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?
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?
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?
God saves us by love, not war. Hate can’t be conquered with hate. That only generates more hate on both sides. Responding to hate with love shows up hatred for what it is and refuses to justify it. Jesus didn’t respond to violence with violence. He was victorious without resorting to the enemy’s tactics. Love is more powerful than hate.
When twelve-year-old Maria Goretti’s neighbor forced himself on her sexually, she resisted. Enraged, he stabbed her 14 times. As he attacked her, she expressed concern for his soul. As she died because of her wounds, she forgave her attacker. Her forgiving love haunted him for years. While in prison, he converted. Upon release, he begged Maria’s mother for forgiveness and lived out the rest of his life as a Capuchin monk. Such is the power of love.
Who doesn’t want to lash out when we’re being attacked? Choosing not to respond to hate with hate takes amazing strength and courage. We can’t do it on our own, but only by the power of Christ’s spirit within us. Love doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings and it doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to be abused. There are times we need to defend ourselves and others. But, with God’s power, we don’t have to allow hurtful assaults to tarnish our nature. Responding to hate with love takes a miracle, but God is in the business of miracles when we trust him.
Prayer: Lord, teach us the power of love.
Reflection: How can you appropriate God’s loving power in the face of antagonism?
In my trouble I called to the Lord; I called to my God for help. In his temple he heard my voice; he listened to my cry for help.
The Lord reached down from above and took hold of me; he pulled me out of the deep waters.
The Lord alone is God; God alone is our defense.
The Lord lives! Praise my defender! Proclaim the greatness of the God who saves me. Psalm 18: 2; 6; 16; 28; 30; 46
Who doesn’t want to feel safe—especially in these uncertain times? We’re going to feel vulnerable if we depend solely on our own strength, other people, or man-made institutions. None of these can guarantee perfect safety. With God we are safe. Trusting him doesn’t mean we won’t experience pain or trouble. It does mean we won’t be abandoned.
When I’ve been in over my head I’ve called out to God. He’s pulled me out of “deep waters” lots of times. I think my first mature, honest prayer was as a young social worker many years ago. I felt it was my responsibility to solve a crisis my client was facing. I wanted to rescue her—but I didn’t have the power or resources to do so. Up against my own limitations, I panicked. Drowning in my own anxiety, I cried out to God when I wasn’t even sure he was there. I was guided to take just the next step, and then the next. The situation slowly resolved itself. Somehow my client and I both go through that crisis…and it certainly wasn’t by my own strength.
If you’re like me, maybe you’ve been at the end of your rope too, sometimes due to external circumstances and sometimes due to inner turmoil. Although our loved ones may care very much, there isn’t always much they can do to help.
In some situations there is no one to turn to except God. When we do, we can trust that we are not alone–no matter how it feels. God is well aware of exactly what is going on and probably understands our limitations better than we do. He can rescue us from deep waters. We might get drenched, but we will not drown. Praise the greatness of the God who saves us.
I encourage you to read through the entire Psalm and reflect on whatever passages speak to you today. Here are some questions to start:
- Why is it safe to trust God for protection?
- When have you been in over your head? What happened?
- In what ways can God keep us safe if he doesn’t remove our problems?
- How has God saved you?
- How can you proclaim his greatness?
You know my heart. You have come to me at night; you have examined me completely and found no evil desire in me.
I have always walked in your way and have never strayed from it.
I pray to you, O God, because you answer me; so turn to me and listen to my words.
Reveal your wonderful love and save me; at your side I am safe from my enemies.
Protect me as you would your very eyes; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the attacks of the wicked. Psalm 17: 1; 3; 5-10
David cries out to God for justice, begging God to defeat and punish his enemies. He claims that God, who knows him thoroughly, knows he is innocent.
Like David, I believe God knows my heart and has examined me completely. I’m not so convinced that he has found no evil desire within me. I can’t claim that I ‘never strayed’ from God’s way. When God reveals his wonderful love and saves me—which he has done many times and continues to do—it’s because he is good, not because I am perfect. That shows just how wonderful his love really is.
David recognizes that his enemies are stronger than he is, but not stronger than God. I have plenty of enemies that are stronger than I am, too. Many of them are within me. Take impatience, for example. Much as I’d like to be rid of it, I can’t make myself patient. I’ve tried it on my own many times, and been defeated many times. If I stop trying to tackle it on my own, I can ask God for relief. There’s hope in God’s power, which can do for me what I can’t do for myself, if I’m willing to surrender and trust Him.
Unlike David’s honest prayer, my honest prayer looks more like this: Listen, O Lord, I know I’ve let you down, but I need you. On my own I’m too weak to stand up against the enemies within me. I pray to you because you listen and answer me. It’s your love—certainly not my own strength–that keeps me safe. Thank you, Lord, for knowing my heart and loving me anyway.
How about you? I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflection whatever phrases speak to you today. Here are some questions that might help.
- What enemies are bigger than you today?
- How can God help keep you safe from their attacks?
- How has he answered your prayers in the past and revealed his wonderful love?
- What would your honest prayer look like?
The Lord looks down from heaven at us humans to see if there are any who are wise, any who worship him, but they have all gone wrong; they are all equally bad. Not one of them does what is right, not a single one.
Evildoers frustrate the plans of the humble, but the Lord is their protection. Psalm 14: 1-3; 6
Sometimes our “smarts” lead to all kinds of foolishness. An AA member once said, “I never met anyone too dumb to get this program, but I met a lot of people too smart to get it.” C.S. Lewis put it another way, saying “…as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” C.S. Lewis We are more than our brains. There’s no wisdom in making idols out of our intellects and using ourselves as our only reference point.
According to the psalmist, we’re all in the same boat. We say things like, “I’m only human,” or “I’m not perfect,” or “I’m no saint.” So isn’t putting all our trust in our very fallible natures pretty silly? Left to our own devices, not one of us does what is right. If we could save ourselves by being perfect, then, as St. Paul said, “Christ died for nothing.” (Gal. 2: 21) The good news is, God looks down on us with mercy, mercy that is available to us when we are open to it.
Back in my college days, I thought knowledge was power. I was pretty arrogant. Meanwhile, all my good grades and deep thinking friends couldn’t help me grow emotionally or spiritually. I was on shaky ground that kept getting shakier. My first honest prayer as an adult was, “God, I don’t know if you’re out there or not, but if you are, please help me.” It wasn’t an intellectual decision, it was heart-felt desperation. The crisis didn’t disappear, but I was led through events as they unfolded. It was not my own intellect or power that got me through because I was at my wit’s end.
Discomfort can be a good motivator. Our weakness in the face of problems brings us back to healthy humility. Then we become open to the source of strength and wisdom. That may be the genius of God. He can bring good out of anything, even our foolishness. How could we worship someone outside of ourselves until we are humble enough to look beyond our egos? I wonder if any of us become wise without being foolish first?
How about you?
- When have you felt foolish? How much of that feeling was related to pride?
- What does being wise mean to you?
- How can humility help you grow?
Why are you so far away, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself when we are in trouble?
The wicked do not care about the Lord; in their pride they think that God doesn’t matter.
The helpless victims lie crushed; brute strength has defeated them. The wicked say to themselves, “God doesn’t care! He has closed his eyes and will never see me!”
But you do see; you take notice of trouble and suffering and are always ready to help. The helpless commit themselves to you; you have always helped the needy.
You will listen, O Lord, to the prayers of the lowly; you will give them courage.
Psalm 10: 1-2; 10-11; 14
Why are you so far away, O Lord? I’ve been in trouble and felt like God was far away many times. Once, when I was living alone, I felt scared and demoralized because medical problems prevented me from taking care of myself. No matter how much I wanted to feel close to God, I felt cut off from him and overwhelmed with despair. Days later, seemingly out of nowhere, he spoke to my heart: It doesn’t matter how you feel. Your feelings do not determine if I am present or not. I am bigger than your feelings. They aren’t powerful enough to push me away. What a relief! I’d been trusting my volatile emotions to gauge my closeness to God, but feelings come and go. Shifting emotions are not an accurate reflection of our relationship with God. Just because I can’t see or feel God’s presence in a given situation, doesn’t mean he is not there. After all, the sun is still in the sky, even if a cloud temporarily keeps me from seeing it or feeling its warmth.
The wicked do not care about the Lord; in their pride they thing that God doesn’t matter…but you do see…you will listen, O Lord, to the prayers of the lowly; you will give them courage. It adds insult to injury when those driven by greed, arrogance, or self-indulgence seem to “get ahead” in life. People who take advantage of the weak don’t always seem to get its comeuppance. When that happens it’s easy to question God’s justice. Apparently that was just as true in biblical times as it is today. But the psalmist tells us God not only sees, but is always ready to help the helpless and needy. So why are there still hurting people in the world? Why did God give us free will and leave us free to choose good or evil? Although I can’t answer that I believe, as the psalmist affirms, that God does listen to the prayers of the lowly. He will give them courage. It doesn’t say he will take away their pain this side of heaven, although the bible tells us elsewhere that God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Isaiah 25:8) and there will be no more grief, crying, or pain. (Revelation 21:4)
God’s promises can be trusted. Why we have to wait only he knows but it’s safe to believe that he has a reason. Maybe that’s why he gives us courage when we’re lowly, so we can walk through the challenges this life has for us, trusting that God can bring good out of anything. If he can bring good out of the cross, he can bring good out of whatever we’re facing. I think it’s safe to trust Him, even if I don’t always feel like it.
How about you?
- When has God seemed far away from you? How did you get through those times?
- What are your thoughts when the ruthless seem to get away with something?
- What criteria do you think the wicked use to determine success?
- What criteria do you use to determine success?
- What do you think success looks like to God?
- If God sees us suffering, why do you think he allows suffering to continue?
- Why do you think the helpless are more likely to commit themselves to God?
- As an answer to prayer, how can courage benefit someone in need?
Elisha died and was buried. Every year bands of Moabites used to invade the land of Israel. One time during a funeral, one of those bands was seen, and the people threw the corpse into Elisha’s tomb and ran off. As soon as the body came into contact with Elisha’s bones, the man came back to life and stood up. 2 Kings 13: 20-21
Contact with Elisha’s lifeless bones brought another man back to life. With that much power, why did Elisha die in the first place? Why couldn’t he heal himself? Maybe it’s the same principle as a surgeon who can’t perform surgery on himself. We can do for others what we can’t do for ourselves and they can help us when we can’t make it on our own. We need each other. We’re meant to live in community and help one another.
Sometimes our very wounds and weaknesses empower us to be useful to others. They give us credibility, a point of empathy, common ground, and hands on experience. In AA, one recovering alcoholic helps another in ways a non-alcoholic helper never could. Someone who has gone through similar challenges can give us strength and hope and help us find the way out of our dilemma because they have been there. They know what we’re up against and what it feels like. We can identify with others who have overcome or at least learned to cope with the same challenges we’re facing. There is power in weakness.
Sometimes we are more effective in helping others from a position of weakness. When we feel weak and ineffective God may be preparing us for service. I’ve had physical and emotional challenges that I wouldn’t want to go through again, yet I can see how God has brought good out of each and every one. I’ve been able to encourage others who have similar physical problems or are limited by incapacity. I’ve been able to reassure others in stormy emotional situations because I’ve weathered some myself.
I’ve also learned a lot about being there for others more effectively through my own incapacities. I’ve learned that platitudes don’t help. I’ve learned that offering solutions isn’t necessary—especially when those solutions have probably already been thought of. I’ve learned saying “You look so good” in an effort to cheer up someone who feels lousy can have little effect. It can even make the sufferer think the depth of their discomfort is not understood. Honesty and kindness work. I learned this through my own weakness. As St. Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 10) You can’t get weaker than Elisha’s lifeless remains, but another regained life through them anyway. It wasn’t Elisha’s power, it was God’s. God may work through us best just when we feel weakest.
Prayer: Lord, use my weakness.
Reflection: How might God want to work through your weaknesses?
O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world! Your praise reaches up to the heavens…
When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—what are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them?
Yet you made them inferior only to yourself; you crowned them with glory and honor. You appointed them rulers over everything you made; you placed them over all creation…
O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world!
Psalm 8: 1; 3-6; 9
Ever seen the Grand Canyon? Or look out over the ocean? Or study the delicate petals of a single rose? Observing the wonders of creation generates opportunities to praise the Creator.
A sense of awe gives us a healthy perspective on who we are in the cosmic scheme of things. It’s so easy to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. Why else would we get irritated when plans don’t unfold according to our schedule or people don’t follow our agenda? Awe-inspired awareness of our creature-hood invites us step out of self-centeredness without developing an inferiority complex. As the Psalmist points out, even though we are “mere mortals,” God cares for us. For whatever reason, he placed us in charge of creation. What we’ve done with the environment he gave us speaks for itself. Even so, God not only cares for us, he crowns us with glory and honor.
As an antidote to getting puffed up with pride, let’s remember that any honor we have is a gift from God. We reflect his greatness, not our own. That greatness can be seen in all the world and is evident to anyone who opens their eyes to see it. God doesn’t need our praise. His glory and achievement is self-evident. Praising God enhances our lives. I think that’s because it helps us remember who we are: frail, humble creatures loved by an almighty, glorious Creator!
How about you?
- What part of creation reveals God’s glory to you?
- When have you felt your frailty, mortality, creature-hood?
- How does it feel to think about God loving you with all your weaknesses?
- What difference does it make to give God the glory instead of grasping at glory for yourself?
I invite you to read the entire Psalm and meditate on the thought or phrase that speaks to you today.