May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 1 Cor. 1: 3
Grace and Peace! What more could we need or want?
I don’t know about you, but when I think about it, so much of what I’ve wanted–or think I’ve wanted–can be traced back to grace or peace.
Grace has been defined as favor (love), mercy and good will. How much of my effort has been aimed at being approved of, accepted, appreciated? When my self-esteem is anchored in God’s grace, I can make choices without wondering what others might think.
What about peace? How often have I tried to get my own way so I could feel secure? But when my heart’s at peace, my serenity can’t be stolen away by circumstances. When my mom was very ill I was afraid to lose her. I wanted to pray for her recovery, but still, when I saw how weak she was, I couldn’t help wondering if maybe God wanted to call her home. By grace, it occurred to me to pray for her peace, whatever the days ahead might hold. I prayed for her peace in recovery but also that, if it was time to leave this earth-life, her last days would be filled with serenity. I believe that prayer was answered. Shortly before she took her final breath Mom smiled and said, “Oh, Barbara! It’s all one and it’s beautiful.” Grace and peace. What more did she need? What more do we?
Prayer: Lord, open our hearts to your grace and peace.
Reflection for sharing: How can grace and peace enhance your life no matter what circumstances you find yourself in today?
The Lord is merciful and loving, slow to become angry and full of constant love…He does not punish us as we deserve or repay us according to our sins and wrongs. Psalm 103: 8; 10
“When we don’t get what we deserve, it’s a real good thing,” according to a song by the Newsboys. It’s so tempting to think about our rights. We complain when we feel short-changed. “I only want what’s coming to me.” “It’s not fair.” But if you’re like me, there are plenty of times when the shoe is on the other foot, when we luck out, when we’re in the right place at the right time through no particular effort on our part.
Getting what we deserve might not always be such a good thing. We all have things we need to be forgiven for. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. The amazing blessing is that God forgives us, but we can miss it. We may not always want forgiveness. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to justify why what we did wasn’t so bad, or excuse ourselves by pointing out the shortcomings of others, that we lose sight of the humble truth. If we can truly prove our innocence, we receive exoneration, not forgiveness.
Forgiveness implies that we really did wrong. When we’ve caused damage or pain, there’s no washing that reality away. The good news is that we don’t have to. We can honestly admit we were wrong. Of course, if we have harmed someone we can make amends as best we can, but even that isn’t earning forgiveness. Forgiveness, when we receive it, is always a gift. We are fortunate to have a loving, merciful Giver. Can we allow Him to pour out His grace instead of trying to pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps?
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your mercy and love.
Reflection for sharing: What holds us back from accepting forgiveness?
As [Jesus] saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9: 36-38
Shepherds and harvests? That’s a mixed metaphor, but that’s okay. I have mixed feelings. Much as I want to help gather in the harvest, sometimes I feel more like a troubled sheep.
When I had to take high school Chemistry I felt worried and helpless. I wanted a lab partner who knew what they were doing so I could be a follower. Unfortunately, my lab partner knew even less about science than I did. How does a follower cope with having to lead? Luckily, the semester was saved. A neighboring pair of lab partners helped guide us when we were stuck. I did a little leading but a lot of following.
We can’t give what we don’t have. We first have to receive. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to gather in the harvest on their own. First he taught them and later sent the Holy Spirit to guide them. He also told them to pray for more workers to help them in their efforts. On the other hand, the disciples didn’t hoard what they received from Jesus; they shared it with others.
We all belong right in the middle, following those who know the way while sharing what we’ve learned with those who want and need it.
Prayer: Lord, teach me when to lead and when to follow.
Reflection for sharing: Where do you need support and guidance in your faith journey? In what ways can you share what you’ve received with others?
God is to be trusted… 1 Cor. 1: 9a
That’s an amazing statement on its own, but it’s even more amazing when you consider it was said by the apostle Paul. Paul had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and ship-wrecked in the course of sharing the good news. None of this stopped him from trusting God or from reassuring others that God was trustworthy. It doesn’t make sense…not if you think trusting God means a life insulated from pain or trouble.
It’s been said that every problem brings a gift in its hand. Some of the most trying times in my past have brought me life-changing insights, gifts I might have overlooked if I hadn’t been reminded to look for the gifts. Others who look for and find the good in seemingly intolerable situations inspire us to do the same.
Paul’s vision enabled him to see beyond that, to see God’s hand working in the midst of the trouble. After being beaten and thrown into jail in Philippi, Paul and his companion Silas were praying and singing hymns when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundation. Thinking the prisoners escaped, the jailer was about to commit suicide until Paul let him know they (the prisoners) were still there. The jailer and his family became believers that very night.
It is safe to trust God even though trusting him seems the hardest when it’s most needed. That’s okay. We can admit our fears and concerns about a situation, and still make a decision to trust God with the outcome. Events may or may not unfold to our liking, but the shift in our attitude will surely help us negotiate whatever circumstances arise.
Prayer: Lord, I trust you; help me trust you more.
Reflection for sharing: What do you feel most powerless over? What can help you entrust that situation to God’s care?
To you alone, O Lord, to you alone, and not to us, must glory be given because of your constant love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1
What makes us crave glory? I’m not talking about positive feedback or appreciation; validation is healthy and encouraging. But when we constantly need to show others we’re right or good, when we feel threatened if others seem smarter or more talented, that makes for one-upmanship and envy. Excessive praise can be worse! It’s heady, ego-inflating stuff that can lead to arrogance and self-righteousness. Either way, hurt feelings and wounded relationships are likely.
So what makes us want to be admired? Maybe we’re looking for reassurance. If people think highly of us, they won’t reject us. Impressing others seems like a way to guarantee acceptance. What’s wrong with this picture? In the first place, it doesn’t work, especially when others may be just as intent on impressing us. In the second place, accolades aren’t the same as loving acceptance. If we only feel loved because of our looks, talents or skills, what happens when time, ill health, or any number of things takes those assets away?
The psalmist tells us God alone gets the glory. The original source of all our talents and abilities comes from our Creator, no matter how hard we worked to develop them—willingness and persistence are also gifts. No doubt God is also the only one who can handle adoration without it going to His head. Besides, the psalm says that God gets the glory because of His constant love and faithfulness. His love isn’t shaken by praise or threatened by lack of it. We don’t have to be the best to earn love…we already have it. God’s love and faithfulness is constant. That means forever. It also means right now. Praising Him reassures us that we are anchored in his glorious, never-changing love.
Prayer: Praise you Lord and thank you for loving me, now and always, no matter what.
Reflection for sharing: How can feeling loved unconditionally melt the need for ego-gratification?
And may God, the source of patience and encouragement, enable you to have the same point of view among yourselves by following the example of Christ Jesus… Romans 15:5
Patience doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve tried forcing myself to be patient with little lectures: You need to be patient…Patience is a virtue…Just be patient…It doesn’t work. The more I pressure myself to be patient, the more impatient I get—with myself.
Then one day I came across an anonymous quote: “It is a mistake to think that patience can be acquired by will-power; patience can only be acquired by letting go of self-will.” That changes everything. When do I get impatient? When traffic, people, or situations beyond my control interfere with MY schedule, MY idea of how things should be going. There’s enough self-will in my attitude already. Adding more by willing myself to be patient just adds fuel to the fire.
What a difference when I can let go of my agenda. Stuck in traffic? That’s okay. God knows all about it. I’ll get where I need to be when I need to be there. Someone doesn’t see eye to eye with my plan? It’s all right. Maybe there’s more than one way to achieve a common goal. Too much to do and too little time? Puh-leeze! God gives me all the time I need to get done whatever He has in mind for me to do on any given day. Maybe it’s ego urging me to do more than is reasonable in any particular set of circumstances.
Come to think of it, I can’t recall any gospels where Jesus rushed around to get things done or insist that people do things his way—and his “to do” list included saving humanity! What enabled him to take circumstances in stride? Maybe it had everything to do with how he often went off alone to spend time in prayer to His Father, the source of all patience.
Prayer: Lord, help me relax and trust You to provide everything I need to do what you have in mind for me to do today.
Reflection for sharing: How will letting go of self-will help you relax and patiently accept life as it comes today?
And now I am happy about my sufferings for you, for by means of my physical sufferings I am helping to complete what still remains of Christ’s sufferings on behalf of his body, the church. Colossians 1: 24
“Offer it up.” When I was growing up, that’s what we were told to do when we were hurt or disappointed. As a kid, I didn’t get how that would do any good. It frankly sounded cold, self-righteous and judgmental: a pious reprimand that literally added insult to injury. Didn’t anybody understand what I was going through? Not only was I hurting, but I was a spiritual slacker for not accepting my plight and the opportunity to offer it up.
It’s confusing. What does Christ need our suffering for, if He did it all on the cross? I truly believe that Christ did for us what we could never do for ourselves. We can never earn our own salvation and we don’t have to. It is the pure grace of God. So what still remains for Paul (and us) to help complete? What occurs to me today is that we are Christ’s body. Paul tells us in many places that we are the body of Christ. He has no hands and feet on earth today but ours.
As members of His body, we don’t have to unite our suffering with Christ’s. We get to have our pain take on meaning rather than be wasted. In Paul’s case, and for many like him, martyrdom was a way of spreading the gospel. Faith was not just empty words. Faithfulness was demonstrated to the point where it cost something, even life itself.
Whether we are called to suffer in that way or not, we all have pain in our lives. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. Physical health problems, relationship problems, financial pressures, broken relationships, addictions: there’s plenty of suffering in our own lives and the lives around us. But what a difference there is between seemingly senseless pain and having the hope that our pain can be offered to God and somehow put to good use. Maybe as living prayer. Maybe to teach our hearts compassion for others who suffer. Maybe down the road our experience will enable us to offer hope and comfort to others going through a similar challenge. Offering up our pain isn’t some spiritual standard, it’s a chance to help ourselves change useless misery to useful service.
Prayer: Lord, accept my pain and show me what you want me to do.
Reflection for sharing: What have you got to lose by offering your pain to God?
Then they rejected the pleasant land, because they did not believe God’s promise. Psalm 106:24
Have you ever rejected a “pleasant land” because you didn’t believe God’s promise? I have. Sometimes God’s promises just seem too good to be true. How about His promises to help us and always be with us, such as Isaiah 41: 10 or Matthew 28:20, for example?
Think back to all the things you’ve been afraid of in the past. The fact that you’re here reading this means you’ve gotten through every single one of them. So have I. There’s no shame in feeling afraid—it’s a human emotion. But I do regret the times I’ve allowed my fear to make my choices for me, the times I rejected the “pleasant land” of opportunity because I was afraid of the unknown. That includes not trying out for the high school play because fear of rejection and not choosing writing—my heart’s desire—as my first career because I was afraid to risk failure. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to support myself by writing. Maybe I would have had to wait forty years to begin my writing career anyway. So what? I regret that fear kept me from giving it a try.
If you could develop more trust in God’s promises, what “pleasant land” might be worth exploring?
Prayer: Lord, help us trust Your promises.
Reflection for sharing: Ask God to show you what “pleasant land” he wants to lead you to today. Listen for his answer in silence.
No one finds security by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved. Proverbs 12:3 NRSV
It sure seems like wickedness offers security sometimes, doesn’t it? How many people cheat, steal, or lie to get ahead financially? Maybe we aren’t flagrant in our shortcuts to feeling secure. Still, at one time or another, most of us have probably gone along with the crowd against our better judgment to avoid social suicide. Whether on the playground, the office, or in the world at large, it’s easy to fold under pressure. It’s scary to stand alone.
Righteous people might sway a bit in response to popular opinion; they might even bend. But according to Proverbs, they won’t be moved, because they are grounded, rooted, in something deeper. When we’re rooted in the truth, it’s easier to stand our ground. So let’s take some quiet time on a regular basis to dig a bit deeper into the Word Who is also the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Prayer: Lord, open my heart to Your Truth.
Reflection for sharing: What enables you to have the courage of your convictions?