perform some miracle. So Herod asked Jesus many questions, but Jesus made no answer…Herod and his soldiers made fun of Jesus and treated him with contempt; then they put a fine robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. Luke 23: 8-11
Herod hoped to see Jesus perform some miracle—not because he needed a miracle, but simply for his own amusement. Jesus didn’t respond. Herod concluded that it was because Jesus lacked power. He judged Jesus to be a fraud and dismissed him after getting the entertainment he wanted through mockery.
What about us? Unlike Herod, we may have serious needs or concerns about loved ones. Praying for those who are suffering is not the same as demanding that God do what we want him to do for entertainment. Still, how do we respond if God doesn’t respond the way we want? Are we expecting God to be who we want him to be and act the way we want him to act for our benefit?
Jesus didn’t respond to Herod’s demands because he wasn’t interested in people-pleasing. He had something better to do. He was interested in pleasing His Father in Heaven and in saving us from our sins. Can we trust Him? When we ask Him for something and our requests seem to get no response, can we trust that He has something better in mind—whether we can see it or not?
Prayer: Lord, help me trust your love, wisdom, and power, even when I don’t see it.
Reflection for sharing: Think of a situation that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, but still turned out well? Can you see God’s hand in that?
A large crowd of people spread their cloaks on the road… Matthew 21: 8a
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowd rolled out a “red carpet” made of their cloaks–their coats, as we would say. What does outerwear do? It protects us from the cold. It can also conceal our flaws or be a fashion statement. Think about it. People took off their coats, their protection against the elements, and used them to pave the way for Christ. What would it take for us to remove our protective covering and lay it at Christ’s feet?
When we feel threatened, we cling to whatever offers us protection. When we’re warmed by an atmosphere of love and acceptance, we feel secure enough to let go of our insulation. I’ve thrown a coat on over my pajamas to run out and pick up the newspaper more than once. When I’m in street clothes, I don’t have to do that. When we’re sure of and comfortable with who we are, we don’t have to hide from the outside world or try so hard to fit in. We can be true to ourselves.
We get this reassurance when we make room for Christ in our hearts. He offers us unconditional acceptance when we risk being honest about ourselves. He reminds us that we are unique, and that we don’t have to be like everybody else. We can be exactly who we were created to be. We can take off our protective insulation and make way for Christ because He does for us all that our protective coverings do for us and more.
Prayer: Welcome, Lord. Here I am, just as I am.
Reflection: What would it take for your to remove your protective covering and lay it at Christ’s feet?
[The Lord] gave Aaron the turban with the gold ornament engraved with the words, “Dedicated to the Lord.” Sirach 45: 12a
I wish I had the words “dedicated to the Lord” on the forefront of my mind, just as the words on that turban were anchored on Aaron’s forehead. If I could only keep in mind that I was created by God, that I belong to Him, and that His will is always better than mine. It’s taken some rough lessons to remind me of that when self-will has distracted me.
Come to think of it, “Dedicated to the Lord” is an awesome responsibility to live up to. Then again, even Aaron—hand-picked by God to be Moses’ spokesman and High Priest—got it wrong sometimes. Aaron joined Miriam in criticizing their brother Moses and indulging in lofty opinions of themselves. In Moses’ absence, Aaron gave in to peer pressure. He gave the people what they wanted: a gold calf to worship. Pride and fear. I can relate.
Still, Aaron served God and His people in spite of his weaknesses. In our weakness, we can still be dedicated to the Lord. The words breathe promise and dignity. The promise of what we could be when we surrender our will to God’s plans. The dignity of knowing we have value–and can be of service–not because we’re perfect, but because we belong to God.
Prayer: Lord, may my thoughts, words, and actions be dedicated to you today.
Reflection for sharing: How would remembering that you’re dedicated to the Lord change your day today?
Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” Psalm 51:12
Why should we obey God? The psalmist tells us the key to willingness is the joy that comes from salvation. Resignation and outward compliance to the law is very different from willingly surrendering our wills to God. When our minds and hearts are open to see what God has done for us, the lavishness of his unconditional love, and his own willingness to save us—often from our own foolish stubbornness, we experience the joy of salvation. We aren’t perfect. We can never be good enough on our own to earn our right to be justified. The glorious good news is that we don’t have to. We can acknowledge our shortcomings and the wrongs we’ve done—God knows all about them anyway. We can come to him exactly as we are and find he is waiting with open arms.
God loves us—not because we are perfect—he just loves us. And because he loves us, he wants what is best for us. We want what’s best for us too, but so often, we don’t know what that is. When we trust God’s wisdom and experience his unconditional love there’s no reason to cling to self-will. Years of struggling to have our own way haven’t brought us lasting contentment. Accepting God’s love brings joy in a way that no change in circumstances can touch. Why wouldn’t we obey someone who knows us better than we know ourselves, who is all-wise, all-loving, and who is longing to share with us the joy of salvation?
Prayer: Lord, grant me the willingness to follow your directions.
Reflection for sharing: When have you felt forgiveness and unconditional love? What was it like to experience the joy that comes from God’s salvation?
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why that scowl on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling; but because you have done evil, sin is crouching at your door. It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it.” Genesis 4: 6-7
We know that Cain didn’t overcome the sin ‘crouching at his door.’ He murdered his brother Abel. Why? Because God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Abel gave his best. Cain didn’t. It wasn’t Abel’s fault that Cain didn’t do the right thing, but instead of taking responsibility for his own shortcomings, Cain blamed his brother for showing him up. Feeling anger wasn’t a sin, but it put Cain in a position to have sin to gain the upper hand.
It’s easy to resent others when their integrity shows us up. As if the key to our integrity lies in being—or appearing to be—better than others. If we could only direct our attention to our own choices instead of comparing ourselves to others. If we think others are better than we are, we become resentful, envious, or insecure. If we feel superior to others, we get self-righteous, condescending, or conceited. Either way, it’s not a pretty sight. The fault lies, not outside us, but in our own choices. We are free to put forth our best effort or not. When we don’t, we know it. Whether others know it or not, it eats away at our self-esteem. When we do the right thing we also know it. When we’re grounded in healthy self-respect we have no need to pull down anyone else.
When we catch ourselves being annoyed at someone else’s success, we’re in a vulnerable position. We can acknowledge our feelings. (it wasn’t Cain’s anger that was the problem, but what he did with it.) Honestly admitting our true feelings and working them through in a way that doesn’t hurt ourselves or others is healthy. Correcting our own mistakes and cleaning up our side of the street can’t help but make us feel a sense of integrity. When we feel good about ourselves, our hearts will smile. What other people are doing or not doing can’t take that away.
Prayer: Lord, help me face myself honestly, accept what I find, and take the actions you would have me take.
Reflection for sharing: When have you envied someone else’s success? What was going on inside of you at the time? What choices did you have about how to handle the situation?
My children, keep yourselves safe from false gods! 1 John 5:21
Temptations are seductive. If they didn’t offer us something that looks good, why would we go after them? They lure us by promising to make us feel good, or satisfy our desires for pleasure, power, or fame. They promise protection from painful feelings like loneliness, helplessness, or rejection.
The problem is, temptations are impostors. Their promises are lies—no matter how many people “worship” them. At best, they let us down. At worst, they are destructive. Ask any addict who started out wanting to feel good and ended up devastated by loss of health, loved ones, and income—not to mention the freedom to choose, as they find themselves pushed around by the demands of the booze, drugs, etc.
But we don’t have to end up on skid row to be taken in by false gods. How many trips to the mall does it take until we know that more things aren’t going to bring us lasting happiness and might even leave our bank accounts in dire straits? How many times do we have to join in gossip until we recognize that tearing someone else down doesn’t build us up but instead damages our character at least as much as the person we’re talking about? How many times will we surrender our principles and self-respect by going along with what others want because we can’t risk being rejected? Physical comfort, wanting to feel important or accepted aren’t wrong in themselves, but when we let them take first place in our lives, we make them into false gods. These idols feed on pride and fear. Pride tells us we are the center of our own universe and that the way to happiness is focusing on Number 1. Fear tells us we don’t dare experience rejection or look bad or else we’ll not only feel worthless, we’ll be worthless.
Maybe that’s why the Bible tells us so often, “Do not be afraid,” and encourages us to grow in humility. The God of Truth can teach our hearts that we are valuable, precious, and loved, even if we aren’t the center of the universe. He can show us that our ultimate joy and good comes from trusting Him instead of going after happiness in short-sighted or self-defeating ways. He will teach us that joy runs deeper and endures longer than the pleasure promised by false gods. When those false gods let us down or hurt us, the One True God is always waiting for us to turn back to Him.
Prayer: God of Truth, open my eyes to see false promises for what they are.
Reflection for sharing: What false gods are promising you more than they can deliver today?
After the Resurrection, the believers who joined the apostles “all shared with one another everything they had.” Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold their property turned some of the money to the apostles but kept part of the money for themselves. Peter confronted Ananias, saying, “…why did you let Satan take control of you and make you lie to the Holy Spirit by keeping part of the money you received for the property?…You have not lied to people—you have lied to God!” When confronted, Ananias dropped dead. Later, Peter asked Sapphira, who didn’t know what happened, if she and her husband had given over the full amount they received for the property. When she answered yes, Peter confronted her and she, too, fell down dead. (Acts 4:32b; 5:1-11)
That sounds pretty harsh! Ananias and his wife gave the apostles a substantial sum of money—maybe more than half of what they got once they sold the property. Isn’t that enough? A closer look at the passage in Acts shows that Peter was not concerned about the amount of money. He was concerned that Ananias and his wife had been dishonest about it. While Ananias and his wife wanted to participate in the communal living with other believers they also hedged their bet by keeping a private reserve. Peter seems to indicate that if they wanted to keep some of the money it was their right to do so. If they’d been honest about it, maybe there would have been no problem. What was seriously wrong was to pretend a level of commitment they didn’t have, to claim fellowship with a group who had abandoned all without having done so themselves.
No one executed Ananias or Sapphira. They simply died on the spot once their lie was exposed. Don’t we all die a little bit when we pretend to be something we’re not? When we hide the truth of who we are from others, we classify ourselves as not good enough. We convince ourselves that we have to put on a front to be accepted–but whatever acceptance or honor we receive under false pretenses doesn’t really count. In our hearts we know it. Our self-respect is doomed when we deny our truth, whether or not other people find out. As Peter points out, we aren’t lying to people, we’re lying to God. We often end up lying to ourselves as well and start believing our own self-image.
It is life-giving to acknowledge who we are, warts and all. After all, who are we trying to fool? All the popularity in the world doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t like ourselves. And why hide from God? After all, he knows the truth about us. He loves us anyway. What have we got to hide?
Prayer: Lord, lead me to the truth about myself.
Reflection for sharing: What keeps you from facing the truth about yourself?
Wednesday’s Word: Authenticity
I am not afraid. I am going to talk because I know my own heart. (Job 9: 35)
Sharing what’s in our hearts takes courage. Knowing what’s in our hearts in the first place takes courage, too.
When we’re afraid of being judged, criticized, or rejected, we’re not likely to expose our deepest feelings. There’s nothing wrong with putting our best foot forward, but when we consistently put on a false front or try to live up to others’ expectations, we can lose ourselves. We bury those parts of ourselves we wish weren’t there without even realizing that we’re cutting ourselves off from a very real part of ourselves. No matter how many friends we gain with our false front, we’ll still feel alone if no one knows the “real me.”
The negative feelings we don’t acknowledge don’t go away. Buried alive they sometimes leak out sideways. Just ask those we live or work with. The irony is that we need to face our shadowy secrets and accept that they are part of us before we can let them go. This isn’t easy to do. Meditating on God’s unconditional love helps us feel safe enough to face our true selves. In order to grow in this awareness, it helps to have encouragement and emotional support, whether from a spiritual director, a psychological counselor, or a wise and understanding friend in whom we can confide.
“Yes. I wish I weren’t vain, or judgmental, or greedy…but the truth is, I am.” When we dare to face the truth—however unflattering it is—it’s a relief. Sharing this truth with another human being in a safe environment, whether in a confessional, a psychologist’s office, or over coffee at a trusted friend’s house, is healing. There is hope for change and for genuine relationships. We can communicate authentically once we’re not afraid and we know our own hearts.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage to be honest, starting with myself.
Reflection: What’s going on inside your heart today?
And so it was that Joseph, a Levite born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “One who Encourages”) sold a field he owned, brought the money and turned it over to the apostles. Acts 4: 36-37
Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and many people were brought to the Lord. Acts 11:24
Barnabas was a good guy. He earned the nickname Barnabas because he encouraged others—and not by words alone. Barnabas was also a Levite. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus used a Levite to demonstrate that those who are religiously scrupulous can fail to love the people in their path. Not Barnabas. His experience with religious rituals and laws didn’t keep him from living a life of love.
Barnabas demonstrated absolute faith in God by giving up his financial security. He sold his property and donated the money to the apostles. When the disciples were skeptical of Paul’s conversion because Paul had persecuted Christians, Barnabas interceded on his behalf. Barnabas worked with Paul and together they shared the good news with Gentiles, despite facing persecution themselves. When Paul refused to take John Mark with him because John Mark had abandoned an earlier mission, Barnabas took Mark with him.
Encouragement for the Christian community. Encouragement for Paul. Encouragement for Gentiles. Encouragement for John Mark. All without saying a word.
What was Barnabas’ secret? He was “full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” He trusted God, not religious practices, wealth, popular opinion, or the infallibility of fellow believers. He gave people the benefit of the doubt. He relied on God’s guidance and his own observation, rather than on what others had to say. He believed in second chances.
How about us? What are we trusting in today? Our efforts to be good or God’s love and mercy? Do we take for granted our material security or see it as a gift of God’s providence? Do we rely on the court of public opinion or reserve judgment? Are we willing to give others the benefit of the doubt? Can we give them—and ourselves—a second chance?
Prayer: Lord, may our faith in You encourage us and empower us to encourage others.
Reflection for sharing: What encourages you? How can you share encouragement with someone else today?