[God] chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. 1 Corinthians 1: 28
It’s said that someone once criticized Abraham Lincoln for reaching out to his opponents, saying, “You should be destroying your enemies, not making friends with them.” Lincoln responded, “When I make friends with my enemies, I am destroying them,” Lincoln worked to obliterate the animosity, not the opponent.
By choosing what the world looks down on, God doesn’t obliterate what the world admires, but shows false values for what they are. The world is impressed with the physical beauty of glamorous movie stars and the intellectual or business acumen of the rich and powerful. Mother Teresa was neither. Nevertheless, God used her to transform the lives of many, to inspire countless others, and to start a movement that continues to impact lives even after her death. The value of Mother Teresa’s life and work shines whether the world notices or not.
Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to appreciate what is truly valuable.
Reflection for sharing: What “nothings” in my life might be worth a second look?
And so I have been prevented many times from coming to you. Romans 15:22
How many times have your plans been derailed by circumstances beyond your control? Sudden illness, a missed connection, last minute changes and instantly all our planning goes right out the window.
Last year I had a speaking engagement that I was really looking forward to. I worked on my presentation enthusiastically and was thoroughly prepared. I was convinced the event was part of God’s plan for me. Shortly before the event, I broke my ankle in two places. Complications prevented me from attending the event. Intellectually I knew that God could bring good out of this change of plans, but I still felt bitterly disappointed and frustrated. Eventually the feelings passed and I learned to surrender my will just a little bit more.
Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. Apparently St. Paul had wanted to visit the believers in Rome for quite a while, but had been “prevented many times” from getting there. St. Paul didn’t scrub his mission because his itinerary got changed. He simply went where his call took him. Easier said than done, especially when we can’t see the whys and wherefores. When our schedule is thrown off, maybe we’re being given an opportunity to let go and walk by faith and not by sight.
Prayer: Lord, may I trust Your plans, rather than mine.
Reflection for sharing: Think of a time when things did not go according to your intentions. What happened? What helped you cope with the change in plans?
“Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God, and give the Almighty all that you promised. Call to me when trouble comes; I will save you, and you will praise me.” (Psalm 50:14-15)
Saying thank-you to God doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice. What are we giving up? Maybe we’re being asked to give up our illusions of self-sufficiency, the sense that we can take care of ourselves. Speaking for myself, that takes me right out of my comfort zone. I like feeling that I can take care of myself. It makes me feel secure. When I don’t have a handle on things, fear gets the best of me.
But the Psalmist goes on to tell us what to do: call on God when trouble comes; He’ll save us, and all He wants in return is our praise. I don’t think God wants our praise because He needs our reassurance of His worth. Thanking and praising Him benefits us. When I focus on what I’ve been given and thank God for what He’s done for me, it makes me feel cared for. It strengthens my faith that He will see me through the next problem, too. Then I can afford to take reasonable risks and stretch beyond the limits of what I can handle alone.
Praising God for His Wisdom, Power, or Mercy helps me trust Him more. It also gives me a realistic perspective of who I am and encourages healthy humility.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for bringing us through every trial: past, present, and yet to come.
Reflection for sharing: How can we incorporate praise and thanksgiving into our daily lives? Why is it worth our effort?
…You may pretend to be a god, but no, you are mortal, not divine. Ezekiel 28: 2
Of course I know I’m not a god…besides, Ezekiel was talking to the king of Tyre, not to me. But the truth is—even though I know I’m not a god—I do catch myself pretending, sometimes. It happens when I wish other people would do what I want them too and when I pray asking God to do what I think He should do (as if I have a better handle on what’s best for all concerned than He does). It even happens when I push myself too hard, pretending I’m not limited by needs for rest or recreation when I have a jam-packed agenda.
The good thing about not being a god is that we don’t have to take the weight of the world on our shoulders. We can accept our human limitations and take better care of ourselves. Although we should do our share, we can let go of the pressure to appear to be something we’re not. We can avoid the stress of trying to force situations to work out the way we think they should. We can accept others as mortals and get off their backs and our own. When we do that, we’re in a better position to hear what God is asking us to do and respond. What a relief!
Prayer: Lord, you are my God.
Reflection for sharing: How can accepting my human limitations help me be of service to God and other people?
Those who know you, Lord, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you. Psalm 9: 10
If we’re afraid to trust ourselves and our loved ones to God’s care, maybe we don’t know him well enough. Painful circumstances don’t mean God has abandoned us.
Seeing past misfortune and trusting God takes knowing God. Unfortunately, English only has one word for “know”. Other languages have two. For example, in Spanish, the word saber means to know intellectually while the word conocer means to know by direct encounter, to be familiar with. I suspect knowing the Lord enough to trust him takes more than knowing facts about God. When push comes to shove, intellectual knowledge can’t always reach the heart levels where real life often hits us. Getting to know the Lord on this more personal level involves the same things that go into developing a relationship with another person: spending time together, sharing our thoughts and feelings, and listening to them. Spending time in prayer is one way to get to know the Lord better, both by pouring out our hearts to Him and by reading His word and listening for what it might be saying to us personally.
Becoming familiar with people who have endured calamity and not abandoned their faith, whether Biblical figures or modern day heroes, gives us a hope that we, too, can trust God when calamity is at our door. Their examples give us a glimpse of how to put that trust into action.
Prayer: Lord, help me know you better and trust you more.
Reflection for sharing: What can I do today, to get to know the Lord a little better?
Tell them that as surely as I, the Sovereign Lord, am the living God, I do not enjoy seeing sinners die. I would rather see them stop sinning and live. Israel, stop the evil you are doing. Why do you want to die? Ezekiel 33: 11
The concept of “sin” isn’t very popular these days. I guess it’s human nature to resent being told what to do. But sometimes, restrictions can be good. I remember hearing about a restaurant in the mountains whose parking lot ended at the edge of a steep cliff. On the fence along that end of the parking lot was a sign: “No parking beyond this point.” Anybody in their right mind would be grateful for that limit on their freedom.
God makes it clear in the above passage that He doesn’t create hoops for people to jump through so He can take pleasure in watching them fail. God wants us to stop sinning—not for His sake—but for our own. Thinking we can achieve happiness by self-centered living is as shortsighted as resenting the “no parking” sign on that cliff-top parking lot. When self-will is in control, we’re apt to collide with other people whose self-will is also in control. Deferring to God’s plan for us instead of our own—even when we don’t feel like it—leads to more life, not less.
Prayer: Lord, help me choose life.
Reflection for sharing: When has accepting restrictions helped me? How might my concept of God and sin need to be challenged?
I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. Psalm 16:8
Plenty of things happen that can shake us—pain, misfortune, tragedy—but if we look around, we can find stories of people to inspire us…people who have endured painful circumstances, and somehow come out the other side with fresh resolve, a sense of purpose, and a deepened faith.
Take Eric LeGrand, for example. When the Rutgers football player was paralyzed by an injury during a game last year, the athlete’s life changed overnight. While enduring lengthy rehabilitation, LeGrand’s determination enabled him to progress in his recovery, achieving physical improvement beyond his doctor’s expectations. Moreover, instead of being swallowed by self-pity, LeGrand tuned in to the challenges that those around him were going through. Their situations helped him put his own circumstances into perspective. Now, the 21 year old inspires others. In a recent talk to eighth-grade students, Eric LeGrand encouraged them to avoid taking things for granted and to “believe in yourself, believe in the Man Above, and anything is possible.” By counting his blessings and sharing his experience with others, LeGrand may well have a greater impact and leave a greater legacy than he could have done by playing football.
Prayer: Lord, help me trust that You are near me at all times.
Reflection for sharing: Who inspires you with unshakable trust in God?
Someone will say, “I am allowed to do anything.” Yes, but not everything is good for you. I could say that I am allowed to do anything, but I am not going to let anything make me its slave. 1 Corinthians 6: 12
My dad smoked two packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day—back in the days when he could send his kids to the corner gas station to buy him a pack. (A pack cost 25 cents in those days.) Even though the price was right, Dad was hooked and he knew it. Long before the surgeon general’s warning labels came out, Dad gave my sisters and me the warning lecture on a regular basis. “Smoking is a dirty…rotten…habit.” He’d pause for effect, take a puff, and continue. It starts out as a flimsy spider web…but then it turns into a steel cable.” He would clench his fist to demonstrate the steely grip. “THEN, you’re trapped and you can’t get out.”
There were no support groups, nicotine patches or other remedies to help people in those days. Although Dad felt powerless to quit on his own, he did what he could to save his children. Much as we rolled our eyes at the lecture we all knew by heart, neither I nor any of my sisters became smokers.
I’m sure Dad started smoking for some “good” reason—maybe to look sophisticated, or to fit in with the guys at work, or just to take the edge off after a hard day. He was allowed to do it, but it wasn’t good for him…and he certainly wasn’t free. Doing anything we want sounds like freedom, but it’s a trap. Any number of things that seem good initially can end up hurting and controlling us. “I can quit any time I want to, I just don’t want to,” is whistling in the dark.
Someone said that God gave us all free will and the best thing we can do with it is give it back to Him.
Prayer: Lord, help me recognize that surrendering to Your plan brings true freedom.
Reflection for sharing: What are some things that masquerade as freedom?