So then, you must never think that you have made yourselves wealthy by your own power and strength. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power… Deuteronomy 8: 17
There’s nothing wrong with the satisfaction that comes from seeing our hard work pay off and enjoying the results of our efforts—financially or otherwise. There’s a healthy pride that comes from achieving our goals. The problem comes when we trust solely in ourselves. It’s an easy mistake to make. I’ve made it plenty of times.
From birth, I was always blessed with a sturdy physical build and a fairly quick mind. I was raised by parents who instilled a strong work ethic in me. It was easy to trust in my physical and reasoning abilities…until a car accident, followed by a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis left me permanently debilitated. I could no longer push myself physically. I ran into problems that were beyond my ability to solve by intellect alone.
That’s when I realized that although I thought I believed in God and trusted his power, I lived as if I trusted only in myself.
I was brought through times of helplessness. I learned to accept the help that was offered and provided. While grateful for the natural abilities I’d been given at birth, I learned to be even more grateful for the strength God gave me to accept my weakness. Even though I still forget at times, it’s much easier now to remember that it is God who gives me the power to do what he has in mind for me to do on any given day.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the strength to do what you have in mind for me to do today.
Reflection: What have you achieved in your life? What gifts enabled you to accomplish your achievements?
Whenever the cloud lifted, they moved on. Numbers 9: 18b; 21b
God led the Hebrew slaves to freedom through desert territory they’d never seen before. They were wise to stay put while the cloud of God’s presence covered them. It makes sense not to travel when you can’t see clearly where you’re going. Sooner or later the cloud lifted. Eventually they were led to the Promised Land.
Similarly, God sometimes guides me by allowing my mind to be clouded with confusion. It slows me down. When I can’t see clearly what action to take, I’m forced to wait. That’s when God has a chance to direct my thinking and actions. Otherwise, guided only by self-will, I zip along full speed ahead, impatiently following my own agenda.
Like the Hebrews in the desert, it’s good for me to stay put when my thoughts are cloudy. Sooner or later, the cloud lifts and I’m led to where God wants me to be. His plan is always so much better than mine.
Prayer: Lord, grant me patient trust in your guidance when I can’t see clearly.
Reflection: When has patience brought you clarity?
As Jesus sat near the Temple treasury, he watched the people as they dropped in their money. Many rich people dropped in a lot of money; then a poor widow came along and dropped in two little copper coins, worth about a penny. He called his disciples together and said to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others. For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had—she gave all she had to live on.” Mark 12: 41-44
While Jesus was eating, a woman came in with an alabaster jar full of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. Some of the people there became angry and said to one another, “What was the use of wasting the perfume? It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” And they criticized her harshly.
But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! …She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me…She did what she could…” Mark 14: 3-6
One way or the other, money really is no object. At least, that’s how it seems according to these gospel stories. The widow gave what she had. Her gift of a penny was more than enough, and valued by Jesus. The woman who anointed Jesus gave what she had, too. Her expensive gift was not rejected as extravagant, but also valued by Jesus.
In God’s economy, it’s not about how much or how little we have to give, but the love and sincerity behind the gift that counts. This applies to more than material gifts. What about the abilities and talents we’ve been gifted with? We don’t need to worry that what we have to share isn’t good enough. We don’t need to worry that we’d be showing off by putting our talents to use. When we are offering ourselves and our abilities to God, we don’t need to worry about other people’s opinions or comments. We don’t even have to worry about the results. Neither the widow’s penny nor the lavish perfume made a huge difference in the worldly scheme of things, but both were precious and appreciated by the Lord.
Every time we overcome shyness, or feelings of inadequacy, or fear that people will think we’re trying to show off in order to share what we’ve been given, we are doing “a fine and beautiful thing.”
Prayer: Lord, help me recognize my gifts and share them.
Reflection: What are your gifts? Who can you share them with today?
Why did the Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land? They were afraid because they didn’t trust God to keep his promise.
When we reject the good God offers us, it’s probably for the same reason: fear. When we reject God’s loving plan for us, fear is probably involved in some way.
Let’s look at the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
- Pride is giving self-will priority over God’s will. If we believe God is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-loving, why would we ever choose our own way instead of his? On some level, we must be afraid that God won’t do as good a job as we could or that his plan is not as good as ours, so we use manipulation or force to get our way.
- Greed probably involves fear that we won’t have enough or get enough or keep enough of whatever we feel greedy about: money, things, approval, attention. We grab for or hoard more than we need because we don’t trust God to provide for our needs.
- Envy might include fear that we aren’t good enough, or that we aren’t as good as others. Resenting what they have fuels our feelings of inadequacy. We don’t trust God’s love for us and the value we have simply because he loved us into existence.
- Anger, chances are, often involves thwarted self-will. Maybe someone or something threatened our fragile self-esteem, or we didn’t get our way. When our illusions of control are shattered, we get angry. We don’t trust that things can still turn out just fine-even if they don’t go our way-because God has it all under control.
- Lust, at least in part, may include the fear that we are unlovable or perhaps the fear of true intimacy and the mutual surrender involved in sharing love on a level that goes so much deeper than the physical plane.
- Gluttony might, in part, be connected to fear of discomfort. It might also involve trying to fill our emptiness in a self-defeating way because we fear that God’s love and his plan aren’t enough to sustain us, that his allotment of our daily bread won’t fill the gaping hole within us.
- Sloth, laziness, procrastination, might disguise a fear that what we do won’t be good enough. We’d rather not try at all, than try and fail. Underneath may lurk a fear that neither God nor anyone else could love us as we are, that we’ll be rejected unless we’re perfect or successful in the way the world defines success.
In all these options, we short-change ourselves. We deny ourselves the joy that comes from abandoning ourselves to God’s loving care and protective power. It’s risky to trust that he does love us, that he knows what he’s doing, that his plans are to build us up and to give us the future we hope for (Jeremiah 29:11), and that he will keep his promise. It’s a risk worth taking.
Prayer: Lord, lead me to the Promised Land you have in mind for me.
Reflection: How is fear blocking you from the joy God has in mind for you?
Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If any of you want to come with me,” he told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.” Mark 8: 34
- Forget: How does one forget oneself? How does one forget anything? Having studied French for five years in school, I used to be able to read and write it fairly well. Nevertheless, I only remember a few phrases. How did I forget all that French? Disuse. The knowledge was there, but I stopped acting on it. Maybe it’s like that with forgetting our “selves”. If you’re like me, self-will often makes demands. We don’t have to pretend it doesn’t, but we don’t have act on those demands, either. Self-indulgence makes them stronger. If we don’t pay attention to them, they’ll probably atrophy from disuse. Then we can better discern how to meet our legitimate needs and wants.
- Carry: Fewer demands on our time and energy leave more inner resources available to determine which crosses are ours and to accept whatever our cross might look like on any given day. We have a better chance of discerning what God is asking us to do—or stop doing. Without ego in charge, it’s easier to recognize our limitations and our need for help in carrying whatever crosses are ours. Sometimes our biggest cross might be developing the courage and humility to ask for help.
- Follow: Freedom from self-centeredness makes it easier to keep our eyes on the Lord. We can’t follow him if we don’t look at him. How will we know where he’s going? If we are self-absorbed, we’ll miss the guidance and promptings of his Spirit. If we’re pre-occupied with our agendas, we won’t have room for his directions.
It’s our choice. If, as Jesus said, we want to join him, we need to leave behind our pre-occupation with self, accept the challenges we face, and move, however falteringly, in his direction. We can trust that his grace, not our own strength, will empower us. It’s not all about us anymore.
Prayer: Lord, help me forget myself as I focus on you.
Reflection: Do you want to accept Jesus’ invitation to join him? If so, what will you forget? What will you carry? Where is he asking you to follow him today?
The apostles came back and told Jesus everything they had done. He took them with him, and they went off by themselves to a town named Bethsaida. When the crowds heard about it, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed it. Luke 9: 10-11
The crowds interrupted Jesus’ private meeting with his apostles. How did Jesus respond? He welcomed the intruders.
When I’m interrupted, I’m a lot crankier. If unexpected events frustrate my agenda, my exasperation is as plain as the thinly disguised frown on my face. Although I usually rise to the occasion, it often involves working towards acceptance rather than being instantly welcoming.
Why is that? Because I forget that my agenda is not God’s agenda. I forget that I was created to know, love, and serve God, as my childhood Baltimore catechism told me. I forget that serving God does not mean flawless execution of my itinerary, however noble my intentions. I forget that God’s definition of success is not my own—or the world’s—definition of success.
If Jesus is my role model, success is welcoming others warmly when they interrupt me, sharing God’s love with others—whether that means offering them encouragement, listening to them, or just not snapping at them for getting in my way.
Someone—I wish I could remember who—once prayed, “Lord, may I take every interruption as coming from you.” What a powerful thought! Interruptions might be sent by God to jar me out of my prideful, narrow focus. God’s plan is better than mine, but sometimes I need reminding. How about you?
Prayer: Lord, help me welcome the people and events you send my way today.
Reflection: When we call on Jesus, he’s never too busy to welcome us warmly. Can we pass it on?
I replied, “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!” Ezekiel 37: 3
It’s okay not to have all the answers. There are some questions we can’t know the answers to, this side of heaven. There’s no shame in knowing what we have no way of knowing.
Why God asked Ezekiel if those bones could come back to life? God already knew the answer. Surely God also knew that Ezekiel didn’t know the answer. Why ask? Maybe God just wanted Ezekiel to pay attention to the issue, to consider the possibilities, and to do just what Ezekiel did: stand in humble silence and watch God’s power in action.
At the transfiguration, we’re told that Peter offered to build three shelters for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, although Peter really didn’t know what he was saying. The proper response when we don’t know what to say is to keep silent and listen. Then we will find out what we’re meant to know.
If we have questions, maybe it’s because God wants our attention so he can give us the answer or just demonstrate his power.
Prayer: Lord, help me trust that when I don’t know, you do.
Reflection: What question does God want you to consider but leave in his hands today?
The entrances to heaven aren’t called the pearly gates for nothing. Pearls are created by an oyster in response to irritation. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasure, but shouts to us in our pain. Could it be that only broken hearts are open enough to let God in?
God’s grace can transform pain into beauty. The glorious Resurrection followed the crucifixion. God’s power and grace continue to bring good out of suffering today. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, by turning to God and facing their addiction, developed a program that has helped countless thousands recover physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Restorative justice programs invite victims and offenders, under controlled and supervised guidance, to encounter each other so that forgiveness and healing can emerge. God’s power and grace can transform our pain, too, if we’re willing.
When we experience pain, we have choices about what to do with it. We can wallow and remain victimized by it or we can surrender our pain to God and turn to him for strength, wisdom, and grace.
- Sometimes pain allows us to recognize our human limitations. Some of us just won’t stop until we’re forced to. It can be scary when we’ve reached the end of our own strength, but that’s when we have no choice but to trust God.
- Sometimes pain motivates us to change. When selfish behaviors don’t get us into too much trouble, we continue to indulge them. Only when the pain they cause exceeds the payoff do we become willing to give up whatever benefits our self-centered actions seem to give us.
- Sometimes we have no choice but to simply endure, as best we can. If we’re going to be in pain anyway, we may as well offer it to God and use it as an opportunity to exercise our faith, trusting that we’ll be given what we need-even when we can’t see it.
Any of these options can take us beyond the pain to a different level of being, to a different perspective, to a glimpse of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Prayer: Compassionate God, who brought good out of the cross, help us trust you to bring good out of our pain.
Reflection: When have you seen beauty brought from pain?
King David, who wrote this psalm, is well-known in Scripture. He killed the giant Goliath with only a sling and a few stones. He led armies successfully against Israel’s enemies. It was through David’s descendants that the promised Messiah was to come. We know Jesse was David’s father, but who is his mother? We don’t know, because the bible never mentions her name. That didn’t stop her from being an influence in David’s spiritual life.
What is important—with or without her name being known—is that she served the Lord and that David served the Lord just as she did. Apparently, his mother remained in the background, quietly setting an example of service. David started off in the background, too, minding the sheep—until God had other plans for him. Chances are, David didn’t start out to make a name for himself. He gained fame because he met challenges as they were presented to him, trusting in God, not in himself.
Although David’s mother remained in the background, God used her. Maybe we’re like her, called to serve God without fanfare. Doing what needs to be done, quietly accepting and meeting the challenges that we find ourselves facing. Maybe in doing so we preach a sermon louder than we could with a megaphone or a microphone. David’s mother had neither and she influenced a son to serve God in a mighty way that made a difference for all generations to come.
Maybe being anonymous isn’t so bad.
Prayer: Lord, may I serve you-whether or not anyone else knows.
Reflection: Who might you be influencing by your quiet faithfulness today?
Job lost his children and all his wealth in a single day, but still praised God. This doesn’t mean he didn’t have feelings, grieve the loss of his children, or fear his new-found financial insecurity. It simply meant he did not blame God for his misfortune.
Job was able to praise God because he recognized that all the good things he had been blessed with were gifts, not entitlements. Job may have felt sad, scared, overwhelmed, or even angered by his loss, but he didn’t feel wronged by God because of it.
Are we fair-weather friends of God? If we’re in it only for what God can do for us, that’s not much of a relationship.
I have Multiple Sclerosis. During an M.S. attack, I suffered an excruciating headache for days. I wanted to trust God but was shaken to the core by pain and overwhelmed with anguish. I shared my frustration and despair with a spiritual mentor, who suggested that perhaps there was a bit of spiritual warfare going on, an attempt to get me to turn my back on God. I’d never thought of it as a temptation, but in the story of Job that’s exactly what was going on. Satan’s theory was that Job worshipped God only for what he could get out of the relationship and would turn his back on God if his blessings were taken away. The book of Job shows otherwise.
Right after the conversation with my mentor, a contemporary Christian song came on the radio affirming that we can choose to praise the Lord whether things are going well or terribly.
Hearing that song at that moment, made it all click for me. I sang along at the top of my lungs in spite of my pain. As I sang, I felt a wave of victory come over my spirit such as I can’t describe. There is power in exercising our free will. No person or circumstance can take that away from us.
Prayer: Lord, blessed be your name.
Reflection: What might happen if you praise God in the midst of a problem?