Job lost his children and all his wealth in a single day, but still praised God. This doesn’t mean he didn’t have feelings, grieve the loss of his children, or fear his new-found financial insecurity. It simply meant he did not blame God for his misfortune.
Job was able to praise God because he recognized that all the good things he had been blessed with were gifts, not entitlements. Job may have felt sad, scared, overwhelmed, or even angered by his loss, but he didn’t feel wronged by God because of it.
Are we fair-weather friends of God? If we’re in it only for what God can do for us, that’s not much of a relationship.
I have Multiple Sclerosis. During an M.S. attack, I suffered an excruciating headache for days. I wanted to trust God but was shaken to the core by pain and overwhelmed with anguish. I shared my frustration and despair with a spiritual mentor, who suggested that perhaps there was a bit of spiritual warfare going on, an attempt to get me to turn my back on God. I’d never thought of it as a temptation, but in the story of Job that’s exactly what was going on. Satan’s theory was that Job worshipped God only for what he could get out of the relationship and would turn his back on God if his blessings were taken away. The book of Job shows otherwise.
Right after the conversation with my mentor, a contemporary Christian song came on the radio affirming that we can choose to praise the Lord whether things are going well or terribly.
Hearing that song at that moment, made it all click for me. I sang along at the top of my lungs in spite of my pain. As I sang, I felt a wave of victory come over my spirit such as I can’t describe. There is power in exercising our free will. No person or circumstance can take that away from us.
Prayer: Lord, blessed be your name.
Reflection: What might happen if you praise God in the midst of a problem?
Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God… Psalm 50: 14a
Gratitude’s not the first thing we think of when we think of sacrifice. Where does gratitude fit in with our traditional Lenten offerings of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer?
Fasting: When we give thanks to God we fast from the ego-feeding illusion of independence. We fast from the presumption that we are self-sufficient. The truth is that we cannot, on our own, even guarantee our next breath. Gratitude means sacrificing the comfortable notion of self-reliance. Recognizing ourselves as recipients of God’s gifts puts us in vulnerable position of recognizing our dependence on our Creator.
Almsgiving: We can’t give what we don’t have. Whether we donate financially or through acts of service and charity, our giving is sharing what we ourselves have received. Our talents, skills, and finances—including the ability to earn a living—are all gifts from God. If we think of giving to others as passing on what we’ve received, we can’t help but feel gratitude. Offering our personal or financial resources to those who need them is gratitude in action. We sacrifice self-centeredness and self-indulgence when we consider the other people we share this planet with.
Prayer: Prayer involves a sacrifice of precious time in our often hectic days. We make room in our crowded agendas to reflect on God’s sacrificial love for us and to offer our thanks. During this Lenten preparation for Easter, we think about the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He willingly accepted the agony in Gethsemane and his suffering and death on the cross for love of us. He offered his life to do for us what we could never do—redeem ourselves from the power of sin. What could be more natural than to express our gratitude in prayer?
Prayer: Source of All Good, thank you for all I have and all I am.
Reflection: What gifts has God given you? How can you offer him your gratitude today?
The king is glad, O Lord, because you gave him strength; he rejoices because you made him victorious.
You have given him his heart’s desire; you have answered his request.
The king trusts in the Lord Almighty; and because of the Lord’s constant love he will always be secure.
We praise you, Lord, for your great strength! We will sing and praise your power. Psalm 21: 1-2; 7-8a; 13
Those who make New Year’s resolutions are more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Even so, only 8 % are successful at keeping them, according to one study. Whether we want to quit smoking, lose weight, or start exercising, our resolutions aren’t enough. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh truly is weak.
Facing our own weakness might not be such a bad thing. Maybe it is only when we give it our best shot and fail, try again and fail again, that we realize just how much we really need God’s strength. Like the king in this psalm, we can rejoice because God can do for us what we can never do for ourselves.
Maybe you think your bad habit it isn’t worth bothering God about, but don’t forget: God loves you as if you were the only one on the planet. Even the hairs on your head are numbered. If a problem is blocking you from living the fuller, richer life God has in mind for you, why wouldn’t he want to give you the grace you need?
God won’t do for us what we can and should do for ourselves, though. The king had to go and fight the battles. Even so, the king didn’t achieve victory on his own. God gave him strength and the victory. In return the king gave God the glory. When God gives us the strength to resist our enemies and succeed, it will God’s glory, not ours. That might not be such a bad thing, either…otherwise we’ll end up needing to make a resolution to give up our pride.
I encourage you to read the whole psalm and reflect on whatever passages speak to you today. Here are some questions to get you started:
- When have you experienced a strength beyond your own?
- What victories has God enabled you to enjoy?
- What is your heart’s desire? How might God want to answer that request?
- How has God shown you that he’s trustworthy?
- Why can the Lord’s constant love make us secure?
- Where is God showing his power to you today? How can you thank him?
For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9: 6 (NRSV)
Good news! A savior was born into our dark and hurting world—and what a savior! This son of God is given to us. We can’t earn or deserve this blessing—it’s a pure gift of love. That should delight and humble all of us.
God loves us beyond comprehension, warts and all. How amazing that someone who has tasted heaven should take on our humanity and subject himself to human limitations, indifference, and contempt—all because he loves us. No wonder he’s called Wonderful.
He is Counselor supreme. One with the Father, Jesus has all wisdom and wants to share it with us. Our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, speaks to our hearts, when we’re open to receive it and quiet enough to listen.
Jesus is not just holy man, but Mighty God. We may be up against circumstances, forces, and problems bigger than we are, but no problem is bigger than God. When we feel small and powerless, we can rely on his strength.
Everlasting Father: God’s son conquered death for us. He was willing to take on flesh, knowing he would sacrifice that flesh-life to share eternal, everlasting life with us.
Prince of Peace: The peace that Jesus offers does not depend on comfortable circumstances, but on our connection with him. His peace passes understanding. The world can’t give that peace or take it away.
We have good reason to rejoice today, for unto us is given everything our hearts could need: a wonderful, powerful, everlasting counselor who wants to fill our hearts with peace and love.
Which aspect of our Lord’s greatness do you rejoice in most today?
Glory to God in the highest. Joy to the world. Merry Christmas!
In my trouble I called to the Lord; I called to my God for help. In his temple he heard my voice; he listened to my cry for help.
The Lord reached down from above and took hold of me; he pulled me out of the deep waters.
The Lord alone is God; God alone is our defense.
The Lord lives! Praise my defender! Proclaim the greatness of the God who saves me. Psalm 18: 2; 6; 16; 28; 30; 46
Who doesn’t want to feel safe—especially in these uncertain times? We’re going to feel vulnerable if we depend solely on our own strength, other people, or man-made institutions. None of these can guarantee perfect safety. With God we are safe. Trusting him doesn’t mean we won’t experience pain or trouble. It does mean we won’t be abandoned.
When I’ve been in over my head I’ve called out to God. He’s pulled me out of “deep waters” lots of times. I think my first mature, honest prayer was as a young social worker many years ago. I felt it was my responsibility to solve a crisis my client was facing. I wanted to rescue her—but I didn’t have the power or resources to do so. Up against my own limitations, I panicked. Drowning in my own anxiety, I cried out to God when I wasn’t even sure he was there. I was guided to take just the next step, and then the next. The situation slowly resolved itself. Somehow my client and I both go through that crisis…and it certainly wasn’t by my own strength.
If you’re like me, maybe you’ve been at the end of your rope too, sometimes due to external circumstances and sometimes due to inner turmoil. Although our loved ones may care very much, there isn’t always much they can do to help.
In some situations there is no one to turn to except God. When we do, we can trust that we are not alone–no matter how it feels. God is well aware of exactly what is going on and probably understands our limitations better than we do. He can rescue us from deep waters. We might get drenched, but we will not drown. Praise the greatness of the God who saves us.
I encourage you to read through the entire Psalm and reflect on whatever passages speak to you today. Here are some questions to start:
- Why is it safe to trust God for protection?
- When have you been in over your head? What happened?
- In what ways can God keep us safe if he doesn’t remove our problems?
- How has God saved you?
- How can you proclaim his greatness?
Inspiration is contagious. When I was in grade school, girls mostly jumped rope or played tag at recess. There was also a clapping game we played together sung to the tune of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” One girl, who wore a leg brace and could only use one of her arms, always stood alone and watched the rest of us play. I never gave her much thought until the day I saw my best friend approach the girl. They figured out a way to play the clapping game using just one hand. I was in awe of my friend. Her compassion and ingenuity would have been impressive in someone even more than ten years old. I wanted to be like her. I began playing with the physically challenged girl, too, and we became friends.
Awe is a great motivator. We don’t grow spiritually by brow-beating ourselves. Holiness isn’t fitting ourselves into a moral straight jacket. When we admire others who make generous use of their time, talents, and treasure, they inspire us to do likewise.
Who could be more awe-inspiring than God? Which is why spending time with Him invites us to grow spiritually. When we reflect on God’s love, mercy, truth, and the like, we immerse ourselves in God’s goodness. Mean or shabby motives in our own nature pale in comparison and we become willing to let them slip away.
Time spent with our awesome God changes us from the inside out.
Prayer: Holy, holy, holy Lord.
Reflection: Which of God’s awe-inspiring attributes speaks most to your heart today?
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?
O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world! Your praise reaches up to the heavens…
When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—what are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them?
Yet you made them inferior only to yourself; you crowned them with glory and honor. You appointed them rulers over everything you made; you placed them over all creation…
O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world!
Psalm 8: 1; 3-6; 9
Ever seen the Grand Canyon? Or look out over the ocean? Or study the delicate petals of a single rose? Observing the wonders of creation generates opportunities to praise the Creator.
A sense of awe gives us a healthy perspective on who we are in the cosmic scheme of things. It’s so easy to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. Why else would we get irritated when plans don’t unfold according to our schedule or people don’t follow our agenda? Awe-inspired awareness of our creature-hood invites us step out of self-centeredness without developing an inferiority complex. As the Psalmist points out, even though we are “mere mortals,” God cares for us. For whatever reason, he placed us in charge of creation. What we’ve done with the environment he gave us speaks for itself. Even so, God not only cares for us, he crowns us with glory and honor.
As an antidote to getting puffed up with pride, let’s remember that any honor we have is a gift from God. We reflect his greatness, not our own. That greatness can be seen in all the world and is evident to anyone who opens their eyes to see it. God doesn’t need our praise. His glory and achievement is self-evident. Praising God enhances our lives. I think that’s because it helps us remember who we are: frail, humble creatures loved by an almighty, glorious Creator!
How about you?
- What part of creation reveals God’s glory to you?
- When have you felt your frailty, mortality, creature-hood?
- How does it feel to think about God loving you with all your weaknesses?
- What difference does it make to give God the glory instead of grasping at glory for yourself?
I invite you to read the entire Psalm and meditate on the thought or phrase that speaks to you today.
Lord, don’t be angry and rebuke me! Don’t punish me in your anger!
I am worn out, O Lord; have pity on me! Give me strength; I am completely exhausted
and my whole being is deeply troubled. How long, O Lord, will you wait to help me?
Come and save me, Lord; in your mercy rescue me from death.
I am worn out with grief; every night my bed is damp from my weeping; my pillow is soaked with tears.
I can hardly see; my eyes are so swollen from the weeping caused by my enemies.
…The Lord hears my weeping; he listens to my cry for help and will answer my prayer. Psalm 6: 1-4; 6-7; 8b-9
David, who wrote this psalm, suffered turmoil and anguish—even though he was a man “after God’s own heart.” Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings of sadness or fear. We don’t have to pretend otherwise. After all, God gave us all our feelings for a reason. David demonstrates his faith, not by denying or running away from his feelings, but bringing them—in all their brutal honesty—to God.
It’s safe to be honest with God. Although David starts out the psalm by asking God not to punish him, David also admits that his weeping is caused by his enemies, not by God. The beauty of this prayer is that David pours out his heart to God—and feels safe in doing so—and in spite of his problems, trusts that God will not only hear his cries, but will answer.
On more than one occasion, I’ve felt completely exhausted. Having multiple sclerosis, it doesn’t take much to feel exhausted physically, but the most devastating times have been when I’ve felt worn out emotionally. When emotional and physical exhaustion come at the same time, spiritual depletion follows. At those times, psalms like this one have been my comfort. It was reassuring to know that when I was feeling despair I was in good company. That gave me hope and a template to follow.
David kept right on talking to God. He didn’t use his pain as an excuse to decide God didn’t exist, or was out to get him. That encouraged me to keep right on talking to God, even when all I had to offer God were my complaints, exhaustion, and pain. I especially found comfort knowing that David’s pillow was soaked with tears, because my own pillow has gotten pretty damp at times. When I couldn’t see an end in sight, and didn’t have the strength to persevere, I was enabled to put one foot in front of the other anyway. Because I walked through those times of desolation I know God answered my prayers. I came out the other side of those challenges with not one ounce of my own strength. God rescued me from the depths of hopelessness. Praise God!
How about you?
- What is the difference between thinking God causes our pain and trouble and thinking that God enables us to get through our pain and trouble?
- If God is merciful, why do you suppose he allows suffering?
- When have you felt worn out? What got you through? If you were completely exhausted, could you have gotten through on your own strength?
- When sorrow overwhelms you, what do you do?
- Are you comfortable bringing your complaints to God?
- Do you believe God listens when you cry to him, even if relief doesn’t come instantly? When solutions are slow in coming, what are some ways to remember that God’s timing is perfect?
- When has God rescued you? What has he saved you from?
I invite you to read through the entire Psalm and reflect on whatever phrases speak to your heart.
…your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 16
So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do…they do it so people will praise them…but when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Matthew 6: 2-4
Which is it? Should we shine our good deeds before people or keep them secret? That depends.
The reason for “shining our lights” so others will see the good we’re doing is not so they’ll praise us, but so they’ll praise God. We don’t make our own light. It comes from Jesus, the light of the world. We just reflect it. When we’re God’s channels, He gets the praise, not us.
On the other hand, as Jesus warned, the hypocrites make sure other people know when they are helping the needy to get praise for themselves. They’re hogging the spotlight for themselves, not reflecting God’s light. It’s human nature to want credit and recognition. There’s nothing wrong with that. A healthy sense of self-esteem develops as we receive validation, but the truth is we have worth just because God loved us into existence. Although we may feel good about ourselves when we are of service to others, our self-esteem is inherent in our being children of God, not in accumulating brownie points.
There is no room for love in a do-gooder’s contest where people are caught up in themselves. It doesn’t really help others when we’re “helpful” but never let them forget it. The word self-righteousness was invented for a reason. We want to make ourselves right, instead of knowing that, apart from God, we can do nothing.
So when should we let our lights shine? Probably when we’re most afraid to. Maybe God gave us a nudge to serve in a certain way and we’re afraid what we have to offer won’t be good enough. We can trust that if God wants us to shine our light, it will help others and we’ll be reflecting His goodness and love. It’s not about us. There is no ego involved in using our gifts when we thank the Giver. We shine whenever we’re reflecting the Light of the world.
Prayer: Lord, make me a channel of Your light.
Reflection: How can you shine your light today?