And [Jesus] said to them all, “If you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me.” Luke 9: 23
The phrase “Forget yourself” in the above passage has been translated in many ways: to deny, refuse, disown. One translation, according to the Amplified Bible, is “to lose sight of oneself and one’s own interest.” I like that.
God is always bigger than our mindset. He has to be or He wouldn’t be God. The Creator has to be bigger than His Creation. Therefore, if we want to follow God’s Son, we have to get beyond our own limited mindset. That means denying our limited vision of who we are and what we need to be about. As we stop focusing on our self-centered plans, we open ourselves to God’s plan for us. As we “die” to our personal ambitions, we become more available for God to use. We rise to awareness of God’s greater reality, a plan beyond what we can see from our limited vantage point.
I have Multiple Sclerosis. That, along with a chronic back problem, keeps me from doing a lot of things I would like to do in both my work and family life. I don’t like having limitations, but when I am able to accept them, I find that these “limitations” are actually opportunities. On more than one occasion, I’ve found that while home recuperating, I’ve been available to listen at great length to people who needed to talk. I’ve seen others given the opportunity to enjoy a sense of accomplishment by picking up the slack created when I’ve had to lay low. I’ve witnessed, over and over again, God’s plan being worked out beautifully, even though it was nothing like the script I’d written with myself in a leading role.
It’s a lesson I need to keep learning: to forget myself and my interests every day and follow the day the way God has in mind for it to go. How about you?
Prayer: Lord, help me forget my “self” by focusing more on You.
Reflection for sharing: What do you need to “forget” today? What can help you do that?
Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses. Ecclesiastes 3:1
‘I want patience, and I want it right now!” Maybe you can relate to that prayer. I sure can. Patience is not one of my strong points. I pride myself on getting things done as soon as possible. What keeps me from being patient? I have to admit it’s my own self-will. I want things to happen according to my timetable—in other words, I want to control things. Why? So they’ll work out the way they should—in other words, so they’ll work out my way. Yep. Self-will.
Delays and interruptions throw off my schedule. But an interruption is just another way of saying something happened that wasn’t on MY agenda. If the writer of Ecclesiastes is correct, then that event happened at the time God chose. Things are unfolding the way they’re meant to unfold. God has it all under control. What a relief it would be to let go of my control and allow things to unfold in God’s time. Maybe I need to trust Him.
A friend once told me that she prayed for patience and many things that required patience started happening in her life. She wasn’t happy with all the opportunities to practice patience, so she changed her prayer. “Forget patience, God. Grant me acceptance.” Instead of praying for patience or acceptance, I think I need to ask God to help me trust Him more.
Prayer: God, help me trust that your timing is perfect.
Reflection: What do you need to trust will happen in God’s time?
Even shackles and chains couldn’t restrain the madman who lived among the tombs, “howling and brusing himself with stones,” according to the Gospel of Mark. Yet when he saw Jesus from a distance, the man ran and bowed down before Jesus, shouting, “What have you to do with me, Jesus…Do not torment me.” When Jesus asked his name, the man replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” The demonic spirits within the man begged Jesus not to be sent into the abyss, but into a nearby herd of pigs. With Jesus’ permission, they entered the pigs and the herd rushed off a cliff and drowned.
When the townspeople heard, they came and saw the madman clothed and in his right mind. They were afraid and asked Jesus to leave their territory. As he was leaving, the former madman begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him to his home to tell his friends how much God had done for him.
Isn’t it curious that the madman took the initiative and approached Jesus, but then asked him, “What do you want with me?” He also begged not to be tormented. Since the man saw Jesus from a distance, couldn’t he have avoided Jesus if he didn’t want to be healed? It seems like the better part of him wanted change, but dreaded what it might involve. The man feared life without his demons even though they caused him anguish. He was strong enough to go wherever he wanted–who could stop him? Neverthless he lived among the tombs, punishing himself with self-destructive behavior. What a miserable existence!
Desperation may have given him just enough courage to approach Jesus. He referred to himself as “Legion,” or “Mob.” Sometimes, it certainly seems as if the forces of chaos and negativity gang up on us. The man yearned for a better life but feared letting go of the only existence he knew. This story parallels the story of recovery from addiction and other self-destructive behaviors for many of us today. Under the false hope of short-term happiness, many remain bullied by their out-of-control feelings and self-will. Isolation further entrenches self-defeating behaviors.
Pain becomes an ally when it drives people to seek healing from a source outside themselves and turn–however doubtfully, reluctantly, or fearfully–to God. It’s easy to fear punishment for wrong choices made in the past. It’s easy to fear the prospect of a future without a familiar crutch. But healing is a package deal. Once the madman became willing to let go of the demons, he saw that he had a choice. He dared to believe that although the demons were stronger than he was, they were not stronger than God. That left him free to remain at Jesus’ feet, and made room for peace in his heart. Jesus met him there and did the rest.
Before his healing, the madman seemed to want what Jesus offered while resisting it at the same time. When have you felt drawn by and resistant to what Jesus offered you? What happened?
The man referred to himself as “Legion” because he felt many demons within him. have you ever felt like the forces of negativity–discouragement, resentment, and the like–where ganging up on you? What helped you get through it?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes”
He did not forget us when we were defeated; his love is eternal. Psalm 136:23
God did not forget us when we were defeated—it only felt like it. When we are down, it is easy to feel abandoned by God. If He “remembers” us when we’re in the pits, and his love is eternal, why does he allow us to remain there, or even get there in the first place?
I don’t know about anybody else, but sometimes it’s only when I am down and can’t get myself back up by my own efforts, that I am willing to listen to God’s plan. I wish I was perfectly surrendered to Him all the time, but I’m not. I know intellectually that God’s plan is good and wise, but my default setting seems to be to do things on my own steam until I get stuck. I’ve felt defeated with family relationships, career moves, and health issues. Listing all the times I’ve been brought to my knees by my own helplessness, implored God’s help, and somehow risen again would look like a life-long diary. So often I’ve kept trying to do what I thought I should be doing when, in retrospect, all God wanted me to do was trust Him and give up control.
God knows me very well. Each time my plans have been thoroughly defeated and my scenarios crumble, I become willing to let go and let God on a deeper level. The “aha” moments penetrate my heart and I accept that God has other plans. St. Paul said that all he had done on his own he thought of as so much trash. When we let go and act as God directs-well aware of our helplessness apart from Him-then we can boast in His power and glory, not our own.
Thank God that his love is eternal, because my heart needs to keep learning the lesson of surrender over and over. How about you?
Prayer: Lord, thank you for loving me at all times.
Reflection for sharing: How have you found God’s presence in the midst of your own defeat?
Be still and know that I am God! Psalm 46: 10a (NRSV)
What if we can’t be still? What if we avoid meditating because we don’t like being still? What if we read our Bibles and talk to God, but have trouble listening in stillness to what He might be trying to tell us?
There are a number of methods people use to still their minds: repeating a word or phrase, focusing on an inspiring image, playing relaxing or uplifting background music. These techniques can set the stage for quieting our over-active minds, but a tool is not the event itself. What happens when the technique doesn’t bring the desired result?
I suggest that honesty is the best policy. If we feel fidgety or resistant, why can’t we bring that to God? What if we just surrender completely to His care? He knows us better than we know ourselves. Maybe humbly offering our resistance to Him is just as pleasing to Him as a meditation perfectly executed in our own eyes. It costs us something to carve out time to be with God when we’re itching to get on with our day. That can be a sincere demonstration that “we know that He is God.” Maybe knowing God is not so much about being able to “still” ourselves on command, but about becoming open to His supreme presence and power.
One translation of the above Scripture verse is, “Stop struggling and know that I am God.” That means we can even stop struggling against our own resistance to contemplation. We can abandon ourselves to the care of the Author of Peace.
Prayer: Lord, You are my God. Empower me to be still and know You.
Reflection for sharing: What helps you “be still and know” God? If you struggle with being still, what can help you surrender your struggle to Him?
Poor Leah! Jacob loved her younger sister Rachel, but her father duped him into marrying Leah instead. How humiliating! Jacob then married Rachel as well. While having more than one wife was common in that culture, making room for her sister, clearly the favorite, had to be bitterly painful for Leah.
But God, in his goodness and wisdom, blessed Leah, who was able to bear six sons for Jacob, while Rachel remained childless for a number of years. Leah’s fruitfulness secured her a position of respect, although she probably never felt cherished. Still, God allowed Leah to become Jacob’s wife for a reason, in spite of Jacob’s preference. It was Leah’s son, Judah, through whom the promised Messiah came, and Leah’s son Levi fathered the tribe God chose to serve in the tent of His presence.
If Leah hadn’t faced emotional challenges, perhaps she wouldn’t have had the strength of character needed to be the mother of tribes destined for such a huge role in God’s plan.
We’ve all felt the pain of rejection. Hurt and disappointment are normal reactions. We don’t have to pretend we don’t feel them, but we aren’t doomed to misery. The more we focus on what God’s plan for us might be, the less we need to concern ourselves with other people’s reactions to us.
Question for reflection and sharing:
What coping skills might have helped Leah deal with her challenges? How can those coping skills help when you or those around you experience rejection?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters & Other Bible Heroes” http://www.biblemeditations.net/books
Rebecca was sweet, beautiful, and willing to leave her family and homeland to become Isaac’s bride, according to the book of Genesis. That didn’t keep her from manipulating circumstances some years later to help her younger son, Jacob, cheat his twin brother Esau out of the blessings due the firstborn son.
Rebecca then manipulated her husband into sending Jacob to live with her family in Mesopotamia, thereby saving him from Esau’s understandable anger. Her husband favored the older, more rugged son. Rebecca’s may have wanted simply to protect the son she saw as disadvantaged. But Jacob was the child God had chosen to lead–this had been revealed to her during her pregnancy.
During his years in Mesopotamia, Jacob married and fathered twelve sons, who became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, God’s Chosen People. I can’t help wondering if Jacob became successful in spite of Rebecca’s schemes, rather than because of them. Maybe if Rebecca hadn’t meddled, Jacob would have succeeded without alienating his brother or being forced to live in exile.
Parents aren’t the only ones tempted to take matters into their own hands. When God’s will doesn’t match our plans, it’s easy to forget that he has everything under control. Even when we’re “only trying to help,” our efforts to force outcomes often create tension and become self-defeating.
Ultimately, none of us is powerful enough to thwart God’s plans. He knows all about our lack of trust and efforts to control, even when we mean well. He can use us to accomplish his will anyway, just as he did with Rebecca.
Reflection for sharing: God told Rebecca about his plans for Jacob and Esau before they were born. When have his plans and provisions for you unfolded before you became aware of it?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, & Other Bible Heroes” http://www.biblemeditations.net/books
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 1 Cor. 1: 3
Grace and Peace! What more could we need or want?
I don’t know about you, but when I think about it, so much of what I’ve wanted–or think I’ve wanted–can be traced back to grace or peace.
Grace has been defined as favor (love), mercy and good will. How much of my effort has been aimed at being approved of, accepted, appreciated? When my self-esteem is anchored in God’s grace, I can make choices without wondering what others might think.
What about peace? How often have I tried to get my own way so I could feel secure? But when my heart’s at peace, my serenity can’t be stolen away by circumstances. When my mom was very ill I was afraid to lose her. I wanted to pray for her recovery, but still, when I saw how weak she was, I couldn’t help wondering if maybe God wanted to call her home. By grace, it occurred to me to pray for her peace, whatever the days ahead might hold. I prayed for her peace in recovery but also that, if it was time to leave this earth-life, her last days would be filled with serenity. I believe that prayer was answered. Shortly before she took her final breath Mom smiled and said, “Oh, Barbara! It’s all one and it’s beautiful.” Grace and peace. What more did she need? What more do we?
Prayer: Lord, open our hearts to your grace and peace.
Reflection for sharing: How can grace and peace enhance your life no matter what circumstances you find yourself in today?
God is to be trusted… 1 Cor. 1: 9a
That’s an amazing statement on its own, but it’s even more amazing when you consider it was said by the apostle Paul. Paul had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and ship-wrecked in the course of sharing the good news. None of this stopped him from trusting God or from reassuring others that God was trustworthy. It doesn’t make sense…not if you think trusting God means a life insulated from pain or trouble.
It’s been said that every problem brings a gift in its hand. Some of the most trying times in my past have brought me life-changing insights, gifts I might have overlooked if I hadn’t been reminded to look for the gifts. Others who look for and find the good in seemingly intolerable situations inspire us to do the same.
Paul’s vision enabled him to see beyond that, to see God’s hand working in the midst of the trouble. After being beaten and thrown into jail in Philippi, Paul and his companion Silas were praying and singing hymns when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundation. Thinking the prisoners escaped, the jailer was about to commit suicide until Paul let him know they (the prisoners) were still there. The jailer and his family became believers that very night.
It is safe to trust God even though trusting him seems the hardest when it’s most needed. That’s okay. We can admit our fears and concerns about a situation, and still make a decision to trust God with the outcome. Events may or may not unfold to our liking, but the shift in our attitude will surely help us negotiate whatever circumstances arise.
Prayer: Lord, I trust you; help me trust you more.
Reflection for sharing: What do you feel most powerless over? What can help you entrust that situation to God’s care?
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NRSV)
Love. Joy. Peace. We all want them. The irony is that many of the ways we try to get love, joy, or peace of mind work against us.
We try to earn love—or at least admiration and attention—by trying to impress others or make ourselves indispensable. It doesn’t always come off so well…especially if others are trying to do the same thing. We end up competing, feeling envious, or self-righteous—not very lovable qualities.
We pursue happiness only to find it elusive. After all, if the things we bought made us happy, we wouldn’t have to keep buying more things. If we think we can’t be happy until others to do what we want them to, we might spend the rest of our lives waiting.
It’s easy to think serenity would come if only life were problem-free, but when one problem gets resolved, sooner or later another pops up.
The paradox is that we open ourselves to the fruit of the Spirit when we let go of trying to force things according to self-will. When we can accept life as it is on any given day, peace and patience flow naturally. When we aren’t wearing ourselves out trying to earn love or happiness by getting our way, we are free to enjoy what we do have. Without self-imposed pressure, we can afford to be kinder, gentler, and all the rest. Life can be better by when we make room for the Spirit. Let’s get out of our own way.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and fill my heart.
Reflection for sharing: Which fruit of the Spirit are you most longing for today? What do you need to let go of to make room for it?