For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. Ephesians 2: 8-10
Faith vs. Works? Paul spells it out for us in three short lines. We are saved by God’s grace through faith, not through our own efforts. It is a gift, not payment for a job well done. The fact that it is a gift protects us from the ego that tells us we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps and somehow merited our salvation. If we are all saved by God’s gift, there’s no room for spiritual one-upmanship, no matter how well-hidden that attitude may be.
Does that give us a passport to inertia? Of course not. A gift does us no good unless we open the gift and use it. Before I started college my parents gave me a typewriter. (There were no computers back in those days.) My parents knew a typewriter would make college life easier for me and even though we weren’t rolling in money at the time, they wanted me to have one. They didn’t expect me to pay them back. It was a gift. The best thank you I could give them would be to use that typewriter. What if I never unwrapped, opened, or used the gift? It would still have been a gift, but what a waste of my parent’s generosity and how much harder my life as a student would have been.
God’s gift of grace has made us what we are, each unique, with talents and abilities like no one else; to do those good things he has in mind for us to do. We can feel good about ourselves and our talents, while remaining grateful to the Giver. We do good deeds-not to earn salvation, we already have it-but to fully live out the gift of who we are.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for your gift of grace in my life. May I use it to do what you created me to do.
Reflection for sharing: How has God’s grace been active in your life? How are you being called to use God’s gifts today?
“And I will restore for you the years that the locust has eaten…” Joel 2:25 (Amplified Bible)
Karen Riley, talented author, beautiful human being, and treasured friend, passed away this week. She told me on more than one occasion that above quote from Joel was her life verse. It never occurred to me that I could have a life verse until Karen shared hers with me. Karen was always sharing generously of her time, talent, insight, and heart. I was lucky enough to be among those who knew her.
Karen’s smile lit up her face—and any room she was in. Her faith lit up her life. She dedicated herself to serving others: family, friends, clients, and budding writers. Recently, she began a ministry to help those wounded by childhood sexual abuse. Because Karen was willing to reach into her own painful past, she was able to share with sensitivity the challenges and the healing journey that transformed her life. Karen’s book, Healing in the Hurting Places, offers authentic hope and concrete resources to abuse victims and those who care about them.
Rather than deny her painful experience, Karen used it to reach out to others. The warm compassion she shared warmed Karen’s heart as well. Faith, hope, and love surrounded and sustained her throughout her battle with cancer. God did indeed restore to Karen the years the locust had eaten.
Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, as they say. Our pain doesn’t have to be wasted. Karen Riley’s life and faith-filled witness show that when we are willing, God can put our scars to good use. They make us uniquely able to help—or at least empathize—with others.
Prayer: Lord, comfort and strengthen us in our pain and teach our hearts how to share that comfort and strength with those who need it.
Reflection for sharing: How might God help you transform a painful memory into something that can help others?
…I want you to be wise about what is good, but innocent in what is evil. And God, our source of peace, will soon crush Satan under your feet. Romans 16: 19-20
When I was in kindergarten, a husky second-grader I’ll call Billy* tormented me all winter long. He often grabbed my hat after school while we waited for the school bus. I cried and chased him around the playground with my friends, but we could never catch him. He was bigger and faster and dodged us easily. Day after day, we tried hard and failed…until the day my father came to pick me up unexpectedly and saw the whole thing. Just as we kindergarteners were no match for Billy, Billy was no match for my dad, whose intercession on my behalf put an end to the daily hat trauma.
I don’t think St. Paul wants us to be naïve. I think he wants us to keep from getting involved with evil by not even trying to wrangle with it on our own. Satan is sneaky and can outmaneuver us. While struggling against temptation on one front, we can succumb on another. For example, working hard to avoid wrongdoing might leave us self-righteous, arrogant, or judgmental without realizing it.
We may not be able to conquer evil on our own, but God has all power. If we turn to Him and the help He provides, He will provide a way for us out of every temptation and crush Satan under our feet.
Prayer: Lord, deliver us from evil.
Reflection for sharing: Where do you need God’s strength today? How can you become more open to His power in your life?
*Not his real name
Some wandered in the trackless desert and could not find their way to a city to live in. Then in their trouble they called to the Lord, and he saved them from their distress. He led them by a straight road to a city where they could live. Psalm 107: 4; 6-7
Did you ever have computer problems? For several days last week, I wandered around “in the trackless desert” of cyber-space, unable to find my way to a solution. Finally, I called the help desk. A kind and knowledgeable technician asked me if I would give him permission to work on my account remotely. I gladly gave my permission, entered a few codes on my end, and watched as the expert took over my computer, moving the cursor here and making adjustments there. Every now and then he asked me a question or instructed me to do something on my end. The process was definitely interactive, but it was quite clear who was taking the lead. After he had led me back to safe and effective computer usage, he ended the session and removed himself from my account.
God is always available to intercede in my life, but, just as the technician doesn’t take over my computer any time he wants, God waits for me to call on him and give him permission to intercede. It’s a question of how long I want to wander before I call on him and become willing—eager, in fact—to allow him to lead. I then cooperate by doing what is asked of me instead of stumbling around on my own. God leads us out of our difficulties, but we have to be willing to follow. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that willingness even before we reached the point of distress?
Prayer: Lead me, Lord.
Reflection for sharing: Where in your life do you most need God’s direction today? Are you willing to follow where he leads? If not, what’s holding you back? Can you allow God to lead you out of your own resistance?
Do not restrain the Holy Spirit…1 Thessalonians 5: 19
Why on Earth would we restrain the Holy Spirit? One reason is fear. It can get scary when we’re not in control…not that any of us is really ever in control. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 8) So often we prefer the predictable, so we can be prepared. But if we’re already on top of what we’re doing, there’s no room for growth. We can’t go beyond what we already know. It’s only when we’re not in charge that there is room for growth.
Did you ever feel a nudge from within to do something outside your comfort zone? A thousand self-doubts, “what if’s” or “why me’s” can stop us dead in our tracks, even when the risks are minimal. When my daughter was in second grade, one day I got to school to pick her up a half hour before the lunch break. I felt a strong inner prompting to go into her classroom, even though class was still in session. I had no idea why. Even though I was afraid I’d look like an idiot for intruding, I walked into her classroom anyway. Moments before, the teacher had gotten a call about her own daughter, who had taken ill while away at college. The teacher wasn’t going to abandon the class, but she was much relieved to have an extra adult in the room. I remained with the class all day, playing it by ear, helping the teacher and giving the children a hand as needed. For once, I had chosen not to restrain the Holy Spirit or talk myself out of following that inner nudge. It was an amazing experience.
Prayer: Lord, help me follow where your Spirit leads.
Reflection for sharing: What doors might open for you if you stop restraining the Holy Spirit?
Then they rejected the pleasant land, because they did not believe God’s promise. Psalm 106:24
I read a story about a sixteen-year-old who wanted tickets to a concert for his birthday. He hinted strongly to his grandmother about it. On his birthday, he opened the present his grandmother gave him. Inside the box was a red shirt, which he politely thanked her for. Disappointed, he put the shirt in the closet without even taking it out of the box. Two years later, when he was packing for college, he came across the box. He took the shirt out and inside the front pocket; he found two tickets to the concert he had long since missed out on. I didn’t like that story when I read it. I identified with the boy. He got gypped. But the truth is, he really gypped himself. His grandmother gave him what he wanted and more, but not the way he expected it to come.
How often have we overlooked gifts because they came in unlikely wrappings? The car accident that left me bed ridden for months was painful but became an opportunity to re-evaluate my priorities. Although not welcome at the time, the gift forced me to trust my life and that of my loved ones to God’s care, not my own strength. Months of unemployment, devastating as it was, allowed me time to pursue my long-held desire to become a writer. God doesn’t zap us with misfortune, but he works through the most unlikely circumstances to gift us with opportunities to grow, change, and reach a better place. Maybe you’ve had experiences that you would never have chosen, but, in hindsight, can see the gifts that came wrapped in them. When we don’t believe that God can bring good out of anything, it is we who are rejecting the “pleasant land” that may be hidden in unexpected circumstances.
Prayer: Lord, open my heart to see your gifts, no matter how they come wrapped.
Reflection for sharing: When have I denied myself a “pleasant” state of mind because I didn’t believe God was working a particular situation?
“…the Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.” Matthew 13: 44
The other day I felt sick and tired of my struggle with self-will. When do I feel disappointed or frustrated? When things don’t go my way. I wish I could surrender to God’s will all the time, but I suspect that isn’t going to happen on this side of the heaven/earth plane. So I prayed, “Lord, why did you let me have such a strong will? It’s so hard to let go of it and defer to Your will.” In my heart, I felt like God answered by saying, “Because that’s how you know how precious something is. If it cost you nothing to obtain, it wouldn’t be worth anything to you. It would be trash.”
The parable of the pearl came to mind. The man who found the pearl sold everything he owned to get it. Then I thought – What if he sold everything and only thought the pearl was precious…what if it really wasn’t precious after all? But even if the pearl wasn’t valuable on the world market, it was to the purchaser himself. He gave up EVERYTHING for it. It didn’t matter whether others valued it or not.
I have such a long way to go in my faith journey. I want to lay my will down but it is so hard to do. When I do lay it down, it just springs back up again a little while later or in some new area. Maybe I have to be content with just practicing, by sheer repetition, to lay it down over and over. Maybe it will get easier as the habit gets strengthened. Come to think of it, isn’t that what pearls are made of? Layers of response to some irritation inside the oyster?
Prayer: Lord, please grant us the trust in Your Love that relieves us of the bondage of self.
Reflection for sharing: What does your heart treasure?
Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. Philippians 4:5
“Show a gentle attitude toward everyone.” I read that and thought, “Yes. That sounds so peaceful. Just be gentle with everyone.” Then I got to work. A customer with an “attitude” called. I put the call on hold, muttering something snarky to myself. After looking into the issue, I found that the customer was indeed right. Even though the customer never heard my comment, I regretted my attitude. It soured my spirit, not the customer’s.
It’s easy to be gentle when others are pleasant. The challenge comes when the people we meet haven’t read Philippians 4:5. On the other hand, it says show a gentle attitude, it doesn’t say force yourself to have a gentle attitude, that is, forbearance, patience, or tolerance, as it is also translated. I can get myself in big trouble by pretending something doesn’t bother me when it does. When I feel annoyed I am much better off admitting it rather than lying to myself. That doesn’t mean I have to show my annoyance, if it is inappropriate.
Come to think of it, I’m supposed to show patience to everyone, “everyone” also includes me. That means I can be gentle with myself, when I don’t live up to my own ideals. Without that added pressure, I can be more patient when others don’t live up to my standards, either.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the acceptance that leads to a gentle attitude.
Reflection for sharing: Like charity, how can an attitude of gentleness begin at home?