At that time Jesus was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit and said, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen.” Luke 10: 21
There’s no IQ test to get into heaven. Most of those called by Jesus weren’t learned. In fact, Jesus seemed to have the most run-ins with the religious experts of his day.
While being familiar with scripture and the tenets of our faith is a good thing, it’s easy to confuse knowing it intellectually and living it. Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God, others, and ourselves. A superior intellect isn’t needed to live a life of love.
God invites us all to participate in his heavenly banquet. In the parable of the great feast, when the invited guests chose not to attend, the king invited the sick, the disabled, and anyone else his servants came across on the highways and byways. (Matthew 22: 1-14) These guests weren’t given an entrance exam. All they had to do was accept the invitation and respond accordingly.
We respond accordingly to God’s invitation by treating our host, ourselves, and all other guests with respect and love. If we have intelligence or any other gift, let’s use them, by all means—not to build up our own egos, but to help us love.
Prayer: Lord, teach my heart the wisdom of love.
Reflection: How can your abilities help you reach out to others in love?
There was no king in Israel at that time. Everyone did whatever they pleased. Judges 21: 25
Ever read the book of Judges? It describes a time in Israel’s history when “everyone did whatever they pleased.” Many of these stories about Israel’s national heroes don’t represent their finer moments.
Israel stopped worshiping the Lord who brought them out of slavery.
- Gideon, chosen by God to lead the Israelites against their oppressors, defeated the enemy against all odds. Gideon then created an idol out of the loot collected and worshipped it.
- Jephthah, also victorious, thanks to God, promised to sacrifice the first person that met him on his return home. That person happened to be his daughter. Nowhere in the Law of Moses had God demanded human sacrifice.
- Samson’s arrogance and willingness to put his love affairs before his better judgment led to his destruction, even though he took his Philistine enemies with him.
- When Micah created idols, the priest he convinced to be his personal priest betrayed him for a better offer, taking Micah’s idols with him.
- A Levite surrendered his concubine to sexual perverts to save his own skin, then, when she died as a result, he used her death to start a war.
Chances are, none of these people woke up one day and decided to get themselves in trouble. They were just doing “whatever they pleased.”
While the results of our willful choices may not be as devastating as those listed here, self-centered choices are rarely a good idea and often self-defeating. Thwarted self-will leads to frustration, conflict, and retaliation. We end up not being “pleased” at all. Whether it seems like it or not, it’s wiser to follow God’s will rather than our own.
Prayer: Lord, teach my heart to trust you and choose your will over mine.
Reflection: When have you done whatever you pleased? What happened in the long run?
“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?
A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus. John 12: 9-11
Religious authorities felt threatened by Jesus as crowds responded to his teaching, his loving example, and his healing power. It came to a head when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Fearful of Jesus’ growing influence and demonstration of power, the religious leaders made plans to kill Lazarus. Did the futility of trying to kill someone who had already died and been brought back to life even occur to them?
Still, they made their plans against him and, for that matter, against the one who brought him back from death. Their plans didn’t work. When we act out of fear, we don’t always think clearly.
Fear-induced blind spots have led me to desperate or ineffective choices more than once. Sometimes I’ve acted hastily without stopping to think things through. Sometimes I’ve failed to take any action because I couldn’t see past my projections of imagined disaster. Either way, over-reacting emotionally clouded my vision.
When we turn to God instead of allowing ourselves to be bullied by our frantic reactions, we walk by faith, not by sight. That’s a good thing, because when fear looms large and we can’t see clearly, God can. Following where he leads brings us through darkness to Resurrection life!
Prayer: Lord, help me trust you to guide me through the blind spots.
Reflection: How can trusting God’s plan today keep you from acting out of fear?
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!
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?
Be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. 1 Peter 1: 14
A desire is a wish for something we think will bring us satisfaction. No wonder Peter warned us against the desires we have in our ignorance. Any number of things promise fulfillment, only to disappoint us or worse. Ask anyone who has looked for love “in all the wrong places.” Or burned bridges to get what they wanted only to find out the pleasure wasn’t worth it.
We’ve all made mistakes. But making a mistake isn’t the same as allowing our whole lives to be shaped by mistake after mistake after mistake. The danger is in repeating our mistakes and hoping for a different outcome. We think next time, the right person, place, or thing, will give us what we’re looking for. Continuing to repeat the same behavior with different particulars creates a pattern. Repeated patterns become habits, and before we realize it, they shape our lives, as Peter warned.
The good news is, just because we have a desire, doesn’t mean we have to act on it. We don’t have to allow our longings to determine our lives. We don’t have to pretend they aren’t there, either. We have choices about which desires to act on and when. Discernment allows us to act on the desires that are life-building when they are appropriate instead of being pushed around by our self-will and getting drawn into trouble.
Anyone can learn from their mistakes. Recognizing that we’ve made a mistake is one way of saying that we are less ignorant now than we were when we made it. That wisdom will help us shape our lives into what God has in mind for us, which is always better than anything we could come up with on our own.
Prayer: Lord, save me from the mistakes I make out of ignorance.
Reflection: How are your desires shaping your life today?
Why do the nations plan rebellion? Why do people make their useless plots? …From his throne in heaven the Lord laughs and mocks their feeble plans. Psalm 2: 1; 3
I can’t speak for the nations. I’m not even sure why I make my useless plots…except that sometimes I just want things to go my way! Apparently, I need to keep learning, over and over again, that just because things don’t go my way, doesn’t mean they don’t turn out well—or at least the way they’re supposed to turn out.
Rebellion has its roots in my past. When I was a kid, time and again my mom warned me not to wait until the last minute to work on school projects. I knew she was right, but kept procrastinating, just to assert my independence. The results weren’t pretty. I was a freshman in college before I finally realized that refusing to do things the right way just because somebody else told me to only hurt myself. Surrendering to Mom’s wisdom instead of my own has been a blessing ever since.
I’ve also concocted schemes to steer events a certain way. I’ve rehearsed conversations in advance. If I say x, he’ll say y but I want him to say a, so I better say z instead. I’ve anticipated other people’s reactions and made my choices based on getting the response I wanted. Neither form of manipulation has worked for me. Other people are beyond my control…so are any number of things.
There’s nothing wrong with setting goals. Making plans and working towards them is important, but blind attempts to force the outcomes I want is doomed. For example, I had my heart set on attending a writer’s conference a few years ago. Eager to further my writing efforts, I wanted to participate in all the workshops, network, and do some volunteering. I chose to ignore my physical limitations and carried out my useless plot. My physical problems forced me to leave the conference after only one day. When I fight reality, reality always wins.
I know God loves me, but I’m sure He sits in heaven shaking His head at my feeble plans. He knows my circumstances and limitations much better than I do. If God is all wise, all powerful, and all loving, doesn’t it make sense to surrender to His plans instead of my own? You’d think I’d get it by now…and sometimes I do…but sometimes I’m sure I give Him a good laugh.
How about you?
- When have you felt defiant/rebellious? Have you acted on it? How did it help or hurt you? Did you get what you wanted? Was it worth it?
- When have you schemed or manipulated to get things to go your way or to get others to do what you wanted? How did that turn out?
- When have you felt “feeble” in the face of complications/situations/elements beyond your control?
- Think back. Are there times when God, although loving you more than words can say, might also have been chuckling at your activities? Can you laugh at yourself? How is the ability to laugh at yourself related to a healthy sense of humility?
Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God.
Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night.
They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do. Psalm 1: 1-3 (GNT)
I joined “those who have no use for God” during my college years. Listening to God didn’t sound like much fun at the time. I did things my way. I thought that would guarantee happiness. Instead it let me down. When pain brought me to my knees, I turned back to God. He was waiting for me with open arms. Instead of fun, God offered me joy.
As far as studying God’s law day and night, Jesus said the most important laws were loving God with all our being, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves. That gives me plenty to reflect on. I can’t think of a single conflict with others or internal struggle I’ve ever had that can’t be traced back to my neglecting one or more of those.
Like a tree growing beside a stream? I can tell you that since I’ve recognized my need for God and have started spending even a little time each morning in prayer, I have increasing peace in my life. The fruit I have to share is the story of my mistakes and limitations and God’s unconditional and limitless love.
Succeeding in everything I do? That depends on what you call success. I’m gaining a sense of who I really am instead of who I thought I was supposed to be. Jesus warned against gaining the whole world and losing our own selves. If a more honest sense of self counts as success, I guess I’m succeeding.
What about you?
- When have you followed the example of those who have no use for God? When have you rejected their advice? How did things turn out in each case?
- Think of a time you found joy in doing what you felt was right, even though it seemed beyond you at the time. Looking back, can you see that God gave you all you needed to do what you felt called to do?
- Are you feeling “dried up” today or refreshed and replenished? What can you do in either case?
- What will success look like for you today?
I invite you to read this psalm through on your own and reflect on whatever phrase or idea might speak to you at this moment in time. I welcome comments if you’d care to share your reflections. Peace and good.