The woman saw how beautiful the tree was and how good its fruit would be to eat, and she thought how wonderful it would be to become wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Genesis 3:6a
Would I have resisted temptation if I had been in Eve’s place? I doubt it. What is there about wanting to be wise? Unfortunately, we often acquire wisdom by hard knocks. Part of the human condition seems to be learning from first-hand experience rather than taking the word of those who already know.
When I was little, my sister had a bad case of poison ivy. She told me how uncomfortable she was, but I wanted to find out for myself. So I purposely touched my finger to poison ivy. I got the experience and knowledge I was looking for, but I was so sorry I didn’t heed my sister’s warning. What did I find so appealing about finding out for myself what poison ivy felt like? I still don’t know.
At least Eve had an excuse. The fruit looked appealing and gaining wisdom is a good thing. Unfortunately, knowledge apart from God leads to things like pride, shame, blame, conflict, and isolation. We long for good things, but, like Eve, we’re mistaken when we think we can circumvent God’s will and take a short cut to satisfying our desires on our own terms. “Sadder but wiser” became a cliché for a reason.
Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We can pray for the gift and open ourselves to receive it. When we’re wise enough to benefit from the experience of others, we can spare ourselves a lot of pain. But even our poor choices present opportunities to gain wisdom if we’re willing to learn from our mistakes. Their consequences can teach our hearts that God’s wisdom is in our best interests.
Prayer: Lord, help me trust your wisdom.
Reflection: When has a painful experience brought you the gift of wisdom? Was it worth the price?
My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you? James 2:14
A circus performer was working on a new high-wire act. He wanted to push a human being in a wheelbarrow across the high-wire. Every morning he practiced pushing a wheelbarrow filled with 150 pounds of rocks across the tightrope in his back yard. The man’s next door neighbor watched the aerialist do this flawlessly, day after day, week after week.
One day, the performer asked his neighbor, “Do you believe that I can successfully push a human being across a tightrope in a wheelbarrow?”
“Absolutely!” the neighbor replied. “I’ve watched you do this for weeks without a single mishap. I have no doubt you can do it.”
“Then get in the wheelbarrow,” the performer said.
No matter what we say we believe, no matter what we think we believe, what we actually do demonstrates our faith on a practical level. “Walking the walk” instead of simply “talking the talk” is risky, but what good does our faith do if we don’t act on it? Of course, none of us perfectly lives out our beliefs—we’d hardly be human if we did. But still, if what we believe doesn’t make a difference in our lives, what does it matter if we believe it or not?
Here’s a question to think about the next time we notice our faith and actions are out of sync: What’s keeping us from getting into the wheelbarrow?
Prayer: Lord teach me to put my faith in action.
Reflection: What is one small thing you can do today to put your faith to practical use?
In this way Jesse brought seven of his sons to Samuel. And Samuel said,
No, the Lord hasn’t chosen any of these.” Then he asked him, “Do you have any more sons?” Jesse answered, “There is still the youngest, but he is out taking care of the sheep,” 1 Samuel 16: 10-11
The prophet Samuel visited Jesse’s house to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king. It never occurred to Jesse to present his youngest son, David to Samuel. David took care of the sheep—a job decidedly lacking in prestige. I wonder if Jesse’s low expectations of David had to do with his age, apparent lack of skill, or his interest in music. For whatever reason, it seemed unlikely to Jesse that his son David would end up as king. As it turned out, David’s musical ability was instrumental (no pun intended) in bringing David to the attention of the current king, Saul. Jesse had no way of knowing what God’s plans were for his son, but Jesse’s lack of awareness didn’t thwart God’s plan.
When I was a college student I wanted to major in English. My parents were opposed and convinced me to study to be a teacher. That plan lasted until I went student teaching and realized that was definitely not my calling. By then I had internalized my parent’s concern that I wouldn’t be able to get a “real job” with a degree in English. With a degree in Psychology, I spent 33 years working in a social service agency. My writing career only started several years ago—and that, I believe, is part of God’s plan for me.
Looking back, I realize that although I loved to write in my teens and twenties, I didn’t have all that much to say. Thirty-three years of life experience and time for reflection has given me plenty of food for thought. My parents’ well-meant but misguided influence on my career choice didn’t prevent God’s plan for me from unfolding any more that Jesse’s oversight of David’s potential prevented David from becoming the king that God had intended him to be. Apparent detours, bypaths and delays can be used by God to shape us.
Jesse did the best he could with what he knew at the time. So did my parents. So did I when my daughter was in her formative years. Perfect parenting? Not by us humans. That’s okay. Our Father in heaven’s got it covered.
Prayer: Our Father in Heaven, we praise your wisdom, power, and love.
Reflection: In what ways have your parents’ influenced your life? How might the life experiences you’ve had contributed to the person you are today? How has God been working in those life experiences?
The Lord says to them, “The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests… Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers?” Isaiah 58:3-4
I was on a clear liquid diet today recently while preparing for a routine medical procedure and coincidentally happened to read this passage the same day, so it caught my attention. Although fasting for medical reasons, being hungry made me cranky. I can see how fasting would lead to the quarrelling Isaiah referred to, but that’s not all. Fasting for spiritual purposes is supposed to be giving up physical satisfaction in order to open ourselves to spiritual growth. If that’s so, what good does it do us to give up food if we’re still striving to satisfy ourselves in other ways, by pursuing our own interests?
How can we grow closer to God if we are still clinging to getting our own way, instead of His? In that case, fasting is like the Whack-a-mole game. Put down one area of self-will and another one pops up. Until we are willing to lay down our desire for things to go our way, we are still playing God and setting ourselves up for frustration. Letting go of control and accepting reality as it unfold brings peace. That doesn’t mean becoming fatalistic. We take appropriate action, but we don’t strain to force the outcome we want. When we entrust the outcomes to God we are fasting from self-indulgence.
Reading this passage from Isaiah helped me see my medical fast as an opportunity to grow closer to God by accepting the hunger and fasting from indulging my crankiness. I think it helped.
Prayer: Lord, teach me to fast from my will and surrender to Yours.
Reflection: How can you fast from quarrelling and fighting today?
Strong-man Samson was betrayed by beautiful Delilah, according to the popularized version of the Bible story. But perhaps he was betrayed by his own foolishness. Three times Delilah begged Samson to tell her the secret of his strength, which was in his uncut hair. Three times he gave fictitious reasons. Delilah always acted on the information he gave her and baited him by crying that his enemies were attacking. Three times. Could he have expected her to do anything differently the fourth time when he told her the truth? Samson was certainly foolish to trust someone who had proven herself consistently untrustworthy in the past.
We can be just as foolish at times. A loved one hurts us again and again we go back for more. This time it’ll be different, we think. He promised never to do it again. Or we clean up the messes our loved ones create over and over again. Whether we continue to help them do the homework they consistently put off until the last minute, or bail them out of DUI after DUI, if nothing changes, nothing changes.
Yes, everybody deserves a second chance, but when we continually feel like victims, it might help us to see how we contribute to our own victimization. What is there in us that is willing to play the same part repeatedly after being disappointed the fourth, fifth, or twentieth time? Changing our behavior doesn’t mean we stop loving the people who repeatedly let us down. It doesn’t mean we don’t forgive them. But love and forgiveness does not mean allowing ourselves to be treated like a doormat. Besides, if those we care about continue to repeat self-defeating behavior, is our “help” really helping them? People have little motivation to change when they never experience the consequences of their own poor choices. It doesn’t help our loved ones when we allow them to take advantage of us, and it certainly isn’t healthy for us.
In spite of his foolishness—Samson ultimately played the part God had in mind for him to play. The good news is, so can we. Following God’s plan for our lives is in the best interest of ourselves and those we love.
Prayer: Lord, give me the clarity to see my part in my troubles and the willingness to change.
Reflection: What circumstances seems to be victimizing you? How might you be contributing to the situation? What options are available to you?
God is tested by fire, and human character is tested in the furnace of humiliation. Sirach 2:5
“I could be a saint if only it weren’t for so-and so getting on my nerves all the time!” Ever thought that? I have. Some people seem to bring out the worst in us. It’s easy to think that we could be a whole lot nicer if we didn’t have to deal with irksome people. But the truth is, if they bring out the worst in us, that “worst” was already in us to begin with. If it comes out of us, it’s belongs to us, not them.
Malcolm Smith once told a story about a man who had rats in his cellar, so he avoided going down there. One day his friend happened to open the cellar door and turn on the light. The rats down there immediately started scurrying around. The homeowner got upset. “What did you do that for?” he demanded. “Now look what you’ve done!” But the visitor put the rats to be in the cellar; he just shed light on the reality of the situation. The homeowner had a choice: do something about the rats or close the door.
The other day a friend of mine said that the people who irritate us are jewels, because they help us see the truth about ourselves: our impatience, our self-righteousness, our lack of charity. Accepting this truth might not make us any less annoyed, but maybe we can look beyond our annoyance and redirect our attention to the place it can do some good: changing ourselves. What have we got to lose?
Prayer: God of truth, help me see that character is not built by hiding our imperfections, but by dealing with them.
Reflection: Think about the difficult people in your life today. What do they have to show you about yourself?
Demas fell in love with this present world and has deserted me, going off to Thessalonica. 2 Timothy 4:10
I wonder what Demas was looking for. Paul only briefly mentions Demas as a fellow worker, so we don’t know much about him at all.
What was in Thessalonica that was worth leaving Paul and his fellow believers? Did Demas crave the physical comforts of a softer life? Paul didn’t have the easiest time on his mission trips. Besides having his share of shipwrecks, Paul didn’t get warm receptions at many of his destinations. He was beaten, stoned, and thrown in jail in many of the places he traveled. Maybe Demas was like the seed that fell on rocky ground that Jesus talked about. In spite of initial enthusiasm, if we aren’t rooted deeply enough in faith we can lose our will to carry on when trouble starts. Maybe Demas didn’t so much fall in love with worldly interests as fall out of love with the challenges of missionary work.
Maybe the thrill was gone—especially if Demas remained in the background. Maybe Demas longed for the emotional gratification of fame—or at least approval. What was he looking for that he wasn’t getting within the service of fellowship? Maybe Demas was like the seed that fell in the thorn bushes. Did the promise of worldly satisfaction and recognition choke out the message of the good news?
We’ll never know why Demas abandoned his spiritual journey and we don’t need to know. Instead, let’s explore this: What in the present is enticing us to desert God’s plan for us? Is it worth it?
Prayer: Lord, strengthen our faith, especially when our enthusiasm fades.
Reflection: What about the present world is calling you away from the God who loves you today?
The Pharisee stood apart by himself and prayed, “I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or an adulterer, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there. I fast two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all my income.” Luke 18:11-12
Maybe the Pharisee wasn’t greedy, or an adulterer. Maybe he did fast and tithe. Those facts may have been accurate, but that didn’t make him right. Right facts, wrong attitude. That faulty attitude led him to draw the wrong conclusion. It kept him from looking at the whole picture and the other facts that would lead him to acknowledge that he was not exempt from flaws. The Pharisee was not perfect, as his laundry list of virtues led him to believe. Pride, judgmentalism, lack of compassion, and self-absorption are a few imperfections that he may have overlooked. Perhaps he wasn’t as honest as he thought, either. Although he said the words, “thank you God” it sure sounds like he was patting himself on the back, rather than acknowledging God’s gifts.
The Pharisee had the right facts about the tax collector, too. They weren’t alike. Right facts, wrong attitude again. Especially if he genuinely cared about the well-being of others. If he’d wanted to help the tax collector overcome his flaws, he wouldn’t have made much headway by talking down to him. First, the Pharisee would have had to face his own flaws. That would have opened the way to sincerity, humility, and a bit of common ground. Conversely, the tax collector acknowledged his sins. He was well aware that he fell short and his only hope was to rely on God’s love and mercy. That opened him to the common ground we all share as fragile human beings in need of God’s grace. The Pharisee was too busy cataloging his own worthiness to make room for God.
Of course, when I’m busy looking at the Pharisee’s shortcomings, I have the right facts and wrong attitude, too. Pretty much any time I’m looking at others critically—even if I’ve got my facts straight, my attitude is warped. The beginning of shifting from Pharisee mode to the humble sincerity of the tax collector is to turn my attention within and bring what I find to God.
Prayer: Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.
Reflection: What about your attitude could use a change today?