“…avoid stupid arguments, long lists of ancestors, quarrels, and fights about the Law. They are useless and worthless.” Titus 3: 9
When’s the last time you got into a stupid argument? It’s easy to do.
We explain our position clearly. Our reasoning is convincing—even obvious—to us. We’re met with people equally convinced of the rightness of their own position. In a conflict, anyone can get hot under the collar, but nothing is to be gained by bickering, turning up the volume, or getting personal with our criticism. Who was ever convinced by those methods?
Standing up for the truth is not the same as engaging in pointless squabbles. St. Paul warned his young helper Titus to avoid this pitfall. It’s good advice for us, too. Paul tells Titus how to instruct those who are willing to listen, not how to spiritually mug those who aren’t. He even advises Titus to warn those who are causing divisions and then leave them alone. No matter how convincing or loud our words might be, actions really do speak louder.
Withdrawing from a quarrel doesn’t mean giving in. It doesn’t declare the other person or the winner. It means we know who we are and don’t need to win a debate to prop up our egos. It means although we are willing to share our understanding of the truth with anyone, we are not threatened by those who cannot or will not listen. We can be witnesses to the truth but we don’t have to force it on anyone…especially when the truth is that God is love. He knows the best way to reach each human heart.
Prayer: Lord, protect me from the temptation to argue. Allow me to speak my truth quietly and clearly.
Reflection: What tempts you into arguing with someone else? What are some ways to refuse the bait? What do you hope to get out of arguing? What are other ways of achieving the same goal?
I want you to give special emphasis to these matters, so that those who believe in God may be concerned with giving their time to doing good deeds, which are good and useful for everyone. Titus 3:8
St. Paul makes it clear in many of his letters that we are saved by God’s grace and not by our own works. Yet he also makes it clear that being saved by God’s grace is not a passport to inertia. Those who have faith in God are urged to take actions that “are good and useful for everyone.” Paul led by example. His conviction that he was saved by grace never became an excuse for inaction.
The same Paul who said “if we could save ourselves by works and keeping the law, then Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21) also said that he not only “kept the faith” but did his best to run the full race. (2 Timothy 4:7) He didn’t coast, he ran. Paul’s activities to spread the good news take up much of the New Testament.
We don’t have to work hard to earn God’s love and grace—we already have it. But because we have God’s love and grace, we don’t hoard it. We’re called to share it with others. We take in and we give out, much like breathing. We don’t manufacture our own air, but receive it as a gift. To keep it to ourselves is death as sure as suffocating for lack of it. As we take in God’s grace, we’re empowered with energy, insight, wisdom, and all that we need to serve others. If we refuse, others will suffer the loss. So will we.
Prayer: Thank you God for your gifts to me; may I use them well.
Reflection: How have you experienced God’s grace? How can you share it with someone else today?
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Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you here to curse my enemies, but all you have done is bless them.” He answered, “I can only say what the Lord tells me to say.” Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come with me to another place from which you can see only some of the Israelites. Curse them for me from there.” Numbers 23: 11-13
King Balak asked Balaam to curse his Israelite enemies. Instead, Balaam decided to obey God. When Balaam blessed the Israelites instead of cursing them, Balak took him to another place and asked him to try again. When that didn’t work, he tried having Balaam curse them from a third spot. Balaam blessed the Israelites a third time.
How foolish Balak was to think he could change God’s mind by switching locations. What about us? When we don’t get what we want, do we try to change God’s mind? Trying to bargain with or manipulate God doesn’t work any better than geographic cures. Forcing things to go the way we think they should leads to frustration. Even if we win the battle, we lose our peace of mind.
Confidence and serenity come from cooperating with God’s plan instead of struggling to get our own way. When we try to do what we believe God has in mind for us to do, we can leave the results in His hands. God is all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving. Even if things don’t turn out the way we think they should, we can trust that they will turn out the way they are supposed to. We may see that often what needs changing is within us, not outside circumstances.
Prayer: Lord, fill me with the peace that comes from saying and doing what you want me to say and do.
Reflection: When have you tried to change God’s mind? What happened?
When the king of Israel saw the Syrians, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them sir? Shall I kill them?” “No,” he answered. “Not even soldiers you had captured in combat would you put to death. Give them something to eat and drink, and let them return to their king.” So the king of Israel provided a great feast for them; and after they had eaten and drunk, he sent them back to the king of Syria. From then on the Syrians stopped raiding the land of Israel. 2 Kings 6:21-23
Because Elisha prayed to God, his enemies ended up in the wrong place, Samaria, and therefore under the power of Israel’s king. Elisha urged the king to have mercy on the enemy soldiers–even though Elisha had been their main target.
The captured soldiers could have been executed or held prisoner. Instead, Elisha urged the king to give them a feast and send them home. I’ll bet they never expected that!
Well treated, well fed, and given their freedom, the soldiers “stopped raiding the land of Israel.” Apparently, generosity and love put an end to the raids better than revenge. Retaliation doesn’t always get us what we want. Instead, it adds fuel to the ongoing hostility. But that’s not the first thing we think of when we feel threatened. Counter-attack is an instinctive response. But refusing to retaliate isn’t necessarily being a doormat. Kindness is more effective than vindictiveness.
I tried it once. It worked. Completely unprovoked, a family member said something nasty that hurt me deeply. On impulse, I threw my arms around my critic and apologized for all the hurtful things I had ever said to them. Their jaw actually dropped. After a long, pregnant pause, they gently moved on. Rarely have I felt such power, fully knowing that the power was not mine, but God’s. It worked so beautifully, I wonder why I don’t respond that way all the time.
Someone told Abraham Lincoln he should be trying to destroy his enemies instead of making friends with them. Honest Abe responded, “When I make them my friends, I am destroying my enemies.” What if we kill our enemies with kindness?
Prayer: Lord, teach me how to love my enemies.
Reflection: What might happen if you responded to a hurtful comment with kindness? Are you willing to give it a try?
The Lord gave the donkey the power of speech, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you? Why have you beaten me these three times?”…Then the Lord let Balaam see the angel standing there with his sword; and Balaam threw himself face downward on the ground. The angel demanded, “Why have you beaten your donkey three times like this? I have come to bar your way, because you should not be making this journey.”
King Balak asked Balaam to come and curse the Israelites. Although Balaam originally resisted, eventually he did go. On the way, an angel blocked the road. Balaam didn’t see the angel, but the donkey he was riding on did and turned aside three separate times. Each time, Balaam beat the donkey. Finally God gave the donkey the power of speech. Balaam then saw the angel blocking the road and realized God didn’t want the Israelites cursed. Following the angel’s instructions, Balaam continued his journey with a renewed conviction to do what God wanted, not what Balak wanted.
Balaam’s words had power only when he said what God told him to say. When Balaam forgot that, God used the animal beneath him to show him the light. The donkey saw the truth long before Balaam did. Like Balaam, we may get temporary amnesia about our reliance on God. When pride makes us forget our true relationship with Him, God may speak to us through unexpected sources. How much wisdom might we miss out on if we refuse to accept the truth spoken by those we feel are beneath us?
I’m ashamed to admit it but when I was much younger, I looked down on an unkempt woman in my faith sharing group because she was uneducated. At the same time, I was stuck in a tangle of my own thoughts and worries. The more I tried to reason my way out the more tangled I got. One day I shared my dilemma with the group. That same woman came up to me privately and asked, “Have you asked God for peace of mind?” Her wisdom blew me away. It was a humbling experience. I’m grateful she told me what I believe God told her to say. I’m grateful for the reminder not to judge others. I’m grateful to be more open to God’s wisdom wherever it comes from.
Prayer: Lord grant me the humility to be open to the truth no matter who is speaking it.
Reflection: In what unexpected way might God be trying to speak to you today?
“God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts to us in our pain,” as C.S. Lewis said. I don’t believe God wants us to suffer but our choices have consequences. Like a good parent, sometimes God allows us to experience the consequences of our actions so that we can learn and grow. I don’t have the answer for all the apparent needless suffering in the world but I have seen God bring good out of painful situations. He is always at work, even in our suffering. I’ve experienced it in my own life.
After a tractor trailer hit my car, I was bed-ridden for months and left with chronic pain. The following year, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I don’t think God zapped me with the accident or M.S. to punish me. Instead, I believe He used the opportunities to teach my heart things it couldn’t seem to learn in any other way. I had always prided myself on being a hard worker and how much I accomplished. I was always doing things for others—whether they wanted me to or not. After the accident and the MS, I could not physically do all that I used to do. That terrified me. My misplaced self-worth disappeared. I was scared that if I couldn’t do things for my family they wouldn’t want me around. That turned out not to be the case, but if it hadn’t been for the accident and the MS, I would never have known that.
While I would never have chosen either challenge, I can honestly say I am grateful for the experiences. As a result, my relationships have deepened. My self-esteem is no longer tied to how much I accomplish. I’m also growing in healthy humility that allows me to accept my limitations and ask for and receive help. I have a better understanding of others facing challenges. My sense of security no longer rests exclusively on my frail shoulders. Because of pain, I’ve been led in new directions of growth. It’s a fascinating journey. I now believe there are two types of pain. There is wasted pain; when I choose to wallow in it I can. There is also pain that bears fruit, like labor pains that lead to new life. When I look to find God in the midst of pain, it always leads to growth…whether I see it at the time, or not. If God can bring good out of the crucifixion, He can bring good out of anything.
Prayer: Lord, help us find you in our pain.
Reflection: When has God brought good out of a painful circumstance in your life?
[Felix] sent for Paul and listened to him as he talked about faith in Christ Jesus. But as Paul went on discussing about goodness, self-control, and the coming Day of Judgment, Felix was afraid and said, “You may leave now. I will call you again when I get the chance.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would give him some money; and for this reason he would call for him often and talk with him. Acts 24: 24b-27
Paul was in prison. Governor Felix, responsible for deciding the case, hoped for a bribe. Even so, there might have been more to Felix’ interest in Paul. Felix’s wife was Jewish and he “was well informed about the Way” of early Christians. (Acts 24:22) Felix might have had a sincere interest in learning what Paul had to say. Maybe it was boredom. Maybe Felix felt disillusioned by all the excess perks the life of a governor in the Roman Empire offered. Maybe he longed for something more…that is, until Paul’s talk about goodness and self-control hit too close to home.
Aren’t we like Felix sometimes? We seek to learn more about God. We thrive on hearing about His unconditional love and mercy—and rightly so. But spiritual growth costs us. Following Christ’s teaching can sound intimidating. Thoughts of not judging others, surrendering self-will, or letting go of an over-blown ego frighten us…or at least dampen our enthusiasm.
We might not look for a bribe from God but have we ever bargained with Him? As a return for our investment in prayer do we expect things to turn out our way? Do we assume good deeds secure a place for ourselves in heaven? Is there room for love when our spiritual walk has strings attached?
As humans, none of us loves perfectly without a shred of self-interest. Most of us have mixed motives. That’s all the more reason to let go of judging others and ourselves. So let’s not think too poorly of Felix who had qualms about the challenges of following Christ. After all, Jesus did caution us to count the cost before starting a building. (Luke 14:28) Maybe we can learn a thing or two about cost-counting from Felix.
Prayer: Loving God, open my heart to all that following you means.
Reflection: What parts of God’s call seem intimidating? Answering the call doesn’t demand perfection. How can knowing that help?
There is nothing, then, that we need to say. 1 Thessalonians 1: 8
Why didn’t Paul and his friends need to say anything? Faith in action communicates more powerfully than words. Paul thanked the Thessalonians because they put their faith and love into practice. In doing this they passed on what Paul and his friends had shared with them not only with words, but through example in the power of the Holy Spirit.
By living out their faith, hope, and love these believers became an example to others. News of their faith spread far and wide. The change in their lives spoke for itself. What more did Paul need to add?
Words are powerful but sometimes they get in the way. We miss opportunities to connect with someone else if we talk too much. We know all the clichés about avoiding overkill: Silence is golden. A picture is worth 1000 words. Actions speak louder than words. But still we ramble on. Why? Maybe we feel like we aren’t being heard. When we have the floor, we talk longer, hoping for attention. Instead, people reach a saturation point and tune us out.
More importantly, if our actions contradict our words—no matter how beautiful they may sound—they’ll fall on the deaf ears of listeners our empty words have disappointed in the past. We’re communicating all the time, whether we’re speaking or not. What we do speaks volumes, no matter how many words we say or don’t say. People will know what we mean when we live it and our words match our actions. When those words and actions are guided by the Holy Spirit, that communication is powerful.
Prayer: Lord, guide my words and actions today.
Reflection: How necessary are words to share what you need to express today?