Some wandered in the trackless desert and could not find their way to a city to live in. Then in their trouble they called to the Lord, and he saved them from their distress. He led them by a straight road to a city where they could live. Psalm 107: 4; 6-7
Did you ever have computer problems? For several days last week, I wandered around “in the trackless desert” of cyber-space, unable to find my way to a solution. Finally, I called the help desk. A kind and knowledgeable technician asked me if I would give him permission to work on my account remotely. I gladly gave my permission, entered a few codes on my end, and watched as the expert took over my computer, moving the cursor here and making adjustments there. Every now and then he asked me a question or instructed me to do something on my end. The process was definitely interactive, but it was quite clear who was taking the lead. After he had led me back to safe and effective computer usage, he ended the session and removed himself from my account.
God is always available to intercede in my life, but, just as the technician doesn’t take over my computer any time he wants, God waits for me to call on him and give him permission to intercede. It’s a question of how long I want to wander before I call on him and become willing—eager, in fact—to allow him to lead. I then cooperate by doing what is asked of me instead of stumbling around on my own. God leads us out of our difficulties, but we have to be willing to follow. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that willingness even before we reached the point of distress?
Prayer: Lead me, Lord.
Reflection for sharing: Where in your life do you most need God’s direction today? Are you willing to follow where he leads? If not, what’s holding you back? Can you allow God to lead you out of your own resistance?
Do not restrain the Holy Spirit…1 Thessalonians 5: 19
Why on Earth would we restrain the Holy Spirit? One reason is fear. It can get scary when we’re not in control…not that any of us is really ever in control. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 8) So often we prefer the predictable, so we can be prepared. But if we’re already on top of what we’re doing, there’s no room for growth. We can’t go beyond what we already know. It’s only when we’re not in charge that there is room for growth.
Did you ever feel a nudge from within to do something outside your comfort zone? A thousand self-doubts, “what if’s” or “why me’s” can stop us dead in our tracks, even when the risks are minimal. When my daughter was in second grade, one day I got to school to pick her up a half hour before the lunch break. I felt a strong inner prompting to go into her classroom, even though class was still in session. I had no idea why. Even though I was afraid I’d look like an idiot for intruding, I walked into her classroom anyway. Moments before, the teacher had gotten a call about her own daughter, who had taken ill while away at college. The teacher wasn’t going to abandon the class, but she was much relieved to have an extra adult in the room. I remained with the class all day, playing it by ear, helping the teacher and giving the children a hand as needed. For once, I had chosen not to restrain the Holy Spirit or talk myself out of following that inner nudge. It was an amazing experience.
Prayer: Lord, help me follow where your Spirit leads.
Reflection for sharing: What doors might open for you if you stop restraining the Holy Spirit?
Then they rejected the pleasant land, because they did not believe God’s promise. Psalm 106:24
I read a story about a sixteen-year-old who wanted tickets to a concert for his birthday. He hinted strongly to his grandmother about it. On his birthday, he opened the present his grandmother gave him. Inside the box was a red shirt, which he politely thanked her for. Disappointed, he put the shirt in the closet without even taking it out of the box. Two years later, when he was packing for college, he came across the box. He took the shirt out and inside the front pocket; he found two tickets to the concert he had long since missed out on. I didn’t like that story when I read it. I identified with the boy. He got gypped. But the truth is, he really gypped himself. His grandmother gave him what he wanted and more, but not the way he expected it to come.
How often have we overlooked gifts because they came in unlikely wrappings? The car accident that left me bed ridden for months was painful but became an opportunity to re-evaluate my priorities. Although not welcome at the time, the gift forced me to trust my life and that of my loved ones to God’s care, not my own strength. Months of unemployment, devastating as it was, allowed me time to pursue my long-held desire to become a writer. God doesn’t zap us with misfortune, but he works through the most unlikely circumstances to gift us with opportunities to grow, change, and reach a better place. Maybe you’ve had experiences that you would never have chosen, but, in hindsight, can see the gifts that came wrapped in them. When we don’t believe that God can bring good out of anything, it is we who are rejecting the “pleasant land” that may be hidden in unexpected circumstances.
Prayer: Lord, open my heart to see your gifts, no matter how they come wrapped.
Reflection for sharing: When have I denied myself a “pleasant” state of mind because I didn’t believe God was working a particular situation?
“…the Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.” Matthew 13: 44
The other day I felt sick and tired of my struggle with self-will. When do I feel disappointed or frustrated? When things don’t go my way. I wish I could surrender to God’s will all the time, but I suspect that isn’t going to happen on this side of the heaven/earth plane. So I prayed, “Lord, why did you let me have such a strong will? It’s so hard to let go of it and defer to Your will.” In my heart, I felt like God answered by saying, “Because that’s how you know how precious something is. If it cost you nothing to obtain, it wouldn’t be worth anything to you. It would be trash.”
The parable of the pearl came to mind. The man who found the pearl sold everything he owned to get it. Then I thought – What if he sold everything and only thought the pearl was precious…what if it really wasn’t precious after all? But even if the pearl wasn’t valuable on the world market, it was to the purchaser himself. He gave up EVERYTHING for it. It didn’t matter whether others valued it or not.
I have such a long way to go in my faith journey. I want to lay my will down but it is so hard to do. When I do lay it down, it just springs back up again a little while later or in some new area. Maybe I have to be content with just practicing, by sheer repetition, to lay it down over and over. Maybe it will get easier as the habit gets strengthened. Come to think of it, isn’t that what pearls are made of? Layers of response to some irritation inside the oyster?
Prayer: Lord, please grant us the trust in Your Love that relieves us of the bondage of self.
Reflection for sharing: What does your heart treasure?
Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. Philippians 4:5
“Show a gentle attitude toward everyone.” I read that and thought, “Yes. That sounds so peaceful. Just be gentle with everyone.” Then I got to work. A customer with an “attitude” called. I put the call on hold, muttering something snarky to myself. After looking into the issue, I found that the customer was indeed right. Even though the customer never heard my comment, I regretted my attitude. It soured my spirit, not the customer’s.
It’s easy to be gentle when others are pleasant. The challenge comes when the people we meet haven’t read Philippians 4:5. On the other hand, it says show a gentle attitude, it doesn’t say force yourself to have a gentle attitude, that is, forbearance, patience, or tolerance, as it is also translated. I can get myself in big trouble by pretending something doesn’t bother me when it does. When I feel annoyed I am much better off admitting it rather than lying to myself. That doesn’t mean I have to show my annoyance, if it is inappropriate.
Come to think of it, I’m supposed to show patience to everyone, “everyone” also includes me. That means I can be gentle with myself, when I don’t live up to my own ideals. Without that added pressure, I can be more patient when others don’t live up to my standards, either.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the acceptance that leads to a gentle attitude.
Reflection for sharing: Like charity, how can an attitude of gentleness begin at home?
Then [Mary Magdalene] turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that is was Jesus. “Woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who is it that you are looking for?” John 20: 14-15
On that first Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. The empty tomb led Mary to the conclusion that others had removed the body. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus when he spoke to her. I suspect that’s because the last thing she expected was for her Lord to be standing outside the tomb, talking to her.
Jesus had told his disciples about his death and also that he would rise three days later before any of it happened, but they couldn’t wrap their minds around it. God is always bigger than our expectations. How could it be otherwise? We are limited. God is infinite. Easter Sunday bears witness to the fact that death is not the end of the story, but leads to new life.
“Who is it that you looking for?” The risen Christ exceeded what Mary was looking for based on her prior human experience. Can we be open to Him exceeding our expectations?
Prayer: Lord, open our eyes to Your glory.
Reflection for sharing: Who is it that you are looking for Jesus Christ to be in your life today?
“You have stayed with me all through my trials; and just as my Father has given me the right to rule, so I will give you the same right. You will eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to rule over the twelve tribes of Israel.” Luke 22: 28-30
Jesus doesn’t say he will share his kingdom with his disciples because they are strong, noble, or perfect. He shares it with them because he loves them and because they “stayed with” him. Jesus knew their faults and weaknesses better than they did.
At the Last Supper he was sharing his last meal on earth with his closest friends and followers. He had just told them he was giving his body and blood for them. He also said one of them would betray him. Instead of expressing concern or support, they accused each other and, perhaps in an attempt to defend themselves against blame, started to argue about which of them was the greatest!
Jesus never abandons us. We abandon him, often out of guilt or shame or a sense of unworthiness. We forget he is aware of our weaknesses long before we are. And he loves us anyway.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love.
Reflection for sharing: When awareness of your own faults washes over you, are you tempted to give up on yourself? How can you remember that Jesus doesn’t love you because you are perfect; he just loves you?
With a loud cry Jesus died. Mark 15: 37
Apart from all else that could be said about his passion, what strikes me today is that Jesus cried out. I find it reassuring that—even though he rose to new life in victory—he wasn’t above crying out when he died.
Jesus told us we need to die to ourselves in order to follow him. We believe His promise that if we lose our lives we will gain them, but dying to self still hurts. We don’t have to pretend we’re above the pain. It’s okay to admit it.
Opportunities to give up self-will, in both large and small ways, are all around. Some times I miss them as I plug along on self-propulsion. Sometimes I’m aware of the opportunities but choose my own will anyway. Then there are the times when I let go of getting my way. I’m always glad when I do, but no matter how many times surrender works out well, my self-will always springs back up the next time. My “self” never goes down without a fight—even over the most trivial things.
During a hurricane some months ago, our house lost power for days. It got pretty cold. My husband was in another state on business and asked me to join him. I resisted for two days. I wanted to tough it out at home. Finally, I agreed to pray about it. After praying, I saw that there was no good reason for me to stay in a house without power—other than my own stubborn pride. I also saw that I wasn’t considering my husbands feelings. He was concerned but I was too centered on my resilience to see it. Why was I resisting in the first place? Because the blow to my ego hurt. I had to surrender my fear of being a wimp and taking the easy way out. Letting go of my pride enabled me to join my husband until our power came back on. Those days away together were a blessing to both of us: he felt relief, I felt warm, and our relationship grew stronger as I learned that I don’t have to exercise my will on general principle.
Prayer: Lord, grant us the courage to acknowledge our pain in letting go of self-will.
Reflection for sharing: When is it hardest to say no to your self will? How can Jesus’ example strengthen you?
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. John 13: 3-5
Well aware of his own identity and his oneness with God the Father, Jesus performed the lowliest form of service possible for his followers. Jesus was completely secure in who he was and freely threw off any trappings of status to serve the ones he loved. Sometimes it is hardest to humble ourselves when we feel insecure and have to prove our worth to others or even to ourselves.
It can be just as humbling to accept service as it is to give it. Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. No doubt Peter felt unworthy. But Jesus was setting an example for all of us who want to follow him and convinced Peter to accept. Jesus had also set an example of receiving service when he allowed the woman to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. (Luke 7:38)
Being human, there are times we need to help others and times we need to accept help. Jesus is our model for both.
Prayer: Lord, help me know who I am in relation to You and so allow myself to serve and be served, according to Your plan for me.
Reflection for sharing: What gifts and talents has God given you? How can you use them to serve others? How can you learn to accept help when you need it?
Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought this man [Jesus] to me and said that he was misleading the people. Now I have examined him here in your presence, and I have not found him guilty of any of the crimes that you accuse him of…There is nothing this man has done to deserve death. So I will have him whipped and let him go.” Luke 23: 13-16
Even though Pilate found Jesus not guilty, he eventually gave in to the crowd who demanded Jesus’ death. After the crowd shouted him down three times, Pilate, against his own judgment and desire, gave in to the crowd.
Have you ever felt tremendous pressure to act against your own thoughts and beliefs? Have you ever given in to the crowd? We all probably have, at one time or another. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ passion, Jesus final words were, “Father! Into your hands I place my spirit.” Pilate trusted his well-being to the crowd. Jesus trusted his well-being to the Father.
Prayer: Father, help me turn my well-being over to your care today and every day.
Reflection for sharing: How can placing ourselves in God’s hands help relieve the tension of peer pressure?