“I will announce,” says the king, “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask, and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours…’” Psalm 2: 7b-8
Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.” Matthew 4: 8-9
God the Father had already offered his Son all the nations of the world. What did the Devil hope to gain by offering Jesus something that already belonged to him?
That’s how temptation works. Who’d be tempted by something false, damaging or undesirable? The devil is a liar whose only chance is to make something harmful appear good.
It isn’t always easy to see through the alluring promise of gratification to reality and the long-lasting effects of our choices. Temptation promises a good that evil can’t possibly deliver or offers a temporary reward that, in the long run, demands too high a price.
A quick drink, promising freedom from care and worry, might be fatal to an alcoholic. Another spending spree at the mall might be fun until credit card debt takes its toll. Lashing out may provide temporary relief to pent up emotions, but wreak havoc on our relationships. Belittling, gossiping about, or betraying a friend or co-worker might pump up our egos, get us off the hook, or even help us get ahead in the world, but is it worth losing our self-respect?
What if we gain the world and lose our soul? All for what? To feel important? Secure? Good about ourselves? The truth is, we already have all we need to feel good. We are loved by God. We are precious to him. We are important by virtue of the fact that he loved us into being. Can we see that temptation is promising something we already have? Can we see we have nothing to gain but damaged relationships with God, with others, and with our own selves by trying to take a short cut to the good we already have?
Jesus saw through the immediate results of temptation to the long view that God’s perspective gives. He accepted the world his Father gave him and chose to love rather than lord over the nations. He saw through the Devil’s empty promises. May we do the same.
Prayer: Lord, help me see temptations for what they are.
Reflection: What looks good to you right now? How will it affect you in the long run?
Whenever the cloud lifted, they moved on. Numbers 9: 18b; 21b
God led the Hebrew slaves to freedom through desert territory they’d never seen before. They were wise to stay put while the cloud of God’s presence covered them. It makes sense not to travel when you can’t see clearly where you’re going. Sooner or later the cloud lifted. Eventually they were led to the Promised Land.
Similarly, God sometimes guides me by allowing my mind to be clouded with confusion. It slows me down. When I can’t see clearly what action to take, I’m forced to wait. That’s when God has a chance to direct my thinking and actions. Otherwise, guided only by self-will, I zip along full speed ahead, impatiently following my own agenda.
Like the Hebrews in the desert, it’s good for me to stay put when my thoughts are cloudy. Sooner or later, the cloud lifts and I’m led to where God wants me to be. His plan is always so much better than mine.
Prayer: Lord, grant me patient trust in your guidance when I can’t see clearly.
Reflection: When has patience brought you clarity?
Farmers don’t constantly plow their fields and keep getting them ready for planting. Isaiah 28: 24
Preparation turns into stalling if we never move on. Why cover ground that’s already been covered? Fear, probably. What if we take the next step and it doesn’t work out? What if we fail?
IF we never actually take the action, we can always think we didn’t fail because we didn’t really try. The truth is, if we don’t follow through, we fail by default.
There’s no shame in failing if we do our best. A farmer planting seeds waters and weeds the garden. Beyond that, the results are out of his hands.
The same is true for us. We’re responsible for making our best effort, regardless of the outcome. This goes for our practical and our spiritual lives. Do we hear the gospel at Mass but never allow it to change us? Growth doesn’t happen just by hearing the word, but by doing it. Moving forward can start small. Bring canned goods to the next food pantry collection or attend a bible study.
We don’t need to keep polishing what’s already shiny. Ask God for the courage to move beyond your comfort zone. If you already spend quiet time in prayer, try volunteering for some service activity. If you’re always on the go, risk spending some time in silent meditation.
God will always guide us along the path he has in mind for us.
Prayer: Lord, show me what my next step should be and give me the courage to take it.
Reflection: What fields have you already plowed sufficiently? What’s the next step?
A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus. John 12: 9-11
Religious authorities felt threatened by Jesus as crowds responded to his teaching, his loving example, and his healing power. It came to a head when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Fearful of Jesus’ growing influence and demonstration of power, the religious leaders made plans to kill Lazarus. Did the futility of trying to kill someone who had already died and been brought back to life even occur to them?
Still, they made their plans against him and, for that matter, against the one who brought him back from death. Their plans didn’t work. When we act out of fear, we don’t always think clearly.
Fear-induced blind spots have led me to desperate or ineffective choices more than once. Sometimes I’ve acted hastily without stopping to think things through. Sometimes I’ve failed to take any action because I couldn’t see past my projections of imagined disaster. Either way, over-reacting emotionally clouded my vision.
When we turn to God instead of allowing ourselves to be bullied by our frantic reactions, we walk by faith, not by sight. That’s a good thing, because when fear looms large and we can’t see clearly, God can. Following where he leads brings us through darkness to Resurrection life!
Prayer: Lord, help me trust you to guide me through the blind spots.
Reflection: How can trusting God’s plan today keep you from acting out of fear?
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?
What do we have to get rid of in order to stand against our enemies…especially the enemies within ourselves? It can be threatening to think we are responsible—at least partially—for the problems in our lives. The good news is if we are part of the problem we have a chance to do something about it.
So, what are we hanging on to that keeps us from conquering the self-defeating behaviors that hurt us and those we love? When we’re willing to take an honest look at how we contribute to our pain it becomes possible to change that part of the equation. Do we rely on substances like alcohol or nicotine? Or compulsive behaviors like recreational shopping? They seem to relieve tension but can cause more problems and tension in the long run. Is another person causing us misery? Are we clinging to an unhealthy relationship out of a misplaced sense of loyalty or fear of being alone?
Once we look at how we contribute to the problem, we can see which behaviors might have to go. That doesn’t mean we’ll be willing to let them go. Even unhealthy patterns can feel comfortable. After all, we must get something out of them or we wouldn’t hang on to them. But when we take an honest look, can we see that the benefits are no longer worth the price we pay in self-respect, damaged relationships, or physical and emotional health?
Maybe one of the things we have to get rid of is the false pride that tells us we should be able to kick these enemies all by ourselves. If we can’t see our part, or we see it and don’t know how to let go, we can seek help. I have to believe that if we ask, God will provide us with the guidance and willingness we need to get rid of anything that is harmful to us or our loved ones.
It’s scary to let go of even a false sense of relief if we have nothing to replace it with. That’s where asking for assistance can help us see alternatives we may never have thought of on our own. With God’s grace we can find the guidance and support we need and the courage to let go of self-defeating behaviors. We can face our enemies unafraid with an arsenal of healthy coping skills and an army of support.
Prayer: Lord, help me let go of self-destructive tendencies.
Reflection: What do you need to let go of to stand against the enemy you’re facing today?
Lot’s hometown was about to be destroyed. When God’s messengers urged him to flee, Lot hesitated. Why would he hesitate to act in his best interest? If he’s anything like me, maybe fear held him back. Venturing into the unknown is scary. But God took pity on Lot and his family. They were taken by the hand and directed to where they needed to go.
God has led my be the hand for my own good more than once—even when the stakes weren’t utter destruction. Some time ago, I lived alone in an apartment. Year after year, I regretted that 20 years down the road I’d have nothing but a pile of rent receipts to show for all those monthly payments. All those monthly payments could be going toward a mortgage on a home of my own. I had a steady job. It was the wise move to make. Why hesitate? Fear trumped reason. I’d never made a major purchase all by myself and I was afraid of who knows what?
But God took pity on me and led me step by step. A citizen action group had a presentation on home-buying. No obligation. There’d be no harm in sitting in an audience and listening. I attended and liked what I heard. I researched the group and found they were legitimate, so I contacted their local office. There’d be no harm in getting information one on one about my individual circumstances. The woman I spoke with was knowledgeable, reassuring, and careful to explain everything patiently. I learned that, as a first-time home buyer, they could help me get a reduced interest rate. They then guided me step by step through the application process.
I still had to find the place I wanted. A friend I met at a church group happened to be a real estate agent. She helped me find the place that was just right for me. I was guided to the right handyman to make a few minor repairs. Step by step I was led to buy and move into a home that was perfect for me at the time.
God has led my by the hand in my spiritual journey, too. It has not been a straight path. There have been plenty of detours and plenty of times I stalled out on the journey, but God guided me back to the church of my youth, one step at a time.
God patiently waits for us. He’s always ready to guide us one step at a time. All we have to do to get where we need to be is take that first step and follow.
Prayer: Lead me, Lord.
Reflection: In what area are you hesitating? With God’s help, are you willing to take just the first step in a new direction?
I trust in the Lord for safety. How foolish of you to say to me, “Fly away like a bird to the mountains, because the wicked have drawn their bows and aimed their arrows…There is nothing a good person can do when everything falls apart.”
The Lord is in his holy temple; he has his throne in heaven. He watches people everywhere and knows what they are doing.
Psalm 11: 1-4
It doesn’t take bows and arrows aimed at me to make me want to run away. When it comes to fight or flight, my default instinct is flight. Although there are times when avoiding a confrontation is the wise choice, at other times we need to stand our ground. Even minor challenges can seem intimidating. Years ago, I was subpoenaed to testify in court on a work-related matter. I freaked out. I don’t know why I felt so threatened. I wasn’t even the defendant; I was only taking the witness stand. I wished I didn’t feel afraid, but the truth is, I did. I would have loved to run away but quitting my job was not an option. Besides, it wouldn’t have relieved me of the obligation to appear in court.
Still a beginner in my spiritual journey at the time, I shared my fear with my spiritual mentor. She always encouraged me to give my feelings to God, so I did. What came back was the thought that being in the witness stand was no different than being anywhere else in God’s world. All I had to do was tell the truth. Thinking of God watching me and doing what he wanted me do gave me courage. Even if I tripped on my words or made a mistake in that witness stand, God would know I was being sincere. That’s what mattered. Needless to say, when the time came I answered the lawyers’ questions and…that was it. Very simple, not the ordeal my imagination had created.
There are times we’d all like to fly away but some challenges in life, both big and small, are unavoidable. I find it makes a difference going through them with God’s watchful eye guiding me.
How about you?
- How do you know if you trust the Lord?
- When is it easy to trust the Lord? When is it challenging?
- Fight or flight: which are you more comfortable with?
- What are some ways to grow in trusting God?
- When everything falls apart, is there anything a good person can do? What?
- How might imagining a loving God watching you and others affect your choices?
I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever words or phrases speaks to you today.
Jesus was angry as he looked around at them, but at the same time he felt sorry for them, because they were so stubborn and wrong. Mark 3:5
Jesus had mixed feelings about the religious leaders who couldn’t see beyond the letter of the law. They wanted to condemn Jesus for breaking the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day. What could be more holy than reaching out with compassion to relieve someone else’s suffering? No wonder he felt angry.
He also felt sorry for them. Why? Because they were stubborn and wrong. I can’t claim to know what Jesus was thinking, but I suspect it had more to do with their being stubborn than wrong. When we’re wrong, we can always change our minds once we’re corrected. But when we’re stubborn, the right information won’t help. We refuse to see the truth even if it’s right under our eyes. Stubbornness truly deserves pity. There is no hope of growth or change when our minds are already made up. We dig in our heels and refuse to budge.
What’s so hard about being open to another point of view? What’s the harm in looking at things in a new way? We have nothing to lose. If the new idea isn’t correct we can retain original position. But if we obstinately cling to what we think we know—without even considering other options—we’re stuck with no hope of growth. No wonder Jesus pitied them.
I’ve been stubborn more than once in my life, often for no better reason than, “I’ve been doing it this way for years, why change?” I said it in the 1970’s when our office computerized operations we used to do by hand. Luckily, my inflexibility gave way to the desire to keep my job. What if I had refused to consider the new procedure? I wouldn’t be writing this blog, for one thing. I would have shut the door on learning the skills that have become a way of life our culture today.
Stubbornness can stunt our spiritual life with even more impact. The Holy Spirt is dynamic. God’s truth doesn’t change, but our understanding of it and the way we live it grows as we grow. The religious leaders weren’t wrong in wanting to honor the Sabbath, but they were wrong clinging to their narrow interpretation of what that meant. May God grace us with open-mindedness as he deepens our understanding of his truth.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the humility to be teachable.
Reflection: What ideas are you clinging to that might be worth a second look? How can open-mindedness help you grow spiritually?
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?