Open-mindedness

Wednesday’s Word: Reassurance

 

“The Lord rules over the deep waters; he rules as king forever.”  (Psalm 29: 10)

 

Although I got good grades all through school, in the real world, nobody asks or cares if I made the honor roll. What matters is how I act in the situation at hand.

 

In real life, there isn’t always time to reflect or reason out how to respond to an irate client, a sudden calamity, or a child’s question as she races for the school bus. Sometimes we have to trust our instincts. That can be scary for those of us who like to study the manual before making decisions. So often there is no manual.

 

Then, too, feelings come up that our brains can’t always get a handle on. So much goes on beneath the surface. If I can’t reason out what’s going on beneath the conscious level, how can I know what my inner self is up to?  What a relief to know that God rules over the deep waters of my heart.

 

When I start my morning with prayer and meditation, I surrender my whole self—not just my mind—to be under God’s guidance and protection. As I go through the day, even if I forget about God in the heat of the moment, I can rest assured that He won’t forget about me. Some things are too deep for my rational mind, but God is never in over His head.

 

Prayer:  Lord, rule over the deep waters of my heart.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What reassurance comes from knowing that God is in charge?

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Patience

“Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses.”  Ecclesiastes 3: 1

 

Patience is not one of my strong suits.  On the plus side, I’m efficient.  Efficiency is good, but when I demand split-second timing, I put pressure on myself.  That usually happens when I’m too focused on my own agenda.  I forget that all time is God’s. I have the same amount of time everyone else does: 24 hours per day.  I have all the time I need to do what God has in mind for me to do on any given day.  It’s just that sometimes I want to accomplish more than is appropriate – or even realistic.

 

Taking time to pray can seem counter-productive, but if we’re too busy to pray, we’re too busy.  By connecting with God we open ourselves to His plan for us. We gain perspective. We may come to realize some things can wait until tomorrow and others can wait indefinitely.  We won’t rush around frantically trying to squeeze in everything on our ‘to do’ list. We can trust that we’ll be given all the time we need to do what truly needs doing.

 

Of course we need to make plans, but sometimes plans change.  The unexpected comes up.  If we pause to listen to God before we start our day, we’ll be better able to go with the flow. It’s safe to trust that what needs to happen will happen in His time.

 

Prayer:  Lord, slow me down.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What are your priorities today?  How might they differ from God’s priorities for you?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Turning Points

 

No one could distinguish between the joyful shouts and the crying, because the noise they made was so loud that it could be heard for miles. Ezra 3:13

 

When the rebuilding of the Temple began in Jerusalem, some people shouted for joy. Others wept. Perhaps they remembered the lost glory of the original Temple or the hardships endured in exile before being allowed to return and rebuild.

 

Turning points can be bittersweet. First time parents joyfully welcome their newborns while missing the freedom of less responsibility. Accepting a new job—even if it’s a great opportunity—means leaving behind the security of the familiar. A graduation ceremony is also called a commencement ceremony, marking the completion of one phase of life and the start of a new one.

 

Every new beginning can be traced back to an ending of some sort. Every ending has the potential to lead to a new beginning.

 

In times of transition we can trust God—no matter what we’re feeling. The Last Supper became the First Eucharist.

 

Prayer: In joy and sorrow, blessed be the Lord.

 

Reflection: What endings have you experienced in your life? How have they become opportunities for new beginnings?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Fighting Reality

If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God! Acts 5: 38b-39

 

Ever find yourself fighting against God? I have. It makes no sense.

  • If God is all-powerful, things will turn out the way he wants. It’s inevitable.
  • If God wills for ultimate good to triumph, why resist?
  • If God is all-knowing, why insist on having things my way? Do I really think I know better than God?

Besides, when I fight reality, reality always wins.

 

Unfortunately, self-will is sneaky and dies hard. A few years ago I attended a four-day writers’ conference, convinced it was God’s will for me. I volunteered for service opportunities, looked forward to promoting my first book and to being interviewed for an ongoing writing gig. Above all, I was excited for the chance to find a publisher for my second book. In my eagerness, I denied my body’s ongoing physical limitations. Less than 24 hours after the conference began, my body rebelled and I was forced to slink home.

 

Apparently, God and I hadn’t seen things the same way after all. It took weeks to work through my disappointment and accept reality. I have disabilities. The symptoms may not be apparent to others, but the challenges are very real. It’s self-defeating to ignore them, no matter how much I want to.

 

Evidently God, who knows all about my limitations, achieves his plans in spite of my willful schemes. Although I could not attend the conference interview, I received the ongoing writing assignment anyway.  Eventually, I was offered a contract for my second book—my new publisher hadn’t even attended that conference.

 

When my conviction about God’s will is wishful thinking on my part, whenever I’m trying to force outcomes, I’m fighting reality. Whenever I accept circumstances exactly as they are, do my best, then let go and trust God with the outcome, I feel peace.

 

Why struggle? Even if things don’t go my way, they can still turn out just fine.

 

Who guessed faith involved accepting reality?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust that you have everything under control.

 

Reflection: When have you found yourself fighting against God? What happened?

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Clarity

As long as the cloud stayed over the Tent, they stayed in the same camp.

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?

 

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: Change of Heart

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…Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. James 1: 21b

 

God plants his word—not in our heads, not in our hands, but in our hearts.

 

Accepting the word of God isn’t an intellectual exercise. Jesus praised his Father for showing the unlearned what he hid from the learned. (Luke 10: 21)

 

It isn’t just about what we do, either. Jesus warned against praying, fasting, or helping the needy to gain approval or admiration. (Matthew 6: 1-17)

 

That could be why Jesus said the most important commandments were to love God with all our being and love our neighbors and ourselves. Living our faith goes much deeper than our heads and our hands, it goes to our hearts. We’re not equipped to go deep enough to change the kernel of our hearts on our own. Only God can get in there and do the deep surgery needed to bring about a change of heart.

 

What we can do is be open to the word God wants to plant in our hearts and nurture it. We can take actions that encourage spiritual growth. Honest prayer opens our hearts to God, He can heal what needs to be healed in us when we stop covering it up. Connecting with other people who are growing spiritually inspires us to desire a genuine change of heart. Serving others can soften our hearts to the needs of those around us and allow God an easier entrance.

 

We can come to God just as we are, warts and all, and accept his unconditional love for us. We can welcome the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us to save us from our self-defeating faults. We can give our hearts back to Him.

 

Prayer: Lord, I open my heart to your healing love.

 

Reflection: What word of love is God planting in your heart today?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Stubbornness

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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?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Supplication

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We have courage in God’s presence, because we are sure that he hears us if we ask him for anything that is according to his will. 1 John 5: 14

 

We pray for lots of things. It’s right to bring our needs and desires to God. After all, he knows what’s in our minds and hearts before we ask, so we may as well be honest. But asking for things in accordance with his will is trickier.

 

When my mother was seriously ill I prayed for her healing because that’s what I hoped for. As I prayed, I questioned whether she’d be healed. James warned that if we doubt and are tossed about like a wave blown by the wind when we pray we shouldn’t think that we’ll receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:6-8) Praying for Mom’s healing wasn’t a prayer I could make without doubting. I began praying that God’s will be done and that he hold her close to him. I was certain that was God’s will. I felt consoled as I pictured the Good Shepherd tenderly leading Mom home. Shortly before her passing she smiled and said to me, “Oh, Barbara, it’s all One and it’s beautiful.” I don’t know what she saw, but I know my prayers were heard and answered.

 

Honest prayer about what we want and for God’s will to be done can coexist. After all, if we can’t be honest with God, who can we be honest with? Sometimes my honest prayers look like this: “God, I don’t know if this is your will or not. I pray your will be done, but I know that you know what I really want is for this situation to turn out in this certain way. I recognize your power of veto. Help me accept your will.”

 

I never doubt that God is hearing and answering when I remember C.S. Lewis said God answers prayer in four ways:

  • No, I love you too much.
  • No, not yet.
  • Yes, and here’s more.
  • I thought you’d never ask

 

I think this matter of removing all doubt is clearest when I pray for God to change me. Usually, the first petitions that come to mind are for God to make a situation go a certain way, have a certain person brought through a challenge, a conflict resolved, etc. But I’m never sure if that is God’s will. But every time I have asked God to change me in whatever way I need changing and for openness to act on those changes, I have truly believed I have been heard. Those prayers have been answered. I started praying for patience, and was told patience can be acquired by letting go of self-will. When I started praying for God to help me let go of self-will, I could almost hear God saying, “I thought you’d never ask.”

 

Prayer: Lord, your will be done today.

 

Reflection: How confident are you of God’s response to your requests?

 

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?

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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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