He is our God; we are the people he cares for, the flock for which he provides. Psalm 95:7
God provided for the people he led out of slavery in Egypt. As Moses led them on their trek through the desert, they were given everything they needed. That didn’t keep them from complaining when they didn’t get what they wanted or weren’t sure how their needs would be met. We hear about their complaining in Exodus, especially in Chapter 17. It’s easy for us to complain, as they did, when things don’t go our way, or when the future seems uncertain.
In contrast, the Psalmist reminds us that the God who created us not only cares for us but also provides for us. We’re invited to trust God, even when we can’t understand what He’s doing. Maybe it would help us trust Him more if we took time to think about the ways we’ve been provided for in the past…especially those times when we weren’t to sure how we were going to make it on our own.
Prayer: Thank you, God, for caring for us and providing what we need.
Reflection for sharing: Think of a time when you weren’t able to take care of yourself. How were your needs met? What does that say about God’s care?
As they looked on, a change came over Jesus; his face was shining like the sun, and his clothes were dazzling white…a shining cloud came over them and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased–listen to him!” Matthew 17:2; 5
In an instant, the disciples saw Jesus revealed in all the glory of God at the Transfiguration. God’s glory can shine through us, too. It probably won’t happen in a flash on a mountain-top. Our transformation comes day by day as grow in our relationship with God. As we experience the transforming power of His love, we trust Him more. It feels safer to let go of our self-centered plans when we know that things don’t have to go our way to be good.
As the musical group Jars of Clay put it, the “Gaze of Love [can] melt [our] pride”. It can also melt the fears that drive us to cling to that pride. Instead of clinging to self-seeking, we are free to open up, let God in, and share what He gives us with others. Gradually we are transformed as we take up and share our crosses as well as our joys with others. Our transformation is not a do-it-yourself project. It begins with listening to God’s Son, just as the Father invites us to do.
Prayer: Lord, shine your love through me.
Reflection for sharing: When you listen to God’s dear Son, what do you hear?
I have asked the Lord for one thing; one thing only do I want; to live in the Lord’s house all my life, and to marvel there at his goodness, and to ask for his guidance. Psalm 27:4
Psalm 27 begins and ends with a testimony to God’s might and faithfulness. Through his songs, David, the warrior-king dazzles us with images that point to the God of his heart. The shepherd who became the most lauded king of Israel had wealth, fame, and all that a king could want. He asked for only one thing: to dwell in the house of God all his days. David wasn’t referring to the physical Temple. Periodically in his life, David had entered the mind and heart of God. Once there, he could not be as happy anywhere else.
Once we have experienced the peace of God that comes from an authentic attempt at a relationship with Him, we aren’t as easily satisfied with treasures that don’t have eternal value. Like us, David was not, by any means, exempt from sin and failure, but he was a man after God’s own heart and able to acknowledge his wrongs. David never underestimated the generosity and mercy of God. During this season of Lent, let’s take the opportunity for self-examination to reflect on where we truly are and where we truly would like to be.
Prayer: Lord, teach our hearts to value the peace you offer enough to give up our own will.
Reflection for sharing: What steps toward “dwelling in the house of God all the days of my life” are within your reach today?
Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. Luke 4: 1-2a
How often when we find ourselves in a dry, empty, or difficult place emotionally, we feel that God has turned his back on us. But the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the desert. Our desert times can be times of spiritual growth, too. The devil tempted Jesus with physical comfort by suggesting he turn stones to bread; with the offer of power and wealth; with the challenge of spiritual/intellectual pride. Jesus resisted temptation, not fighting it on his own steam, but by relying on God’s powerful word in the Scriptures.
Prayer: Lord, help me see my areas of vulnerability and turn to You for strength and protection.
Reflection for sharing: How can we become more aware of God’s presence leading us through the empty, barren places in our lives?
He made the bronze basin and its bronze base out of the mirrors belonging to the women who served at the entrance of the Tent of the Lord’s presence. Exodus 38:8
The basin priests used for washing themselves before entering the Tent of the Lord’s Presence was made out of mirrors. Transformed by inspired craftsman, instruments of self-reflection helped people cleanse themselves as they approached God.
When I was a little girl, I played dress-up. With a white sheet draped over one shoulder, I imagined myself as a Greek goddess. I looked into our bedroom mirror saying, “Barbara, you’re a doll.” My big sister caught me and called me conceited. On the other hand, when I became a teen, I identified more with the lyrics of a Bruce Springsteen song: check my look in the mirror—want to change my clothes, my hair, my face. Not pretty enough, not nice enough, not good enough on the outside or on the inside. Both states kept me squarely focused on myself.
The aim of our self-examination during Lent is not to become overly focused on our shortcomings, but to move beyond ourselves as we recognize our need for God’s forgiveness and love. Negative self-absorption is still self-absorption. If our examination of conscience doesn’t draw us closer to God, we can get stuck in a hall of mirrors. How do we get out?
A beautiful example is Jesus’ temptation in the desert. The devil challenged Jesus to focus on himself and short-sighted desires for physical comfort, power, and satisfaction of intellectual/spiritual pride. The devil’s temptations directed Jesus’ attention to who he might be, what he might have the power to do, and how to satisfy himself physically.
Jesus responded by using scripture to shift the focus to God, who determined that people cannot live on bread alone. The devil then offered Jesus power and wealth. Again, Jesus shifted his focus back to worshiping and serving God alone. Finally the Devil tempted Jesus with pride, daring him to endanger himself and rely on his clout as the Son of God for protection. Although the devil himself used scripture in this challenge, Jesus countered by focusing on scripture’s message about His Father, not his own status.
As we begin this season of Lent, let’s ask God to direct our focus and transform our self-reflection into a deeper awareness of His mercy and love.
Prayer: Lord, guide me to reflect on you.
Reflection for sharing: How can self-reflection lead to a deeper awareness of God?
Reflection for sharing: What keeps you focused on yourself? What would it be like to surrender that to God?
Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how the prophets who lived before you were persecuted. Matthew 5: 11
Just because an insult hurts, doesn’t make it true. Sometimes when people complain about us, it says more about them then about us. I heard a story once about a woman whose husband was hard to please. If she made him scrambled eggs for breakfast, he wanted fried. If she made him fried eggs, he wanted scrambled. One morning, she thought she had a solution. She fried one egg and scrambled the other. He took one look at the plate and said, “You scrambled the wrong one.”
What if someone with zero fashion sense criticized your outfit one day. It probably wouldn’t bother you too much. We can take things with a grain of salt when we consider the source. Most of us in this country aren’t faced with physical threats for our religious beliefs, but there is a subtle attitude of ridicule and contempt that can make us wary. Nobody wants to be insulted or persecuted or have their names dragged through the mud, but if it has to happen, it is probably better to be criticized for doing the right thing rather than for doing the wrong thing. Still, we can forgive ourselves when we’re not forthright, and know that we are in good company when we are.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage of my convictions.
Reflection for sharing: What are some ways to handle the subtle forms of persecution you may be faced with for following your conscience today?
Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! Matthew 5: 10
If being persecuted for doing what God wants brings happiness, who would want it? Apparently, only those who can see that there is something more than comfort and security, are those who are interested in the Kingdom of heaven. It’s inspiring but challenging to witness someone willingly risk rejection or worse to stand up for what they believe is right.
When we can choose what we believe is right even if other people don’t like it (and not just to annoy them or get attention) we put ourselves in solidarity of others who have the courage of their conviction. There’s a self-respect that comes from choosing what is right instead of going along with the crowd. No one can take that away from us because we are not handing over our well being to the opinions of others. We are conducting ourselves as citizens of God’s kingdom.
But it isn’t easy. It’s intimidating—even if we don’t risk being persecuted with physical punishment, imprisonment, or economic sanctions, even if all we risk is ridicule or criticism. It’s okay if we feel afraid. Didn’t the first beatitude tell us the Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who know they are spiritually poor? Well, I suppose being persecuted for doing what God requires might go hand in hand with getting in touch with spiritual poverty.
Prayer: Lord, grant me willingness to follow where You lead me.
Reflection for sharing: What challenges are the most difficult to face in trying to follow God’s will in your life?
Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children! Matthew 5: 9
Not all of us are called to settle disputes between nations, or to mediate legal disputes. We may or may not be in a position to take part in peaceful demonstrations. But all of us can work for peace in our own little corner of the world. Whether we step in to settle a quarrel between squabbling children at home, patiently listen to all viewpoints during meeting, or stop second-guessing a decision when we are at war with ourselves, we are working for peace.
We work for peace when we treat others and ourselves with respect and simply hold our tongue until we cool down enough to express ourselves without lashing out. If you’ve ever tried it, and you are anything like me, you know restraint until cooler heads prevail can be a lot of work. Removing ourselves from the situation, working through our anger in a safe way, and then addressing the conflict in a reasonable way is easier said than done. Every time we pray for patience in a heated moment, we are working for peace and we are more in touch with what it means to be a child of God. We may not look like the winner in the middle of a confrontation, but we have given ourselves and the other person the gift of dignity that all God’s children deserve if we have not given in to provocation.
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14: 27 Jesus, God’s only begotten son, invites us to receive the gift of peace and share it with the other children of God.
Prayer: Thank you God, for your gift of peace.
Reflection for sharing: How are you being called to work for peace in your life today?