Jesus knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king by force; so he went off again to the hills by himself. John 6:15
The King of Kings, was going to be declared king by the people but he retreated to the hills alone. Why? Because they wanted to make him king by force. God doesn’t force anyone to follow him or to love him. He allows us to freely accept or reject His loving invitation.
Almighty God, who holds all the power in the universe, doesn’t use force. Since Jesus is the Son of God, it’s easy to see why he could afford to let people make their own choices. When you have true power, you don’t need to lord it over others. It’s when we feel vulnerable that we’re likely to dig in our heels and grab on to whatever power we can wield to protect our fragile self-image. It takes maturity and confidence to think of others instead of our own egos.
Being human, we’re bound to feel inadequate at times. If we feel compelled to throw our weight around to command respect, obedience, or admiration from others it might help us to remember that our Lord didn’t model that behavior. He didn’t have to. When we’re trying to do His will, neither do we.
Prayer: Almighty God, grant me the security that comes from knowing all power is in your hands.
Reflection: Think of a time when you tried to force people to see or do things your way. What feelings were going on beneath the surface? How might trusting God have helped?
With him goes Onesimus, that dear and faithful friend, who belongs to your group. They will tell you everything that is happening here. Colossians 4: 9
St. Paul called Onesimus his “dear and faithful friend.” Others might have felt differently about him. Onesimus was a runaway slave, who may well have used his master Philemon’s cash to fund his escape. Although the name Onesimus means useful, Philemon probably had other words to describe him.
Somehow the runaway met St. Paul became a Christian, and had a change of heart. Onesimus was not only useful to Paul, but faithful, too, according to Paul’s account. In his letter to Philemon, Paul sent Onesimus back to his master, imploring Philemon to welcome him just as he would welcome Paul, himself. Philemon was expected to welcome back the slave who stole from him with open arms. Paul was asking a lot of both master and runaway. There was no guarantee that Philemon would forego whatever punishment was due Onesimus. He went back anyway, or we would not have the letter today. Why couldn’t Onesimus have stayed with Paul where he was apparently of great service? Returning to make amends for his wrongs and creating an opportunity for reconciliation was a greater service.
We may run away from situations not to our liking for any number of reasons. It’s appropriate to remove ourselves from abusive situations. The idea of a fresh start is appealing for good reason. But sometimes there is no fresh start until we have cleaned up the messes our past mistakes have created. We are under no obligation to put ourselves in danger of victimization, but when we’re risking our pride or vanity, we owe it to ourselves to make amends to those we may have hurt by our self-centered choices–unless doing so might cause them or third parties harm. When we approach those we have wronged in a sincere attempt to set things right, they may or may not welcome us. If they do, we have mended a relationship–but even if they don’t, we can put the past to rest. Knowing we have done what we could to set the matter straight, we are free to live usefully in the present instead of being haunted by lingering regret.
Prayer: Lord, teach my heart the freedom of facing my mistakes.
Reflection: How can making amends free you today?
They are like trees planted in the house of the Lord, that flourish in the Temple of our God, that still bear fruit in old age and are always green and strong. Psalm 92:13-14
I’ve qualified for the senior discount for a few years now and I don’t feel all that green and strong. I remember what it felt like, though. In my younger days I was a pretty sturdy physical specimen. I had energy, stamina, and worked very hard. Even though I got a lot accomplished, I didn’t bear much fruit in those days. Not that I didn’t need to earn a living or get the chores done…but I invested too much time in energy in things that made me feel productive but didn’t matter in the long run. Getting things checked of my “to do” list is not the same as bearing fruit.
The time I spent investing in relationships with loved ones, in exploring who I really am, in attempting to follow a spiritual path, those are the things I see bearing fruit now that I’ve reached “a certain age.” Those are the things that keep me green and strong on the inside. Something within me flourishes every time I connect heart to heart with someone else; every time I accept the truth about myself and my limitations; every time I’m open to receive God’s love and share it.
Prayer: Lord, keep me rooted in your love.
Reflection: What are you investing your energy in today? Will it still bear fruit in old age? What keeps you green and strong?
…The Lord appeared to [Solomon] in a dream and asked him, “What would you like me to give you?”
“…Give me the wisdom I need to rule your people with justice and to know the difference between good and evil. Otherwise, how would I ever be able to rule this great people of yours?” Kings 3: 5; 9
Young King Solomon asked for what he needed to do the work given him to do: rule God’s people. God gave Solomon the wisdom he asked for and also blessed him with the wealth and honor he didn’t ask for.
I used to feel intimidated by James’ instruction on prayer: “But when you pray, you must believe and not doubt at all. Whoever doubts is like a wave in the sea that is driven and blown about by the wind. If you are like that, unable to make up your mind and undecided in all you do, you must not think that you will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1: 6) When I pray for what I want or think my loved ones or I need, I’m not usually 100% confident. If I pray for specific outcomes like physical healing, a job, or a particular solution to a problem, I can’t help but doubt. Solomon’s prayer shows me another way.
When I pray for God’s will, then I am confident that that prayer will be answered—because I’m asking for what God intends to be done. Often I admit to God that although I’m praying for his will, I really want things to turn out a certain way, as he already knows. As I learn to yield my will bit by bit, I’m learning there’s a difference between wanting something and praying for it. Whether I’m praying for myself or others, when I ask for the grace, strength, wisdom, or other the spiritual gifts to handle the situation, I am confident. It is easy to trust that God will give me and those I care about the things we need to do his will.
I think Solomon was wise to ask for wisdom, so maybe he had a head start. When we ask for the power to do what God would have us do, we can be assured we will be granted what we ask for. Why would God withhold what we need to do what his will? He knows how to give good gifts to his children. (Matthew 7:11)
Prayer: Lord, grant us what we need to do your will today.
Reflection: Imagine God asking you, “What would you like me to give you?” What is your answer?
Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24
Putting off the old nature and putting on a new one isn’t just putting on an outward show of piety. It’s more than just scratching the surface. Paul is telling his audience to be renewed in the spirit of their minds. He tells them to begin by distancing themselves from old, self-defeating habits. So if those “deceitful” longings are there, we don’t have to pretend they’re not, but we can stop acting on them—with God’s grace and the support he will provide if we are willing and receptive.
Temptations call to us, promising satisfaction if we give in. Sometimes it takes repeated painful consequences to convince us those desires really are deceitful. They don’t deliver what they promise—at least without a price: damaged relationships, loss of self-respect, ruined reputations, and more. Those more we linger around those habits, the louder they call. Putting off that old nature by avoiding the old haunts or behaviors that used to get us into trouble, gives our minds and hearts a chance to hear a different message than the same old, same old.
But what about putting on a new nature? Acting holy when we still have lingering thoughts and desires that are less than noble—isn’t that hypocritical? That depends. If we’re trying to impress others without the least interest in changing, we are being insincere. But if our minds and hearts are seeking a better way, practicing new behavior a great way to cooperate with God’s renewing grace. We may feel like a fraud the first or second time we try a new way of handling a situation. We might even be accused of it the first time we don’t respond in kind to a nasty comment; the first time we walk away instead of joining the gossip fest—especially if part of us is dying to hear the latest juicy tidbit; the first time we say no thanks to a drink, a cookie, a flirtation, or a pointless argument. Exercising freedom of choice instead of surrendering to the old habits is not being hypocritical.
St. Paul doesn’t say “wait until your lusts have disappeared.” He challenges us to do what we can: make the choice, take the action, move the muscles. That gives our minds to be renewed with healthier thoughts and interests. We exercise our free will by choosing to take actions that are in our best interest instead of being pushed around by our feelings or desires. We act as if.
Prayer: Lord, renew my mind and heart.
Reflection: What can you “put off” that pulls you in a negative direction? What actions can you replace it with?
Cornelius said, “It was about this time three days ago that I was praying in my house at three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly a man dressed in shining clothes stood in front of me and said: ‘Cornelius! God has heard your prayer and has taken notice of your works of charity. Send someone to Joppa for a man whose full name is Simon Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner of leather, who lives by the sea.’ And so I sent for you at once, and you have been good enough to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God, waiting to hear anything that the Lord has instructed you to say.” Acts 10: 30-33
Not only was Cornelius a Gentile, he was a captain in the Roman occupying army. In spite of his powerful position and his lack of Jewish religion, he was devout believer of God and lived out his faith through acts of charity. In a vision, Cornelius was invited to send for Simon Peter, the rock upon whom Christ said he would build his church. God also sent a vision to Peter, guiding him to accept the invitation.
God’s grace empowered Peter, seeped in Jewish tradition, to cross the religious boundary that prohibited Jews from associating with non-Jews. That same grace inspired Cornelius’ devotion and enabled him to be open to God’s presence—even though transmitted through the people Cornelius and his fellow Romans had conquered. Humility, faith, and willingness paved the way for this significant milestone in the development of the Body of Christ. God poured out his Holy Spirit on Cornelius, his family and friends, all who had gathered to hear Peter’s message. That same Holy Spirit allowed Peter—contrary to centuries of Jewish tradition—to recognize that “God treats everyone on the same basis. Those who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to.” God’s love has the power to melt divisions between people.
The boundary between Jew and Gentile was an enormous hurdle to overcome. From the birth of the Church as the Body of Christ, God demonstrated that the differences that divide those who love and serve Him are no match for the power of His love . As Christ said, the time is coming when all who worship God will worship in Spirit and in truth. As Cornelius worshiped God in truth through his actions and received the Holy Spirit, let us who receive the Spirit allow our actions to be guided by the truth of God’s love for all—even those who disagree with us.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, melt our divisions with the flame of your love.
Reflection: What divisions keep you separated from others? How might God be calling you to act in love today?
Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all who are left of my people. I have cared for you from the time you were born. I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray. I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you. Isaiah 46: 3-4
Who couldn’t use a little reassurance now and then? We’d like to know that the bills will be paid, or that our loved ones will be okay, or that whatever challenge we’re facing at the moment will be resolved. To be alive is to be subject to problems. If we’re waiting to be problem-free, we’re going to be waiting a long time. God doesn’t promise to instantly solve our problems the way we want them solved. Taking care of us means being with us, seeing us through to the other side of our problems, no matter what the outcome is, and still being there…through the next problem, and the next problem, and the one after that, all our days.
We can be reassured that God will be with us in each and every situation we find ourselves walking through. We will be given what we need, whether outside assistance or inner strength, to deal with life on life’s terms, rather than being protected from all pain. But how does that offer comfort when we’re facing scary situations like serious illness, unemployment, or powerlessness to prevent our loved ones from making self-destructive choices? How can we be confident that we’ll be all right when we face these challenges in the here and now?
When I’m afraid and don’t feel God’s presence, it helps me to call to mind all the ways God has taken care of me since I was born—starting with the fact that I was born. My mom was 43 when she became pregnant with me—uncommon at the time. The first doctor she saw thought I was a tumor and suggested removal. Something told her to go to another doctor who confirmed she was pregnant. God was taking care of me when I wasn’t even aware of existing. I think of the crazy risks I took in adolescence, that I somehow lived to tell about. I think of the physical and emotional traumas I didn’t think I could bear, and how I not only survived, but grew in the process. Calling these to mind, helps me trust the God who brought me this far will not abandon me—or my loved ones—no matter what today or tomorrow looks like.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I entrust myself to your care.
Reflection: Think back. What situations beyond your power has God brought you through? How can that reassure you that He is with you today and will continue to be with you until “you are old and your hair is gray? ”
After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he talked about faith in Christ Jesus. But as Paul went on discussing about goodness, self-control, and the coming Day of Judgment, Felix was afraid and said, “You may leave now. I will call you again when I get the chance.” Acts 24:24-25
Governor Felix was in charge of deciding the case against Paul, who had been imprisoned as the result of charges made against him by the Jewish religious leaders. Felix seems to have wanted to listen to Paul, since he sent for him. As long as Paul talked about faith in Jesus, all was well. As soon as Paul spoke about acting with self-control and God’s judgment, Felix got afraid and didn’t have time to listen.
A very human response. We feel comforted and reassured thinking about God’s mercy and unconditional love, and rightly so. But faith in God’s love isn’t a passport to doing whatever we feel like. We don’t have to earn our own salvation—we can’t; scripture makes that abundantly clear. But it is also true that by our choices, we demonstrate where our hearts are. Faith that is no more than lip service isn’t faith at all. Faith isn’t simply intellectual agreement about the nature of God’s love.
If we truly believe in and have a relationship with God, it will be reflected in our actions. If we truly experience God’s love, we will be changed. We will choose to act with self-control when we find ourselves in situations that might harm ourselves or others. That doesn’t mean we will become perfect. We will mess up again and again, and trust ourselves to God’s love as we get back up, again and again. But presumption, feeling like we have it made in the shade with no responsibility in responding to God’s love, is a mistake.
The point is that God loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way. The spiritual journey is not do it yourself project, but it is not a do nothing project either. We do what we can and let God do the rest. One of the first things we can do is listen to the entire message of the Good News, not just the warm, fuzzy parts. When we find ourselves like Felix, snapping shut the door of God’s word, let’s pray for courage, willingness, and an open mind.
Prayer: Lord, make me receptive to your whole truth.
Reflection: What parts of scripture do you find challenging? How can meditating on God’s love empower you to face those challenges?
When the Lord led his people through a hot, dry desert, they did not suffer from thirst. He made water come from a rock for them; he split the rock open, and water flowed out. Isaiah 48: 21
Isaiah says the people did not suffer from thirst. That doesn’t mean they weren’t thirsty. The people were not only thirsty, they complained about it to Moses. In fact, they called the place Massah and Meribah, which means testing and complaining. (Exodous 17:1-7) I don’t blame them for complaining. They were in the desert with no water to drink. Who could have expected water to come from solid rock? But God is full of surprises.
My dad was a tough disciplinarian. When I was 17 years old, just four days after I got my brand new driver’s license, I asked for permission to take the family car for a drive. Dad agreed on one condition. “Don’t go to Perth Amboy,” he said. “It is a busy city and you don’t have enough experience.”
I agreed. Then I drove straight to Perth Amboy. I stopped at the stop sign—I really did—and then proceeded to plow into the side of a vehicle crossing the intersection. The police were there in a matter of minutes. Luckily, no one was hurt, but the policeman thought I must have been hurt because I was crying hysterically.
“My dad is going to kill me,” I wailed, tears pouring down my cheeks. The cop didn’t give me a ticket—even though I probably deserved one. I drove home filled with remorse, agonizing over my dad’s reaction. I dreaded facing him, but braced myself for the barrage of anger and criticism and confessed. I assured him that no one was hurt and told him how sorry I was. Dad looked at me with tenderness.
“Metal can be replaced,” he said. That was it. Wow. I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was for forgiveness; I was too busy panicking that I’d never get it. Life-giving love and mercy from the last place I expected it. No punishment or tirade could have made me more willing to change my defiant ways than wanting to live up to my dad’s investment of love.
The power of love is surprising and life-giving; it can flow from the unlikeliest sources.
Prayer: God of power and might, help us trust your providential love.
Reflection: When has sustenance—material or otherwise—come to you from and unexpected source?
If you’d like to share, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.
[The Lord says] “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for. Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart…” Jeremiah 29: 11-13
The first time I read the Book of Jeremiah, I thought: What a downer. The book seemed to talk about nothing but the disasters coming to the Jewish people because of their sin. No wonder Jeremiah didn’t want to be a prophet. He was afraid of how people would respond to his dire warnings. But God told him not to be afraid and to Jeremiah’s credit, he spoke God’s word to the people, even though it got him into trouble.
Much of the book of Jeremiah is filled with prophecies of coming trouble: the fall of Jerusalem, the exile to Babylon, and Jeremiah’s own trials and tribulations for speaking an unpopular message. In spite of this, Jeremiah also conveyed a message of hope, as in the passage above. If someone acutely aware of trouble and hardship could still see his way to a message of hope in the midst of his own suffering, then that message of hope has credibility.
Why can’t we just skip through all the pain and get right to the future we hope for? Because Jeremiah tells us that hoped for future will come when we call to God and find him because we seek him with all our heart. Unfortunately, sometimes we only seek God when we’re in trouble. Intellectually we may know we should seek God all the time, but sometimes we don’t. If you’re like me, even though you might want to really seek God with all your heart, sometimes your heart just isn’t in it—until your back is against the wall. When the pain we’re in becomes worse than the fear of surrendering our will, we become ready to seek God’s way instead of our own.
I don’t think God zaps us with misery or thirsts for punishment. I think God loves us beyond our comprehension but knows we simply don’t seek him with all our hearts if we are too comfortable, so he allows the consequences of our poor choices to befall us, inviting us to turn around. Our God can bring good out of anything—even disaster. Jeremiah was able to see that. Can we see it too?
Prayer: Lord, help me trust your love even in the midst of pain.
Reflection: When has a painful circumstance motivated you to make a change for the better?