“Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1
Patience is not one of my strong suits. On the plus side, I’m efficient. Efficiency is good except when my apparent need for split second timing turns up the pressure. That usually happens when I’m too focused on my agenda. I forget that all time is God’s and that I have the same amount of time everyone else does: 24 hours per day. I will have all the time I need to accomplish what God has in mind for me on any given day. The problem is that sometimes I want to accomplish more than is appropriate – or even realistic.
If we are too busy to pray, we are too busy. If we take time to connect with God and open ourselves to His agenda for us, we’ll gain perspective. We may realize some things can wait until tomorrow, some can wait indefinitely, and some don’t need to be done at all. We won’t rush around, frantically squeezing in everything on our ‘to do’ list. We will be given all the time we need to do what we are called on to do by God. Of course we need to make plans, but sometimes plans change. The unexpected comes up. If we pause before we start our day to listen to God, we’ll be better able to go with the flow, trusting that what needs to happen will happen in His time.
Prayer: Lord, slow me down.
Reflection for sharing: What are your priorities today? How might they differ from God’s priorities for you today?
“…Patience is better than pride.” Ecclesiastes 7: 8b
I read this quote from Ecclesiastes this morning, admired the wisdom of the thought, and went on with my day. Later that morning, I found myself driving in a no-passing zone, stuck behind a large, slow-moving vehicle. As my irritation mounted, a thought found its way into my mind: “Patience is better than pride.” The words were no louder than a whisper. I could easily have tuned the thought out and indulge my impatience, but silently fuming wasn’t getting me anywhere. I began turning the thought over in my mind.
“Patience is better than pride.”
“Of course patience is better than pride, but what does pride have to do with not wanting to be stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle?”
“Well, that truck has to get somewhere, too, and its driver has just as much right to use this public road as I do.”
“Yeah, but why did I have to get stuck behind it?” –Ah! There’s the pride.
“Why not me? If not me, somebody else would be behind him. Why are you any more important than anyone else? Besides, no one’s expecting you. It’s not like you’re even going to be late. What’s the big hurry?”
I chuckled. It was true. I had a destination, but no appointment and no deadline. My shoulders relaxed. I turned on the radio. A minute later, the offending vehicle turned down a side street. But even if it hadn’t, my frame of mind was so much brighter. Patience really is better than pride.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, please fill me with the patience born of humility.
Reflection for sharing: What are the challenges in exchanging pride for patience? What are the benefits?
“Lord, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me.” Psalm 131:1-2
What a calming image – all the peace and comfort of a child nestled in its mother’s arms. This serenity is available to us. The price? Our pride and arrogance.
“I can be right or I can be happy.” Have you ever heard that expression? Presumptuous attempts to prove our point create conflict with others equally determined to defend their point of view. Although an honest exchange of ideas can be mutually enlightening, arrogance can shift discussions into heated disputes. Is gaining verbal victory worth the price? When principles and potential harm are at stake, the answer might be yes. Other times, we surrender our serenity over a needless contest of whose ego will be bruised and whose will remain intact.
Over-reaching ambition, motivated by pride or arrogance, can also drive away our peace of mind. I once accepted a promotion to a position I detested and was ill suited to perform, because the title sounded impressive. A cloud of gloom surrounded me for several months until I finally came to my senses. I returned to my previous job – where I worked effectively and happily for many years.
When our egos stay right-sized, we fit comfortably in God’s loving embrace.
Prayer: Lord, let me rest secure in Your loving wisdom so that I have no need to cling to my pride.
Reflection for sharing: How is pride blocking your peace of mind today?
“If the Lord does not build the house, the work of the builders is useless; if the Lord does not protect the city, it does no good for the sentries to stand guard.” Psalm 127: 1
I once tried my hand at knitting, but didn’t have the patience for it. When I noticed I’d dropped a stitch, I wasn’t willing to go back and pick it up. I wanted to finish the sweater, not waste time retracing what I had already done. So I ignored the dropped stitch and kept on clicking those needles. As the sweater emerged, I found that all my knitting was only creating a bigger hole. Full speed ahead got me nowhere; it only magnified what was wrong. It was either go back and do it right, or abandon the project. I found I didn’t really like knitting. I liked having a hobby that created gifts for other people. The results weren’t pretty.
I think it’s like that with many of the efforts we make, even when our goals are nobler than choosing a hobby. We’re probably not as shortsighted as I was with my knitting experiment, but forging ahead on tasks that are not grounded in God’s wisdom are probably doomed to be ineffective. When eagerness drives us relentlessly and we feel frustrated at every turn, it’s possible that our efforts may be counter-productive to God’s plan for us. Praying to know God’s will and referring to appropriate resources in the pre-planning stage can help us discern whether our project is worth pursuing as well as how to go about it. The time this takes is not wasted time.
Prayer: Please, Lord, guide our efforts today.
Reflection for sharing: Think of a task or project you took on in the past. How did it turn out? What did your pre-planning preparation look like? How can that experience help you with future planning?
“If I must boast, I will boast about things that show how weak I am.” 2 Corinthians 11: 30
Why do we brag? I suppose we want to build ourselves up and enhance our status in other people’s eyes. Why? Don’t we feel good enough? Do we need reassurance? Probably. We all need validation. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about our accomplishments and abilities. The danger comes when we start believing those are the only things that make us worthwhile. We are more than our mistakes and failures, but we are also more than our achievements and talents. If our self-worth is wrapped up in what we can do, what happens if or when – because of disability or other reasons – we are unable to ‘do’? We are worthy of respect and love simply because God breathed us into existence. We have a purpose in His plan apart from our accomplishments.
It seems like a paradox, but accepting – let alone boasting – about our weaknesses takes a stronger sense of self-worth than boasting about our strengths. Apparently St. Paul’s self-esteem didn’t come from his actions – although they were prodigious. It came from his relationship with and dependence on Christ. Immediately after the above passage in Corinthians, Paul wrote about his embarrassing escape from Damascus in a basket. Sharing this mortifying scenario didn’t interfere with Paul’s effectiveness or credibility in spreading the good news.
Sometimes our attempt to impress others ends up turning off the people we are trying to impress. Those others might even be more concerned about how they are coming across to us. Who do we feel most comfortable with? Probably people who are comfortable with themselves, warts and all. Isn’t it better if we can all feel secure enough to accept ourselves and each other exactly as we are today…the way God accepts and loves us?
Prayer: Lord, may I not be ashamed to acknowledge my weaknesses, at least to myself.
Reflection for sharing: What holds me back from accepting my imperfections? What would help me be more generous and less judgmental of myself and others?
“Hold me, and I will be safe, and I will always pay attention to your commands.” Psalm 119:117
Sometimes we just need to feel wrapped in the security of God’s love. There’s a time for praying for others, a time for praise and thanksgiving, a time for pondering the mysteries found in God’s word. But when we’re feeling vulnerable we long for the comfort of God’s protection. He is bigger than any circumstance or mood we may be facing. Which is not to say we have a passport to a problem-free existence. The Psalmist doesn’t say, “Make my problems go away, and I will be safe.” He says, “Hold me, and I will be safe.” It is the consciousness of God’s powerful and loving presence in the midst of problems that is our security. Whatever we are walking through, we are not alone. That is the peace that passes understanding.
The first part of the verse is so comforting, it’s easy to linger there, and at times, that can be just what we need to do. But there is more to the verse. “I will always pay attention to your commands.” I didn’t want to think about that because I can’t guarantee to always obey God’s commands. But the Psalmist doesn’t say, “always obey”. He says, “always pay attention to.” The NRSV translates it as “have regard for.” Having regard for and paying attention to God’s instructions seems more doable and will likely lead to more understanding of their wisdom. If God is keeping us safe, it makes sense to follow his instructions. Keeping our children safe becomes a challenge when they don’t pay attention to our admonitions to not touch a hot stove or use the bed as a trampoline. We can drive in safety if we all have regard for traffic rules and speed limits.
I am consoled by the safety of God’s loving embrace, and I remain in that safety as I follow His directions. The two ideas do go hand in hand.
Prayer: Hold me, Lord, and I will be safe. Help me pay attention to Your loving instructions.
Reflection for sharing: How does paying attention to God’s commands enhance your sense of being protected?
“Be confident, my heart, because the Lord has been good to me.” Psalm 116: 7
It sounds like the psalmist is giving his heart a pep talk. Sometimes my heart needs a pep talk, too. When we’re anxious, willing ourselves to be calm or telling ourselves not to worry doesn’t work very well. Neither does getting down on ourselves. The psalmist not only encourages his faltering heart but explains to it why it should be confident: because the Lord has been good to him. Throughout the psalm, the author recounts past dangers and fears that enveloped him and reminds himself that the Lord answered when he called. The psalmist takes the time to affirm God’s help when he was most helpless and desperate. This bolsters confidence and gratitude. The psalmist moves from reviewing God’s powerful saving action to praising and thanking him.
When anxious I’ve found it helpful to call to mind things that panicked me in the past – real or imagined – and remind myself that God brought me safely through every last one of those situations. I survived all my worst fears because here I am today, writing this. Acknowledging that God did for me what I could not do for myself brings me to a better place – a place of humility, trust, and gratitude.
If you’re reading this, you’ve survived all your past fears too. Whatever we may be facing at the moment or in the future, we can encourage our hearts to be confident, because the Lord has been good to us.
Prayer: Praise and thanks to you, Lord, for your saving power.
Reflection for sharing: How has the Lord been good to you during past struggles? How can remembering this encourage you during present or future trials?
“Anyone who hides hatred is a liar.” Proverbs 10: 18
This is a confusing proposition. We are told throughout the Bible to love one another. In fact, just a few verses before the above quote, we are told, “Hate stirs up trouble, but love forgives all offenses.” (Proverbs 10: 12) Hate stirs up trouble, but if we hide hatred we are liars. What are we supposed to do? I’m no expert, but speaking only for myself, I have a few thoughts.
I’m learning to be more honest about what I feel. As a child, when I said “I feel angry” or “I hate you,” I was told, “No you don’t.” I don’t? It sure feels like I do. I must be wrong. Over the years I got very good at lying to myself about what I was feeling. Today, it is crucial for me to admit my angry feelings to myself. But admitting my anger is not the same as acting it out. Finding safe ways to express and work through my anger without hurting myself or anybody else is essential. I find it helpful to write my feelings out and then destroy the writing so no one else can read or be hurt by it. Talking in confidence to a trusted friend, spiritual advisor, and God about my anger also works. Once expressed, the feelings settle down and I can see more clearly what – if anything – I need to do.
Feelings change. We can choose our actions regardless of how we happen to feel at any given moment. Giving ourselves time, space, and permission to work through them safely can save us from regret.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be honest about our feelings and still act in love.
Reflection for sharing: What are some safe ways to express feelings honestly?
“So then, my dear friends, stand firm and steady. Keep busy always in your work for the Lord, since you know that nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
It’s reassuring to hear that “nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless.” We live in a culture that measures success by prestige: wealth, achievements, popularity. What do you do for a living? What kind of car do you drive? How many Face book fans do you have? Sometimes we can get caught up in comparing ourselves to others.
Instead of comparing mental resumes with others, why not ask questions that will give us a sense of how we’re doing in the Lord’s service? Do I listen to those nudges from the Holy Spirit? Am I making a difference to those around me? Does how I do whatever I do matter? Making progress in these areas can be accomplished in any station in life.
A few months ago I was involved in a project that I thought was a God-given way for me to do what I felt called to do. I worked hard to prepare and was looking forward to the event. Due to circumstances beyond my control, the event was cancelled at the last minute. I was deeply disappointed. But just because my efforts didn’t bear fruit the way I expected when I expected, doesn’t mean they didn’t bear fruit. If nothing else, my heart had yet another opportunity to learn patience and acceptance. It’s one more experience that will help me empathize and encourage others when they walk through disappointment. Mother Theresa said, “We are not called to be successful. We’re called to be faithful.” So for today, I can choose to be faithful and do the next thing that is on my agenda.
Prayer: Bless our efforts, Lord, and use them as You see fit.
Reflection for sharing: How can we keep “firm and steady” when our efforts don’t seem to be successful?