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?
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?
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?
My 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?
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?
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?
“People of Israel, don’t fight against the Lord, the God of your ancestors! You can’t win!” 2 Chronicles 13: 12b
Abijah, quoted above, made a good point. When we fight against God, we can’t win.
Abijah, the Judean leader, was speaking to his kinsmen, the Israelites, who had rebelled against their relatives, David’s descendants. Both sides had their flaws, but in this particular battle, “the people of Judah were victorious over Israel, because they relied on the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 1:18)
How often are we at war with ourselves? Even if we do some research or get other opinions, weighing the pros and cons of an issue can feel like a tug of war…especially when emotions are involved. Sometimes, we end up making our decision because we just plain feel like it.
I don’t always remember to ask God what His will is in a situation. Other times, I think of asking for God’s guidance but think, I don’t care what God wants-I want things to work out my way. The times I’ve acted on this haven’t always worked out well. I forget that God wants better for me than I want for myself. Insisting on my way can be a short-lived victory. Either I end up in conflict with others or simply bite off more than I can chew.
For example, I believe that God has been trying to teach me to balance activity with quiet periods for some time now, but I’m a slow learner. I planned a sight-seeing trip to Philadelphia last spring to coincide with a retreat I was leading nearby. Because it was efficient to combine the two, I refused to take my physical limitations into account when making plans. The retreat went beautifully and people seemed to find it rewarding, but I was unable to go on the sight-seeing trip. My physical resources, limited by MS and chronic back problems, had been tapped for the retreat. I spent a few days resting instead of sightseeing. My understanding husband and I have rescheduled our Philadelphia trip for another time—when nothing else is on our agenda.
Self-will can create problems when choices have more serious consequences. Maybe you can think of a few of your own. When we fight against the Lord, we can’t win.
Prayer: God of power, wisdom, and love, may I turn to you for guidance, and trust the guidance you provide.
Reflection: What’s the difference between getting your way and winning?
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.
“God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts to us in our pain,” as C.S. Lewis said. I don’t believe God wants us to suffer but our choices have consequences. Like a good parent, sometimes God allows us to experience the consequences of our actions so that we can learn and grow. I don’t have the answer for all the apparent needless suffering in the world but I have seen God bring good out of painful situations. He is always at work, even in our suffering. I’ve experienced it in my own life.
After a tractor trailer hit my car, I was bed-ridden for months and left with chronic pain. The following year, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I don’t think God zapped me with the accident or M.S. to punish me. Instead, I believe He used the opportunities to teach my heart things it couldn’t seem to learn in any other way. I had always prided myself on being a hard worker and how much I accomplished. I was always doing things for others—whether they wanted me to or not. After the accident and the MS, I could not physically do all that I used to do. That terrified me. My misplaced self-worth disappeared. I was scared that if I couldn’t do things for my family they wouldn’t want me around. That turned out not to be the case, but if it hadn’t been for the accident and the MS, I would never have known that.
While I would never have chosen either challenge, I can honestly say I am grateful for the experiences. As a result, my relationships have deepened. My self-esteem is no longer tied to how much I accomplish. I’m also growing in healthy humility that allows me to accept my limitations and ask for and receive help. I have a better understanding of others facing challenges. My sense of security no longer rests exclusively on my frail shoulders. Because of pain, I’ve been led in new directions of growth. It’s a fascinating journey. I now believe there are two types of pain. There is wasted pain; when I choose to wallow in it I can. There is also pain that bears fruit, like labor pains that lead to new life. When I look to find God in the midst of pain, it always leads to growth…whether I see it at the time, or not. If God can bring good out of the crucifixion, He can bring good out of anything.
Prayer: Lord, help us find you in our pain.
Reflection: When has God brought good out of a painful circumstance in your life?
Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three in all; even though there were so many, still the net did not tear. John 21:11
Who counted the fish?
You’d think after seeing Jesus risen from death and still providing miraculously for them, they all would have been focusing on more important things than counting the exact number of fish.
The gospel account describes an encounter the apostles had with Jesus after his death and resurrection. He appeared on the shore as they were returning from an unsuccessful fishing expedition. He called out to them and told them to lower their nets and they caught so many fish they couldn’t haul the net back in. Jesus invited them to come and eat, and gave them fish and bread.
It’s astonishing that someone present at this miracle not only thought to count the fish, but took the time to do it. There has been much speculation on the significance of the number 153. One theory is that 153 was believed to be the number of varieties of fish in the world, so symbolically Jesus was instructing the disciples to spread the good news to people of all races and nationally. I’m not so sure. In Marks’s gospel, Jesus told them in plain language to “go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” Why couch the message in symbols?
Is it possible that someone present at this miracle actually did take the time to count the fish? That makes me wonder if we sometimes get so caught up in practical matters that we miss the miracles right under our noses. Are we so busy keeping score or focusing on our accomplishments that opportunities to share love fall by the wayside?
I, for one, like crossing things off my “to do” list. As a working mother when my daughter was little, those lists were extensive. To tell the truth, sometimes it seemed easier to keep the house tidy and cook from scratch every night than deal with less concrete issues. I did the best I could, and had some quality times with my little girl, but how many miracles did I miss because I was “counting fish” instead of enjoying the moments?
Prayer: Risen Lord, help me focus on true priorities.
Reflection? When is it easier to pay attention to distracting details? Why?