Job lost his children and all his wealth in a single day, but still praised God. This doesn’t mean he didn’t have feelings, grieve the loss of his children, or fear his new-found financial insecurity. It simply meant he did not blame God for his misfortune.
Job was able to praise God because he recognized that all the good things he had been blessed with were gifts, not entitlements. Job may have felt sad, scared, overwhelmed, or even angered by his loss, but he didn’t feel wronged by God because of it.
Are we fair-weather friends of God? If we’re in it only for what God can do for us, that’s not much of a relationship.
I have Multiple Sclerosis. During an M.S. attack, I suffered an excruciating headache for days. I wanted to trust God but was shaken to the core by pain and overwhelmed with anguish. I shared my frustration and despair with a spiritual mentor, who suggested that perhaps there was a bit of spiritual warfare going on, an attempt to get me to turn my back on God. I’d never thought of it as a temptation, but in the story of Job that’s exactly what was going on. Satan’s theory was that Job worshipped God only for what he could get out of the relationship and would turn his back on God if his blessings were taken away. The book of Job shows otherwise.
Right after the conversation with my mentor, a contemporary Christian song came on the radio affirming that we can choose to praise the Lord whether things are going well or terribly.
Hearing that song at that moment, made it all click for me. I sang along at the top of my lungs in spite of my pain. As I sang, I felt a wave of victory come over my spirit such as I can’t describe. There is power in exercising our free will. No person or circumstance can take that away from us.
Prayer: Lord, blessed be your name.
Reflection: What might happen if you praise God in the midst of a problem?
Some were living in gloom and darkness, prisoners suffering in chains because they had rebelled against the commands of Almighty God and had rejected his instructions.
They were worn out from hard work; they would fall down, and no one would help.
Then in their trouble they called to the Lord, and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of their gloom and darkness and broke their changes in pieces. Psalm 107: 10-14
God’s not out to get us. Darkness and pitfalls are just the natural consequences of not following his loving guidance. We want an easier way. We want a more pleasurable way. We want our way. The problem is—if God is who he says he is—if he really is all wise and all loving, he has our best interests at heart. There is no easier, more pleasurable, or better way than following his plan for us. In a way, sin is thinking we know better than God. When we don’t do what’s in our best interests, the results lead to problems.
No one starts out deciding they want to be an addict. They just want to relax or feel “good.” But the booze, drugs, candy, or shopping spree doesn’t provide lasting satisfaction. The process has to be repeated over and over. When physical, mental, or emotional dependence takes hold we become bound by our own pleasures—even when they stop being pleasurable.
Maybe we work hard to earn the approval of others because we’re afraid of rejection. We resent it when we don’t get praise and puff ourselves up when we do. That type of validation doesn’t last either. Trying to grab the limelight, instead of giving us the reassurance we hope for, alienates people instead. We end up lonely and defeated.
Maybe we put all our effort into trying to make things turn out the way we think they should. We try to control others through flattery, manipulation, or intimidation. Why do we do it? We think forcing things to go our way will make us happy. Instead we create friction in our relationships and set ourselves up for disappointment.
Fear, pride, and self-will keep us trapped in the burden of going it alone. We’re afraid to surrender and trust God.
When we’re in enough pain, when we’re worn out enough, when we’re tired of going nowhere fast, we can call to the Lord. When we do, we’ll find him waiting with open arms, to guide us and to do for us what we finally realize we can’t do on our own.
Prayer: Lord, save me from myself.
Reflection: What self-defeating attitude or behavior is wearing you out? Are you ready to ask for God’s help?
…I am sending [Onesimus] back to you now, and with him goes my heart. Philemon 12
Because of Paul’s deep affection for Onesimus, his spiritual son, it wasn’t easy for him to say good-bye. Paul sent the runaway slave back because it was in Onesimus’ best interest. Returning home created the opportunity to heal the relationship with Philemon, whom he had abandoned.
Love is a choice to act in another’s best interests. That can mean letting them go when we’d rather keep them close to us. A mother sending her child off on the first day of kindergarten or the first semester at college could also say, “…and with him (or her) goes my heart.”
Clinging to other adults and trying to keep them under our protection isn’t love; it’s self-centered co-dependency. We stunt our loved ones’ growth and do them a disservice when we micro-manage. We deny them the opportunity to develop and grow. God gave them free will. Who are we to take it away? That doesn’t mean we can’t offer suggestions, but we leave the decisions, and the outcomes, in the other person’s hands.
When we love someone we encourage them to think things through on their own, gather information, pray, and seek sound advice from reliable sources. We don’t try to control them. Risky? Maybe. Hard to let go? No doubt. The healthy and loving thing to do? Absolutely. Our hearts can go with them as long as we leave our hands off.
Prayer: Loving God, help me remember you love my loved ones even more than I do.
Reflection: Where do you need to let go?
Comparing ourselves to others is a lose/lose situation. Tempting as it might be to prop up a fragile ego when we seem ahead, it’s a set-up for vanity and looking down on others. On the other hand, if others seem more talented or accomplished, we open ourselves to envy, resentment, or feelings of inadequacy. What have we got to gain except a false sense of superiority or inferiority? Why bother? Life is not a contest.
That doesn’t mean we can’t shine. If we focus on what we are doing and we’re doing our best, we can feel good about ourselves. We can take healthy pride in our best efforts and their results. We can be grateful for the abilities we’ve been blessed with and the opportunities to use them. It doesn’t matter how that stacks up against someone else’s gifts or accomplishments. Besides, there’s never a level playing field. We are all individuals with different physical traits, backgrounds, opportunities. Why compare?
What’s stopping us from feeling good about ourselves? If what we’ve done is good, it’s good. Other people’s achievements can’t take away the goodness of our efforts. Other people’s lack of achievement can’t make our efforts any better than they are.
Judging our own conduct keeps us grounded in reality and focused on what we have control over—ourselves. That sounds like freedom to me.
Prayer: Thank you Lord, for my abilities. Help me focus on using them as you want me to today.
Reflection: What have you done today that you can feel good about?
Jesus didn’t want to suffer but he was willing to suffer. Even though he knew suffering and death waited for him in Jerusalem, he’d set his face like flint and headed there. His prayer in Gethsemane expresses the tension between his desire and his commitment to follow his Father’s will, all for love of us. In his beautiful, heart-felt cry Jesus asked his Father to take the suffering away. That was what Jesus wanted, but he deferred to his Father’s will.
We can learn from this. We don’t have to pretend we don’t have wants or feelings. It’s more than okay, it’s essential that we’re honest with God about what we truly want. That doesn’t mean demanding that he do things our way. We can lay our wants at God’s feet and leave the choice up to him. We can exercise our free will by choosing to give our will back to God. We hold our faith hostage if we insist God do things the way we think he should. Insisting on our way may seem like freedom, but it’s not. Freedom is the choice to act without being bullied by our feelings.
Jesus’ prayer is a beautiful balance of honesty and surrender, of requesting and accepting instead of insisting. We have a choice at every moment: to insist our will be done or to lovingly entrust our will to God’s wise and loving plan. It isn’t easy. It will cost us. But I have to believe it is worth it. I have to believe that God isn’t cruel or abandoning us if pain isn’t taken away on our terms. I have to believe he will give us what we need to get through whatever challenges we face and will somehow bring good out of it. I’ve seen it happen. Besides, if God can bring good out of the crucifixion, he can bring good out of anything.
Prayer: Father, thy will, not mine, be done.
Reflection: Where are your wants flexing their muscles today? Are you willing to surrender them to God’s care?
Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)
So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.
Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope today?
When the angel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, she had many reasons for saying no: her youth, her unmarried status, her unworthiness, her fear of the consequences. Instead, she accepted, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Instead of serving her fear, or public opinion, or false humility, she was willing to serve God. In surrendering to his plan for her, Mary served not only God, but other people as well. She brought Christ and his saving grace into a world badly in need of saving.
Mary could have ignored the angel’s words, or gotten busy with some activity to drown out the call. But she listened. She pondered and questioned how it could be, but she listened and accepted.
What are we busy with? Might our activity prevent us from hearing what God’s plan is for us? What might keep us from surrendering to his plan instead of our own? How is God calling us to be his servants? How might he want to use us to share his saving grace with the world…or perhaps with just one other person?
Mary didn’t have to know the future, all she had to do was say yes and follow, one step at a time. God provided all that she needed along the way, including a husband to provide for and protect her and the child. Everything unfolded as it was meant to. All Mary had to supply was the willingness to surrender her will to God’s. That’s all we have to do, too.
Prayer: Lord, I am your servant. Open my heart to your plan for me.
Reflection: What does God have in mind for you today?
Those who obey God in everything and always do what is right, whose words are true and sincere, and who do not slander others.
They do no wrong to their friends nor spread rumors about their neighbors.
They always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost.
They make loans without charging interest and cannot be bribed to testify against the innocent.
Whoever does these things will always be secure. Psalm 15: 1-3; 5b
Who can live up to all that? It sounds like we need to be perfect to worship God. But David, who wrote this psalm, didn’t live up to this himself. He had his neighbor Uriah killed so that David’s adulterous affair with Uriah’s wife wouldn’t be discovered. Talk about wronging a friend!
And yet David is referred to in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart. Why? Maybe because he met an important qualification listed in the psalm. David was one of those…whose words are true and sincere… David was honest about his failings. When his wrongdoing was pointed out to him he admitted it and asked for God’s forgiveness.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee prayed by reciting his merits—maybe he was trying to prove he lived up to Psalm 15. In contrast, the tax collector honestly admitted his sin and asked for God’s mercy. Jesus tells us it was the tax collector who rightly connected with God.
If we’re honest we have to admit we can’t live up to perfect ideals this side of heaven. In fact, trying to appear perfect is a recipe for hypocrisy. It paves the way for slandering others, so our own wrongdoings don’t seem so bad. Integrity is so much better than a veneer of respectability. When we’re honest we’re secure because we have nothing to hide. Our insides match our outsides. We don’t have to live in fear of being found out. Not that we shouldn’t try to live up to our values, but when we fail—as we will—we can, like David, own our mistakes and go to the God of mercy and love, our true source of security.
This psalm is a great format for taking an examination of conscience that can lead the way to receiving God’s forgiveness.
- What tempts you to put your will above God’s?
- When have you not lived up to your conscience?
- In what ways have you been less than honest?
- Have you gossiped or spread rumors?
- When have you not kept a promise?
- In what ways have you sold out?
- How do these weaknesses contribute to your insecurity or discomfort?
- Are you willing to bring them to God?
- Can you trust that God loves you as you are?
I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever words or phrases speak to you today.
Jonah refused to do God told him to. Instead of heading to Nineveh to preach, Jonah hopped a boat in the opposite direction. When a storm almost sank the boat. Jonah realized his responsibility. He asked the sailors to toss him overboard. The pagan sailors showed compassion and tried to row to shore but the storm got worse. Finally, they threw Jonah into the sea. When the storm calmed down instantly, the terrified sailors converted on the spot.
After his ordeal and three days in a whale’s belly, Jonah became willing to do what God intended him to do. He preached to the people of Nineveh and the whole town repented. It is ironic that God used Jonah’s reluctance to convert the sailors he never would have encountered had he not resisted God’s will. Once Jonah surrendered himself for the sake of others, God did what Jonah could not do and calmed the storm. As a result, the sailors on that ship were saved both physically and spiritually.
Like Jonah, we have choices about whether to cooperate with God’s plan for us or not. I don’t think God zaps us with disasters as revenge. I do believe God gives us opportunities to rethink our choices. Jonah did, and from the moment he acknowledged his wrongdoing and thought about others instead of what he wanted, God used him to achieve the purpose
God can bring good out of everything—even our reluctance—when we surrender to His plan. It’s never too late to change.
Prayer: Lord, help me see what you have in mind for me today.
Reflection: How am I avoiding God’s plan for me today? What would it take for me to trust his plan?
Why are you so far away, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself when we are in trouble?
The wicked do not care about the Lord; in their pride they think that God doesn’t matter.
The helpless victims lie crushed; brute strength has defeated them. The wicked say to themselves, “God doesn’t care! He has closed his eyes and will never see me!”
But you do see; you take notice of trouble and suffering and are always ready to help. The helpless commit themselves to you; you have always helped the needy.
You will listen, O Lord, to the prayers of the lowly; you will give them courage.
Psalm 10: 1-2; 10-11; 14
Why are you so far away, O Lord? I’ve been in trouble and felt like God was far away many times. Once, when I was living alone, I felt scared and demoralized because medical problems prevented me from taking care of myself. No matter how much I wanted to feel close to God, I felt cut off from him and overwhelmed with despair. Days later, seemingly out of nowhere, he spoke to my heart: It doesn’t matter how you feel. Your feelings do not determine if I am present or not. I am bigger than your feelings. They aren’t powerful enough to push me away. What a relief! I’d been trusting my volatile emotions to gauge my closeness to God, but feelings come and go. Shifting emotions are not an accurate reflection of our relationship with God. Just because I can’t see or feel God’s presence in a given situation, doesn’t mean he is not there. After all, the sun is still in the sky, even if a cloud temporarily keeps me from seeing it or feeling its warmth.
The wicked do not care about the Lord; in their pride they thing that God doesn’t matter…but you do see…you will listen, O Lord, to the prayers of the lowly; you will give them courage. It adds insult to injury when those driven by greed, arrogance, or self-indulgence seem to “get ahead” in life. People who take advantage of the weak don’t always seem to get its comeuppance. When that happens it’s easy to question God’s justice. Apparently that was just as true in biblical times as it is today. But the psalmist tells us God not only sees, but is always ready to help the helpless and needy. So why are there still hurting people in the world? Why did God give us free will and leave us free to choose good or evil? Although I can’t answer that I believe, as the psalmist affirms, that God does listen to the prayers of the lowly. He will give them courage. It doesn’t say he will take away their pain this side of heaven, although the bible tells us elsewhere that God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Isaiah 25:8) and there will be no more grief, crying, or pain. (Revelation 21:4)
God’s promises can be trusted. Why we have to wait only he knows but it’s safe to believe that he has a reason. Maybe that’s why he gives us courage when we’re lowly, so we can walk through the challenges this life has for us, trusting that God can bring good out of anything. If he can bring good out of the cross, he can bring good out of whatever we’re facing. I think it’s safe to trust Him, even if I don’t always feel like it.
How about you?
- When has God seemed far away from you? How did you get through those times?
- What are your thoughts when the ruthless seem to get away with something?
- What criteria do you think the wicked use to determine success?
- What criteria do you use to determine success?
- What do you think success looks like to God?
- If God sees us suffering, why do you think he allows suffering to continue?
- Why do you think the helpless are more likely to commit themselves to God?
- As an answer to prayer, how can courage benefit someone in need?