Listening

Wednesday’s Word: Interruptions

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The apostles came back and told Jesus everything they had done. He took them with him, and they went off by themselves to a town named Bethsaida. When the crowds heard about it, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed it. Luke 9: 10-11

 

The crowds interrupted Jesus’ private meeting with his apostles. How did Jesus respond? He welcomed the intruders.

 

When I’m interrupted, I’m a lot crankier. If unexpected events frustrate my agenda, my exasperation is as plain as the thinly disguised frown on my face. Although I usually rise to the occasion, it often involves working towards acceptance rather than being instantly welcoming.

 

Why is that? Because I forget that my agenda is not God’s agenda. I forget that I was created to know, love, and serve God, as my childhood Baltimore catechism told me. I forget that serving God does not mean flawless execution of my itinerary, however noble my intentions. I forget that God’s definition of success is not my own—or the world’s—definition of success.

 

If Jesus is my role model, success is welcoming others warmly when they interrupt me, sharing God’s love with others—whether that means offering them encouragement, listening to them, or just not snapping at them for getting in my way.

 

Someone—I wish I could remember who—once prayed, “Lord, may I take every interruption as coming from you.” What a powerful thought! Interruptions might be sent by God to jar me out of my prideful, narrow focus. God’s plan is better than mine, but sometimes I need reminding. How about you?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me welcome the people and events you send my way today.

 

Reflection: When we call on Jesus, he’s never too busy to welcome us warmly. Can we pass it on?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Not Knowing

 

 

iStock_000003550839XSmallHe said to me, “Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?”

I replied, “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!” Ezekiel 37: 3

 

 

It’s okay not to have all the answers. There are some questions we can’t know the answers to, this side of heaven. There’s no shame in knowing what we have no way of knowing.

 

 

Why God asked Ezekiel if those bones could come back to life? God already knew the answer. Surely God also knew that Ezekiel didn’t know the answer. Why ask? Maybe God just wanted Ezekiel to pay attention to the issue, to consider the possibilities, and to do just what Ezekiel did: stand in humble silence and watch God’s power in action.

 

 

At the transfiguration, we’re told that Peter offered to build three shelters for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, although Peter really didn’t know what he was saying. The proper response when we don’t know what to say is to keep silent and listen. Then we will find out what we’re meant to know.

 

 

If we have questions, maybe it’s because God wants our attention so he can give us the answer or just demonstrate his power.

 

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust that when I don’t know, you do.

 

 

Reflection: What question does God want you to consider but leave in his hands today?

 

 

Wednesday’s Words: Custom-made Roles

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It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves the servants in charge, after giving each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch. Mark 13: 34

 

Jesus makes it clear that we’re all supposed to watch, because we don’t know when the master will return, but watching isn’t all we’re supposed to do. Our Master has given “each one his own work to do….”

 

God made us all individuals for a reason. We each have a unique combination of talents, abilities, and interests. We all have a purpose and are uniquely situated to serve as we are.

 

Often, we need to grow where we’re planted. A shy homebody, hiding her beautiful singing voice out of fear disguised as false modesty, may decide to move beyond her comfort zone and take on the role of cantor when the need arises. A businessman might use his management skills to help the parish food bank get off the ground. The work we’re given to do goes beyond our vocation.

 

What would happen if we consider every person that crosses our path today as sent by God? Our work might be to give up a few minutes of our time to listen to them, offer a word of encouragement, or a simple smile. No one is going to encounter the same set of people that you or I do today. We each have a unique opportunity to reach out and touch someone.

 

The work God has in mind for us may or may not be how we earn our living, but it is uniquely ours.

 

Prayer: Lord, who do you want me to serve?

 

Reflection: What are your talents? How can you use them to be of service today?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Contemplation

iStock_000003550839XSmall  Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 41-42

 

I’ve got a Martha mind.  That makes it challenging to “be still and know” God when I want to pray. Even if nothing in particular is troubling me, my mind does mental gymnastics anyway. I’ve tried various things to slow my thoughts: deep breathing, slowly repeating a word or phrase, focusing on an object or picture. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t.

 

The other day, they didn’t. So instead, I pictured myself welcoming Jesus into the Martha/Mary home of my heart. I imagined myself sitting at his feet, like Mary. I even leaned my head against his knee and relaxed. I gave myself permission to ignore Martha’s clamors and just listen to Jesus, like Mary did.

 

Maybe that’s why Martha appealed to Jesus for help in getting Mary’s attention. Martha had tried to get her sister to join her, but as long as Mary focused on Jesus instead of Martha, Martha’s bustling couldn’t distract her.

 

I didn’t have to pay attention to my Martha mind, either, even though she insisted. I sat there, at peace, listening to Jesus—only he didn’t say anything, and that was okay. Just being with him was enough. After a few minutes, as any good host would, I simply asked him what he wanted. He answered simply, too. One word. Kindness. That’s all my heart heard. But that was enough.

 

Prayer: Come into my heart, Lord.

 

Reflection: If you sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, what will you hear?

Wednesday’s Word: Blessedness

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While [Jesus] was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” Luke 11: 27-28 NRSV

 

Jesus’ comment sounds a bit like cold-hearted indifference to his own mother. But Jesus isn’t saying he doesn’t love his mother. He’s saying that everyone who hear the word of God and allow it to change their lives are “blessed.” There isn’t any nepotism in God’s kingdom.

 

Those who follow God’s plan for their lives are blessed because they’re open to receive what God has in mind for them. How can those who have no use for God be touched by blessings they don’t want?

 

Does Jesus’ response leave Mary out in the cold? Of course not. Who on earth heard and obeyed God’s word more than Mary? Her “yes” allowed God’s Word to become flesh and grow within her. Her “yes” bore fruit and saved the whole, hurting world. Her “yes” opened the blessing of salvation to all of us. Mary truly is blessed among women. The angel Gabriel told her so before Jesus was born. Jesus confirmed it when he said those who hear and obey God’s word are blessed.

 

Blessings are meant to be shared. Love always reaches outward.

 

Prayer: Blessed is the fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ.

 

Reflection: How have you been blessed by the Living Word of God?

Wednesday’s Words: Food for the Soul

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“My food,” Jesus said to them, “is to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do.” John 4: 34

 

Jesus stopped by a well to rest while his disciples went on to buy food. During this rest period, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman. Their conversation changed her life and the lives of the townspeople she brought back to meet him. When the disciples returned and urged Jesus to eat, he explained that he had been nourished by sharing the truth of God’s love with those who needed it.

 

I had my first taste of that kind of nourishment years ago, when I was working full time. One day, I found myself with an unexpected hour of free time before I had to pick my daughter up at school. I didn’t know what to do with this precious windfall. Beginning a new chapter in my spiritual journey, I decided to pray and ask God what he wanted me to do with the extra time. I felt a strong nudge to go to my daughter’s second grade classroom even though school was still in session. The urge was completely out of character for me, but very persistent. I reasoned that I had asked God for direction and received an answer, so I’d better act on it. Feeling shy and nervous, I walked in to the classroom anyway, smiled, and asked if I could help. The teacher, my daughter, her classmates were all surprised, but no more surprised than I was myself. Following the teacher’s instructions, I began helping the children with their lessons.

 

As it turns out, an hour or so earlier, the teacher had received a phone call about a family member who had taken ill. Although she still was running her class, the teacher was understandably concerned. An extra pair of adult hands in the classroom that afternoon was just the thing. I know, because the teacher told me all this after class was dismissed. I could not have felt more energized and nourished, all because I asked to know God’s will for me for that day and did the work he gave me to do. I didn’t convert a town, but I made a difference in at least two lives that day.

 

Prayer: Lord, show me what you want me to do today and give me the willingness to do it.

 

Reflection: What might God have planned for you today?

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 5

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Listen to my words, O Lord, and hear my sighs. Listen to my cry for help, my God and king!

I pray to you, O Lord…at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer.

You are not a God who is pleased with wrongdoing; you allow no evil in your presence.

You cannot stand the sight of the proud…you destroy all liars…

But because of your great love I can come into your house; I can worship in your holy temple.

Lord, I have so many enemies! Lead me to do your will; make your way plain for me to follow.

What my enemies say can never be trusted; they only want to destroy. Their words are flattering and      smooth, but full of deadly deceit.

But all who find safety in you will rejoice; they can always sing for joy. Psalm 5: 2-5; 7-9; 11

 

Listen to my words, O Lord, and hear my sighs.  The psalmist longs for God to hear his sighs as well as his words. When we cry for help, words just can’t carry the whole story. They leave out so much of what are hearts burn with. It comforting to know that God does hear our sighs, and that when words are inadequate or won’t come at all, the Holy Spirit helps and “pleads with God for us in groans that words can’t express.” (Romans 8:26-27)

 

…at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer I’m an early riser, so I do offer my prayers to God at sunrise but must admit I don’t always wait for his answer…especially when I’m running late. Other times, his answer is hard to accept—especially when God speaks to my heart saying, “Don’t always look for answers; just be still with Me.”

 

You are not a God who is pleased with wrongdoing; you allow no evil in your presence. You cannot stand the sight of the proud…you destroy all liars…But because of your great love I can come into your house…Although God is not pleased with wrongdoing, and allows no evil in his presence, we can come into God’s presence, not because we are perfect, but “because of his great love.” When we bring ourselves to God, we don’t have to cover up our flaws or put on a false front of perfection. After all, God can’t stand the sight of the proud. When we’re honest with him about our failings, we are not being proud. We are humbly aware of who we are and that our relationship with God depends on his love and goodness, not our own merit. When we tell the truth—even about our shortcomings—we are close to God, who is Truth. Maybe that, in part, is how he destroys our lies, by making it safe for us to be honest with him and with ourselves.

 

Lord, I have so many enemies…what they say can never be trusted…their words are flattering and smooth, but full of deadly deceit. Many of my enemies are within me: my impatience, my self-will, my tendency to want to cover up my weaknesses. Sometimes they gang up on me and make it difficult to discern what God is calling me to do, let alone actually do it…but what these enemies tell me can’t be trusted. Smooth, ego-feeding propositions make it sound like I’ll be happy if I listen to them. I’ll get my way, on my time table, and look impressive. It’s not true. My impatience doesn’t get me where I need to be any sooner; it often slows me down. Trying to force my agenda puts me in conflict with others, and destroys my serenity. If things do happen to go my way, it means, coincidentally, that’s the way God wanted them to go at that point in time. Otherwise, my contentment will be short-lived because my goals are often short-sighted.

 

Lead me to do your will; make your way plain for me to follow. I need God to make his way plain for me and enable me to actually follow it—and he does, when I am open to it. I put a saying on my refrigerator where I’m reminded to ask, on a daily basis, “God, what does success look like to you in this situation?” Sometimes God’s idea of success is keeping my mouth shut when I’d like to have the last word instead of getting my way.

 

But all who find safety in you will rejoice…When I am able, by God’s grace, to surrender to his will instead of my own, I do find security, safety, and joy. God is in control, even when it doesn’t look that way. When my goal is for his will to be done, I can trust that that will happen. There is safety in trusting that and joy in the reassurance it brings…when I have the eyes to see it.

 

How about you?

  • Have you prayed without using words? What was that like?
  • What prayer time works best for you? Morning? Bedtime? Throughout the day? Does this time allow you to tell God all that you need to and give you time to listen for his answer?
  • How does being honest with God about what’s really going on inside of you help to melt your pride and overcome the lies—even the little white ones—you tell yourself about motives, feelings, and the like?
  • What is it like to enter God’s presence knowing you are loved, warts and all?
  • What enemies are you facing today? Are you able to see how God is guiding you in facing these enemies today? Can you trust God enough to follow his directions?
  • What lies are your enemies telling you? How does flattery make it easy to be misled?
  • How has God provided you with shelter/safety? What joy can you find in that? Where else can you find joy today?

 

I invite you to read through the entire Psalm, and reflect on whatever phrases speak to your heart today.

Wednesday’s Word: Reminders

iStock_000003550839XSmallAnd so I will always remind you of these matters, even though you already know them and are firmly grounded in the truth you have received. 2nd Peter 1:12

 

“I have amnesia and I forget that I have amnesia.” Anonymous

 

We all need reminders from time to time. It’s easy enough to jot down an important date or appointment, but what about other things?

 

We learn by repetition. Learning by rote gets a bad rap. Yes, just parroting facts without understanding their meaning can be pointless. And yet, some lessons can only be learned by repetition. Then they become second nature.

 

The first time I got behind the wheel of a car, I was very conscious of how to turn on the ignition and when I was applying the gas and brakes. If I had to think that hard about the mechanics of driving every time I drove, I’d be unable to follow the rules of safe driving, read street signs, or keep an eye out for pedestrians. Musicians have to practice basic scales until they become ingrained before they can play a piece of music with feeling. Doing certain tasks over and over builds proficiency. Remember your first day on a new job? How much more effective are you now?

 

The same is true of our spiritual development. We can’t rest on our spiritual laurels. We need to repeat the actions that lead to spiritual growth in order to continue growing and help others grow.  Reading the bible or other spiritual material and sharing in our faith community reminds us of the truth of our faith and what it means in our daily lives. We can hear the gospel or a rousing homily on Sunday morning about love or forgiveness and forget about them when someone cuts us off on the drive home. We need frequent reminders of who we are in Christ and what that calls us to. We can’t live it out without God’s grace and the support and fellowship of the believers he puts in our path.

 

We may know intellectually the principles of our faith, but we need reminders to immerse ourselves in them as a way of life.

 

“Repetition is the only form of permanence nature can know.” George Santayana

 

Prayer: Holy Spirit, remind me who I am.

 

Reflection: Who reminds you of the goodness, faith, and love we share in our spiritual journey? Who can you remind today?

Saturday Spotlight: The New Covenant

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The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34 NAB

And [Jesus] did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20 NRSV

 

We belong to the New Covenant. When our spiritual forefathers broke the Old Covenant, God promised to make a new covenant. More than Ten Commandments on a stone, He promised to write the new law on our hearts. He promised to be our God and all we had to do was be His people, that He would enable all of us to know Him, and that he would forgive our sins.

 

At the Last Supper, Jesus announced the beginning of this New Covenant instituted with His blood on the cross. He promised that after His death and resurrection, He would send us a Comforter, Counselor, and Advocate. The Holy Spirit within us empowers us to live the New Covenant. When we allow the Spirit to move us, we can live out God’s law of love for God, our neighbor, and ourselves. We can connect with God in our heats, we can accept the priceless gift of forgiveness and know we belong to the Body of Christ.

 

Prayer: Praise God who does for us what we can never do for ourselves.

 

Reflection: How can responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings affect your relationship with God, with others, or even with yourself?

Wednesday’s Word: Detours

iStock_000003550839XSmallWhen the king of Egypt let the people go, God did not take them by the road that goes up the coast to Philistia, although it was the shortest way…Instead, he led them in a roundabout way through the desert toward the Red Sea. Exodus 13: 17-18

 

A straight line may be the shortest path, but who said it was the best path? Impatient creatures that we are, we may feel “the need for speed” but faster isn’t always better.

 

God had a reason for taking the Israelites out of their way as they traveled toward the Promised Land. If they had taken the direct route, they never would have made it. Their enemy was in fast pursuit and would have caught up with and captured them or killed them outright. Instead, the roundabout route led the Israelites to the Red Sea. With the Egyptian army closing in, the route looked like an out-of-the-way death trap. But God had a plan, a plan the Israelites could not have foreseen. The Red Sea parted. The Israelites passed through safely on foot. Their enemies, weighed down by heavy armor and chariots, got stuck in the mud and drowned.

 

Not a bad thing to remember when our plans to go full speed ahead get derailed. Sometimes we’re delayed from reaching our goals because we aren’t ready. We may need to grow a bit to be able to handle the challenges ahead. Sometimes something might need to be worked out in someone else. Events may need to fall into place. Trying to force issues and outcomes according to our timetables leads to frustration or worse. Spinning our wheels may give us something to do but it doesn’t get us where we’re trying to go.

 

I wanted to be a writer ever since I learned how to form letters on a page, but life kept taking other turns. After I retired from a 33 year career in social services, circumstances made it necessary for me to move to Pennsylvania–a move I was very reluctant to make. Only after moving back to New Jersey a year later did I begin to write seriously and start getting published. Why the 33 year delay? Because although I loved writing when I was young, I really didn’t have much worth saying. Thirty-three years of life’s ups and downs changed that. Why the year-long detour to Pennsylvania? Because it was in Pennsylvania—just two weeks before moving back to New Jersey—that a chance meeting with someone inspired me to actively pursue my writing. Had I not spent time in Pennsylvania, I might never have run into a person who inspired me to actively pursue writing. God knew all about my reluctance to move, but He also had a plan.

 

Sometimes the scenic route is the best route, not because it gets us to our destination faster, but because it makes the journey worthwhile.

 

Prayer:  Lord, may I follow where You lead.

 

Reflection:  When has a detour ended up helping you?

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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