Courage

Wednesday’s Words: Gifts of the Heart

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  As Jesus sat near the Temple treasury, he watched the people as they dropped in their money. Many rich people dropped in a lot of money; then a poor widow came along and dropped in two little copper coins, worth about a penny. He called his disciples together and said to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others. For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had—she gave all she had to live on.” Mark 12: 41-44

 

While Jesus was eating, a woman came in with an alabaster jar full of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. Some of the people there became angry and said to one another, “What was the use of wasting the perfume? It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” And they criticized her harshly.

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! …She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me…She did what she could…” Mark 14: 3-6

 

One way or the other, money really is no object. At least, that’s how it seems according to these gospel stories. The widow gave what she had. Her gift of a penny was more than enough, and valued by Jesus. The woman who anointed Jesus gave what she had, too. Her expensive gift was not rejected as extravagant, but also valued by Jesus.

 

In God’s economy, it’s not about how much or how little we have to give, but the love and sincerity behind the gift that counts. This applies to more than material gifts. What about the abilities and talents we’ve been gifted with? We don’t need to worry that what we have to share isn’t good enough. We don’t need to worry that we’d be showing off by putting our talents to use. When we are offering ourselves and our abilities to God, we don’t need to worry about other people’s opinions or comments. We don’t even have to worry about the results. Neither the widow’s penny nor the lavish perfume made a huge difference in the worldly scheme of things, but both were precious and appreciated by the Lord.

 

Every time we overcome shyness, or feelings of inadequacy, or fear that people will think we’re trying to show off in order to share what we’ve been given, we are doing “a fine and beautiful thing.”

 

Prayer: Lord, help me recognize my gifts and share them.

 

Reflection: What are your gifts? Who can you share them with today?

Wednesday’s Words: Fear versus Joy

 

iStock_000003550839XSmall  Then they rejected the pleasant land, because they did not believe God’s promise. Psalm 106: 24

 

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?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Gateway to Heaven

iStock_000003550839XSmall  The twelve gates were twelve pearls; each gate was made from a single pearl. Revelation 21: 21

 

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?

 

 

Wednesday’s Words: Walking on Water

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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?

Wednesday’s Word: Procrastination

 

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Farmers don’t constantly plow their fields and keep getting them ready for planting. Isaiah 28: 24

 

Preparation turns into stalling if we never move on. Why cover ground that’s already been covered? Fear, probably. What if we take the next step and it doesn’t work out? What if we fail?

IF we never actually take the action, we can always think we didn’t fail because we didn’t really try. The truth is, if we don’t follow through, we fail by default.

There’s no shame in failing if we do our best. A farmer planting seeds waters and weeds the garden. Beyond that, the results are out of his hands.

The same is true for us. We’re responsible for making our best effort, regardless of the outcome. This goes for our practical and our spiritual lives. Do we hear the gospel at Mass but never allow it to change us? Growth doesn’t happen just by hearing the word, but by doing it. Moving forward can start small. Bring canned goods to the next food pantry collection or attend a bible study.

We don’t need to keep polishing what’s already shiny. Ask God for the courage to move beyond your comfort zone. If you already spend quiet time in prayer, try volunteering for some service activity. If you’re always on the go, risk spending some time in silent meditation.

God will always guide us along the path he has in mind for us.

Prayer: Lord, show me what my next step should be and give me the courage to take it.

Reflection: What fields have you already plowed sufficiently? What’s the next step?

Wednesday’s Words: Love and Strength

 

iStock_000003550839XSmallMay the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. In this way he will strengthen you… 1 Thessalonians 3: 12-13a

 

How can growing in love make us stronger? When we care deeply about others, we become willing to move out of our comfort zones. From the Civil Rights movement to Mother Teresa’s work with the poor, compassion motivates people to risk taking action on behalf of others. We can find plenty of examples closer to home.

 

When a loved one’s welfare is on the line, even those of us who don’t like confrontation find the strength to rise to the occasion. We might question a doctor or hospital staff on behalf of a family member. We might risk our teenager’s displeasure when an unpopular decision has their best interest at heart. During an argument, we might even have the strength to remain silent until cooler heads prevail instead of lashing out in the heat of the moment.

 

If we consistently give in to others’ wants or demands we’re probably acting out of fear of rejection rather than love. Love shifts our focus and empowers us to act in the best interests of those we care about. Genuine love calls us to act for our loved ones’ good—whether they like it or not, whether we like it or not. That takes the strength of perfect love that casts out fear.

 

Prayer: Lord, expand my heart to love others more and more.

 

Reflection: How are you being called to grow in love today? How can God’s love strengthen you?

Wednesday’s Word: Willingness Good Friday Meditation

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Father,” he said, “if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done.” Luke 22:42

 

Jesus didn’t want to suffer but he was willing to suffer. Even though he knew suffering and death waited for him in Jerusalem, he’d set his face like flint and headed there. His prayer in Gethsemane expresses the tension between his desire and his commitment to follow his Father’s will, all for love of us. In his beautiful, heart-felt cry Jesus asked his Father to take the suffering away. That was what Jesus wanted, but he deferred to his Father’s will.

 

We can learn from this. We don’t have to pretend we don’t have wants or feelings. It’s more than okay, it’s essential that we’re honest with God about what we truly want. That doesn’t mean demanding that he do things our way. We can lay our wants at God’s feet and leave the choice up to him. We can exercise our free will by choosing to give our will back to God. We hold our faith hostage if we insist God do things the way we think he should. Insisting on our way may seem like freedom, but it’s not. Freedom is the choice to act without being bullied by our feelings.

 

Jesus’ prayer is a beautiful balance of honesty and surrender, of requesting and accepting instead of insisting. We have a choice at every moment: to insist our will be done or to lovingly entrust our will to God’s wise and loving plan. It isn’t easy. It will cost us. But I have to believe it is worth it. I have to believe that God isn’t cruel or abandoning us if pain isn’t taken away on our terms. I have to believe he will give us what we need to get through whatever challenges we face and will somehow bring good out of it. I’ve seen it happen. Besides, if God can bring good out of the crucifixion, he can bring good out of anything.

 

Prayer: Father, thy will, not mine, be done.

 

Reflection: Where are your wants flexing their muscles today? Are you willing to surrender them to God’s care?

Wednesday’s Word: Denial

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The road of the wicked, however, is dark as night. They fall, but cannot see what they have stumbled over. Proverbs 4: 19

 

The story goes that a man went to the doctor and said, “Doc, when I touch my forehead, I have pain. When I touch my elbow, I have pain. When I touch my knee, I have pain.” The doctor said, “I know what the problem is. You have a broken finger.”

 

It’s not always easy to see the source of our pain. Sometimes we look for causes outside ourselves when the source of our problem is within us. We’d rather blame someone else, rotten luck, or our surroundings instead of taking responsibility ourselves. Yes, there are circumstances beyond our control and other people’s actions can be detrimental, but we often play a part in the difficulties.

 

If we spend all our time looking to prove the problem has nothing to do with us, we may sentence ourselves to a lifetime of complaining–because we can’t see what we keep stumbling over. No one can see well in the darkness of denial. The good news is, when we’re willing to look within ourselves there’s hope. Once we identify what, in us, is tripping us up, there’s hope of correcting it. We may be powerless over other people and over many situations, but we do have power over our own choices. Although we might not be able to singlehandedly make ourselves the way we’d like to be, we can find the help we need.

 

It can be scary to have the light shine on things we’d prefer to keep hidden, but the light doesn’t create the problem, it just reveals what’s already there. The Light of the world will shine not only his light, but his love, on the secret places in our hearts, if we’ll let him. Can the God of love, who commanded us to love both our neighbor and ourselves do any less? It is safe to let him lovingly show us the truth about ourselves. It’s a lot safer to walk in light than in darkness.

 

Prayer: Lord, shine the light of your truth on what I need to see today.

 

Reflection: What stumbling block might be tripping you up today? What would it take to entrust yourself to God’s light and love?

Wednesday’s Word: Rumors

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Have you heard a rumor? Let it die with you. Be brave! It won’t make you explode! Sirach 19: 10

 

What is it about spreading rumors? Even before social media, juicy tidbits got passed around by word of mouth, based on “reliable” sources like, “My cousin’s girlfriend’s hairdresser knew a guy who…”

 

Why do we join in? Maybe it feeds our egos to feel in the know. Maybe it makes us feel one of the crowd. Maybe we’re afraid no one will pay attention to us unless we have exciting news…but where will our credibility be if the rumor ends up being false?

 

Even if it’s a harmless “unconfirmed” news item, why pass it on? Be brave! Keeping that hot gossip to yourself might feel like it will make you explode, but it won’t.

 

We don’t need to prop up our self-esteem with attention-grabbing rumors. We can tune them out by changing the channel. Our worth is guaranteed as children of God. Exploring and following His plan for us will give us plenty to share with others.

 

Prayer: Lord, keep me anchored in your truth.

 

Reflection: What’s the payoff for spreading rumors? What are better ways to get that satisfaction?

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 20

OurMrSun-PsalmsMay the Lord answer you when you are in trouble! May the God of Jacob protect you!

Some trust in their war chariots and others in their horses, but we trust in the power of the Lord our God. Psalm 20: 1; 7

 

Do we depend on a show of strength when our fragile egos feel threatened? What’s in our arsenal? A sharp tongue, a loud voice, or a raised eyebrow? Maybe an aloof attitude, a flair for the dramatic, or subtle manipulation help us feel less vulnerable. What would happen if we let God empower us to withstand criticism or rejection?

 

Maybe we wouldn’t have to respond in kind to intimidation or beat others to the punch. Maybe we could stop working so hard to keep up our defenses. I wonder what a chariot cost in ancient times? How much did it cost to feed and take care of a horse? How much does it cost us to nurse our grudges or put on a show of strength, or whatever it is we do to keep vulnerability at arm’s length? Do it yourself protection comes at a high price. Besides, it can let us down.

 

It’s safe to trust God. The enemies that threaten our fragile egos may be more powerful than we are, but none are more powerful than God. God’s protection doesn’t mean we’ll never be hurt by forces either outside or within us, but they can’t defeat us if we turn to God. He has our best interests at heart even when it doesn’t feel like it. We won’t be abandoned. He will answer us when we are in trouble.

 

I encourage you to read the entire Psalm and reflect on the passages that speak to you. Here are some questions to help you get started.

  • What kind of answers do you expect when you call out to God?
  • How might God answer your prayers in unexpected ways?
  • What do you trust in for safety?
  • When have you been vulnerable? What brought you through to the other side?
  • How can awareness of God’s presence in your life reassure you in spite of challenging circumstances?

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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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