Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Giving Up, Giving Out, Giving In

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8, NIV)
Tomorrow (25th Feb 2009) is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of 40-days of Lent, ending on the eve of Easter Sunday. It is a day where it is a Christian tradition to remember the sacrifices of Christ, how Jesus resisted worldly temptations by willingly giving up his self-desires. Instead of pandering to the wishes of the flesh, he put on the wishes of the Father and became obedient even to death on the cross. This week's meditation will be along the theme of giving. For that, I will cover three kinds of giving: Giving Up (deny self); Giving Out (helping others) and Giving In (accepting others as they are).

1) GIVING UP (Deny Self)
Deny yourself something for this period. Jesus despite his hungry physical state, chose to deny himself food, and found himself being strengthened only by dependence of the Holy Spirit to resist any temptations. By giving up worldly pleasures, he became spiritually aware of temptations that lurks on the background. He is able to resist deception with adequate recollection of the Scriptures. By giving up the things that matter to the worldly minds, he is able to fill his mind with the things of God, and obey the will of God. This helps loosen any unhealthy hold it may have on your normal lives. If it is smoking, try to start a program that allows you to wean out this habit. It could be Internet addiction. Factor in a day or more to go on an Internet-fast. Or it could be using your PDA, Blackberry, or cell phone. Tell your friends, family, colleagues or business colleagues that for that day(s) you will not be using your cell-phone. Use the normal fixed line telephone for all contacts. Some other suggestions on simple pleasures that you can 'give-up' during this Lent.
  • Your favourite ice-cream;
  • TV or Internet-fast for a day or more;
  • Giving Up Reading Newspapers for a duration of your choice;
  • Give Up a favourite beverage; If you drink coffee regularly, try only tea;
  • Give Up driving and take the bus/subway;
  • Give up taking the elevator to office and take the stairs instead.
2) GIVING OUT (Helping Others)
If Christ can willingly give up his life, how about giving out a part of ourselves to others in service to the community? Let out compassion take over, and we intentionally give preference to the weak, the under-privileged and the afflicted. Some examples are as follows:
  • Choose a new charity;
  • Respond to a cause you have always thought about but you procrastinated;
  • Make it NOW rather than later;
  • Give praises or encouragement to colleagues or subordinates saying: "Well done," "Good job," "I like your latest proposal." Perhaps adopt a maxim such as "A Compliment a day keeps the discouragement at bay."
  • Recognize birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions of your colleagues, friends, relatives.
  • Build teamwork by asking: "Who else helped you accomplish this great project? I like to thank him as well"
  • To your spouse: "I love you."
3) GIVING IN (Accepting one another)
Give others the benefit of the doubt. Even when you think they are wrong, give them room to prove themselves correct. Sometimes, we can get impatient with people who are less competent than us. By learning to accept them as they are, gently pushing them, perhaps they will grow better, with lesser bitterness and greater respect for a leader with a magnanimous heart. As the saying goes, we may not win the small battles (of small disagreements), but let us aim to win the bigger war (the big picture of teamwork, trust and respect). When we are most busy and stressed, we are prone to greater impatience.

Another way of 'giving in' is how Jesus gave in to the sick who needed healing, by paying attention to their needs. Note how he is patient with the woman with the alabaster vase. Remember how Jesus gently rebuked the sins of the woman at the well.

The table below lists some sinful patterns that we can pay particular attention to. The right column represents some suggested spiritual exercises or practices you can adopt to counter the negative patterns. Send me an email if you need additional guidance.

Anger and Bitterness Silence, Self-Examination, Confession
Anxiety and Worry Breathe slowly and Pray, Scripture Meditation
Chronic Busyness Taking breaks, casual walks, intentional rest
Discontent Check one's fleshly desire by self-control
Discouraged Find Someone to Pray with
Feeling Inadequate Time to learn greater self-knowledge; Celebrating one's giftings
Feeling lost Stay calm, pray and communicate with spiritual directors
Feelings of Selfishness Prayer and Worship, Give of one's time and resources
Guilt, Shame Confession, Renewal of State of forgiveness
Gossip Pause in Silence, Examine Yourself
Hatred Self-Control, Forgiveness
Jealousy and Competitiveness Solitude, Self-Examination
Lack of Direction Discernment, Listening
Lack of Faith Repeat prayer: "Lord, help me!"
Lethargy, Laziness Physical Exercise, Intentional Walk
Lust Flee, and do not attempt a second look
Over-confident Community Living, Friendship
Restlessness or Stress Silence and Solitude

Have a humble start to Lent 2009.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Right War

Are We Fighting the Right War?
Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.” (Luke 12:22)
Worry – about the present

Anxiety – about the future

Regret – about the past

What kind of war are we fighting? Worry over jobs? Distress over the economy? Anxiety over the future? If we were to be really honest with ourselves, we will realize that a sizable amount of our worries and anxieties revolve around material gains or losses. It centers around the visible and tangible things of life. We worry about whether we can keep our jobs, fearing that we may not be able to bring in enough money to pay the monthly rental or regular housing installments. We worry for our children’s education thinking that if they do not have the educational qualifications, how then can they get a good job next time? We worry about our wealth as it is the key to living a comfortable and good life. We worry about our health, so that we are able enough to work and to bring in an income to feed the family. It could also be exams or tests that we have been preparing for. Some will worry about not getting enough distinctions to be selected for a scholarship. Others will worry about whether they can pass and not disappoint their loved ones. In these dark economic times, it is easy to lose our perspective on what kind of war we ought to fight. Worry is essentially the lack of confidence in the systems available around us. From governments to large corporations, from religious institutions to small support groups, from personal friends to close family members, our worries tempt us to criticize and judge them beyond the boundaries of fairness. Anxiety about the future is the other twin brother of worry, giving us false ideas and negative thoughts about uncertainty and fear of tomorrow. Rounding it all up, when we fight the wrong war, we stand to REGRET not having done enough in the past. Unfortunately, by worrying and becoming anxious, we only pile up more items in our storeroom of regret! Spiritually, our acts of worry and anxiety are like multiple votes of no-confidence in the promises of a loving Father. Our fretfulness about our present and future insecurity only reflects a pathetic soul that does not believe what Jesus said. With Worry, Anxiety and finally Regret, we become useless soldiers already defeated even before the first spiritual bullet has been shot.

Wake up. Rise up men and women of God. If you have been living a life of worry, anxiety and regret, it is time to stop that train on the way to spiritual destruction, and change tracks. Take the path of Christ beginning with prayer. Dallas Willard said that prayer is likened to a vote of no-confidence in our flesh and human capabilities. In order to begin arming ourselves for the right spiritual war, we need to stop fighting wrong wars. We have to invest our limited energies and resources on faith, hope and love as anchored in the cross of Christ. Any resources spent on worry, anxiety and regret will only lead us into a never-ending rabbit’s hole of despair. Let me suggest three ways to counter the negative effects of worry, anxiety and regret.

W – Waiting on God
In prayer, we counter worry by continuing our trust and to wait on God for his ultimate deliverance. The challenges of the present and the uncertainties of the future is never really for us to worry about.
A – Attentiveness on God by first turning away from non-gods

Simone Weil said that “to believe in God is not a decision we can make. All we can do is to decide not to give our love to false gods.” While it is important to learn to focus on God, often, the first thing we must do is to turn away from false gods and idols. By worry, anxiety and regret, we are essentially concentrating on false gods. If we are not careful, our very own concerns can become a god in themselves.

R – Rest

Put to rest the history of regret and past disappointments. Such things do nothing positive for us. Every thought of ‘it should have been better’ must be quickly neutralized with ‘it could have been worse.’ Offer both thoughts to God and learn to rest in the arms of a loving Father who says to us:

“It’s ok. It’s alright. Come to me, you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Replace worry about the world with an attitude of waiting for God. Substitute any anxiety with an attentiveness toward God and the thoughts of God. By not dedicating our souls on idols and worldly affairs, we prepare our hearts for paying attention to the movement of God in our lives. Slaughter any thoughts of regret and let God redeem us through Resting in Him. Rise up, soldier of Christ and train yourself for the right war, by first getting out of the wrong one.


Friday, February 13, 2009

First Post.

This is the start of a new blog, comprising short weekly devotionals.