So then, you must never think that you have made yourselves wealthy by your own power and strength. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power… Deuteronomy 8: 17
There’s nothing wrong with the satisfaction that comes from seeing our hard work pay off and enjoying the results of our efforts—financially or otherwise. There’s a healthy pride that comes from achieving our goals. The problem comes when we trust solely in ourselves. It’s an easy mistake to make. I’ve made it plenty of times.
From birth, I was always blessed with a sturdy physical build and a fairly quick mind. I was raised by parents who instilled a strong work ethic in me. It was easy to trust in my physical and reasoning abilities…until a car accident, followed by a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis left me permanently debilitated. I could no longer push myself physically. I ran into problems that were beyond my ability to solve by intellect alone.
That’s when I realized that although I thought I believed in God and trusted his power, I lived as if I trusted only in myself.
I was brought through times of helplessness. I learned to accept the help that was offered and provided. While grateful for the natural abilities I’d been given at birth, I learned to be even more grateful for the strength God gave me to accept my weakness. Even though I still forget at times, it’s much easier now to remember that it is God who gives me the power to do what he has in mind for me to do on any given day.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the strength to do what you have in mind for me to do today.
Reflection: What have you achieved in your life? What gifts enabled you to accomplish your achievements?
“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?
My child, keep your self-respect, but remain modest. Value yourself at your true worth. There is no excuse for a person to run himself down. Sirach 10: 28-29a
It isn’t prideful to think we deserve respect. We all have inherent dignity as God’s children. Our worth isn’t dependent on our personal achievements, looks, bank accounts, or anything that sets us above others.
By the same token, we are not beneath other people because we have faults. There is no reason to put ourselves down because we aren’t perfect. Nobody is. We all make mistakes. No one succeeds at everything. Welcome to the human race.
True self-respect comes from honestly acknowledging our total self-not just the parts we like to show the world, but the shadowy parts we all have as well. That’s enough to keep us modest.
We all have talents. We don’t have to hide them out of false modesty. We can acknowledge our gifts without fear of being prideful when we remember to be grateful to the Giver. We can feel good about ourselves when we use our gifts to be helpful to others rather than to show off.
We’re delightful, unique, flawed creatures loved by God. We don’t have to stick our noses in the air or hang our heads in shame. We can be who we are because we have, not false pride or false modesty, but true value.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for loving me as I am. Help me become what you want me to be.
Reflection: What is your true worth?
…Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. James 1: 21b
God plants his word—not in our heads, not in our hands, but in our hearts.
Accepting the word of God isn’t an intellectual exercise. Jesus praised his Father for showing the unlearned what he hid from the learned. (Luke 10: 21)
It isn’t just about what we do, either. Jesus warned against praying, fasting, or helping the needy to gain approval or admiration. (Matthew 6: 1-17)
That could be why Jesus said the most important commandments were to love God with all our being and love our neighbors and ourselves. Living our faith goes much deeper than our heads and our hands, it goes to our hearts. We’re not equipped to go deep enough to change the kernel of our hearts on our own. Only God can get in there and do the deep surgery needed to bring about a change of heart.
What we can do is be open to the word God wants to plant in our hearts and nurture it. We can take actions that encourage spiritual growth. Honest prayer opens our hearts to God, He can heal what needs to be healed in us when we stop covering it up. Connecting with other people who are growing spiritually inspires us to desire a genuine change of heart. Serving others can soften our hearts to the needs of those around us and allow God an easier entrance.
We can come to God just as we are, warts and all, and accept his unconditional love for us. We can welcome the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us to save us from our self-defeating faults. We can give our hearts back to Him.
Prayer: Lord, I open my heart to your healing love.
Reflection: What word of love is God planting in your heart 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?
My child, don’t get involved in too many things. If you try to do too much, you will suffer for it. You won’t be able to finish your work, and you won’t be able to get away from it either. Sirach 11: 10
Sirach was right. I did try to do too much and I did suffer for it. So did my family. At one point, my idea of relaxing was tackling chores I could do while sitting down, like paying bills. I remember one Saturday in particular. I had an impossibly long “to do” list. By supper time I was exhausted, but thankful that I had done everything on my list. Did I put my feet up and relax? No. I concluded I must not have put enough on the list and quickly added three more tasks to finish before collapsing into bed that night.
I was not much fun to be around in those days. How could I be? I was always either busy or worn out and cranky. Looking back, I have to admit I was ego-driven. Being busy made me feel important, needed, and worthwhile.
By the grace of God and with encouragement from family and friends, I began a long, slow journey to some kind of middle ground. I began scheduling relaxation periods into my days, in spite of the challenges. I remember trying to lounge in the back yard with a good book even though chores kept taunting me. I could almost hear the vacuum calling, “Come on, you know you want to.”
Instead of giving in, I started spending Saturday afternoons at the local park, where household tasks were not within reach. I reminded myself the chores weren’t going anywhere. They would wait until I could get to them. Meanwhile, I had more important things to do, like live my life and enjoy my family. Balance brings serenity.
Prayer: Lord, help me prioritize according to your will, not mine.
Reflection: When are you likely to get over-ambitious? What are some ways to let go of what is non-essential?
While [Jesus] was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” Luke 11: 27-28 NRSV
Jesus’ comment sounds a bit like cold-hearted indifference to his own mother. But Jesus isn’t saying he doesn’t love his mother. He’s saying that everyone who hear the word of God and allow it to change their lives are “blessed.” There isn’t any nepotism in God’s kingdom.
Those who follow God’s plan for their lives are blessed because they’re open to receive what God has in mind for them. How can those who have no use for God be touched by blessings they don’t want?
Does Jesus’ response leave Mary out in the cold? Of course not. Who on earth heard and obeyed God’s word more than Mary? Her “yes” allowed God’s Word to become flesh and grow within her. Her “yes” bore fruit and saved the whole, hurting world. Her “yes” opened the blessing of salvation to all of us. Mary truly is blessed among women. The angel Gabriel told her so before Jesus was born. Jesus confirmed it when he said those who hear and obey God’s word are blessed.
Blessings are meant to be shared. Love always reaches outward.
Prayer: Blessed is the fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ.
Reflection: How have you been blessed by the Living Word of God?
God has a knack for picking ambassadors who aren’t all that significant in the world’s opinion. He often works through the ones who tend to be over-looked. Jesus himself is “the stone the builders rejected as worthless.”
Worldly success—whatever that might mean—is not one of God’s criteria. Think of David, the shepherd boy who killed a giant with a sling and eventually became King. Or Peter, the uneducated fisherman Jesus chose to lead his church. St. Francis of Assisi was born into wealth, but he didn’t become useful to God or anyone else until he abandoned his social rank. And who would have thought a wizened little religious sister from an obscure town in Macedonia could impact the world the way Mother Teresa did?
What about us? Not wise? Or influential? Not on any Top Ten lists? That’s okay. God created us with our individual uniqueness for a reason. He calls us to be who we are. We have value because God loved us into existence. If we surrender to His plan for our lives, who know how he will use us? We can trust His plan.
Prayer: My Creator, who I am to you is who I am.
Reflection: How does it feel to be valuable in God’s eyes?
The king is glad, O Lord, because you gave him strength; he rejoices because you made him victorious.
You have given him his heart’s desire; you have answered his request.
The king trusts in the Lord Almighty; and because of the Lord’s constant love he will always be secure.
We praise you, Lord, for your great strength! We will sing and praise your power. Psalm 21: 1-2; 7-8a; 13
Those who make New Year’s resolutions are more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Even so, only 8 % are successful at keeping them, according to one study. Whether we want to quit smoking, lose weight, or start exercising, our resolutions aren’t enough. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh truly is weak.
Facing our own weakness might not be such a bad thing. Maybe it is only when we give it our best shot and fail, try again and fail again, that we realize just how much we really need God’s strength. Like the king in this psalm, we can rejoice because God can do for us what we can never do for ourselves.
Maybe you think your bad habit it isn’t worth bothering God about, but don’t forget: God loves you as if you were the only one on the planet. Even the hairs on your head are numbered. If a problem is blocking you from living the fuller, richer life God has in mind for you, why wouldn’t he want to give you the grace you need?
God won’t do for us what we can and should do for ourselves, though. The king had to go and fight the battles. Even so, the king didn’t achieve victory on his own. God gave him strength and the victory. In return the king gave God the glory. When God gives us the strength to resist our enemies and succeed, it will God’s glory, not ours. That might not be such a bad thing, either…otherwise we’ll end up needing to make a resolution to give up our pride.
I encourage you to read the whole psalm and reflect on whatever passages speak to you today. Here are some questions to get you started:
- When have you experienced a strength beyond your own?
- What victories has God enabled you to enjoy?
- What is your heart’s desire? How might God want to answer that request?
- How has God shown you that he’s trustworthy?
- Why can the Lord’s constant love make us secure?
- Where is God showing his power to you today? How can you thank him?
For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9: 6 (NRSV)
Good news! A savior was born into our dark and hurting world—and what a savior! This son of God is given to us. We can’t earn or deserve this blessing—it’s a pure gift of love. That should delight and humble all of us.
God loves us beyond comprehension, warts and all. How amazing that someone who has tasted heaven should take on our humanity and subject himself to human limitations, indifference, and contempt—all because he loves us. No wonder he’s called Wonderful.
He is Counselor supreme. One with the Father, Jesus has all wisdom and wants to share it with us. Our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, speaks to our hearts, when we’re open to receive it and quiet enough to listen.
Jesus is not just holy man, but Mighty God. We may be up against circumstances, forces, and problems bigger than we are, but no problem is bigger than God. When we feel small and powerless, we can rely on his strength.
Everlasting Father: God’s son conquered death for us. He was willing to take on flesh, knowing he would sacrifice that flesh-life to share eternal, everlasting life with us.
Prince of Peace: The peace that Jesus offers does not depend on comfortable circumstances, but on our connection with him. His peace passes understanding. The world can’t give that peace or take it away.
We have good reason to rejoice today, for unto us is given everything our hearts could need: a wonderful, powerful, everlasting counselor who wants to fill our hearts with peace and love.
Which aspect of our Lord’s greatness do you rejoice in most today?
Glory to God in the highest. Joy to the world. Merry Christmas!