So then, you must never think that you have made yourselves wealthy by your own power and strength. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power… Deuteronomy 8: 17
There’s nothing wrong with the satisfaction that comes from seeing our hard work pay off and enjoying the results of our efforts—financially or otherwise. There’s a healthy pride that comes from achieving our goals. The problem comes when we trust solely in ourselves. It’s an easy mistake to make. I’ve made it plenty of times.
From birth, I was always blessed with a sturdy physical build and a fairly quick mind. I was raised by parents who instilled a strong work ethic in me. It was easy to trust in my physical and reasoning abilities…until a car accident, followed by a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis left me permanently debilitated. I could no longer push myself physically. I ran into problems that were beyond my ability to solve by intellect alone.
That’s when I realized that although I thought I believed in God and trusted his power, I lived as if I trusted only in myself.
I was brought through times of helplessness. I learned to accept the help that was offered and provided. While grateful for the natural abilities I’d been given at birth, I learned to be even more grateful for the strength God gave me to accept my weakness. Even though I still forget at times, it’s much easier now to remember that it is God who gives me the power to do what he has in mind for me to do on any given day.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the strength to do what you have in mind for me to do today.
Reflection: What have you achieved in your life? What gifts enabled you to accomplish your achievements?
But the Lord says, “Can an ax claim to be greater than the one who uses it? Isaiah 10: 13; 15a
The emperor of Assyria probably was strong and wise and clever. He didn’t have to pretend he was weak and stupid and inept in order to recognize the true source of his abilities.
We don’t have to put ourselves down in the name of false humility. Denying our abilities is just as wrong as bragging. True humility is being honest about our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s recognizing that our abilities were God-given. Although we have free will, which means much of what we do depends on our own choices, there is so much that is beyond our control.
We did not create ourselves. We did not pick our parents, determine our genetic make-up, or the environment—or even the century and locale—we were raised in. All these internal and external factors had a hand in shaping our development.
An honest look at the world around us will tell us that we are not in control of the universe or even our tiny corner of it. But there is One Who is in control. What we achieve is partly up to us, and how we use—or don’t use—the abilities and opportunities God gives us.
Our best efforts are up to us. The outcome is never up to us. Our part is to do our best. When we do, we can let go of the rest. If it turns out well, we can take pride in our achievement without being egotistical, as long as we remember to thank the Giver for His gifts.
Prayer: Lord, help me recognize Your gifts to me.
Reflection: What have you accomplished? What gifts helped you accomplish it?
If we wanted to tell others what God has done for us, where would we begin? We should probably start by telling ourselves. Want to try it?
You might make a timeline. Turn a blank piece of paper so the widest part runs horizontally. About half-way down the page, draw a line from left to right across the entire sheet to represent your life from birth to the present.
Beginning with your earliest recollection from childhood, write the milestones or other significant memories in chronological order. Note the happy events on top of the line; note the hard times underneath the line.
Continue to review your life through your school years, your teens, early adulthood, and so on, noting both positive and negative times up through today.
Review your list. The blessings on top of the line may give you plenty to share when telling others what God has done for you, but don’t stop there.
Think about the items beneath the line. What got you through those challenges? The support and love of other people? That’s a blessing. The strength and willingness to keep plugging along when you felt like giving up or running away? That’s a blessing. An inspiring word or phrase you read or heard in a song at just the right moment? That’s a blessing, too. You get the idea.
Maybe the blessings that come in the midst of our pain are the sweetest. I’ve been richly blessed with family, friends, career, and more, but the consolations I treasure most are the times God met me in my sorrow, fear, grief, and desperation. I know for sure that God’s blessings got me through those struggles because in those dark times I had absolutely no resources of my own.
C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pain.” When has God whispered or shouted to you?
Prayer: Loving God, open our eyes to all your blessings.
Reflection: What has God done for you?
“I will renew my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. I will forgive all the wrongs you have done, but you will remember them and be too ashamed to open your mouth.” The Sovereign Lord has spoken. Ezekiel 16: 62-63
Why is it so hard for us to accept forgiveness as the gift that it is? We want to deserve forgiveness or earn it. We can’t. If we deserve it, it’s exoneration, not forgiveness.
When we try to excuse or deny the hurt we’ve caused others or the damage we’ve done to ourselves or to our relationship with God, it gets us nowhere. When we create alibis to prove what we did wasn’t so bad, it does us no good. When we acknowledge our wrongs and are truly sorry, God forgives us. We’re better off honestly acknowledging our weaknesses. Then we can recognize the truth: forgiveness is about God’s goodness, generosity, and love, not our worthiness. We don’t have to open our mouths except to say thank you.
Once we accept God’s forgiveness as the free and precious gift it truly is, there’s no reason to keep wallowing in our misdeeds and mistakes. We can stop going on and on about it. We don’t need to dwell on our sins once we have honestly laid them at God’s feet. Once forgiven, we are free to move on and do likewise.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your forgiveness.
Reflection: Can you trust God’s forgiveness enough to let go of your regrets?
Be grateful for the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family… Deuteronomy 26: 11
Counting our blessings can change our attitudes and enrich our lives.
When a tractor trailer hit my car I ended up painfully bedridden for months. It was horrible. Would I want to go through it again? Never! Am I grateful that I did? Absolutely! I’m not denying the pain and challenges, but they couldn’t keep God from operating in my life. When I remembered to look for the good, I felt better.
- The accident struck just after I’d gotten in shape by working out. Had my muscles not been so toned, the internal damage to my body would have been much worse.
- I got to see my husband in a new light as he stepped up to take over my household responsibilities while I was incapacitated.
- Being out of work, I had plenty of extra time to meditate and pray. I’m grateful that God didn’t reject my prayers even though, in a way, I was praying because “I had nothing better to do.”
- Insurance and disability benefits helped cover the loss of my paycheck.
- I was forced to stop micro-managing my teenage daughter. It was a bumpy road, but we both learned things we needed to learn. Our relationship ended up being healthier for it.
- I found out my self-worth doesn’t dependent on how much I accomplish. Like everyone else, I have worth simply because God loved me into existence.
God works for our best interest in life’s pleasures and in its challenges. We don’t have to deny our pain. We also don’t have to let it stop us from being grateful.
Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to your blessings.
Reflection: What good things can you thank God for today?
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?
Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God… Psalm 50: 14a
Gratitude’s not the first thing we think of when we think of sacrifice. Where does gratitude fit in with our traditional Lenten offerings of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer?
Fasting: When we give thanks to God we fast from the ego-feeding illusion of independence. We fast from the presumption that we are self-sufficient. The truth is that we cannot, on our own, even guarantee our next breath. Gratitude means sacrificing the comfortable notion of self-reliance. Recognizing ourselves as recipients of God’s gifts puts us in vulnerable position of recognizing our dependence on our Creator.
Almsgiving: We can’t give what we don’t have. Whether we donate financially or through acts of service and charity, our giving is sharing what we ourselves have received. Our talents, skills, and finances—including the ability to earn a living—are all gifts from God. If we think of giving to others as passing on what we’ve received, we can’t help but feel gratitude. Offering our personal or financial resources to those who need them is gratitude in action. We sacrifice self-centeredness and self-indulgence when we consider the other people we share this planet with.
Prayer: Prayer involves a sacrifice of precious time in our often hectic days. We make room in our crowded agendas to reflect on God’s sacrificial love for us and to offer our thanks. During this Lenten preparation for Easter, we think about the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He willingly accepted the agony in Gethsemane and his suffering and death on the cross for love of us. He offered his life to do for us what we could never do—redeem ourselves from the power of sin. What could be more natural than to express our gratitude in prayer?
Prayer: Source of All Good, thank you for all I have and all I am.
Reflection: What gifts has God given you? How can you offer him your gratitude today?
Protect me, O God; I trust in you for safety.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; all the good things I have come from you.”
Those who rush to other gods bring many troubles on themselves. I will not take part in their sacrifices; I will not worship their gods.
You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands.
How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are!
I am always aware of the Lords’ presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. Psalm 16: 1-6; 8
When I’m afraid, this psalm never fails to comfort me. It becomes easier to trust in God for safety when I remind myself of all the good things I have in my life. It helps to recognize that, one way or another, they all come from God. Even when life is painful or chaotic I can find things to be grateful for if I’m willing to look. Although I might feel like I need a microscope to find them, I can see that willingness to look for the good is a gift in itself.
For today, I have no interest in joining those who rush to other gods, mainly because I’ve done it and brought troubles on myself. I’ve relied on my physical comfort, strength, and health. I’ve trusted my intellect, employment, and other people. All of these have let me down at one time or another. I can use and enjoy these blessings, but I can’t afford to make idols of them anymore. My security is shaky if I do. There is only One who has never let me down. If the resources I lean on are taken away, I have to believe God will provide some other way. He always has.
God truly is all I have and He does give me all I need. I found that out when my first marriage ended and an MS attack left me unable to take care of myself. Business as usual was not possible. I didn’t see how I could possibly manage without the supports I was used to. I was way out of my comfort zone and terrified. I didn’t get everything I wanted and it didn’t come on my timetable, but somehow I got everything I needed. Faith moved from my head to my heart. It wasn’t a pretty process, but God got me through to the other side. He truly was all I had during that time, and He truly was all I needed. My future is safe in His hands.
How about you?
- Who or what are you trusting in today?
- Can you trust in God for safety?
- What good things are in your life? Can you see them as coming from God?
- What “other gods” have you rushed to? What have you gained or lost in the process?
- How is God giving you all you need?
- How can you call to mind God’s presence when circumstances are shaky?
- Why can awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trouble bring you peace?
How much longer will you hide yourself from me?
How long must I endure trouble?
How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night?
How long will my enemies triumph over me?
Look at me, O Lord my God, and answer me. Restore my strength. Don’t let me die.
I rely on your constant love; I will be glad, because you will rescue me.
I will sing to you, O Lord, because you have been good to me. Psalm 13: 1-3; 5-6
Sometimes it feels like the pain will never end. I’ve felt that way more than once: when loved ones were seriously ill; when my first marriage was ending; when a car accident left me bed-ridden for months. The pain was real and seemed endless, but I’ve been brought through ever nightmare I’ve ever experienced. Apparently God did restore my strength.
Although it might sound discouraging at first, this is a psalm of hope. The psalmist complained, but did not despair. Even in the midst of intense, long-standing pain, the he didn’t give up talking to God. He didn’t decide there is no God. The psalmist trusted God enough be honest. He trusted God’s love more than his own feelings. He affirmed that trust and made a commitment to sing to God…why? Because God had been good to him.
We don’t have to be pushed around by our feelings. It’s an amazing exercise to count our blessings when it seems like there’s nothing to be grateful for. Focusing on the good we’ve enjoyed in the past and searching for good in the midst of our problems (without denying those problems) bolsters faith. When our feelings, circumstances, or tunnel vision try to convince us there’s no reason for hope, pro-actively calling God’s goodness to mind does our hearts good. Putting evidence of God’s activity in our lives down in black and white has make a world of difference to me when things looked bleak.
How about you?
- When have you felt abandoned by God? What happened?
- When you feel bad, does it seem like good times will never come again? When you feel good, does it feel like bad times will never come again?
- Feelings come and go. How can that help you keep perspective in rocky times?
- When have you gotten through a challenge? Did you realize it as answered prayer at the time?
- How has God been good to you? Can you sing to him about it, or at least say thank-you?
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the wonderful things you have done.
I will sing with joy because of you. I will sing praise to you, Almighty God.
My enemies turn back when you appear; they fall down and die.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a place of safety in times of trouble.
Those who know you, Lord, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you.
Psalm 9: 1-3; 9-10
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the wonderful things you have done. David rejoiced because God protected him from his enemies. His victory over Goliath and foreign armies were renowned, but during his lifetime David also battled enemies closer to home: Saul, his king, and even David’s son Absalom turned against him. David knew it was God’s strength, not his own, that got him through, and gratitude filled him with joy.
My enemies turn back when you appear; they fall down and die. Our opponents may be outside of us. We may also battle enemies within ourselves: destructive habits or character flaws that damage our relationships and peace of mind. These forces might be bigger than we are, but they are not bigger than God. When we surrender our problems to God, seek and act on the guidance we receive, and accept the support of those he puts in our path, our enemies can be turned back. Bad habits wither as we stop acting on them. The sharp words of those trying to hurt us can fall on deaf ears. We can learn to stop reacting to provocation or to side-step meaningless arguments. In light of God’s love for us, we can stop taking hurtful criticism personally as we consider the source. Enemies can lose their power–not because they change but because we change, by God’s grace.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a place of safety in times of trouble. The Lord truly is a refuge; his loving arms are always open, so we never have to face anything alone. He loves us as we are, warts and all…but he loves us too much to leave us that way. Nothing we have done could make him reject us, if we turn to him. Bathed in his love, the enemies—willfulness, greed, hatred and the like—will die. That doesn’t mean the trouble will magically disappear, but that God welcomes us, no matter what. Safety doesn’t always mean problems go away. Sometimes it means God’s Spirit empowers us to cope with the problems and endure. We grow as we walk through the problems and come out the other side.
Those who know you, Lord, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you. It isn’t always easy to trust God. It’s scary to let go of control; we don’t know how things will turn out. The truth is, we’re not in control anyway. What we often have is the illusion of control. God, the almighty Creator of the universe, is in control. And it is safe to trust him. If we don’t trust him, maybe it’s because we don’t know him well enough. As we come to know him better, trust can grow. Maybe we fear things won’t turn out our way. Maybe they won’t, but do we really know better than God? As we come to know God as all wise, all loving, and all powerful, we can trust that things will turn out well—even if things don’t turn out our way. Maybe we fear a punishing God. Knowing him better will reassure us of his forgiveness. As we experience his presence and love in our lives or listen to those who know him better, we can be reassured. After all, Jesus forgave those who crucified him. What more reassurance could we want?
How about you?
- What wonderful things has God done in your life?
- Can you thank God for the things that bring you joy?
- Who or what are your enemies?
- How has God guided or helped you in facing trouble in the past?
- What actions might God be prompting you to take in coping with current conflicts?
- When has God been your refuge?
- How would growing closer to God help you trust him more?