Wednesday’s Word: Timing

 

Jesus entered Jerusalem, went into the Temple, and looked around at everything. But since it was already late in the day, he went out to Bethany with the twelve disciples. Mark 11: 11

 

Sometimes following Jesus means knowing when not to act. Being called doesn’t mean being driven. Although sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, going to ridiculous extremes to avoid it isn’t much better.

 

One morning I created an impossibly long “to do” list for myself, then raced through my day to get it all done. By suppertime I’d crossed out every single thing on my list. Did I relax over dinner, put my feet up and enjoy my evening? No! I added a few more chores to the list. It was not my wisest decision. What good is it if I accomplish every chore in the whole world but lose my soul and damage family relationships in the process?

 

The mission on Jesus’ “to do” list was to save mankind, but he realized late in the day was not the time to tackle cleansing the Temple. He took the night off and went with his closest companions to Bethany, his home away from home. The Temple was still there the next day when Jesus returned, drove out the moneychangers, and began to teach the people.

 

Taking a break before we act or speak can be much more effective than jumping in just to get something over with. When we trust God more than our own sense of urgency, our timing improves. If God has in mind for something to get done, it will get done. We don’t have to force it. Pausing before we act gives us time to collect our thoughts, renew our energy, and most importantly, check in with God’s plan.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant me the wisdom to trust your timing.

 

Reflection: How might pausing instead of forging ahead help you be more effective today?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Amazed and Afraid

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But they were amazed and afraid, and said to one another, “Who is this man? He gives orders to the winds and waves, and they obey him! Luke 8:25

 

While crossing a lake with his disciples, Jesus fell asleep in the boat. A storm hit. Some of the disciples were sea-faring fishermen, but even they were terrified and convinced they were going to die. No wonder they woke Jesus up.

 

Jesus gave an order to the wind and waves and immediately there was a great calm. Luke doesn’t tell us the disciples were happy or even relieved. He says they were “amazed and afraid.” (GNT, NRSV)

 

No matter how good things may be, it’s scary to feel our powerlessness. Although it’s easy to forget when things are running smoothly, there are plenty of circumstances beyond our control. We’re not in charge of the universe. We’re not at the mercy of chaos, either.

 

The good news is that God, the Creator of the universe, is in control, even when it doesn’t look like it. God is all-powerful. Yes, He loves us intimately. Yes, He’s slow to anger and rich in kindness. Yes, His grace is amazing…but so is His power.

 

The word awesome has become trivialized by overuse. The word awful has a negative connotation. What word can we use to describe the mind-blowing, knee-shaking power and authority of the God who made the planets and stars but yet numbers the hairs on our head? To be known and loved by such a God is enough to amaze and frighten anyone.

 

Prayer: Glory and Praise to our Mighty God!

 

Reflection: When have you felt both amazed and afraid? How does it feel to experience your vulnerability? To glimpse God’s power? To know you are loved with that same power?

Wednesday’s Word: Sincerity

 

I am not afraid. I am going to talk because I know my own heart. (Job 9: 35)

 

Sharing what’s in our hearts takes courage. Knowing what’s in our hearts to begin with takes courage, too.

 

When we’re afraid of being judged, criticized, or rejected, we’re not likely to expose our deepest feelings. There’s nothing wrong with putting our best foot forward, but when we consistently put on a false front we can lose ourselves. We bury those parts of ourselves we wish weren’t there without even realizing that we’re cutting off a very real part of who we are. No matter how many friends we have, if all they ever see is our false front, we may still feel isolated.

 

Negative feelings don’t go away just because we don’t acknowledge them. Buried alive, they sometimes leak out sideways. Just ask those we live or work with. The irony is that we need to face our shadowy secrets and accept that they are part of us before we can let them go. This isn’t always easy. Growing in awareness of God’s unconditional love helps us feel safe enough to face our true selves. Encouragement and emotional support from people we trust also helps.

 

When we dare to face the truth, however unflattering it may be, we often find relief. Sharing this truth in a safe environment—in a confessional, a counselor’s office, or the home of an understanding friend in whom we can confide—is healing. We can grow, communicate sincerely, and develop genuine relationships when we, like Job, aren’t afraid and we know our own hearts.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage to be honest with myself.

 

Reflection: What’s going on inside your heart today?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Fruit of the Spirit

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NRSV)

 

Love. Joy. Peace. We all want them. The irony is that many of the ways we try to get love, joy, or peace of mind work against us.

 

We try to earn love—or at least admiration and attention—by trying to impress others or make ourselves indispensable. It doesn’t always come off so well…especially if others are trying to do the same thing. We end up competing, feeling envious, or self-righteous—not very lovable qualities.

 

We pursue happiness only to find it elusive. After all, if the things we bought made us happy, we wouldn’t have to keep buying more things. If we think we can’t be happy until others to do what we want them to, we might spend the rest of our lives waiting.

 

It’s easy to think serenity would come if only life were problem-free, but when one problem gets resolved, sooner or later another pops up.

 

The paradox is that we open ourselves to the fruit of the Spirit when we stop forcing things to go the way we want them to. When we can accept life as it is on any given day, peace and patience flow naturally. When we aren’t wearing ourselves out trying to earn love or achieve happiness by satisfying the demands of self-will , we are free to enjoy what we do have. Without self-imposed pressure, we can afford to be kinder, gentler, and all the rest. Life can be better by when we make room for the Spirit. Let’s get out of our own way.

 

Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and fill my heart.

 

Reflection for sharing: Which fruit of the Spirit are you most longing for today? What do you need to let go of to make room for it?

 

 

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?

 

 

Wisdom and Love

 

At that time Jesus was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit and said, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen.” Luke 10: 21

 

There’s no IQ test to get into heaven. Most of those called by Jesus weren’t learned. In fact, Jesus seemed to have the most run-ins with the religious experts of his day.

 

While being familiar with scripture and the tenets of our faith is a good thing, it’s easy to confuse knowing it intellectually and living it. Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God, others, and ourselves. A superior intellect isn’t needed to live a life of love.

 

God invites us all to participate in his heavenly banquet. In the parable of the great feast, when the invited guests chose not to attend, the king invited the sick, the disabled, and anyone else his servants came across on the highways and byways. (Matthew 22: 1-14) These guests weren’t given an entrance exam. All they had to do was accept the invitation and respond accordingly.

 

We respond accordingly to God’s invitation by treating our host, ourselves, and all other guests with respect and love. If we have intelligence or any other gift, let’s use them, by all means—not to build up our own egos, but to help us love.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach my heart the wisdom of love.

 

Reflection: How can your abilities help you reach out to others in love?

 

 

Easter Sunday


 

 

 

“[H]e has been raised, just as he said.” Matthew 28: 6

 

 

 

The tomb is empty. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!  A joyous Easter to all!

Holy Thursday/Good Friday


 “Father,” he said, “if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done.” Luke 22: 42

 

In his agony, Jesus was honest with his father. He didn’t want to suffer, but he was willing to suffer as he accepted his Father’s will.

 

We don’t have to deny our pain to God. We don’t have to pretend we welcome pain when it comes our way. It’s okay to ask God to relieve our suffering—and that of our loved ones.

 

On the other hand, if we pray and circumstances don’t change to our liking, we don’t have to turn our backs on God. It’s better to let God know how angry or hurt we are than to write him off.

 

Although Jesus didn’t look forward to the events of Good Friday, he willingly accepted them. He could do that because he knew his Father loved him. Jesus was able to trust that his Father’s plan was best, regardless of how he personally felt about it. If there were an easier, softer way for the ultimate good of his Son and the rest of humankind to come about, God would have chosen it.

 

When we are suffering, may it strengthen us to know that, horrifying as the crucifixion was, it was not the end of the story. The pain came to an end. The glorious outcome endures for eternity.

 

Prayer: Father, thy will, not mine, be done.

 

Reflection: Each day, no matter how difficult, ends. God’s love endures.

 

Wednesday’s Word: Compassion

Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. Titus 3: 2-3a

 

It’s so hard to keep from judging others. People do some stupid, infuriating, hurtful things. So how do we begin?

 

We might start by admitting that if we’re looking at others’ failings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any ourselves; it just means we aren’t paying attention to them. So when we find ourselves looking down on others, it might help to call to mind the times we’ve done thoughtless, hurtful things. In fact, the things that annoy us most about others are often the very traits we have ourselves. You spot it, you got it, as they say.

 

We don’t have to beat ourselves up over the poor choices we’ve made. We can be honest about them and still offer ourselves some compassion. Prostitutes and tax collectors flocked to Jesus. He welcomed those who were well-aware of their own shortcomings. We tend to be open and receptive to those who are friendly and welcoming.

 

When we ease up on ourselves, we naturally ease up on others, too. We’re all in this together. Only One is perfect and he offered himself for us and for those we look down on.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see myself and others with eyes of compassion.

 

Reflection: Who do you look down on? What do you have in common with them?

Wednesday’s Words: Self-serving Sacrifice

 Samuel said, “Which does the Lord prefer: obedience or offerings and sacrifices? It is better to obey him than to sacrifice the best sheep to him.” 1 Samuel 15: 22

 

During Lent, we focus on prayer, fasting, and acts of charity to grow closer to God. It’s self-defeating if these acts become a set of spiritual hoops we jump through, congratulating ourselves on our spiritual gymnastics. We might end up so absorbed in our own goodness that there’s little room for God’s love.

 

The prophet Samuel corrected King Saul when Saul kept the plunder God had ordered him to destroy. Instead, Saul kept the best sheep, then “sacrificed” them to God. It’s no accident that on his way to the place of sacrifice, Saul stopped in the town of Carmel, where he’d built a monument to himself. (Samuel 15:12) As Samuel told Saul, God was not pleased.

 

We miss the point when we decide how we want to please God while ignoring the sacrifice wants from us: a humble heart. (Psalm 51:17) God wants hearts open to his will, not insisting on our own.

 

Choosing Lenten sacrifices to build up our spiritual bank accounts is ironic. We grow closer to God when we recognize our weakness and dependence on his love.

 

Wherever we are in our Lenten journey today, we can ask God to show us how to surrender our wills to his as we move forward.

 

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant by saying following him involved denying ourselves as well as picking up our crosses. Sacrifice might mean accepting the crosses life brings our way rather than choosing our own.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me accept the challenges life brings today and offer them to you.

 

Reflection: How are you being called to let go of self-will 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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