obedience

Wednesday’s Word: Service


 

Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you. As soon as you get there, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. And if someone asks you why you are doing that, say that the Master needs it and will send it back at once.”  Mark 1:1b-3

 

Who returned the colt? Jesus gave his word that he would send the colt back at once. Who got the job of bringing it back? The people in Jerusalem gave Jesus a red carpet welcome, the equivalent of a ticker-tape parade. Jesus’ followers got to enjoy the enthusiastic reception—all except for the disciple who had to take the colt back to its owner.

 

Somebody had to leave the festivities and make his way, donkey in tow, back to the little hick town where nothing was happening. I wonder how that disciple felt. Did anybody notice he was gone? Did he get any credit? Did he realize that his service was a sermon? It demonstrated that Jesus keeps his word and that God is to be trusted.

 

We all have opportunities to serve. Often, those opportunities are behind the scenes. We don’t have to be religious leaders, eloquent speakers, or charismatic personalities to carry God’s message. How we do our daily tasks speak volumes about what it means to follow Christ, who came not to be served but to serve. Respect and consideration for others silently carry the message of God’s love. Service, no matter how lackluster, helps spread the Good News, whether or not we get credit.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant us willingness to do your will, whether or not we’re in the spotlight.

 

Reflection: Who is working behind the scenes in your life today? Why not thank them for their service.

 

Wednesday’s Words: Self-serving Sacrifice

 Samuel said, “Which does the Lord prefer: obedience or offerings and sacrifices? It is better to obey him than to sacrifice the best sheep to him.” 1 Samuel 15: 22

 

During Lent, we focus on prayer, fasting, and acts of charity to grow closer to God. It’s self-defeating if these acts become a set of spiritual hoops we jump through, congratulating ourselves on our spiritual gymnastics. We might end up so absorbed in our own goodness that there’s little room for God’s love.

 

The prophet Samuel corrected King Saul when Saul kept the plunder God had ordered him to destroy. Instead, Saul kept the best sheep, then “sacrificed” them to God. It’s no accident that on his way to the place of sacrifice, Saul stopped in the town of Carmel, where he’d built a monument to himself. (Samuel 15:12) As Samuel told Saul, God was not pleased.

 

We miss the point when we decide how we want to please God while ignoring the sacrifice wants from us: a humble heart. (Psalm 51:17) God wants hearts open to his will, not insisting on our own.

 

Choosing Lenten sacrifices to build up our spiritual bank accounts is ironic. We grow closer to God when we recognize our weakness and dependence on his love.

 

Wherever we are in our Lenten journey today, we can ask God to show us how to surrender our wills to his as we move forward.

 

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant by saying following him involved denying ourselves as well as picking up our crosses. Sacrifice might mean accepting the crosses life brings our way rather than choosing our own.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me accept the challenges life brings today and offer them to you.

 

Reflection: How are you being called to let go of self-will today?

Wednesday’s Word: Weakness


Gideon replied, “But Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least important member of my family.”

The Lord answered, “You can do it because I will help you…” Judges 6: 15-16a

 

 

God, it seems, loves to work through the weak and helpless.

 

  • David was overlooked by his family as the runt of the litter, but defeated Goliath and became King of Israel.
  • Peter, a poor, uneducated fisherman was chosen by Jesus chose as the rock on which to build his church.
  • In more recent times, Mother Teresa, a little nobody from nowhere special, is known throughout the world for her loving service to the poor.

 

Maybe those who feel their weakness find it easier to turn to God and rely on his power and wisdom.

 

When I think I have all the answers and feel self-sufficient, it rarely occurs to me to look beyond myself—until I run into problems. When I’m smack up against my weakness, it becomes painfully evident that I need help. Even then, it’s not easy to ask for or accept it.

 

God is the never-failing source of help I can turn to—as long as I don’t expect help to accomplish my will on my terms. When I surrender to God’s will, I always find peace, because I can trust God to give me what I need (to do what he wants, not what I want.)

 

In my weakness, t’s always a struggle to lay down my will and my expectations, but when I do, I’m never sorry.

 

How about you?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust that your strength is made perfect in my weakness.

 

Reflection: How do you react when you feel weak? How can letting go of self-will and surrendering to God’s plan strengthen you?

Wednesday’s Word: Self-will


There was no king in Israel at that time. Everyone did whatever they pleased. Judges 21: 25

 

Ever read the book of Judges? It describes a time in Israel’s history when “everyone did whatever they pleased.” Many of these stories about Israel’s national heroes don’t represent their finer moments.

 

Israel stopped worshiping the Lord who brought them out of slavery.

  • Gideon, chosen by God to lead the Israelites against their oppressors, defeated the enemy against all odds. Gideon then created an idol out of the loot collected and worshipped it.
  • Jephthah, also victorious, thanks to God, promised to sacrifice the first person that met him on his return home. That person happened to be his daughter. Nowhere in the Law of Moses had God demanded human sacrifice.
  • Samson’s arrogance and willingness to put his love affairs before his better judgment led to his destruction, even though he took his Philistine enemies with him.
  • When Micah created idols, the priest he convinced to be his personal priest betrayed him for a better offer, taking Micah’s idols with him.
  • A Levite surrendered his concubine to sexual perverts to save his own skin, then, when she died as a result, he used her death to start a war.

 

Chances are, none of these people woke up one day and decided to get themselves in trouble. They were just doing “whatever they pleased.”

 

While the results of our willful choices may not be as devastating as those listed here, self-centered choices are rarely a good idea and often self-defeating. Thwarted self-will leads to frustration, conflict, and retaliation. We end up not being “pleased” at all. Whether it seems like it or not,  it’s wiser to follow God’s will rather than our own.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach my heart to trust you and choose your will over mine.

 

Reflection: When have you done whatever you pleased? What happened in the long run?

Wednesday’s Words: Love and Obedience

iStock_000003550839XSmallThe Lord your God will give you and your descendants obedient hearts so that you will love him with all your heart… Deuteronomy 30: 6

 

What does an obedience have to do with loving God?

 

Does God give us obedient hearts so that we’ll obey his command to love him? Or do we love him out of gratitude for the gift of obedient hearts that protect us from our own self-destructive tendencies? Either way, in God’s kingdom, it seems that love and obedience go together.

 

The NAB translation of the above passage makes the connection clearer. Rather than “give” us obedient hearts, it says that God “will circumcise” our hearts. Physical circumcision removes a covering and exposes a very sensitive area. The procedure involves some pain. Thinking spiritually, you can imagine that a circumcised heart would be more open and sensitive than a heart covered over and protected. Circumcision of our hearts involves some pain, too, as self-will and self-centeredness are removed. When our hearts are vulnerable and exposed, we become more open and responsive to God, who loves us and has our best interests at heart.

 

We obey because we love and we love because we obey.

 

Prayer: Lord, open my heart to your love.

 

Reflection: What keeps you from obeying God? If you were going to respond to God’s love today, what would you do differently?

 

Wednesdays Words: Liberation from Ourselves

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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?

Wednesday’s Word: Willingness Good Friday Meditation

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Father,” he said, “if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done.” Luke 22:42

 

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?

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: The Gift of Surrender

iStock_000003550839XSmall“I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.”  Luke 1:36

 

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?

Wednesday’s Words: The Grace of God

iStock_000003550839XSmallThe apostles spoke to them and encouraged them to keep on living in the grace of God. Acts 13:43b

 

What does living in the grace of God look like? It probably means we stop trying so hard to earn God’s love. Grace is a gift, not a salary. We don’t have to do a single thing to be worthy of it but we have it nonetheless. Accepting love and forgiveness that we didn’t earn—that we couldn’t earn—doesn’t mean we don’t pay a price. The price is humility. Not a “shucks, I’m not worth it” or groveling self-loathing, but a healthy recognition that God loves us exactly as we are, warts and all

 

A spiritual director once told me, “God is crazy in love with you.” How humbling. God knows all about me, including the things I’m not too proud of. And he loves me anyway. It’s too good to be true, but it is. Christ was willing to give his life for little old me and for every one of us—even if we don’t care or don’t even notice. Our indifference or arrogance cant stop his love, although they might stop us from experiencing it.

 

What does living in the grace of God look like? Here’s a few things that come to mind. Please feel free to add to this list.

  • Awareness of God’s grace would keep us humble—a good antidote to judging or looking down on others.
  • It’s a good antidote to looking down on ourselves, too. We’re loved by a perfect God! What more do we need?
  • We don’t have to prop up our self-worth by tearing others down or showing off.
  • We don’t need to pretend we’re better than we are.
  • We don’t need to impress anybody, least of all God. We can afford to be honest because that is how God loves us.
  • We don’t have to be stingy or self-centered. We can afford to reach out to others in love.
  • We don’t have to beat ourselves up over past mistakes and wrongs. God knows all about our past and still loves us. He’s waiting to forgive us when we turn to him.
  • No need to count the sins of others to avoid looking at our own.

 

Living under the grace of God sounds a lot like heaven on earth, and it’s free for the taking. After all, that’s why they call it grace. We don’t have to hoard it. We can afford to share it with others.

 

Prayer: Lord, your grace truly is amazing.

 

Reflection: How can living in the grace of God change your day today?

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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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