Help others and you will be helped. Proverbs 11: 25b
We can’t help others without helping ourselves. Helping others gives us a sense of purpose. It makes us feel useful, maybe even important. Reaching out to others generates good will. Even when others don’t—or can’t—reciprocate, we can feel good about the kinds of choices we’ve made. Maybe we feel gratified at the chance to “pay it forward” in return for a kindness we’ve received.
We all need help at times. It’s reassuring to participate in creating the kind of mutually supportive community we’d like to believe is possible.
Unfortunately, sometimes what we call “helping” is an attempt to interfere and/or control other people or situations. It’s a mistake to do for others what they can and should be doing for themselves. We might think we’re helping, but instead be sending the message that we’re more competent than they are. We may be preventing others from standing on their own two feet. We may be depriving them of the opportunity to develop the sense of self-esteem that comes from working through a challenge or the chance to learn from their mistakes. In these cases, although our egos might feel gratified, we haven’t truly helped others or ourselves.
Prayer: Lord, give me the wisdom to know when and how to help.
Reflection: When has helping someone else helped you? When has being “helpful” backfired?
But they were amazed and afraid, and said to one another, “Who is this man? He gives orders to the winds and waves, and they obey him! Luke 8:25
While crossing a lake with his disciples, Jesus fell asleep in the boat. A storm hit. Some of the disciples were sea-faring fishermen, but even they were terrified and convinced they were going to die. No wonder they woke Jesus up.
Jesus gave an order to the wind and waves and immediately there was a great calm. Luke doesn’t say the disciples were happy or even relieved. He says they were “amazed and afraid.” (GNT, NRSV)
No matter how good things may be, it is scary to feel our powerlessness. Although it’s easy to forget when things are running smoothly, there are plenty of circumstances beyond our control. We are not in charge of the universe.
We’re not at the mercy of chaos, either. The good news is that God, the Creator of the universe, is in control, even when it doesn’t look like it.
God is all-powerful. Yes, He loves us intimately. Yes, He’s slow to anger and rich in kindness. Yes, His grace is amazing…but so is His power.
The word awesome has become trivialized by overuse. The word awful has a negative connotation. What word can we use to describe the mind-blowing, knee-shaking power and authority of the God who made the planets and stars and yet numbers the hairs on our head? To be known and loved by such a God is enough to amaze and frighten anyone.
Prayer: Glory and Praise to our Mighty God!
Reflection: When have you felt both amazed and afraid? How does it feel to see God’s power and know you are loved by that same power?
Why did the Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land? They were afraid. They didn’t trust God to keep his promise.
When we reject the good God offers us, it’s probably for the same reason. When we sin by rejecting 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 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. What they have, whether material possessions or personal attributes, 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. This may tie in with pride. When our illusions of control are shattered, we get angry. When things don’t go the way we think they should, we don’t trust that things can still turn out just fine, 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 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 or that his allotment for us of our daily bread won’t fill the gaping hole within us.
Sloth, laziness, procrastination, might be a disguise for the 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, of risking that he does love us, that he does know 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.
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?
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
Jesus welcomed the crowds when they interrupted his private meeting with his apostles.
When I’m interrupted, I’m a lot crankier. If unexpected events frustrate my plans, I usually have to work through my exasperation before I get to acceptance.
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 grade school Baltimore catechism told me. I forget that serving God does not mean flawlessly executing 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. It’s sharing God’s love with them—by offering encouragement, listening, 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. I know that 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. Who can we welcome warmly today?
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 did God ask 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?
But the Lord says, “Can an ax claim to be greater than the one who uses it? Isaiah 10: 13; 15a
The emperor of Assyria probably was strong and wise and clever. He didn’t have to pretend he was weak and stupid and inept in order to recognize the true source of his abilities.
We don’t have to put ourselves down in the name of false humility. Denying our abilities is just as wrong as bragging. True humility is being honest about our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s recognizing that our abilities were God-given. Although we have free will, which means much of what we do depends on our own choices, there is so much that is beyond our control.
We did not create ourselves. We did not pick our parents, determine our genetic make-up, or the environment—or even the century and locale—we were raised in. All these internal and external factors had a hand in shaping our development.
An honest look at the world around us will tell us that we are not in control of the universe or even our tiny corner of it. But there is One Who is in control. What we achieve is partly up to us, and how we use—or don’t use—the abilities and opportunities God gives us.
Our best efforts are up to us. The outcome is never up to us. Our part is to do our best. When we do, we can let go of the rest. If it turns out well, we can take pride in our achievement without being egotistical, as long as we remember to thank the Giver for His gifts.
Prayer: Lord, help me recognize Your gifts to me.
Reflection: What have you accomplished? What gifts helped you accomplish it?
It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves the servants in charge, after giving each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch. Mark 13: 34
Jesus makes it clear that we’re all supposed to watch, because we don’t know when the master will return, but watching isn’t all we’re supposed to do. Our Master has given “each one his own work to do….”
God made us all individuals for a reason. We each have a unique combination of talents, abilities, and interests. We all have a purpose and are uniquely situated to serve as we are.
Often, we need to grow where we’re planted. A shy homebody, hiding her beautiful singing voice out of fear disguised as false modesty, may decide to move beyond her comfort zone and take on the role of cantor when the need arises. A businessman might use his management skills to help the parish food bank get off the ground. The work we’re given to do goes beyond our vocation.
What would happen if we consider every person that crosses our path today as sent by God? Our work might be to give up a few minutes of our time to listen to them, offer a word of encouragement, or a simple smile. No one is going to encounter the same set of people that you or I do today. We each have a unique opportunity to reach out and touch someone.
The work God has in mind for us may or may not be how we earn our living, but it is uniquely ours.
Prayer: Lord, who do you want me to serve?
Reflection: What are your talents? How can you use them to be of service today?