Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. Titus 3: 2-3a
It’s so hard to keep from judging others. People do some stupid, infuriating, hurtful things. So how do we begin?
We might start by admitting that if we’re looking at others’ failings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any ourselves; it just means we aren’t paying attention to them. So when we find ourselves looking down on others, it might help to call to mind the times we’ve done thoughtless, hurtful things. In fact, the things that annoy us most about others are often the very traits we have ourselves. You spot it, you got it, as they say.
We don’t have to beat ourselves up over the poor choices we’ve made. We can be honest about them and still offer ourselves some compassion. Prostitutes and tax collectors flocked to Jesus. He welcomed those who were well-aware of their own shortcomings. We tend to be open and receptive to those who are friendly and welcoming.
When we ease up on ourselves, we naturally ease up on others, too. We’re all in this together. Only One is perfect and he offered himself for us and for those we look down on.
Prayer: Lord, help me see myself and others with eyes of compassion.
Reflection: Who do you look down on? What do you have in common with them?
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?
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?
If we wanted to tell others what God has done for us, where would we begin? We should probably start by telling ourselves. Want to try it?
You might make a timeline. Turn a blank piece of paper so the widest part runs horizontally. About half-way down the page, draw a line from left to right across the entire sheet to represent your life from birth to the present.
Beginning with your earliest recollection from childhood, write the milestones or other significant memories in chronological order. Note the happy events on top of the line; note the hard times underneath the line.
Continue to review your life through your school years, your teens, early adulthood, and so on, noting both positive and negative times up through today.
Review your list. The blessings on top of the line may give you plenty to share when telling others what God has done for you, but don’t stop there.
Think about the items beneath the line. What got you through those challenges? The support and love of other people? That’s a blessing. The strength and willingness to keep plugging along when you felt like giving up or running away? That’s a blessing. An inspiring word or phrase you read or heard in a song at just the right moment? That’s a blessing, too. You get the idea.
Maybe the blessings that come in the midst of our pain are the sweetest. I’ve been richly blessed with family, friends, career, and more, but the consolations I treasure most are the times God met me in my sorrow, fear, grief, and desperation. I know for sure that God’s blessings got me through those struggles because in those dark times I had absolutely no resources of my own.
C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pain.” When has God whispered or shouted to you?
Prayer: Loving God, open our eyes to all your blessings.
Reflection: What has God done for you?
“I will renew my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. I will forgive all the wrongs you have done, but you will remember them and be too ashamed to open your mouth.” The Sovereign Lord has spoken. Ezekiel 16: 62-63
Why is it so hard for us to accept forgiveness as the gift that it is? We want to deserve forgiveness or earn it. We can’t. If we deserve it, it’s exoneration, not forgiveness.
When we try to excuse or deny the hurt we’ve caused others or the damage we’ve done to ourselves or to our relationship with God, it gets us nowhere. When we create alibis to prove what we did wasn’t so bad, it does us no good. When we acknowledge our wrongs and are truly sorry, God forgives us. We’re better off honestly acknowledging our weaknesses. Then we can recognize the truth: forgiveness is about God’s goodness, generosity, and love, not our worthiness. We don’t have to open our mouths except to say thank you.
Once we accept God’s forgiveness as the free and precious gift it truly is, there’s no reason to keep wallowing in our misdeeds and mistakes. We can stop going on and on about it. We don’t need to dwell on our sins once we have honestly laid them at God’s feet. Once forgiven, we are free to move on and do likewise.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your forgiveness.
Reflection: Can you trust God’s forgiveness enough to let go of your regrets?
He saw the disciples were straining at the oars, because they were rowing against the wind; so…he came to them, walking on the water. Mark 6: 48
Jesus walked on water. He didn’t float above it. He didn’t sink under it.
He came to his disciples in the storm-tossed sea because they needed him. Jesus comes to us when we need him, too. He won’t allow us to sink under waves of chaos or pain, but he doesn’t call us to float above worldly problems, either.
We’re planted on this earth for a reason. There’s no use pretending we’re above practical concerns. We need to deal with reality, including challenges and pain. Denial is not a solution.
No matter how overwhelmed we feel by circumstances beyond our control, no circumstance is bigger than God. Like Peter, when we turn to Jesus, we’re lifted up—not that he enables us to float above problems. He doesn’t. But when we look to him, he meets us where we are. He gives us what we need to negotiate whatever situation we find ourselves in without sinking. What more do we need?
Prayer: Praise God, who meets us where we are.
Reflection: What storm in life can Jesus help you walk through today?
Then you will know that I am the Lord; no one who waits for my help will be disappointed. Isaiah 49: 23
How can God guarantee we won’t be disappointed when, so often, the things we pray for don’t happen the way we want or on our timetable?
The answer is knowing that God is the Lord. If our God is who he says he is, it’s safe to trust him. He is all-knowing. He is all-powerful. He loves us. We can trust that he knows what he is doing—even when things don’t go our way, even when we face challenging circumstances, even when we-or our loved ones-are in pain.
If we believe our Heavenly Father gave his only begotten son to save us from our sins, we can trust him. Jesus’ understandable request to be spared the cup of suffering was not answered the way he would have liked. He wasn’t spared pain and death, but that wasn’t the end of the story. Resurrection triumphed.
Our God can bring good out of pain and weakness. When we are in the midst of it, it isn’t easy to remember, but that’s what faith is. If we’re willing to wait, we’ve already demonstrated a faith beyond what our eyes can see or our intellects can understand.
Who can understand that when backed into a corner, a Red Sea can part? Who can understand that the death of Lazarus didn’t stop Christ’s healing power? Who can understand how God can bring good out of whatever we’re going through? Trusting God doesn’t mean we pretend things are fine or that we’re not worried about a sick child, a rocky marriage, or family crisis. It means we acknowledge the suffering but trust God to provide what we need to get through it. We trust God to provide his help—not the help we demand or the help the world tells us to expect—but the help of Someone who has our best interests at heart.
If we wait to see what God has in mind, we won’t be disappointed.
Prayer: Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
Reflection: When have you waited for God’s help? What happened?
The first thing Jesus did before miraculously feeding the five thousand was to have the people sit down.
When we’re spiritually hungry, the first thing we need to do is rest in God. He can’t satisfy our hungry hearts if we’re frantically trying to fill our emptiness on our own. Pre-occupation with busyness and trying to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps is self-defeating. It leads away from God. I once read a translation of Psalm 46:11, “Be still and know that I am God,” that makes it even clearer: “Stop struggling and know that I am God.” Why is it so hard to stop struggling and rest in God?
Yes, we must do our part. God will certainly guide and strengthen us to take the actions we’re meant to take, but we never have to do more than we are able to. When we’ve done our best we can trust God, who “lets us rest in fields of green grass and leads us to quiet pools of fresh water.” (Psalm 23: 2)
What if, when we are frustrated in our strained attempts to help others, we entrust them to God’s care, too? We don’t have to be anyone’s savior. Like the disciples who helped feed the five thousand, all we have to do is trust, obey Jesus’ directions, and share what we’ve received.
When we’re running on empty, if we allow ourselves sit down and rest, we might be astonished at how we’re nourished and our strength is renewed.
Prayer: Lord, may we rest in you.
Reflection: What is keeping you from resting in God today?
Although destruction of sinners might conjure up harsh images, it reminds me of an Abraham Lincoln quote. When told he should destroy his enemies instead of trying to befriend them, Lincoln asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
It would seem that God’s amazing plan for destroying sinners is to offer them his mercy. We’re told that God is love, a love demonstrated by Jesus’ death and resurrection. He lavished unconditional love on us by his willingness to suffer and die for us. He lavished forgiveness on the enemies who mocked, abused, and crucified him.
God chooses to destroy sinners—and we’re all sinners—by forgiving us and welcoming us back into the loving relationship broken by sin. But God is a lover who respects the free will he gave us. He won’t force his will on us. He leaves us free to accept or reject his invitation, an invitation that involves dying to self and rising to new life in him. The choice is up to us.
Prayer: Lord, lead me away from the self-destructive choices that keep me from your love.
Reflection: What in you needs to be destroyed by God’s unconditional love?