Monthly Archives: July 2014

Searching for Fine Pearls

Throughout human history, people have been searching for meaning and purpose for their lives. Even ancient civilizations seemed to sense that there had to be more to life than food, shelter and clothing. Their observations of the natural world around them indicated a power and force greater than themselves.

In Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God, he says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

The fine pearl is Jesus. Are we willing to sell everything we have to acquire a friendship with Jesus? Selling everything may include giving up old ways and acquiring new ones. The list can be long and varied. Changing our focus from self to others, finding balance between the demands of career and family, stepping back from gossip and engaging in right speech, listening more and speaking less are just a few examples.

When I met Jesus in a personal way in my mid-thirties, many of my priorities began to change, particularly with respect to balancing the demands of career and family. Previously, career had usually taken precedence. One habit accompanying the dominant concern for career was joining work colleagues at a local watering hole after work on Fridays instead of going home and having dinner with my family. Thereafter, I gave up that habit. Several months later I joined them once again, and since I had been very open in sharing about my renewed faith, one colleague sarcastically asked, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here.” I said, “You’re right,” turned around and left, never to engage that habit again.

If the pearl is friendship with Jesus and coming to know God, then there are also some new things we need to take on. Friendships don’t just happen without time together and coming to know the person involved. Previously, my time in prayer was confined to Sundays at mass or saying grace at meals. Subsequently, God gave me a desire to spend time with him every day, and I changed my schedule to spend about 30 minutes with him every morning before breakfast. Over the last 37 years, we have been meeting for coffee nearly every morning. Previously, I hardly ever read the Bible. Now it is a part of each day’s prayer time. While I am still very capable of sinning, reading Scripture daily helps me come to know God better and take on the mind of his son.

The irony in all of this is that the things I have given up to acquire the pearl of great value — Jesus’ friendship — do not seem to be all that much of a sacrifice. Instead, as the parables say, there is great joy in finding the treasure.

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Thorns of Busyness

Does busyness choke out your relationship with God – spending time with him in prayer, reading scripture and seeking his will in your lives? In explaining one aspect of the parable of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “Still others, like seed sown among the thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word and make it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:18)

There are many kinds of thorns – worries, ambition, wealth, recognition, position, possessions and busyness, to name a few. The Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, but he did not let the pain of them deter him from his mission.

Busyness, as much any other circumstance, makes the word in many of us unfruitful. We rush to get dressed in the morning and have our breakfast before we rush to work. At work, there is often more to do than the time available, so we rush from one task to another. After work, we rush to take our kids to practice or a sporting event. We then rush home for dinner because we have a meeting after dinner at church, school or some other place, or we need to help the children with their homework, or we have a brief case full of work. Even when we are not in fact being rushed, we have a sense of being rushed.

All of this rushing crowds out God. Intimacy with him is sacrificed. The noise of busyness keeps us from hearing the whisper of the Holy Spirit and understanding the Spirit’s call each day. Notice that Jesus says the outcome is that the word in us becomes unfruitful. The rich guidance of the word goes unused. Jesus’ desire for us is just the opposite – “I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

Life will always have its demands. Do we let these demands choke out God’s word and presence in us, or do we invite him to join us in their midst? I used to pray a lot in hallways and elevators as I went from one meeting to another, acknowledging God’s presence and asking him to go before me. There seemed to be more fruit when I did and less when I didn’t.

God’s presence is available to us in the midst of our busyness. Offer up your schedule to him at the beginning of each day. Remember his words, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)

Winning over a Difficult Colleague with God’s Help

Have you ever experienced a colleague who challenges you at every turn? He or she always questions your ideas and suggestions, attempts to upstage you in front of the boss and gossips with co-workers behind your back. I had such a colleague.

In my prayer time, I asked the Lord what I should do and was led to Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the dark powers of this world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” It occurred to me that my problem with this colleague was not necessarily him per se, but with the spiritual forces of pride and division that were working between us. I started to pray and ask God to bless this person and our relationship. Over the next few months, the discord, dissension, petty sniping and competitive nature of our relationship faded and we began to work together in a more cooperative and professional manner.

In 2 Chronicles 20, we read that Jehoshaphat, King of Judah was facing a vast army from Moab and Amon that was coming against him and all of Judah. Jehoshaphat declared a fast and inquired of the Lord. The Lord said, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Ch. 20:15) Jehoshaphat instructed his men to sing and praise the Lord. Suddenly the men of Moab, Amon and Mount Seir turned on each other and began to destroy one another. When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooked where they were to do battle, they saw only dead bodies. There was no army left to battle.

When we face conflicts with people that involve pride, division and deceit, whether coming from the other person or us, or a combination thereof, the likelihood is that spiritual forces are at work stirring the pot of conflict. As a result we should seek a spiritual solution of praying against pride, division and deceit. For the battle is God’s, and he is equipped to handle it if we seek his help.

St. Paul goes on to say that we should fight these conflicts with the “full armor of God,” including truth, righteousness, faith, the word of God and the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 6:13-17) In other words, we should not try to fight pride, deceit and division in others with our own pride, deceit and division, but rather with prayer, truth, righteousness, faith, God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit, which is Christ in us.

Success + Pride = Downfall

How difficult it is to handle success without pride overtaking us!

In my 38 year career for a large international oil company, I saw a number of good men who experienced success, only to see a pride build up in them that led to overreach in the exercise of their authority. I too, struggled at times with pride in how I related to others, and in allowing my position to define who I was.

In Second Chronicles, Uzziah became king of Judah when he was 16 and reigned in Jerusalem for 52 years. At first he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He sought God through the prophet, Zechariah. He built up the defenses of Judah, raised a large army that defeated the Philistines and constructed public works. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.

“But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.” (2 Ch. 26:16) He then presumed to enter the temple to burn incense, a duty reserved to the descendants of Aaron. They challenged him, he became angry and as he was raging at them, leprosy broke out on his forehead, which caused him to be isolated for the rest of his life.

Even the disciples, James and John, sought the position of sitting at Jesus’ right and left. The others became indignant, but Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…for the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mk. 10:43, 45) The reason Jesus said it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man into the Kingdom of God is because of the pride that often accompanies wealth and success.

Our daughter, Emily has Down syndrome. I have learned so much about humility and the love of God from her. She does not presume any special position, only to love her family and friends and to experience our love in return.

One of the problems with how we handle success is its definition. The world views success in terms of position, authority, power and wealth, while God views success by whether we are fulfilling his will in our lives. If our focus is on seeking God’s will, we might be better able to handle the outcome, whether wealth or poverty.

In my morning prayer I often recite a Litany of Humility given me by a friend. “O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, deliver me from the desire of being esteemed, loved, extolled, honored, praised, consulted or approved. Deliver me from the fear of being humiliated, despised, forgotten, ridiculed or wronged. Grant me the grace to desire that others might be loved more, esteemed more, chosen, praised, preferred and become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should.”

How do you deal with success and pride in your life?