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 announce,” says the king, “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask, and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours…’” Psalm 2: 7b-8
Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.” Matthew 4: 8-9
God the Father had already offered his Son all the nations of the world. What did the Devil hope to gain by offering Jesus something that already belonged to him?
That’s how temptation works. Who’d be tempted by something false, damaging or undesirable? The devil is a liar whose only chance is to make something harmful appear good.
It isn’t always easy to see through the alluring promise of gratification to reality and the long-lasting effects of our choices. Temptation promises a good that evil can’t possibly deliver or offers a temporary reward that, in the long run, demands too high a price.
A quick drink, promising freedom from care and worry, might be fatal to an alcoholic. Another spending spree at the mall might be fun until credit card debt takes its toll. Lashing out may provide temporary relief to pent up emotions, but wreak havoc on our relationships. Belittling, gossiping about, or betraying a friend or co-worker might pump up our egos, get us off the hook, or even help us get ahead in the world, but is it worth losing our self-respect?
What if we gain the world and lose our soul? All for what? To feel important? Secure? Good about ourselves? The truth is, we already have all we need to feel good. We are loved by God. We are precious to him. We are important by virtue of the fact that he loved us into being. Can we see that temptation is promising something we already have? Can we see we have nothing to gain but damaged relationships with God, with others, and with our own selves by trying to take a short cut to the good we already have?
Jesus saw through the immediate results of temptation to the long view that God’s perspective gives. He accepted the world his Father gave him and chose to love rather than lord over the nations. He saw through the Devil’s empty promises. May we do the same.
Prayer: Lord, help me see temptations for what they are.
Reflection: What looks good to you right now? How will it affect you in the long run?
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 priests had to cleanse themselves before they approached God’s altar. The basin they used was made up of mirrors. Preparing to enter into God’s presence involves reflection.
An honest look at ourselves reveals what’s really within us instead of what we wish was there. Only by seeing ourselves as we really are can we know ourselves as God already knows us. Once we see what blocks us from moving closer to God, we can cooperate with the cleansing process.
We don’t have to be afraid to look within. God already sees our truth and loves us as we are—warts and all. As we are refreshed and cleansed by the living water God provides, we’re empowered to enter more fully into God’s presence. Chances are the more we reflect on his image, the more our lives will come to mirror his. The women mentioned in the above passage originally used the mirrors to see their own reflection. Eventually they served at the entrance of the Tent and helped others prepare to draw closer to God. May we do the same.
Prayer: Lord help me see myself clearly.
Reflection: What do you see when you look within? Can you allow God to shine the light of his love on your imperfections?
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?
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.
Inspiration is contagious. When I was in grade school, girls mostly jumped rope or played tag at recess. There was also a clapping game we played together sung to the tune of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” One girl, who wore a leg brace and could only use one of her arms, always stood alone and watched the rest of us play. I never gave her much thought until the day I saw my best friend approach the girl. They figured out a way to play the clapping game using just one hand. I was in awe of my friend. Her compassion and ingenuity would have been impressive in someone even more than ten years old. I wanted to be like her. I began playing with the physically challenged girl, too, and we became friends.
Awe is a great motivator. We don’t grow spiritually by brow-beating ourselves. Holiness isn’t fitting ourselves into a moral straight jacket. When we admire others who make generous use of their time, talents, and treasure, they inspire us to do likewise.
Who could be more awe-inspiring than God? Which is why spending time with Him invites us to grow spiritually. When we reflect on God’s love, mercy, truth, and the like, we immerse ourselves in God’s goodness. Mean or shabby motives in our own nature pale in comparison and we become willing to let them slip away.
Time spent with our awesome God changes us from the inside out.
Prayer: Holy, holy, holy Lord.
Reflection: Which of God’s awe-inspiring attributes speaks most to your heart today?
I trust in the Lord for safety. How foolish of you to say to me, “Fly away like a bird to the mountains, because the wicked have drawn their bows and aimed their arrows…There is nothing a good person can do when everything falls apart.”
The Lord is in his holy temple; he has his throne in heaven. He watches people everywhere and knows what they are doing.
Psalm 11: 1-4
It doesn’t take bows and arrows aimed at me to make me want to run away. When it comes to fight or flight, my default instinct is flight. Although there are times when avoiding a confrontation is the wise choice, at other times we need to stand our ground. Even minor challenges can seem intimidating. Years ago, I was subpoenaed to testify in court on a work-related matter. I freaked out. I don’t know why I felt so threatened. I wasn’t even the defendant; I was only taking the witness stand. I wished I didn’t feel afraid, but the truth is, I did. I would have loved to run away but quitting my job was not an option. Besides, it wouldn’t have relieved me of the obligation to appear in court.
Still a beginner in my spiritual journey at the time, I shared my fear with my spiritual mentor. She always encouraged me to give my feelings to God, so I did. What came back was the thought that being in the witness stand was no different than being anywhere else in God’s world. All I had to do was tell the truth. Thinking of God watching me and doing what he wanted me do gave me courage. Even if I tripped on my words or made a mistake in that witness stand, God would know I was being sincere. That’s what mattered. Needless to say, when the time came I answered the lawyers’ questions and…that was it. Very simple, not the ordeal my imagination had created.
There are times we’d all like to fly away but some challenges in life, both big and small, are unavoidable. I find it makes a difference going through them with God’s watchful eye guiding me.
How about you?
- How do you know if you trust the Lord?
- When is it easy to trust the Lord? When is it challenging?
- Fight or flight: which are you more comfortable with?
- What are some ways to grow in trusting God?
- When everything falls apart, is there anything a good person can do? What?
- How might imagining a loving God watching you and others affect your choices?
I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever words or phrases speaks to you today.
Jesus was angry as he looked around at them, but at the same time he felt sorry for them, because they were so stubborn and wrong. Mark 3:5
Jesus had mixed feelings about the religious leaders who couldn’t see beyond the letter of the law. They wanted to condemn Jesus for breaking the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day. What could be more holy than reaching out with compassion to relieve someone else’s suffering? No wonder he felt angry.
He also felt sorry for them. Why? Because they were stubborn and wrong. I can’t claim to know what Jesus was thinking, but I suspect it had more to do with their being stubborn than wrong. When we’re wrong, we can always change our minds once we’re corrected. But when we’re stubborn, the right information won’t help. We refuse to see the truth even if it’s right under our eyes. Stubbornness truly deserves pity. There is no hope of growth or change when our minds are already made up. We dig in our heels and refuse to budge.
What’s so hard about being open to another point of view? What’s the harm in looking at things in a new way? We have nothing to lose. If the new idea isn’t correct we can retain original position. But if we obstinately cling to what we think we know—without even considering other options—we’re stuck with no hope of growth. No wonder Jesus pitied them.
I’ve been stubborn more than once in my life, often for no better reason than, “I’ve been doing it this way for years, why change?” I said it in the 1970’s when our office computerized operations we used to do by hand. Luckily, my inflexibility gave way to the desire to keep my job. What if I had refused to consider the new procedure? I wouldn’t be writing this blog, for one thing. I would have shut the door on learning the skills that have become a way of life our culture today.
Stubbornness can stunt our spiritual life with even more impact. The Holy Spirt is dynamic. God’s truth doesn’t change, but our understanding of it and the way we live it grows as we grow. The religious leaders weren’t wrong in wanting to honor the Sabbath, but they were wrong clinging to their narrow interpretation of what that meant. May God grace us with open-mindedness as he deepens our understanding of his truth.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the humility to be teachable.
Reflection: What ideas are you clinging to that might be worth a second look? How can open-mindedness help you grow spiritually?