For Christ did not please himself… Romans 15: 3a
This phrase jumped out at me as I was reading Romans one Sunday morning. The simple fact that Christ did not please himself somehow made me want to follow His example. It became my mantra…at least for a little while. While I was enjoying Sunday paper, my husband started a conversation. I wanted to give a dismissive answer and get back to my reading, but “Christ did not please himself” popped into my mind. I gave my husband my full attention, willingly—even though I didn’t feel like it. (There’s a difference between wanting to do something and being willing to do it.)
The thought of being selfless conjures up images of co-dependently giving in to others. Instead, thinking of others rather than ourselves can be a freedom. Freedom from self-will can enhance our relationships. But being attentive to the needs of others is not the same as giving away our personalities co-dependently. What’s the difference? The better question might be, if Christ didn’t please himself, who did he please? Certainly not other people—at least not those who wanted to be in control. Although he healed those asked him to make them whole, he did not give everybody whatever they wanted. If he did, they wouldn’t have executed him.
So, if we aren’t aiming to please ourselves, and we aren’t aiming to be people-pleasers and give others what they want, who are we aiming to please? God. When we follow what God wants, we find it is what satisfies the deepest longings most of us have anyway. Ironically, the satisfaction we long for–close relationships, love, and self-respect–aren’t obtained by pleasing ourselves or others. By surrendering to God’s will rather than our own, we guarantee our own contentment. The price? We sacrifice feeling good at the moment to a good feeling that endures.
Prayer: Lord, open my heart to the joy that comes from pleasing You rather than myself.
Reflection for sharing: When has letting go of self-will brought you satisfaction?
Thomas said that he wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from death unless he saw and touched the scars in Jesus’ hands and the wound in his side. The risen Christ gave Thomas the opportunity to do just that. (John 20:26-28) Unfortunately, Thomas’s moment of doubt became his defining moment—and he became labeled as Doubting Thomas. Would we have done doubted any less? Besides, his doubt didn’t keep Thomas from being chosen to be Jesus’s disciple.
There’s so much more to Thomas than his doubt. When Jesus decided to go back to Judea the apostles tried to talk him out of it, reminding him that the people there wanted to kill him. (John 11:8) It was Thomas who said to the others, “Let us all go along with the Teacher so that we may die with him!”
Thomas had courage, but that didn’t stop him from questioning. When Jesus tried to tell the apostles that he was going to the Father to prepare a place for his disciples, he told them they knew the way. Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?” Jesus responded, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:4-6) They did know the Way, because Jesus is the Way, and they certainly knew him. But the Way is also the Truth. Thomas was a disciple because he not only had the courage to die with Jesus, he had the courage to speak the truth of his heart.
His doubt did not prevent him from being chosen by Jesus to be an apostle. I think the secret is Thomas’s sincerity. He didn’t pretend to have a level of faith beyond what he had. Thomas was honest about his reservations. That’s where Jesus met him. That’s where Jesus meets all of us—right where we are…if we let him. We never have to pretend to be better than we are with God. He knows all about our weaknesses anyway, and that doesn’t stop him from loving us or inviting us to follow him. Our insecurities, doubts and fears don’t have to define us, either. There was more to Thomas than his flaws. There’s more to us, too.
Prayer: Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
Reflection for sharing: What doubts can you share with God today?
No one could distinguish between the joyful shouts and the crying, because the noise they made was so loud that it could be heard for miles. Ezra 3:13
Some experiences go deeper than one emotion. When the rebuilding of the Temple began in Jerusalem, the people shouted for joy. At the same time, some of the elders wept. Perhaps they remembered the lost glory of the original Temple or the hardships the people endured in exile before being allowed to return and rebuild.
Turning points can be bittersweet. When the prodigal son returned home, it is easy to imagine tears of sorrow and tears of joy blending into one. First time parents joyfully welcoming their newborn may also miss carefree times of less responsibility. Newly sober addicts might find it challenging to turn their backs on the people, places and things of his former life. Accepting a new job—even if it’s a great opportunity—means leaving behind the security of the familiar. Every new beginning can be traced back to an ending of some sort and endings have within them the seeds of new beginnings. We can trust God in our times of transition no matter what we’re feeling. The Last Supper became the First Eucharist.
Prayer: In joy and sorrow, blessed be the Lord.
Reflection: What endings have you experienced in your life? How have they become opportunities for new beginnings?
Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and believed. John 20:8
He saw and believed. Why? He didn’t see Jesus resurrected—all he saw was an empty tomb. Well, not completely empty: the burial cloths that Jesus’ body had been wrapped in were still there. The trappings of death weren’t needed any more. Evidently that was enough to fuel the disciple’s faith–that and the promise Jesus made that he would, in fact, be killed, but would rise again three days later. Although the risen Christ did appear to believers several times before ascending to heaven, for this disciple, seeing the empty tomb with the trappings of death behind, was enough.
What about us? When our interests, relationships, or careers seem empty and stone cold, can we look into the emptiness and believe that Christ isn’t absent but risen and living in a new way? Can we trust that he’s inviting us to leave behind the trappings of the circumstances we may have put false hope in? Can we trust him to lead us to new life?
Christ’s victory over death gives us all hope. We celebrate the Easter joy of salvation based on the testimony of those who encountered the risen Christ. Maybe we’ve had our own encounters, too—times when we’ve heard his voice and felt the joy of his love within our hearts.
Easter joy promises new life. What will that new life look like for us in the here and now?
Prayer: Praise to the Lord of life, who conquers death in all its forms.
Reflection for sharing: Where are the empty spots in your life? Can you trust God to bring you to new life? What do you need to leave behind to accept the new life you’re being offered?
“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
It’s not about what we can do for God, but what He can do for us. God doesn’t need us to do anything for His benefit. The world and everything in it belongs to Him. So what does he want from us? He wants our gratitude. He wants us to depend on him when we’re in trouble so He can save us. When He does, we will praise Him. Does God need our thanks and praise? No. Thanking God and praising Him is for our benefit, not His.
Thanking God doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice, does it? Think again. When we thank God and praise Him for what He has done for us, we are sacrificing our self-sufficiency and our sense of being in control. We are sacrificing the ego-stroking that tells us we are the center of our own little universe. Giving thanks to God honors the Giver and acknowledges our proper place. We didn’t create ourselves and the idea of a self-made man or woman is an illusion. We can’t control many things about life. When we come to the end of our rope we find God waiting there to catch us and bring us to a new and better place.
If we wait to go to God when we don’t need Him, we’ll be waiting a long time. On our own we can’t guarantee our next breath of air. When we open our eyes we can see all the ways in which He is providing for us and guiding us. When we count our blessings, we find ourselves in the humbling truth that despite all our necessary and appropriate hard work and effort, God does for us what we could never do for ourselves. What else is there to do but lay our false pride at His feet…and what a loving way He gives us to do that: by thanking and glorifying Him instead of belittling ourselves.
Our God truly is an awesome God. Let’s tell Him so—not because He needs to know it, but because we do.
Prayer: Almighty God, to You alone belongs the glory.
Reflection: Write a thank you note to God.
Herod was very pleased when he saw Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been wanting to see him for a long time. He was hoping to see Jesus perform some miracle. So Herod asked Jesus many questions, but Jesus made no answer…Herod and his soldiers made fun of Jesus and treated him with contempt; then they put a fine robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. Luke 23: 8-11
Herod hoped to see Jesus perform some miracle—not because he needed a miracle, but simply for his own amusement. Jesus didn’t respond. Herod concluded that it was because Jesus lacked power. He judged Jesus to be a fraud and dismissed him after getting the entertainment he wanted through mockery.
What about us? Unlike Herod, we may have serious needs or concerns about loved ones. Praying for those who are suffering is not the same as demanding that God do what we want him to do for entertainment. Still, how do we respond if God doesn’t respond the way we want? Are we expecting God to be who we want him to be and act the way we want him to act for our benefit?
Jesus didn’t respond to Herod’s demands because he wasn’t interested in people-pleasing. He had something better to do. He was interested in pleasing His Father in Heaven and in saving us from our sins. Can we trust Him? When we ask Him for something and our requests seem to get no response, can we trust that He has something better in mind—whether we can see it or not?
Prayer: Lord, help me trust your love, wisdom, and power, even when I don’t see it.
Reflection for sharing: Think of a situation that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, but still turned out well? Can you see God’s hand in that?
A large crowd of people spread their cloaks on the road… Matthew 21: 8a
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowd rolled out a “red carpet” made of their cloaks–their coats, as we would say. What does outerwear do? It protects us from the cold. It can also conceal our flaws or be a fashion statement. Think about it. People took off their coats, their protection against the elements, and used them to pave the way for Christ. What would it take for us to remove our protective covering and lay it at Christ’s feet?
When we feel threatened, we cling to whatever offers us protection. When we’re warmed by an atmosphere of love and acceptance, we feel secure enough to let go of our insulation. I’ve thrown a coat on over my pajamas to run out and pick up the newspaper more than once. When I’m in street clothes, I don’t have to do that. When we’re sure of and comfortable with who we are, we don’t have to hide from the outside world or try so hard to fit in. We can be true to ourselves.
We get this reassurance when we make room for Christ in our hearts. He offers us unconditional acceptance when we risk being honest about ourselves. He reminds us that we are unique, and that we don’t have to be like everybody else. We can be exactly who we were created to be. We can take off our protective insulation and make way for Christ because He does for us all that our protective coverings do for us and more.
Prayer: Welcome, Lord. Here I am, just as I am.
Reflection: What would it take for your to remove your protective covering and lay it at Christ’s feet?
[The Lord] gave Aaron the turban with the gold ornament engraved with the words, “Dedicated to the Lord.” Sirach 45: 12a
I wish I had the words “dedicated to the Lord” on the forefront of my mind, just as the words on that turban were anchored on Aaron’s forehead. If I could only keep in mind that I was created by God, that I belong to Him, and that His will is always better than mine. It’s taken some rough lessons to remind me of that when self-will has distracted me.
Come to think of it, “Dedicated to the Lord” is an awesome responsibility to live up to. Then again, even Aaron—hand-picked by God to be Moses’ spokesman and High Priest—got it wrong sometimes. Aaron joined Miriam in criticizing their brother Moses and indulging in lofty opinions of themselves. In Moses’ absence, Aaron gave in to peer pressure. He gave the people what they wanted: a gold calf to worship. Pride and fear. I can relate.
Still, Aaron served God and His people in spite of his weaknesses. In our weakness, we can still be dedicated to the Lord. The words breathe promise and dignity. The promise of what we could be when we surrender our will to God’s plans. The dignity of knowing we have value–and can be of service–not because we’re perfect, but because we belong to God.
Prayer: Lord, may my thoughts, words, and actions be dedicated to you today.
Reflection for sharing: How would remembering that you’re dedicated to the Lord change your day today?
Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” Psalm 51:12
Why should we obey God? The psalmist tells us the key to willingness is the joy that comes from salvation. Resignation and outward compliance to the law is very different from willingly surrendering our wills to God. When our minds and hearts are open to see what God has done for us, the lavishness of his unconditional love, and his own willingness to save us—often from our own foolish stubbornness, we experience the joy of salvation. We aren’t perfect. We can never be good enough on our own to earn our right to be justified. The glorious good news is that we don’t have to. We can acknowledge our shortcomings and the wrongs we’ve done—God knows all about them anyway. We can come to him exactly as we are and find he is waiting with open arms.
God loves us—not because we are perfect—he just loves us. And because he loves us, he wants what is best for us. We want what’s best for us too, but so often, we don’t know what that is. When we trust God’s wisdom and experience his unconditional love there’s no reason to cling to self-will. Years of struggling to have our own way haven’t brought us lasting contentment. Accepting God’s love brings joy in a way that no change in circumstances can touch. Why wouldn’t we obey someone who knows us better than we know ourselves, who is all-wise, all-loving, and who is longing to share with us the joy of salvation?
Prayer: Lord, grant me the willingness to follow your directions.
Reflection for sharing: When have you felt forgiveness and unconditional love? What was it like to experience the joy that comes from God’s salvation?