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?
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 1 John 1: 8-9
Where did some of us get the idea we have to be perfect to earn God’s love? Why do we think we have to cover up our imperfections to be acceptable? The Bible’s filled with stories of God’s love and faithfulness—in spite of our sins. We turn our backs on God, not the other way around.
God knows our weaknesses better than we do and loves us anyway. What else is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son about? Or the parable commending the tax collector who acknowledged his sins, trusting God’s mercy, as opposed to the religious official whose prayer to God was a spiritual resume? Or Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross to do what we could never do for ourselves—perfectly obey our Creator? As St. Paul said, if we could put ourselves right with God by keeping the law, then Christ died for nothing. (Galatians 2: 21)
Covering up our flaws is the world’s way, not God’s. Denying our wrongs, blaming others, creating excuses, that’s the way of the world. Trying to look good on the outside when we know the truth on the inside creates tension. No wonder the psalmist said his sins filled him with anxiety.
It doesn’t feel safe to be honest about our liabilities in the dog-eat-dog world. On the other hand, it‘s a relief to be honest about our faults with God and with ourselves. Surely we can find at least one trusted human being we can trust to understand and to keep our sharing in confidence. It’s fundamental to recovery for countless people in Twelve Step programs. The Catholic Church has wisely recognized it as a means of obtaining God’s grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It does our hearts good to come clean in a safe atmosphere, and what atmosphere could be safer than God’s welcoming arms?
Prayer: Lord, I trust in your mercy and love.
Reflection: What secrets are creating tension within you? How can you find a safe and trustworthy way to unburden yourself?
“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?
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?
Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)
So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.
Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope today?
Each day announces it to the following day; each night repeats it to the next.
The law of the Lord is perfect; it gives new strength.
None of us can see our own errors; deliver me, Lord, from hidden faults!
Keep me safe, also, from willful sins; don’t let them rule over me… Psalm 19: 1-2; 7; 12-13
Sir Isaac Newton, a Christian, constructed an intricate working model of the solar system. Awed by the complex model, an atheist colleague asked, “Who made this?”
“Nobody,” Sir Isaac shrugged, “it just happened.”
Insulted, the colleague stated that was impossible; somebody had to have designed and made something so complex. Sir Isaac replied that the actual universe was so much more complex but his visitor was convinced there was no designer or creator.
Apparently, Sir Isaac agreed with the psalmist’s claim that the sky itself reveals God and his glory. The regular workings of the universe—the things we understand and the things we don’t—demonstrate God’s greatness. The laws of gravity, aerodynamics, and the like, are perfect. So is the law of love that Jesus said was most important: loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Considering this perfect law of love, it’s no wonder the psalmist begged for deliverance from both hidden faults and willful sins. If we can’t resist the wrongs we do when self-will gets the better of us, how can we keep ourselves from the wrongs we aren’t even aware of? Our only hope is God’s grace.
Once a family member confronted me about a habit I had of belittling her. I never realized that my “joking” had been hurtful until she pointed it out. The fact that it wasn’t on my radar didn’t make the hurt I caused any less painful to her. I’m grateful she challenged me. With God’s grace, I had the opportunity to change. There have also been times when, although of aware of the right thing, I made a different choice…sometimes out of fear, sometimes because I simply wanted my way.
As perfect as God’s law is, and as much as we’d like to obey, we are human and will fail, both willfully and inadvertently. Who else but God can deliver us? The good news is we can trust his wisdom, his power, and his love.
I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever passage speaks to you today. Here are some questions to help you get started.
- How do you find God’s glory revealed in nature?
- In what ways can reflecting on God’s perfect law strengthen you?
- When have you been tripped up by self-will? When might you have hurt someone without being aware of it?
- Why is it safe to trust the God of glory to deliver you from your faults?
Those who obey God in everything and always do what is right, whose words are true and sincere, and who do not slander others.
They do no wrong to their friends nor spread rumors about their neighbors.
They always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost.
They make loans without charging interest and cannot be bribed to testify against the innocent.
Whoever does these things will always be secure. Psalm 15: 1-3; 5b
Who can live up to all that? It sounds like we need to be perfect to worship God. But David, who wrote this psalm, didn’t live up to this himself. He had his neighbor Uriah killed so that David’s adulterous affair with Uriah’s wife wouldn’t be discovered. Talk about wronging a friend!
And yet David is referred to in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart. Why? Maybe because he met an important qualification listed in the psalm. David was one of those…whose words are true and sincere… David was honest about his failings. When his wrongdoing was pointed out to him he admitted it and asked for God’s forgiveness.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee prayed by reciting his merits—maybe he was trying to prove he lived up to Psalm 15. In contrast, the tax collector honestly admitted his sin and asked for God’s mercy. Jesus tells us it was the tax collector who rightly connected with God.
If we’re honest we have to admit we can’t live up to perfect ideals this side of heaven. In fact, trying to appear perfect is a recipe for hypocrisy. It paves the way for slandering others, so our own wrongdoings don’t seem so bad. Integrity is so much better than a veneer of respectability. When we’re honest we’re secure because we have nothing to hide. Our insides match our outsides. We don’t have to live in fear of being found out. Not that we shouldn’t try to live up to our values, but when we fail—as we will—we can, like David, own our mistakes and go to the God of mercy and love, our true source of security.
This psalm is a great format for taking an examination of conscience that can lead the way to receiving God’s forgiveness.
- What tempts you to put your will above God’s?
- When have you not lived up to your conscience?
- In what ways have you been less than honest?
- Have you gossiped or spread rumors?
- When have you not kept a promise?
- In what ways have you sold out?
- How do these weaknesses contribute to your insecurity or discomfort?
- Are you willing to bring them to God?
- Can you trust that God loves you as you are?
I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever words or phrases speak to you today.
And on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession. Colossians 2: 15
A victory parade? Crucifixion looked more like defeat. God’s idea of success is very different from ours. What was Jesus’ victory? He accomplished His Father’s will in spite of all the opposition the world could muster.
What looked like weakness actually brought us forgiveness and new life because our debts were nailed with Christ on the cross. Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves–free us from the bondage of our wrong-doing and the burden of guilt and same that goes with it.
“God, what does success look like to you in this situation?” I don’t know the source of this quote—if you do, please let me know. I love it because it reminds me to get over myself. Sometimes, success means refusing to continue a pointless argument. Sometimes it means being satisfied that one person got something out of something I wrote instead of worrying about the number of books I sold. Success can also mean letting go of my agenda and listening to someone who needs to talk.
These things don’t always feel like victory, and they may not look like it to most people. That’s okay. Every time I imagine what success looks like to God, I let go of my will and feel more peaceful in accepting things as they are. When that happens (and I wish it happened more often than it does) I can see my pride, self-will, impatience, being led away in Christ’s victory procession.
Prayer: Lord, what does success look like to you in this situation?
Reflection: How might your idea of success change today if you look at things from God’s point of view?
O Lord, my God, I come to you for protection; rescue and save me from all who pursue me, or else like a lion they will carry me off where no one can save me, and there they will tear me to pieces.
Rise in your anger, O Lord! Stand up against the fury of my enemies; rouse yourself and help me!
God is my protector; he saves those who obey him.
God is a righteous judge and always condemns the wicked.
If they do not change their ways, God will sharpen his sword.
See how wicked people think up evil; they plan trouble and practice deception.
But in the traps they set for others, they themselves get caught.
So they are punished by their own evil and are hurt by their own violence.
I thank the Lord for his justice; I sing praises to the Lord, the Most High. Psalm 7: 1-2; 6; 10-12; 14-17
O Lord, my God, I come to you for protection… Calling on God makes a difference. There are plenty of people, situations, problems that are bigger than we are—but no person, situation, or problem is bigger than God is. When we try to fight a powerful opponent in our own strength we become well aware of our weaknesses. It’s easy to feel like these problems will destroy us. When we focus on the trouble, it looms larger. Our very focus can give it added power to weaken our resolve. God created the universe, and is therefore bigger than any part of the universe—including our problems.
God is my protector; he saves those who obey him. I don’t think obeying God is something he demands as a tribute, or a deal whereby he will only agree to help us if we offer him our obedience in exchange. It’s more a statement of reality. How can God help us if we won’t cooperate with his plan to rescue us? If a drowning man resists a lifeguard’s instructions, he makes it harder for the lifeguard to save him. If he panics and fights the lifeguard’s efforts, the lifeguard may have to render him more helpless. If the man could save himself, he wouldn’t have needed a lifeguard in the first place. On the other hand, I don’t think God saves us from our problems by sweeping them away. Sometimes he saves us by allowing us to wrestle with the challenges while giving us the wisdom, strength, and support we need to endure through His power.
God always condemns the wicked…if they do not change their ways, God will sharpen his sword….in the traps they set for others, they themselves get caught. So they are punished by their own evil, and are hurt by their own violence. The wicked are condemned but not hopeless…if they are willing to change their ways. When we repent, we are no longer God’s enemies. If we persist in wrongdoing, God apparently punishes us by letting us continue to do what we want. We are then punished by the consequences of our own poor choices.
I thank the Lord for his justice; I sing praises to the Lord, the Most High. God is just, but also overflowing with mercy. He truly is worthy of our praise. When I think about this, I’m very grateful.
How about you?
- When have you gone to God for protection? When have you tried to struggle on your own?
- What issues are bigger than you are? How can you appropriate God’s help in dealing with these issues?
- What is the difference between condoning evil and offering people a chance to change their ways?
- Ever “practiced deception” and get caught in your own trap? What happened?
- How has experiencing the consequences of your actions helped you become willing to change your ways?
I encourage you to read through the entire psalm and reflect on the phrases that speak to your heart today.
Listen to my words, O Lord, and hear my sighs. Listen to my cry for help, my God and king!
I pray to you, O Lord…at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer.
You are not a God who is pleased with wrongdoing; you allow no evil in your presence.
You cannot stand the sight of the proud…you destroy all liars…
But because of your great love I can come into your house; I can worship in your holy temple.
Lord, I have so many enemies! Lead me to do your will; make your way plain for me to follow.
What my enemies say can never be trusted; they only want to destroy. Their words are flattering and smooth, but full of deadly deceit.
But all who find safety in you will rejoice; they can always sing for joy. Psalm 5: 2-5; 7-9; 11
Listen to my words, O Lord, and hear my sighs. The psalmist longs for God to hear his sighs as well as his words. When we cry for help, words just can’t carry the whole story. They leave out so much of what are hearts burn with. It comforting to know that God does hear our sighs, and that when words are inadequate or won’t come at all, the Holy Spirit helps and “pleads with God for us in groans that words can’t express.” (Romans 8:26-27)
…at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer I’m an early riser, so I do offer my prayers to God at sunrise but must admit I don’t always wait for his answer…especially when I’m running late. Other times, his answer is hard to accept—especially when God speaks to my heart saying, “Don’t always look for answers; just be still with Me.”
You are not a God who is pleased with wrongdoing; you allow no evil in your presence. You cannot stand the sight of the proud…you destroy all liars…But because of your great love I can come into your house…Although God is not pleased with wrongdoing, and allows no evil in his presence, we can come into God’s presence, not because we are perfect, but “because of his great love.” When we bring ourselves to God, we don’t have to cover up our flaws or put on a false front of perfection. After all, God can’t stand the sight of the proud. When we’re honest with him about our failings, we are not being proud. We are humbly aware of who we are and that our relationship with God depends on his love and goodness, not our own merit. When we tell the truth—even about our shortcomings—we are close to God, who is Truth. Maybe that, in part, is how he destroys our lies, by making it safe for us to be honest with him and with ourselves.
Lord, I have so many enemies…what they say can never be trusted…their words are flattering and smooth, but full of deadly deceit. Many of my enemies are within me: my impatience, my self-will, my tendency to want to cover up my weaknesses. Sometimes they gang up on me and make it difficult to discern what God is calling me to do, let alone actually do it…but what these enemies tell me can’t be trusted. Smooth, ego-feeding propositions make it sound like I’ll be happy if I listen to them. I’ll get my way, on my time table, and look impressive. It’s not true. My impatience doesn’t get me where I need to be any sooner; it often slows me down. Trying to force my agenda puts me in conflict with others, and destroys my serenity. If things do happen to go my way, it means, coincidentally, that’s the way God wanted them to go at that point in time. Otherwise, my contentment will be short-lived because my goals are often short-sighted.
Lead me to do your will; make your way plain for me to follow. I need God to make his way plain for me and enable me to actually follow it—and he does, when I am open to it. I put a saying on my refrigerator where I’m reminded to ask, on a daily basis, “God, what does success look like to you in this situation?” Sometimes God’s idea of success is keeping my mouth shut when I’d like to have the last word instead of getting my way.
But all who find safety in you will rejoice…When I am able, by God’s grace, to surrender to his will instead of my own, I do find security, safety, and joy. God is in control, even when it doesn’t look that way. When my goal is for his will to be done, I can trust that that will happen. There is safety in trusting that and joy in the reassurance it brings…when I have the eyes to see it.
How about you?
- Have you prayed without using words? What was that like?
- What prayer time works best for you? Morning? Bedtime? Throughout the day? Does this time allow you to tell God all that you need to and give you time to listen for his answer?
- How does being honest with God about what’s really going on inside of you help to melt your pride and overcome the lies—even the little white ones—you tell yourself about motives, feelings, and the like?
- What is it like to enter God’s presence knowing you are loved, warts and all?
- What enemies are you facing today? Are you able to see how God is guiding you in facing these enemies today? Can you trust God enough to follow his directions?
- What lies are your enemies telling you? How does flattery make it easy to be misled?
- How has God provided you with shelter/safety? What joy can you find in that? Where else can you find joy today?
I invite you to read through the entire Psalm, and reflect on whatever phrases speak to your heart today.