John the Baptist had a job to do: announce the coming of the Messiah. John called people to prepare for it by urging them to change their ways and be baptized. John even baptized Jesus himself—at Jesus’ request. John was a most important prophet and yet he had the humility not to get caught up in his own importance. When Jesus’ ministry began attracting crowds, the attention he got upset John’s disciples. They were threatened. John was not. He had stated from the beginning that he himself was not the Messiah. John acknowledged his own happiness, stating that Jesus “must become more important, while I become less important.”
During this season of Advent, we are called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our own hearts. Like John, can we be content to allow Jesus to become more important in our lives? Can we surrender our will and our agenda—even for a few moments each day—to grow silent and listen for what God’s plans for us might be?
Why not use John the Baptist’s comment as an Advent meditation? We can fill in the blank with whatever worries, holiday preparations, or other distractions create roadblocks between God and our hearts today. We don’t have to eliminate them, but let’s shift our perspective on their importance to make room for God.
Reflection: Jesus must become more important, while __________ becomes less important.
Be still and know that I am God! Psalm 46: 10a (NRSV)
What if we can’t be still? What if we avoid meditating because we don’t like being still? What if we read our Bibles and talk to God, but have trouble listening in stillness to what He might be trying to tell us?
There are a number of methods people use to still their minds: repeating a word or phrase, focusing on an inspiring image, playing relaxing or uplifting background music. These techniques can set the stage for quieting our over-active minds, but a tool is not the event itself. What happens when the technique doesn’t bring the desired result?
I suggest that honesty is the best policy. If we feel fidgety or resistant, why can’t we bring that to God? What if we just surrender completely to His care? He knows us better than we know ourselves. Maybe humbly offering our resistance to Him is just as pleasing to Him as a meditation perfectly executed in our own eyes. It costs us something to carve out time to be with God when we’re itching to get on with our day. That can be a sincere demonstration that “we know that He is God.” Maybe knowing God is not so much about being able to “still” ourselves on command, but about becoming open to His supreme presence and power.
One translation of the above Scripture verse is, “Stop struggling and know that I am God.” That means we can even stop struggling against our own resistance to contemplation. We can abandon ourselves to the care of the Author of Peace.
Prayer: Lord, You are my God. Empower me to be still and know You.
Reflection for sharing: What helps you “be still and know” God? If you struggle with being still, what can help you surrender your struggle to Him?
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 1 Cor. 1: 3
Grace and Peace! What more could we need or want?
I don’t know about you, but when I think about it, so much of what I’ve wanted–or think I’ve wanted–can be traced back to grace or peace.
Grace has been defined as favor (love), mercy and good will. How much of my effort has been aimed at being approved of, accepted, appreciated? When my self-esteem is anchored in God’s grace, I can make choices without wondering what others might think.
What about peace? How often have I tried to get my own way so I could feel secure? But when my heart’s at peace, my serenity can’t be stolen away by circumstances. When my mom was very ill I was afraid to lose her. I wanted to pray for her recovery, but still, when I saw how weak she was, I couldn’t help wondering if maybe God wanted to call her home. By grace, it occurred to me to pray for her peace, whatever the days ahead might hold. I prayed for her peace in recovery but also that, if it was time to leave this earth-life, her last days would be filled with serenity. I believe that prayer was answered. Shortly before she took her final breath Mom smiled and said, “Oh, Barbara! It’s all one and it’s beautiful.” Grace and peace. What more did she need? What more do we?
Prayer: Lord, open our hearts to your grace and peace.
Reflection for sharing: How can grace and peace enhance your life no matter what circumstances you find yourself in today?
The Lord is merciful and loving, slow to become angry and full of constant love…He does not punish us as we deserve or repay us according to our sins and wrongs. Psalm 103: 8; 10
“When we don’t get what we deserve, it’s a real good thing,” according to a song by the Newsboys. It’s so tempting to think about our rights. We complain when we feel short-changed. “I only want what’s coming to me.” “It’s not fair.” But if you’re like me, there are plenty of times when the shoe is on the other foot, when we luck out, when we’re in the right place at the right time through no particular effort on our part.
Getting what we deserve might not always be such a good thing. We all have things we need to be forgiven for. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. The amazing blessing is that God forgives us, but we can miss it. We may not always want forgiveness. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to justify why what we did wasn’t so bad, or excuse ourselves by pointing out the shortcomings of others, that we lose sight of the humble truth. If we can truly prove our innocence, we receive exoneration, not forgiveness.
Forgiveness implies that we really did wrong. When we’ve caused damage or pain, there’s no washing that reality away. The good news is that we don’t have to. We can honestly admit we were wrong. Of course, if we have harmed someone we can make amends as best we can, but even that isn’t earning forgiveness. Forgiveness, when we receive it, is always a gift. We are fortunate to have a loving, merciful Giver. Can we allow Him to pour out His grace instead of trying to pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps?
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your mercy and love.
Reflection for sharing: What holds us back from accepting forgiveness?
God is to be trusted… 1 Cor. 1: 9a
That’s an amazing statement on its own, but it’s even more amazing when you consider it was said by the apostle Paul. Paul had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and ship-wrecked in the course of sharing the good news. None of this stopped him from trusting God or from reassuring others that God was trustworthy. It doesn’t make sense…not if you think trusting God means a life insulated from pain or trouble.
It’s been said that every problem brings a gift in its hand. Some of the most trying times in my past have brought me life-changing insights, gifts I might have overlooked if I hadn’t been reminded to look for the gifts. Others who look for and find the good in seemingly intolerable situations inspire us to do the same.
Paul’s vision enabled him to see beyond that, to see God’s hand working in the midst of the trouble. After being beaten and thrown into jail in Philippi, Paul and his companion Silas were praying and singing hymns when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundation. Thinking the prisoners escaped, the jailer was about to commit suicide until Paul let him know they (the prisoners) were still there. The jailer and his family became believers that very night.
It is safe to trust God even though trusting him seems the hardest when it’s most needed. That’s okay. We can admit our fears and concerns about a situation, and still make a decision to trust God with the outcome. Events may or may not unfold to our liking, but the shift in our attitude will surely help us negotiate whatever circumstances arise.
Prayer: Lord, I trust you; help me trust you more.
Reflection for sharing: What do you feel most powerless over? What can help you entrust that situation to God’s care?
Sin must not be your master… Romans 6:14a
Who would ever be tempted to give up freedom and become a slave? Temptation promises short cuts to happiness, but when we take them, we often end up anything but happy in the long run. As C.S. Lewis put it in the Screwtape Letters, the devil’s formula is “an ever-increasing demand for an ever-diminishing pleasure.” What brought an initial thrill becomes a necessity that drives people to do things they once wouldn’t have considered, all to satisfy an itch that can never be scratched.
Avoiding sin isn’t something we do to become perfect goody-two-shoes; it’s enlightened self-interest. Someone said that God gave us free will and the best thing we can do with it is give it back to him. The truth is, we never really get to call the shots. We’re either surrendering to God’s plan for us, or we find ourselves in bondage to sin.
I remember when I was first married, just out of college, working full time, I thought, “No watchful parents, no children to take care of yet, no responsibilities. I can do whatever I want. Now, I’ll be happy.” I wasn’t. The truth is, I didn’t know what to do with all my supposed freedom. I squandered time and energy. It took several painful years to admit that having my way hadn’t brought me closer to happiness. Then I fell in with a group people who seemed content to live one day at a time, doing—however imperfectly—what they thought God wanted them to do. Whenever I tried following their example, I found that God’s plans for my life were so much better than my own. If you haven’t already, you’re welcome to try it and see for yourself.
Prayer: Lord, please rescue me from slavery to self-will.
Reflection for sharing: When has getting your own way not brought you the happiness you thought it would? When has giving up what you thought you wanted brought satisfaction?
Lord, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me. Psalm 131: 1-2
It was a busy week and promised to be an even busier weekend. The project I’d finished didn’t bring satisfaction. Instead, it brought dread. Now I had to contend with the mountain of things I’d put off to tackle once the project was done. That ever-growing to do list was waiting, daring me to tackle it. To top it off, the week had been an emotional roller coaster due to the health and personal challenges facing of several loved ones.
Worn out from the pressure I put on myself to get a handle on everything, I knew I should address my feelings. I didn’t want to. The process seemed time consuming and unproductive. It would keep me from accomplishing all the work I had to do. Luckily, it became clear to me that I couldn’t afford not to take the time. So, challenging as it was to “turn away from my arrogance” in thinking I could power through my to do list, I stopped. I journaled about what I was feeling and laid it all at God’s feet…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Next, I asked Him to show me what He wanted me to do. Only then did I sort through my overflowing in-box. Yes, there’s still a lot to do. But my heart is quiet about it. I don’t have to get it all done today—or even tomorrow. Reality is always manageable when I let go of my pride.
Prayer: Lord, melt my pride with your love.
Reflection for sharing: How does arrogance contribute to becoming overwhelmed? How can humility bring peace?
Some wandered in the trackless desert and could not find their way to a city to live in. Then in their trouble they called to the Lord, and he saved them from their distress. He led them by a straight road to a city where they could live. Psalm 107: 4; 6-7
Did you ever have computer problems? For several days last week, I wandered around “in the trackless desert” of cyber-space, unable to find my way to a solution. Finally, I called the help desk. A kind and knowledgeable technician asked me if I would give him permission to work on my account remotely. I gladly gave my permission, entered a few codes on my end, and watched as the expert took over my computer, moving the cursor here and making adjustments there. Every now and then he asked me a question or instructed me to do something on my end. The process was definitely interactive, but it was quite clear who was taking the lead. After he had led me back to safe and effective computer usage, he ended the session and removed himself from my account.
God is always available to intercede in my life, but, just as the technician doesn’t take over my computer any time he wants, God waits for me to call on him and give him permission to intercede. It’s a question of how long I want to wander before I call on him and become willing—eager, in fact—to allow him to lead. I then cooperate by doing what is asked of me instead of stumbling around on my own. God leads us out of our difficulties, but we have to be willing to follow. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that willingness even before we reached the point of distress?
Prayer: Lead me, Lord.
Reflection for sharing: Where in your life do you most need God’s direction today? Are you willing to follow where he leads? If not, what’s holding you back? Can you allow God to lead you out of your own resistance?
“…the Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.” Matthew 13: 44
The other day I felt sick and tired of my struggle with self-will. When do I feel disappointed or frustrated? When things don’t go my way. I wish I could surrender to God’s will all the time, but I suspect that isn’t going to happen on this side of the heaven/earth plane. So I prayed, “Lord, why did you let me have such a strong will? It’s so hard to let go of it and defer to Your will.” In my heart, I felt like God answered by saying, “Because that’s how you know how precious something is. If it cost you nothing to obtain, it wouldn’t be worth anything to you. It would be trash.”
The parable of the pearl came to mind. The man who found the pearl sold everything he owned to get it. Then I thought – What if he sold everything and only thought the pearl was precious…what if it really wasn’t precious after all? But even if the pearl wasn’t valuable on the world market, it was to the purchaser himself. He gave up EVERYTHING for it. It didn’t matter whether others valued it or not.
I have such a long way to go in my faith journey. I want to lay my will down but it is so hard to do. When I do lay it down, it just springs back up again a little while later or in some new area. Maybe I have to be content with just practicing, by sheer repetition, to lay it down over and over. Maybe it will get easier as the habit gets strengthened. Come to think of it, isn’t that what pearls are made of? Layers of response to some irritation inside the oyster?
Prayer: Lord, please grant us the trust in Your Love that relieves us of the bondage of self.
Reflection for sharing: What does your heart treasure?
With a loud cry Jesus died. Mark 15: 37
Apart from all else that could be said about his passion, what strikes me today is that Jesus cried out. I find it reassuring that—even though he rose to new life in victory—he wasn’t above crying out when he died.
Jesus told us we need to die to ourselves in order to follow him. We believe His promise that if we lose our lives we will gain them, but dying to self still hurts. We don’t have to pretend we’re above the pain. It’s okay to admit it.
Opportunities to give up self-will, in both large and small ways, are all around. Some times I miss them as I plug along on self-propulsion. Sometimes I’m aware of the opportunities but choose my own will anyway. Then there are the times when I let go of getting my way. I’m always glad when I do, but no matter how many times surrender works out well, my self-will always springs back up the next time. My “self” never goes down without a fight—even over the most trivial things.
During a hurricane some months ago, our house lost power for days. It got pretty cold. My husband was in another state on business and asked me to join him. I resisted for two days. I wanted to tough it out at home. Finally, I agreed to pray about it. After praying, I saw that there was no good reason for me to stay in a house without power—other than my own stubborn pride. I also saw that I wasn’t considering my husbands feelings. He was concerned but I was too centered on my resilience to see it. Why was I resisting in the first place? Because the blow to my ego hurt. I had to surrender my fear of being a wimp and taking the easy way out. Letting go of my pride enabled me to join my husband until our power came back on. Those days away together were a blessing to both of us: he felt relief, I felt warm, and our relationship grew stronger as I learned that I don’t have to exercise my will on general principle.
Prayer: Lord, grant us the courage to acknowledge our pain in letting go of self-will.
Reflection for sharing: When is it hardest to say no to your self will? How can Jesus’ example strengthen you?