Self-reliance

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-reliance


So then, you must never think that you have made yourselves wealthy by your own power and strength. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power… Deuteronomy 8: 17

 

There’s nothing wrong with the satisfaction that comes from seeing our hard work pay off and enjoying the results of our efforts—financially or otherwise. There’s a healthy pride that comes from achieving our goals. The problem comes when we trust solely in ourselves. It’s an easy mistake to make. I’ve made it plenty of times.

 

From birth, I was always blessed with a sturdy physical build and a fairly quick mind. I was raised by parents who instilled a strong work ethic in me. It was easy to trust in my physical and reasoning abilities…until a car accident, followed by a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis left me permanently debilitated. I could no longer push myself physically. I ran into problems that were beyond my ability to solve by intellect alone.

 

That’s when I realized that although I thought I believed in God and trusted his power, I lived as if I trusted only in myself.

 

I was brought through times of helplessness. I learned to accept the help that was offered and provided. While grateful for the natural abilities I’d been given at birth, I learned to be even more grateful for the strength God gave me to accept my weakness. Even though I still forget at times, it’s much easier now to remember that it is God who gives me the power to do what he has in mind for me to do on any given day.

 

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the strength to do what you have in mind for me to do today.

 

Reflection: What have you achieved in your life? What gifts enabled you to accomplish your achievements?

 

 

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: True Humility

iStock_000003550839XSmallThe emperor of Assyria boasts, “I have done it all myself. I am strong and wise and clever. I wiped out the boundaries between nations and took the supplies they had stored…”

But the Lord says, “Can an ax claim to be greater than the one who uses it?   Isaiah 10: 13; 15a

 

The emperor of Assyria probably was strong and wise and clever. He didn’t have to pretend he was weak and stupid and inept in order to recognize the true source of his abilities.

 

We don’t have to put ourselves down in the name of false humility. Denying our abilities is just as wrong as bragging. True humility is being honest about our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s recognizing that our abilities were God-given. Although we have free will, which means much of what we do depends on our own choices, there is so much that is beyond our control.

 

We did not create ourselves. We did not pick our parents, determine our genetic make-up,  or the environment—or even the century and locale—we were raised in. All these internal and external factors had a hand in shaping our development.

 

An honest look at the world around us will tell us that we are not in control of the universe or even our tiny corner of it. But there is One Who is in control. What we achieve is partly up to us, and how we use—or don’t use—the abilities and opportunities God gives us.

 

Our best efforts are up to us. The outcome is never up to us. Our part is to do our best. When we do, we can let go of the rest. If it turns out well, we can take pride in our achievement without being egotistical, as long as we remember to thank the Giver for His gifts.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me recognize Your gifts to me.

 

Reflection: What have you accomplished? What gifts helped you accomplish it?

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 Words: Walking on Water

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He saw the disciples were straining at the oars, because they were rowing against the wind; so…he came to them, walking on the water. Mark 6: 48

 

Jesus walked on water. He didn’t float above it. He didn’t sink under it.

 

He came to his disciples in the storm-tossed sea because they needed him. Jesus comes to us when we need him, too. He won’t allow us to sink under waves of chaos or pain, but he doesn’t call us to float above worldly problems, either.

 

We’re planted on this earth for a reason. There’s no use pretending we’re above practical concerns. We need to deal with reality, including challenges and pain. Denial is not a solution.

 

No matter how overwhelmed we feel by circumstances beyond our control, no circumstance is bigger than God. Like Peter, when we turn to Jesus, we’re lifted up—not that he enables us to float above problems. He doesn’t. But when we look to him, he meets us where we are. He gives us what we need to negotiate whatever situation we find ourselves in without sinking. What more do we need?

 

Prayer: Praise God, who meets us where we are.

 

Reflection: What storm in life can Jesus help you walk through today?

Wednesday’s Words: Easy Does It

iStock_000003550839XSmallMy child, don’t get involved in too many things. If you try to do too much, you will suffer for it. You won’t be able to finish your work, and you won’t be able to get away from it either. Sirach 11: 10

 

Sirach was right. I did try to do too much and I did suffer for it. So did my family. At one point, my idea of relaxing was tackling chores I could do while sitting down, like paying bills. I remember one Saturday in particular. I had an impossibly long “to do” list. By supper time I was exhausted, but thankful that I had done everything on my list. Did I put my feet up and relax? No. I concluded I must not have put enough on the list and quickly added three more tasks to finish before collapsing into bed that night.

 

I was not much fun to be around in those days. How could I be? I was always either busy or worn out and cranky. Looking back, I have to admit I was ego-driven. Being busy made me feel important, needed, and worthwhile.

 

By the grace of God and with encouragement from family and friends, I began a long, slow journey to some kind of middle ground. I began scheduling relaxation periods into my days, in spite of the challenges. I remember trying to lounge in the back yard with a good book even though chores kept taunting me. I could almost hear the vacuum calling, “Come on, you know you want to.”

 

Instead of giving in, I started spending Saturday afternoons at the local park, where household tasks were not within reach. I reminded myself the chores weren’t going anywhere. They would wait until I could get to them. Meanwhile, I had more important things to do, like live my life and enjoy my family. Balance brings serenity.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me prioritize according to your will, not mine.

 

Reflection: When are you likely to get over-ambitious? What are some ways to let go of what is non-essential?

Wednesday’s Words: Gratitude as Lenten Sacrifice

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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?

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Simplicity

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God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated. Ecclesiastes 7:29b

 

When my daughter was little and I was working full time, if I wasn’t doing at least two things at once I felt like I was wasting time. It felt proud of being so efficient and getting  so much done, but I was wearing myself out mentally, emotionally, and physically. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that nice to be around. I was gaining the whole world of accomplishment and losing myself in the process.

 

What makes our lives so complicated? Trying to balance work, home life, and relationships is no small challenge. Maybe without even trying we find ourselves with more irons in the fire than we can handle. Or maybe our minds are busy planning ways to get people to do what we want or to force circumstances to go the way we think they should. Maybe multi-tasking as a way of life makes us feel smart or important.

 

How can we keep ourselves simple in the midst of our complicated lives? We can let go of self-will and practice acceptance. When we spend less time and mental energy trying to figure out how to get things to turn out the way we want, we feel more serenity. Accepting reality instead of trying to manipulate it saves wear and tear on our nerves.

 

We can try taking one thing at a time. Not everything is a priority, even if it feels that way. If we’re asking to do God’s will, we can trust that what’s meant to get done will get done in God’s time. Not necessarily today (much as we’d like to have all our ducks in a row) and not necessarily by us. Taking a few minutes to figure out what really must be done today might show a number of things that can wait until tomorrow or even longer.

 

It’s surprising how when we step out of frantic activity, we gain perspective and can take care of what’s truly important as opposed to what feels urgent. The sun will come up tomorrow and the earth will still turn, even if we don’t cross everything off of our to-do lists today.

 

Simple doesn’t mean shallow. It means eliminating the clutter so that what is important can emerge.

 

Prayer: Lord, keep me simple.

 

Reflection: How can I simplify my 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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