Monthly Archives: September 2012

Safe In High Places

The Sovereign Lord gives me strength. He makes me sure-footed as a deer and keeps me safe on the mountains. Habakkuk 3: 19

 

Sure-footed as a deer kept safe on the mountains…that’s a curious image—especially since just before this line, Habakkuk says he will be joyful and glad, even if the crops fail and the cattle all die. He’s glad in the low times but needs protection in the heights?

 

Habakkuk has learned to see past disaster and trust the Lord to see him through hard times. That is admirable faith. It isn’t always easy to trust God when life is hard. But Habakkuk has more than faith. He has wisdom to recognize that he not only needs God’s saving helpwhen times are hard, he needs God’s saving help, perhaps even more so, in high times—the mountaintop experiences. 

 

When we take the high ground, when we feel on top of the world, when we’re looking down on anything, it’s tempting to rest on our laurels. But the higher we are, the farther we have to fall. Habakkuk trusts God to keep him grounded, so he won’t lose his balance in the dizzying heights of apparent success.

 

Although it’s challenging to see God’s hand at work in our pain or trouble, sometimes it’s only when we come to the end of our own resources that we cry out to God. On the other hand, when things are going well, we can get complacent and even cocky. How wise of Habakkuk to trust himself to God in both the highs and the lows.

 

Prayer: Lord, keep me close to you in the high points and low spots today and every day.

 

Reflection for sharing: When am I most likely to lose sight of God’s presence—in good times or troubled times?

Our Best Is Good Enough

Our Best is Good Enough

 

“Is there anyone among you who can still remember how splendid the Temple used to be? How does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all. But now don’t be discouraged, any of you. Do the work, for I am with you…” Haggai 2:3-4

 

We don’t have to compare what we’re doing with what others have achieved. We don’t have to be discouraged by comparisons. We can focus on the task at hand. If we honestly give it our best shot, that is sufficient. We never have to do more than we are humanly capable of. Our best is good enough.

 

If we are sincerely invested in the present task, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, has done, or may do in the future. When we concern ourselves with being useful, rather than being impressive, we are more effective, and we take pressure off ourselves at the same time.  If our efforts to do what we believe God would have us do are sincere, whatever we’re doing will end up just the way it’s supposed to. We can be confident and at peace.

 

Prayer: Lord, I know you are with me as I go about my work today. Help me trust that my best effort is sufficient and the outcome is in your hands.

 

Reflection for sharing: How can focusing on the effort rather than the outcome help you today?

Coping

We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we’re never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed.  2 Corinthians 4: 8

 

We’ve all faced trouble, doubt, enemies, pain…or all of the above. And yet, here we are today. God doesn’t promise problem-free living, but we are promised that we will never be abandoned.

 

More than once, I’ve felt crushed by my problems. While living alone, an MS attack left me unable to take care of myself for a month or two.  I felt like I was drowning in my own helplessness. My inner enemies ganged up on me, with fear and loneliness acting as ring-leaders.  My own strength felt non-existent at the time. All I had the strength to do was cry out to God and He brought me through. Family and friends—and people I never would have suspected—came out of the woodwork to help. I didn’t get everything I wanted, but I got everything I needed.

 

Jesus said that in the world we would have tribulation, but to be of good cheer because e had overcome the world. He also assured his followers that he would be with us until the end of time. What more could we want?

 

Prayer:  Thank you Lord, for giving us what You know we need.

 

Reflection for sharing:  Think of a time you were powerless over a situation. How did you get through it? How can this experience increase your trust in the future?

Seeking Happiness

Seek your happiness in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desire. Psalm 37:4

 

God loves us. If we’re looking for happiness in Him, it’s a sure thing that He’ll give us our heart’s desire. The trouble is that sometimes He’s not our heart’s desire. Our hearts want all kinds of things: love, security, comfort…and these are good things. Unfortunately, our heads come up with all kinds of ideas on how to get those things.

 

Take love, for example.  We all want and need to love and be loved, but it is easy to get caught up in chasing a fantasy. Anybody who’s been married more than a few weeks knows that sooner or later, the honeymoon ends. Ordinary life settles in. Conflicts happen. If we seek our happiness solely in each other, we’re bound to be let down from time to time.

 

We may think that physical health guarantees happiness. When I was a healthy young adult, I took it for granted. I relied on my ability to work hard and take care of myself, but it didn’t make me happy, I was busy yearning for other things…until back injuries and a diagnosis of MS made me regret that I didn’t appreciate my healthier days more. The truth is, if my physical problems were gone tomorrow, I wonder how long it would make me happy and how soon I’d be taking it for granted again.

 

Money, career, social status…all the things we think will guarantee our security, can be gone in an instant. Then what?

 

However, the everlasting God will never disappear. Developing a relationship with the One from whom all good things come leads to a deeper sense of joy: the joy of an understanding friend when times are hard, the security of a faith that is not dependent on circumstances, the unconditional love of God.

 

Prayer:  Lord, increase my heart’s desire for you.

 

Reflection for sharing:  Where am I searching for happiness? Where can my happiness be found?

Accepting the Grace of God

I refuse to reject the grace of God. But if a person is put right with God through the Law, it means that Christ died for nothing! Galatians 2:21

 

Grace is a free gift. Why would anyone reject it? Too much of a ‘can do’ attitude might be one reason. Of course, we all need self-confidence or nobody would dare attempt to do anything. But it’s unrealistic to think we can do everything perfectly, or even “good enough” on our own. Sadly, somewhere along the line, some of us acquired the idea that we’re supposed to be perfect, to handle life, and to do it all without needing any help.

 

Sometimes we try to cover up our inadequacy by staying in the shadows. We avoid calling attention to ourselves. We don’t risk failure by doing anything that would put us out there. We may feel safe, but we cut ourselves off from a large part of life.

 

On the other hand, some of us try to cover up our inadequacy by showing off. We advertise our accomplishments to make sure others know all about the good things we have done. Or we may cover our imperfections by pointing out the flaws and transgressions of others. Blame keeps us out of the hot seat.

 

Not Paul. He not only admits depending on God to do for him what he could never do for himself, Paul brags about it! We don’t have brag, but if we could admit to ourselves that we really aren’t as good as we want to be, or think we should be…if we could just put down the burden of trying to be—or at least appear—good enough, we could open ourselves to the grace of God. We could genuinely accept the precious gift Christ offered us…his life and love. He came for sinners. He came for us. If we could ever have been good enough on our own, don’t you think our Creator would know that?

 

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for doing for me what I could never do for myself.

 

Reflection for sharing:  In what ways do I reject the grace of God? How can I grow in accepting the grace of God in my life?

Gaining Peace

The Spirit has given us life; he must also control our lives. We must not be proud or irritate one another or be jealous of one another. Galatians 5:25-26

 

Don’t get on each other’s nerves? Don’t be jealous? Don’t be conceited?  That’s a tall order. Who can do all that? It’s no wonder Paul introduces it by saying that the Spirit has given us life and must also control our lives. We’re human. We can’t do it on our own. But the more room we make for the Spirit in our lives, the less need we have to create friction with each other.

 

We don’t need to pump ourselves up with false pride when we recognize that we are precious and loved, just as we are. Why be jealous of someone else’s talent or status when we’re aware of and grateful for the gifts we ourselves have? How much irritation comes when we provoke each other by trying to prove that we’re right? As the saying goes, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” We can stand on our convictions and live out the truth without forcing others to knuckle under to our point of view.

 

How many times have we won the battle and lost the war? It’s easy to forget our goal – especially in the relationships that mean the most – when bickering about the day to day things (that we won’t even remember next week) gets in the way. When we are able to let go and let God, our perspective changes, and conflicts and pointless arguments can be avoided. Pausing to renew our awareness of God’s Presence in our lives can help us gain perspective that will enable us to let go of so much static in life.

 

Prayer:  Come, Holy Spirit, and fill our hearts.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What can I gain today by letting go of pride, or jealousy, or petty irritation?

Weak, Poor, and Blessed

I am weak and poor; come to me quickly, O God You are my savior and my Lord—hurry to my aid! Psalm 70: 5

 

You would think that when things are going well, it is easy to feel confident of God’s love and offer Him thanks and praise, and we do, sometimes. Often though, when things are going well, it is easy to take them for granted, or mistake our blessings as simply our due.

When we’re out of resources—physically, emotionally, or any other way, when our self-reliance is shaken to the core, when everything we trusted in has let us down, I think that’s when our hearts are most open to reach for the God Who is always waiting for us to turn to Him.

 

I remember the days after that fateful September 11, 2001. Our church was filled to capacity and over-flowing with people in search of something more. I don’t begrudge them. Some of my most sincere prayers have been out of the depth of my need and helplessness…just like the Psalmist.  But ten+ years down the road, the houses of worship no longer seem to be bursting at the seams. I wonder what happened to those people. Some may have continued their spiritual journey or found a home in a faith community, but what about the rest?

 

It seems ironic that God is love and wants good for us and yet we seem more motivated to seek Him when we are weak and poor rather than strong and rich. The only answer for this paradox I’ve found is a quote by C.S. Lewis, who said,  “God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain.” May we be attentive to His whispers today.

 

Prayer:  Lord, may I recognize Your Presence in good times and bad.

 

Reflection for sharing:  In what ways am I weak and poor today? In what ways am I strong and rich? How can I connect with God in both circumstances?

God’s Protection

[My God] I have relied on you all my life; you have protected me since the day I was born. I will always praise you.  Psalm 71: 6

 

I’m not supposed to be here. When my mother was pregnant with me, the doctor told her I was a tumor. For some reason, she got a second opinion and was informed she was pregnant. So I have literally been relying on God all my life, even when I wasn’t aware of it!

 

Like the time, as a naïve teenager, that I accepted a ride from a stranger, who simply dropped me off at my destination. I look back at my stupidity and shudder with horror, but at the time I was oblivious to any danger! Or the time a tractor-trailer ran a red light on a rain-slicked highway and sent my car into a tailspin.

 

Although protected, I was not insulated from pain. My life has had its share of pain, as I’m sure your life has also had. But never was I abandoned in my pain. Always I was given—not what I wanted, but what I needed–and always, when I was open to it, I was able to learn from the pain and to help someone else down the road, as a result. For example, injuries from the tractor-trailer accident resulted in a long, painful recovery, but I acquired patience and the importance of surrender in the process.

 

 I didn’t pray for protection from those times because I wasn’t aware of the danger, and yet, here I am, writing this today.

 

God gets the praise, not me.

 

Prayer:  Praise you, Lord, for your Powerful Presence and Love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  In what ways have you been protected during your life? Can you see God’s hand in this? How?

Recognizing God’s Goodness

I will always thank you, God, for what you have done; in the presence of your people I will proclaim that you are good.  Psalm 52:9

 

As children, we have to be taught to say thank-you. Although we may spontaneously appreciate a kind word, or a helping hand, noticing and appreciating things to be grateful for can be cultivated. Expressing thanks is good for us.

 

We exercise our gratitude by thanking God for what He has done, but we develop it further when we say out loud to others that He is good. So I would like to go on record today as saying that God is good, based on what He has done in my life. Does this mean my life has been charmed and problem-free? Not by a long shot. Physical and emotional pain, chronic illness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, fears, have all been part of my story…but God is still good. When I was at the end of my resources, I was not abandoned. He gave me the strength to get through crisis after crisis that was beyond my power to deal with on my own. He provided friends whose loving concern buoyed me up even though they could not change my circumstances or take away my pain. Every time I have felt powerless in the utter depths of my heart, Power has been there to help me cope, endure, and grow. From the other side of these crises, I’m learning to see how my experience can be useful in helping someone else.

 

I can’t imagine where I would be without God’s sustaining grace at work during life’s nightmares, building faith and trust in the One who promised to be with me, with us, until the end of time.

 

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for what you have done and praise to you for your goodness.

 

Reflection for sharing:  Thank you, Lord for ________________ (fill in the blank)

Praise, you, Lord, for showing me your goodness by___________(fill in the blank)

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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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