Saturday Spotlight: The Psalms

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I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice in the morning; at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer. Psalm 5:2b-3

 

Beginning next Saturday, this blog spot will feature the Psalms.

 

Come and explore what these heart-felt prayers have to say to you. Our circumstances may have changed since they were written centuries ago, but our humanity has not. Psalms run the gamut of human emotion. Like the psalmists, we feel joy and sadness, awe and regret, anger and gratitude.  

 

Each week, excerpts from a different psalm will be posted along with questions and comments to help you connect with it in a personal way. I also invite you to read the entire psalm in your own bible, to focus on whatever phrase catches your interest, and reflect on what it means for you in this present moment.  

 

Join me, starting next Saturday, as we open our hearts to God the way the psalmists did. Make this treasure trove of prayer a part of your spiritual journey.

 

Prayer: I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice.

 

Reflection: Like the psalmists, we can tell God everything that’s in our hearts. What’s in your heart today?

Wednesday’s Word: Kindness

 

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” Matthew 9:13

 

It’s pretty clear that God prefers kindness than rigid adherence to rules or the kind of long-suffering “martyrdom” that breeds smugness. Self-righteousness and judging others leads away from kindness. Jesus didn’t cling to respectability or the safety of cliques. If we’re his followers, we’re called to reach out to outcasts, too.

 

Loving our neighbor as ourselves doesn’t make exceptions for the ones who don’t think/dress/vote the way we do. We can be kind to others and treat them with respect and courtesy whether or not we like them personally. Who knows how the Good Samaritan felt about helping someone from an opposing religious sect? The kindness he showed had nothing to do with personal affection.

 

How can we be kind toward people who oppose the values we cherish or who just annoy the heck out of us? Maybe it helps to remember we aren’t doing it for them, we’re doing it because that’s what God wants. It’s not up to us to determine who is worthy of kindness. Maybe it helps to remember that kindness doesn’t have much to do with deserving it.

 

The gospel doesn’t tell us the victim the Good Samaritan helped was necessarily a good man. Who knows what he may have done in his life before he was attacked by robbers? If you’re like me, you’ve probably done things in your life you aren’t too proud of. Who hasn’t? Would we make the grade? Treating ourselves with kindness might be a good place to start.

 

Treating someone with kindness doesn’t say anything about their character, but it says a lot about ours.

 

Prayer: Lord, lead me in the way of kindness.

 

Reflection: When have you received kindness you felt you didn’t deserve? Who needs your kindness today?

Saturday Spotlight: Hezekiah

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When the emperor heard this, he sent a letter to King Hezekiah of Judah to tell him, “The god you are trusting in has told you that you will not fall into my hands, but don’t let that deceive you…Do you think that you can escape?”

…King Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went to the Temple, placed the letter there in the presence of the Lord, and prayed, “O Lord, the God of Israel…you alone are God, ruling all the kingdoms of the world. You created the earth and the sky. Now, Lord, look at what is happening to us. Listen to all the things that Sennacherib is saying to insult you, the living God. We all know, Lord, that the emperors of Assyria have destroyed many nations…Now, Lord our God, rescue us from the Assyrians, so that all the nations of the world will know that only you, O Lord, are God.” 2 Kings 19:9-19

 

The enemy threatened Israel not only with a powerful army, but with psychological warfare. Hezekiah took the letter meant to intimidate him and laid it at God’s feet. In doing so, Hezekiah reminded himself of God’s greatness. He called on the One who had the power to do what he could not. What happened? The Assyrians withdrew their forces the next day without the Israelite army shooting a single arrow.

 

It’s not that we can pass the buck and dump all our problems on God. We can and should do all we are able to—after all, God gave us brains, talents, and abilities; we can thank God by using them. But let’s not be arrogant enough to think the outcome of every challenge is up to us. There are any number of problems that are more powerful than we are. No problem is more powerful than God

 

When we’ve done all we can about a situation and still are contending with forces beyond us, it is time to turn the matter over to God, cooperate with any directions we might get, and leave the results in His hands. Does that guarantee victory over every conflict we face? That depends what you mean by victory. Will every problem work out the way we want it to? Probably not. Will we be given what we need to move forward regardless of the outcome? Will we be assured of God’s guidance and loving presence when we turn to Him? Absolutely. Sometimes victory is holding on to our faith, being true to our values, no matter how a situation unfolds.

 

Hezekiah was victorious because he didn’t allow the bullying tactic of the enemy to defeat him. He put the problem in God’s hands. May we do the same.

 

Prayer: Lord, Your strength is made perfect in my weakness.

 

Reflection: Which of your problems are bigger than you? How can you lay them at God’s feet today?

Wednesday’s Word: Encouragement

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But now don’t be discouraged, any of you. Do the work, for I am with you. Haggai 2: 4

 

I started working on a new writing project the other day. I was excited and eager to begin. The morning I was supposed to start the project I woke up early-but thoroughly intimidated.  I was afraid to start, afraid the end result wouldn’t measure up to my expectations.

 

That very morning, the bookmark in my Bible opened to the very words I needed to hear from the prophet Haggai: Don’t be discouraged…Do the work, for I am with you.

 

What a relief! I’m not on my own. God is with me to help me do whatever I’m called to do—and that includes what I write. God doesn’t type the words for me, or load the printer, or edit the rough draft. I need to do the work, but it’s reassuring to trust that I’m being given what I need to do the job at hand. I don’t have to write the most perfect work ever written. All I have to do is produce the best work that I am capable of at this point in time.

 

Apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:5). But with Him, we still have to do the legwork. He wants to be intimately involved with our lives, but He won’t do for us what we can and should be doing ourselves.

 

Is some problem or job looming in front of you today? Don’t be discouraged. You don’t have to do what you can’t do, only what you can. We don’t have to expect the impossible of ourselves. We can give it our best shot and leave the results in God’s hands.

 

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for being with me today.

 

Reflection: How do you know what is yours to do and what you can let go of?

Saturday Spotlight: Eli

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     …The Lord called Samuel. He answered, “Yes, sir!” and ran to Eli and said, “You called me, and here I am.”

     But Eli answered, “I didn’t call you; go back to bed.” So Samuel went back to bed.

     The Lord called Samuel again. The boy did not know that it was the Lord, because the Lord had never spoken to him before. So he got up, went to Eli, and said, “You called me, and here I am.”

     But Eli answered, “My son, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”

     The Lord called Samuel a third time; he got up, went to Eli, and said, “You called me, and here I am.” Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, so he said to him, “Go back to bed; and if he calls you again, say, Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3: 4-9

 

Samuel was just a boy, apparently used to being at the beck and call of Eli, his mentor. Eli was a priest, yet God spoke to Samuel, not to Eli.

 

Did Eli feel overlooked because God chose to speak to a boy under his charge? He certainly didn’t show any envy or self-pity. Instead, Eli continued being Samuel’s mentor by instructing him in how to respond to God’s call. Nor did Eli try to horn in on Samuel’s experience. He allowed Samuel his privacy while communicating with God.

 

When Eli asked Samuel what God said, Samuel was reluctant to answer, but when Eli pressed for the truth, Samuel told him. Eli’s sons were doomed because of their wickedness. Whatever Eli’s feelings might have been on hearing this, he remained Samuel’s spiritual advisor. He affirmed that God was the Lord and would do whatever seemed best. (Samuel 3: 11-18)

 

God spoke to Samuel directly, but he also knew that Samuel needed a mentor with flesh and bones. We can be grateful for those who share their faith with us by example. More than that, we can recognize the opportunities we have to mentor others. Like Eli, when someone else gets the limelight, we can accept their good fortune–and whatever our own feelings might be–with grace.  When someone brings us unwelcome news, we can feel our feelings, but continue trusting God. Living our faith in the face of challenges may be the most powerful mentoring of all.

 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for those who guided me to you.

 

Reflection: Who depends on or looks up to you? How are your choices influencing them?

Wednesday’s Word: Consequences

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The people of Judah had been deported to Babylon as punishment for their sins. 1 Chronicles 9: 1b

 

Rather than deportation being an arbitrary punishment for sin, it seems more of a natural consequence of the choices the people of Judah made. In Scripture, Babylon symbolized pride and decadent self-indulgence. Instead of being faithful to the God that rescued them from slavery, the Israelites worshiped idols representing forces of fertility/sexuality, materialism, and power. The people ended up at the mercy of the powerful environment they flirted with.

 

When we gratify our God-given needs and desires in a selfish way, we cut ourselves off from the power of Love. We buy into false promises that promiscuity, possessions, or power over people and circumstances will bring us happiness. There may be immediate gratification, but we don’t end up running the show for long. As CS Lewis said, the formula for temptation is “an ever increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure.” The more we indulge, the less choice we have about the matter. We may think we’re doing what we want, but come to find out we’re at the mercy of forces bigger than we are. Ask any addict.

 

Our loving Father gave us free will. He lets us choose. If we follow our egos instead of His guidance, God punishes us by letting us do what we want, as it says in Psalm 81:12. Sometimes we just aren’t willing to turn around until we’ve gotten our own way and lived with the results. Pleasure-promising idols don’t care about our well-being. God does. If we’re going to surrender our will one way or another, better to surrender to the God who loves us.

 

Prayer: Lord, save me from myself.

 

Reflection: When have you been “deported” from your true self? What brought you back?

 

Saturday Spotlight: Mary, the mother of James and Joseph

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There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee and helped him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the wife of Zebedee. Matthew 27: 55-56

 

After the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint the body of Jesus. Very early on Sunday morning, at sunrise, they went to the tomb. One the way they said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (It was a very large stone.) Then they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled back. Mark 16:1-4

 

Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, isn’t mentioned much in the gospels. That doesn’t make her contribution any less important. She was at the cross and at the tomb. She is referred to as one of the women who had followed and helped Jesus in his ministry. We don’t know how she helped Jesus in his travels but she was there. She gave him the gift of her presence as he was crucified–even when there was little she could do.

 

Mary joined the other women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus body, even though it after the fact because they had rested on the Sabbath. She and the others voiced their honest concerns about the large stone blocking the burial cave, but they kept moving forward. Imagine if they had not bothered to go because they thought it was too late or because the stony obstacle would make their task impossible.

 

When they got to the tomb, they found the stone already rolled away. The obstacle had already been taken care of. Besides, it wasn’t a problem anyway. The women weren’t needed to anoint Jesus’ body. His body was no longer in the tomb. Instead, Mary and the others were needed to witness to the Resurrection. They had all they needed to do what God had in mind for them to do. They were able to do it, because they persevered in spite of obstacles. All they needed to do was show up with willing hands and do what they could. God did the rest.

 

Like Mary, we can do what we can. When we worry how we’ll be able to contend with obstacles down the road, let’s remember Mary and trust that if we’re meant to do something the obstacles beyond our control will be removed. Or maybe by showing up we’ll find that the job we’re meant to do isn’t the one we thought at all!

 

Prayer: Lord, give me a willing heart.

 

Reflection: Who needs you to show up today, even if you can’t control all the circumstances?

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Words: Faith in Action

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We struggle and work hard, because we have placed our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all and especially of those who believe. 2 Timothy 4:10

 

Why does St. Paul struggle and work hard if he has placed his hope in God? As Paul said, they struggle and work hard not in spite of their hope in God, but because of it. They count on God’s mercy and grace, so they exercise their belief through what they do and how they live.

 

God’s love, mercy and grace are gifts, but for a gift to do us any good we have to accept it and use it. We can’t earn salvation on our own but we have a choice about accepting it. Those who believe are not necessarily those who intellectually accept the faith or have an emotional experience, although both those things might be part of it. Belief reveals itself in our actions.

 

There’s a story about a tightrope walker who planned to cross a high wire pushing another person in a wheelbarrow. Every day, his next door neighbor watched him practice in his back yard with a wheelbarrow filled with rocks. One day the aerialist asked his neighbor, “Do you believe I can push a human being across a high wire?” “Oh, yes,” his neighbor said. “I’ve watched you every day. I absolutely believe you can do it.” “Good,” said the aerialist. “Then get in the wheelbarrow.”

 

What wheelbarrow is God asking you to get in today?

 

Prayer: Lord, I believe in your love and salvation; may my choices today reflect that.

 

Reflection:  How will your belief affect your actions today?

 

 

Saturday Spotlight: Manoah

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     Then the woman went and told her husband, “A man of God has come to me, and he looked as frightening as the angel of God. I didn’t ask him where he came from and he didn’t tell me his name. But he did tell me that I would become pregnant and have a son. He told me not to drink any wine or beer, or eat any forbidden food, because the boy is to be dedicated to God as a nazirite as long as he lives.”

     Then Manoah prayed to the Lord, “Please, Lord, let the man of God that you sent come back to us and tell us what we must do with the boy when he is born.”

     God did what Manoah asked, and his angel came back…[Manoah] went to the man and asked, “Are you the man who talked to my wife?”

     “Yes,” he answered.

     Then Manoah said, “Now then, when your words come true, what must the boy do? What kind of a life must he lead?”

     The Lord’s angel answered, “Your wife must be sure to do everything that I have told her. She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine; she must not drink any wine or beer, or eat any forbidden food. She must do everything that I have told her.”  Judges 13: 6-14

 

Manoah’s wife was pretty clear when she told her husband what the angel said to do when their son was born. Even so, Manoah asked God for instructions again. I can relate to that. Maybe you can, too.

 

Why ask God for direction when He’s already given us direction? Maybe we don’t believe God’s messengers. Maybe we don’t like the instructions and we’re hoping God will tell us something different the second time around. Maybe we want reassurance. Or clarification. Or more details. Sometimes we want to see the whole plan before following, but God often guides us on a need to know basis.

 

Apparently Manoah’s heart was in the right place. God answered his request and sent the messenger to repeat the instructions already given. If Manoah was hoping for a change in plans, he set himself up for disappointment. Maybe the reassurance of hearing the information repeated was all that Manoah needed. When the angel confirmed God’s initial instructions, Manoah was eager to honor the messenger…and learn the messenger’s name. Maybe Manoah was just hoping to prolong the experience, much as Peter wanted to extend the experience of the Transfiguration. Instead, Jesus led Peter and his companions back down the mountain to carry out their mission in the real world.

 

If this couple (Samson’s parents) needed further instructions, God would have given them at the right time. Why would He give further instructions before they complied with the first set? We, too, have everything we need to carry out our mission. We don’t need further instructions to act on the guidance God has already given us. If we need reassurance or clarification, God will surely provide it, but if we ask and don’t hear anything new, maybe it’s because what we need to know has already been given to us.All we need to do is act on it.

 

Prayer:  Lord, open our minds and hearts to your guidance.

 

Reflection: Are you waiting for God’s guidance? Can you act on the guidance you’ve already received?

Wednesday’s Word: Freedom from Selfishness

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Selfishness only causes trouble. You are much better off to trust the Lord. Proverbs 28:25

 

Think about it. Wanting things our way causes us a lot of misery.

  • When are we unhappy? Chances are, when things don’t turn out the way we want them to.
  • When do we get in conflict with other people? When they don’t do/say what we think they should.
  • When do we feel frustrated and impatient? When events don’t unfold according to our timetable.

 

What can we do about it? Hiding our selfishness might fool others, but it doesn’t get us inner peace. We can pretend we don’t care. That adds denial, dishonesty, and hypocrisy to the mix. These are not peace-enhancing qualities. We can wish we weren’t pre-occupied with self, but that might not help much. Instead, we can ask God to relieve our selfishness. That’s good, honest prayer, even if we start out by telling God we don’t want to let go of and pray for the willingness to have our selfishness removed.

 

Why should we be so reluctant to let such a trouble-maker go? Well, it seems like getting our way will make us happy–even though we’ve probably gotten our way enough times to see it doesn’t always do the trick…at least, not for long. Still, we get fooled again. And again. What does selfishness get us? Disappointment if we don’t get our way. Disillusionment—at least sometimes—even if we do.

 

So what’s the alternative? According to Proverbs, it’s trusting the Lord. Even if things don’t turn out our way, they can still turn out good. I’ve seen it happen. Maybe you have, too. I was sure being laid off from a certain job was bad news; but as a result of extra time on my hands, I started writing. I was sure being forced to leave a writers conference because of back pain was a bad thing; but the book I planned to pitch there got published anyway. I was sure certain family members would be better off if they listened to my suggestions; they didn’t—and it was a good thing for all concerned.

 

Reminding myself of these times helps me trust God. His plans really are better than mine, even though I might not see it at first glance. The more I trust God, the easier it is to let go of wanting my way. So maybe instead of praying for less selfishness, the prayer should be for more trust.

 

Prayer: Loving Father, remind me it’s safe to trust you today.

 

Reflection: What plans and desires can you leave in God’s hands today?

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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