The sports-mania of Western culture quickly brings to mind the image of the raised index finger. We want to be first, not second; winners, not losers; victors now, not next year. Preoccupation with winning dominates more areas than our sports venues. We want to be first in everything: our relationships, our projects at work, our house on the block, and even our church among other churches.
As Paul contemplates his death, he recognizes a change in his life flow: Now his life is a poured-out offering (libation) to God. His amazing journey with God will now end as a blessing to God and a blessing from God. He couches his enormous gratitude in deeply felt humility and an unspeakable joy.
But talk of being first . . . not Paul. Notice that he fought the good fight but no talk of winning the fight; that he finished the race but no talk of coming in first; he kept the faith but no talk of having the best, most superior faith of all. Well-known for his fits of arrogance and self-focus, this season in Paul’s life is differently powered; a spirit of humility brings his gratitude to the forefront. The crown of righteousness that awaits him is not earned but received as a gift.
When grasping for first place gets in the way of serving our Savior, then humility, gratitude, and peace will shun our lives; joy will seem elusive. Our culture despises the concept of “enough.” May we witness to our faith by pointing to Jesus, who makes every day more than enough. Thanks be to God!
Talk with God about the contests you are running today. In silence, ponder what it means to be faithful.
The Hebrew scripture readings declare the salvation of humankind and insist that the initiative for that sal- vation comes from God alone. The prophet Joel looks forward to the day when all Israel’s sons and daughters will become as prophets in the land. Psalm 65 is a psalm of thanksgiving for the “God of our salvation.” The writer of Second Timothy elevates his own achievements by means of athletic imagery, but the reading concludes with an acknowledgment that strength and deliverance have come and will come from God. The story of the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke suggests the perils of ignoring the fundamental truth of Joel 2 and Psalm 65. The Pharisee presumes that his achievements are his alone; the tax collector knows that prayer begins and ends with a cry to God for mercy.
• Read Joel 2:23-32. In the face of tragedy, how can we encourage one another to see with Joel’s eyes?
• Read Psalm 65. What in the created world brings words of praise of the Creator to your lips? What ridges and furrows in your life need God’s softening?
• Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. What would it look like in your life to run the race God has set before you without striving to outrun others?
• Read Luke 18:9-14. Where might God be inviting your grati- tude? How can your gratitude to God lead to tangible love of a neighbor you might have otherwise disregarded?
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