Monthly Archives: August 2011

Praise in Good Times and Bad

“Praise the Lord forever!”  Psalm 89:52 

 

This last line of Psalm 89 echoes the Psalm’s opening line:  “O Lord, I will always sing of your constant love; I will proclaim your faithfulness forever.”  The psalmist spends much of the psalm calling to mind God’s power, righteousness, and promises of protection.  However, toward the end of the psalm, the psalmist’s also cries out for deliverance.   The city strongholds are in ruins.  His enemies insult and mock him.  Sorrow, frustration, and demoralization:  the psalmist lays it all out before God, asking, “Lord, where are the former proofs of your love?”  “Will you hide yourself forever?” But in spite of all this, the psalmist chooses to praise anyway. 

 

Forever means without ceasing.  That means in good times and bad.  It takes willingness and a bit of digging to praise God when times are hard.  The psalmist did it by choosing to remind himself of God’s attributes and achievements. He did not deny his problems or feelings, but instead of dwelling on the negative chose to affirm the positive.  The psalm moves from, “Where are the promises you made to David?  Don’t forget how I, your servant, am insulted, how I endure the curses of the heathen,” to it’s ending: “Praise the Lord forever!”   What a triumph! If he can do it, maybe we can, too.

 

 

Prayer:  Lord, may I praise you in good times and bad.

 

 

Reflection for sharing:  What steps are involved in acting on a decision to praise God even in hard times?

A Solid Cornerstone

This, now, is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I am placing in Zion a foundation that is firm and strong.  In it I am putting a solid cornerstone on which are written the words, ‘Faith that is firm is also patient.’”            Isaiah 28: 16

 

Solid.  Strong.  Firm.  The foundation we rest upon is faith.  And what’s important enough about that faith to be engraved on the cornerstone?  If faith is firm, it is also patient.  I never thought about faith and patience being connected before.  Although I’d like to think I have faith, I don’t have much patience at all.  What does that tell me? When something isn’t going fast enough or well enough to suit me, I’m relying on my limited vantage point. I’m not trusting that that things are unfolding under God’s wise and loving orchestration.

 

If I can leave situations and people in God’s “in box” there is no need for impatience.  Even if I don’t see a solution or any new developments, when I’m rooted in faith, it’s okay. Nikos Kazantzakis reminds us that, “God, it seems, in never in a hurry, while we are always in a hurry.”  In talking about our faith foundation, St. Paul said the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself, who holds the whole building together. In union with him we are being built together into a place where God lives through his Spirit. (Ephesians 2: 20-22) So if the Lord is our cornerstone, and He is never in a hurry, what’s the rush?

 

Prayer:  Lord, grant me the patience that comes from faith in Your wise and loving plans.

 

Reflection for sharing:  When and how has your patience been rewarded?

Humor is Good Medicine

 

 “Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death to be gloomy all the time.”

 Proverbs 17:22

 

            There was a period some years ago when I was pushing myself too hard and developed a pretty bleak outlook. I was told repeatedly to “lighten up” but I didn’t know how. So with grim determination, I set out to work on my sense of humor. Here’s my itinerary: read the Sunday comics, ransack the library for humorous books, tell jokes. This stilted, orchestrated attempt to find humor worked! It helped me enjoy snatches of my day. I started smiling more and sharing laughs with others. Like any other skill, with practice, it began to get easier and become a bit more natural.

 

            I still read the comics in the Sunday newspaper, but now I’m also much more likely to see the humor in every day situations. Gentle, good-natured humor can help ease potentially strained or awkward moments. I’ve even begun to develop the ability to accept and laugh at myself. For example, because of MS, sometimes I walk very slowly. Initially, when people commented, I often didn’t know what to say. Now when someone says, “You’re moving a little slow, there,” I grin and say, “You should have seen me before I took the pep pill!”

 

Prayer:             Lord, help us find the joy in our day today.

 

Reflection for sharing:    Where can you find humor in your day?

River of Goodness

“How precious, O God, is Your constant love!…You let us drink from the river of Your goodness.” Psalm 36: 7a; 8b

 

I used to be a caffeine junkie – some mornings there just didn’t seem to be enough coffee to get me going. Once I even dreamed about diving into a life-sized coffee mug.  Eventually I switched to decaf because too much coffee was making me jittery.  What I thought was helping me was really hurting me. That’s what happens when I rely on things instead of God.

 

When I was leaning on caffeine, what was I really thirsty for?  Quick energy and comfort. But when jitters forced me to give up caffeine, I still managed to get done what needed to get done on any given day. I became open to other sources of energy and comfort, like getting adequate rest, spending time taking in God’s love, and turning to the people He put in my path for comfort.  Not as quick as caffeine, but the results are longer lasting and there are no unpleasant side effects.

 

God provides abundantly for everything I need, not everything I want.  But when I get what I need, it usually is what I was trying to get from what I thought I wanted all along.  Whatever we’re thirsting for, if it is truly good for us, God will supply it.  The ever-flowing river of His goodness has everything we need.  But it is up to us to choose whether or not to drink from it.

 

Prayer:  How precious, O God is Your constant love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What keeps us from drinking from the river of God’s goodness?

Fear of Ridicule

“Rouse yourself, God, and defend your cause!  Remember that godless people laugh at you all day long.”  Psalm 74: 22

 

From the rest of the psalm it appears that enemies had overrun the nation and desecrated the Temple.  It may well be that the psalmist wanted God to rouse Himself because in doing so, He would defend His people.  Nevertheless, what catches my eye is the fact that the psalmist feels the need to remind God that people are laughing at Him.  Surely God knows all about it.  Apparently, He isn’t bothered by the fact that people mock Him.  I suppose God is absolutely secure in Who He is and isn’t threatened by public opinion.

 

What comes out of other people’s mouths doesn’t have the power to change our essence.  We are who we are regardless of what others think or say.  Their opinions can’t make us better or worse…only our own actions and choices can do that.  Wouldn’t it be nice to remember this when we feel slighted or attacked by the comments of others?  Derision hurts – even when people tack on the words “I was only kidding.” If we could develop an understanding of who we truly are – children of God – we could rest assured that our worth does not depend on other people’s assessment of us. I think that healthy self-esteem helps us have the courage to stand up for what we believe is right in the face of ridicule and unpopularity.

 

Prayer:  Grant us the courage that comes from healthy self-esteem.

 

Reflection for sharing:  Name some healthy ways to detach from negative comments.

In Spite Of Fear

 

 “Even though the returning exiles were afraid of the people who were living in the land, they rebuilt the altar where it had stood before.”            Ezra 3:3a

 

The Jews had been conquered and taken to Babylonia.  The book of Ezra describes the return of some of these exiles. Seven short months after returning, they began rebuilding the altar so they could worship God.  They did this in spite of the fact that they were afraid of the people living in the land.  There are people today who remain faithful and worship in spite of the very real threat of persecution. 

 

Growing up in the United States, I have never faced physical or economic danger for being a Catholic Christian.  Nevertheless, I sometimes have trouble making my faith public even though the threats are much subtler.  I was once in a work environment where someone routinely used the Lord’s name as a curse.  I was afraid to speak up.  I had to work with this person on a daily basis.  I didn’t want to ruffle feathers.  I didn’t want to be pegged as a ‘goody-two-shoes’ or branded as not being open-minded.  I didn’t want to have my own deportment set to a standard I might fail to live up to.  So I kept quiet and felt uncomfortable but also guilty for not having the courage of my convictions.  Eventually, I took a deep breath and asked the person to find another word to express their frustration.  They respected my request and the topic never came up again.

 

My actions don’t always match my convictions when I’m not with like-minded people.  I need to practice acting on my belief and not being a closet Christian.  The exiles in Ezra are a good example.

 

Prayer:  Lord, grant us the courage of our convictions.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How am I being called to act on my faith today?

Love of Money

 

“For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.”    1 Timothy 6:10

 

This often miss-quoted verse does not say, “Money is the root of all evil” but that “Love of money is the root of all evils.”  Wealth is not the problem. It is our attitude toward it that becomes problematic.  I heard someone once say that we are supposed to love people and use money but many people get that backwards.  They love money and use people!  When things become more important than relationships, we are headed for trouble. 

 

St. Paul’s language is pretty strong.  He talks about a craving – that’s a very strong urge – that drives us to wander away from faith.  Following the path of faith is not so we can be “good.”  It’s the path where true satisfaction lies.  St. Paul goes on to say that those who succumb to this craving “pierce their hearts with many pangs.”  That’s because when we look to satisfy an inner longing with money or the things it can buy – luxuries like nice cars or expensive clothes – or even comforts or highs like alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, prestige – it doesn’t work.  Things or temporary escapes can’t fill a void that goes much deeper.  So of course, when the ‘things’ ultimately disappoint, we think we need more and greed sets in. Nothing lest than the best – a relationship with the One who designed us and who loves us unfailingly – will satisfy our deepest desire. 

 

Prayer:  Loving Father, deliver us from unhealthy and miss-directed longings.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What distractions are calling out to us today and how can we see them for what they are?

Who Are You Looking For?

 

“Who is it that you are looking for?”  John 20: 15b

 

On that first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene stood crying outside the empty tomb, she saw Jesus but thought He was the gardener.  “Who is it that you are looking for?” He asked her.  She didn’t recognize Him until He called her by name. No doubt much has been written as to why Mary didn’t recognize Jesus at first sight. For me, the question He asked suggests that expectations had at least something to do with it.  “Who is it that you are looking for?” Mary had seen Jesus executed.  She didn’t expect to see Him alive.  She was in a garden.  She expected to see a gardener.

 

“Who is it that you are looking for?” is a good question for us, too.  How often do our expectations interfere with seeing God’s presence in our lives?  Are we looking for a God that stereotypes artistic renderings?  Are we looking for a Santa Claus to fulfill our requests?  Are we looking for a stern judge while hoping for a laissez-faire grandfatherly type? Any image of God that we come up with has to fall short of Who He is.  The Creator has to be bigger than the expectations of those He created. If we narrow ourselves to seeking what we expect, we may miss Him – at least until He calls us by name.

 

Prayer:  Lord, open our hearts to see Your presence where we least expect it.

 

Reflection for Sharing:  When you seek God, Who is it you are looking for?  How do expectations block your relationship with God?

Everything I Need

 

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.  He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.”  Psalm 23: 1-2

 

The King James Bible translates the passage like this:  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.”  I like both translations. Having “everything I need” conveys reassuring contentment to me more vividly than “not wanting.”

 

On the other hand, while “He lets me rest in fields of green grass” paints a peaceful picture of a sun-kissed meadow, there are times I need something stronger than permission to rest.  I may not feel like resting when a crowded to-do list is nagging me. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” speaks to my heart when I feel overwhelmed by my ambitious schedule. What tempts me to drive myself so hard? God never pushes me beyond my limit. He knows I’ll be more effective if I take time to renew myself. If something is part of God’s plan for me to get done today, I’ll be able to do it.  He’s in charge.  I can afford to take down time when I need it.

 

Prayer:  Lord, may we rest in the stillness You provide for us today.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How has God provided for our needs?   How can thinking about God’s provision lead us to rest in a peaceful place within?

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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