Jesus knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king by force; so he went off again to the hills by himself. John 6: 15
Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” The one who is all-powerful rejects using force. It is hard to understand power that doesn’t need to force its way on others. Nothing is stronger than love. No one is wiser than God and God chooses not to force His kingship on anyone. How different that is from our cultural climate.
In a goal-oriented society, doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal is encouraged. Not all of us are powerful or intimidating enough to use brute force. Some of us try to dominate by force of reasoning or exertion of will. While dedicating time and energy to our goals is appropriate, if we are straining to make something happen the way we think it should, we might as well save our energy. If it is part of God’s plan, the outcome will happen accordingly. If it is not part of God’s plan, no amount of effort we can muster will compel it happen. Why it is so hard to accept? What if we follow Jesus’ example and go off to the hills by ourselves a bit? Maybe a break from the clamor within us to make “them” see or do (fill in the blank) or to get this done now, would be helpful. A little hilltop down time might help us regain a higher perspective.
Prayer: Lord, help me trust Your wisdom and power enough to let go.
Reflection for sharing: What solution or goal are you itching to make happen today? How would letting go and letting God help?
Those who speak on their own authority are trying to gain glory for themselves. But he who wants glory for the one who sent him is honest, and there is nothing false in him. John 7: 18
There is nothing false in someone who wants glory for God. What about us? How do we try to gain glory for ourselves? When do we put up false fronts? There’s nothing wrong with putting our best foot forward, but if we are too concerned about how we’re coming across, the temptation is to try to appear better than we are, more than we are, to be something we’re not. That opens the door to deception, flattery, hypocrisy, cover-ups, double-talk—in a word, insincerity.
What is so intimidating about being who we are? Maybe we fear that we aren’t good enough or that what we have to say or offer will be rejected. But what does putting up a false front get us? We may seem to succeed, but does it really count? People aren’t really accepting us, just the good front we shellacked ourselves with. Whatever our goal is, if we’re trying to achieve it by impressing others, chances are there’s a better way. We would probably be more effective if we were really focused on the issue and the well-being of our audience rather than on how we are coming across. If our purpose is part of God’s plan for us, it will happen. We just have to do our best—which does not mean pretending to be something we’re not.
Prayer: Lord, please help me accept myself in a healthy way, so I can focus on Your plan for me instead of trying to gain glory for myself
Reflection for sharing: What is the biggest risk in being sincere? What are some ways to cope with that risk?
Then [Jesus] breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20: 22
The Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire accompanied by the sound of a strong wind blowing, according to the book of Acts. However, the Spirit can also come in a gentle breath, but even a breath can be powerful. When God created Adam, He formed his body and then breathed life into him. Jesus breathes new life into us by giving us the Holy Spirit.
Usually, we don’t even think about breathing, but when we become aware of it, when we breathe deeply, we can feel our chests expand as our lungs fill with air. We receive the air and then we exhale. There is a rhythm to our breathing. We need to renew our intake of air and expend it on an on-going basis. This is true in our new life in Christ, too. We need to continue to draw in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, but we also give it back out. It’s not static, but a living thing.
The Spirit empowers us. All who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost began to talk in other languages, reaching those they could never have reached before. We share what we receive. But trying to share without receiving is as fruitless as trying to exhale without inhaling. Developing our interior spiritual life and keeping it to ourselves is as self-defeating as trying to only inhale and never exhaling. Continually trying to serve without taking in is as fruitless as trying to exhale without inhaling. We need both. The balance is life sustaining.
The Holy Spirit wasn’t just given to one individual or even a few isolated individuals. It was given to all believers who were gathered together. As believers, we receive the Holy Spirit. Now, what are we going to do with it?
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, fill us with your power and love and lead us where you want us to go.
Reflection for sharing: How do you see the Holy Spirit working in your life today—as a mighty wind or a gentle breath?
But Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew them all. There was no need for anyone to tell him about them, because he himself knew what was in their hearts. John 2:24-25
While he may not have trusted himself to them, he went to the cross for them…and for us. Jesus knew better than to rely on the frailty of human nature, but that didn’t stop him from loving us. There is nothing we can’t share with the Lord, even our most embarrassing weaknesses. He knows what is in our hearts, and He loves us anyway.
If we are honest with ourselves, the thought of Jesus knowing what is in our hearts can be intimidating at times. Most of us have learned self-control when it comes to our actions, but our hearts can be unruly territory. It’s hard enough to admit what goes on inside us to ourselves, let alone carry the awareness that our deepest secrets are known to our Lord. It’s human nature to cover up what we’re not proud of. Putting our best foot forward is fine, as long as we don’t cut ourselves off from the truth and, when necessary, deal with it in a healthy and appropriate way.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, touch my heart with your healing love.
Reflection for sharing: What helps you feel safe enough to be honest with yourself?
Wisdom and Conceit
If you correct conceited people, you will only be insulted…Proverbs 9:7a
Have you ever tried pointing out an error to someone only to be met with a nasty retort or icy silence? How about when someone points out one of your mistakes? Have you ever felt annoyed? I have. Human nature seems to resent being corrected. Why is that?
I guess nobody likes their fragile ego punctured. We’re all too familiar with our own feet of clay, and we don’t want anyone else seeing them. But suppose they do? So what? Nobody’s perfect, yet we keep trying to appear perfect to each other. It’s pretty silly when you think about it. We create these personas and Heaven forbid anybody should find out we make mistakes.
Because we don’t brag about ourselves or check ourselves out in the mirror every ten minutes, we may not think of ourselves as conceited-and maybe we’re not. But if we’re more concerned about appearances instead of real improvement, the word for that is vanity. Acknowledging it, maybe even laughing about it, is a good way to grow in healthy humility and actually become wiser instead of just appearing wiser.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the humility to be teachable.
Reflection for sharing: What would make accepting correction easier?
He preached about the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking with all boldness and freedom. Acts 28: 31
The fact that he (St. Paul) spoke with boldness is not surprising. He was no shrinking violet. Whether talking to the religious establishment, powerful rulers, or just plain folk, Paul spoke his mind. What is surprising is hearing that he spoke with freedom, considering that this scene took place while he was under house arrest in Rome.
“Iron bars do not a prison make,” certainly applies to St. Paul. What gave him such freedom to speak the truth without regard for the outcome? He had endured beatings, stonings, and shipwrecks. None of it had stopped him or his message. Faith empowered him. Paul said that he could do all things, not of himself, but through Christ who strengthened him.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Maybe it just brings you to the end of self-reliance. When our own resources aren’t enough, we are more open to asking for a source of strength outside ourselves. When we surrender to God and leave the outcome to Him, we’re empowered to do and say what we feel is right, that is, what is God’s will, not our own. Trust in God is where boldness and freedom come together.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage that leads to freedom in all circumstances.
Reflection for sharing: What empowers you to feel free to follow your conscience?
“…the sheep hear [the shepherd’s] voice as he calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out. When he has brought them out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice.” John 10:3-4
What if the sheep want to stay in the pen? Maybe they feel safe there, surrounded by protective walls. Maybe they feel warm and cozy, bunched together in close quarters. Maybe they wonder why they have to bother walking up hills, or across hard and rocky paths. But they follow, even if they don’t understand or want to go, because they trust the shepherd’s voice. By following, they end up where they will get the nourishment they need—good meadows to graze in and clear, fresh water to drink.
I, for one, have had plenty of times I didn’t want to venture out of my sheep pen. Familiar with every square inch of my comfort zone, I felt safe. Leave it? No, thanks. I’ll wait here. But the grass doesn’t make the journey to the sheep—not unless there’s a very good reason the sheep can’t make the journey. I’m facing a new challenge in my life right now, and I am unfamiliar with the path. I have to trust the shepherd, which sometimes feels intimidating. But Jesus tells us that the shepherd goes ahead of the sheep. He is not only with them, he is ahead of them. When we take each new step, he’s already been there. He never asks us to go alone. He always goes before us, making sure the path is clear by planning for or dealing with any obstacles before we get to them. All we have to do is follow.
Prayer: Lead me where you want me to go, Lord.
Reflection for sharing: What are some ways to remember that the Good Shepherd is not only with you, but ahead of you?
The Lord sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind. Psalm 146: 7b-8a
When I was a kid, the local movie theater entrance opened right onto the street. After two hours in the theater my eyes adjusted to the darkness. Stepping into broad daylight was blinding until my eyes readjusted. When we become accustomed to looking at things in a certain way, we may not be able to see some glaring truth about a given person or situation. Even when it is blatantly obvious to others, we simply won’t be able to see if our denial is too thick. The same is true when those we care about are painfully oblivious to what is obvious to us. By definition, we can’t see our own areas of blindness. Sometimes only God can empower us to see the truth.
The blindness of denial serves a purpose, or people wouldn’t cling to it. It is a protection of sorts, from truths we aren’t ready to deal with…but while we are getting ready, the harm to others and to ourselves can be detrimental. What if we never get ready? If someone tries to strip away our denial, we may hold on more tightly. It’s like the fable of the wind and the sun having a contest to see who could get a man to remove his coat. The harder the wind blew, the more tightly the man wrapped his coat around him. When the sun poured out it’s warmth, and the man took his coat off willingly.
When we speak the truth in love, it creates an atmosphere of safety. Others may then feel safe enough to risk taking off their coat of denial. In non-threatening environments, we can afford to see what we were blind to. When we speak the truth in love, we become instruments the Lord can use to give sight to the blind.
Prayer: Lord, show us our areas of blindness and help us see.
Reflection for sharing: What helps you feel safe enough to face your blind spots? How can you help others feel that way?
A young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window, and as Paul kept on talking, Eutychus got sleepier and sleepier, until he finally went sound asleep and fell from the third story to the ground. When they picked him up, he was dead. But Paul went down and threw himself on him, and hugged him. “Don’t worry,” he said, “he is still alive!”…They took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted. Acts 20:9-10, 12
We can’t blame Eutychus because we don’t know why he fell asleep. It was an all-nighter—Paul spoke until the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps it had been a long day and Eutychus was exhausted. On the other hand, maybe he was just bored. We’ll never know. Either way, Paul did what he could to heal him.
I love that this story is included in the bible. Who hasn’t dozed off when they didn’t mean to? We all need rest, but what can we do to make sure we stay healthily alert? The dangers of falling asleep literally at the wheel are obvious and hopefully we avoid driving when we’re overtired. But what about other ways fatigue can interfere with our focus?
It’s easy to check out mentally when we’re exhausted. When we’ve reached our limit, we just shut down…perhaps at the most inopportune time. If we find ourselves pushing—or allowing ourselves to be pushed—too hard, too long, and too frequently, maybe we need to consciously schedule some down time into our days. Jesus taught and healed the crowds, but also withdrew from them for quiet time alone.
On the flip side, some of us nap out of boredom. We miss out on a lot of life when the activity in our days dwindles down to an uneventful rut. One small but concrete step in a new direction can be rewarding and stimulating. Taking walk around the block, reading something thought provoking, or picking up the phone to “reach out and touch someone” can be the start of enriching our day instead of sleeping it away.
Whether we tend to do too much or too little, we can all take Eutychus’s example as a “window of opportunity” for us to wake up and seek life-enhancing balance.
Prayer: Lord, awaken me.
Reflection: What within me resists being awakened?