Devotions Devotions When You Need Them Most

By Emily O'Connor

Day One - Washed by Jesus

Barry spoke this weekend about John 13:1-17, when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet as He was preparing for His death and resurrection. This week, we will be looking more closely at this passage and what it teaches us about self-reflection and sacrifice.
John 13 captures the beauty of servant leadership and humility, as Jesus, having already condescended Himself to become human, now stoops to wash His disciples’ feet. Peter’s reaction was justified, and likely similar to what ours would be – bewildered, taken aback, disturbed. But Jesus’ response is crucial, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8)

How many times a day do we ignore the presence of Jesus? How many times do we not allow ourselves to be cleansed by His presence?

There is a spiritual rhythm that Ruth Haley Barton explores in Sacred Rhythms called self-examination that is a daily “Jesus cleanse.” At the end of every day, we mentally walk back through our agenda, meetings, conversations, interactions, and we allow Jesus to shine His light on missed opportunities. Maybe you snapped at someone unnecessarily or didn’t pursue a conversation when you knew your coworker was down.

Self-examination can feel hard because it’s shining a light on your imperfections, but it also allows new opportunities to experience Jesus and allow for His cleansing. This week, we will be focusing on self-examination and how it can help us make room for Jesus every day.

Practice: Set aside some time this evening to walk back through your day. Where can you let Jesus cleanse your soul? How can you better recognize His presence tomorrow?

Day Two - The Risk of Unconditional Love

The worst part of self-examination is seeing the ugliness -- cracks, holes, tears, baggage. Yesterday when you mentally walked back through your day, it might have seemed disheartening. But it only increases the desire for unconditional love. Imagine being loved by someone who knows every misstep, every sin, every foul word or action, every wrong decision, every time you intentionally hurt someone, every time you intentionally hurt yourself.

“Something in us knows that such [unconditional] love is a transforming power. The problem is that most of us aren’t willing to take the risk of being seen so completely. There is always something we’re hiding for fear that we will be rejected in the end. We may have gotten close to the possibility of this kind of love at one time or another, but we haven’t known how to let it penetrate our defenses so that we can receive it. All of us would prefer to have the experience of unconditional love without having to take the risk of letting someone know us that well!” – Ruth Haley Barton

In John 13 when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He came face-to-face with the dirtiest parts of them. Our feet today are nasty, but people’s feet in Jesus’ time were absolutely disgusting. All of the nastiness you can think of that might have been on the ground before pavement and plumbing coated the disciples’ feet. Not to mention the cuts, callouses, and sores. And yet, He knelt and washed them.

Some days, your heart is as grimy as the disciples’ feet. It’s full of jealousy, anger, impatience, pride, and fear. And the last thing you want is for Jesus to come face-to-face with all of it. But imagine the freedom. Imagine what it feels like for Jesus, who already knows the sin accumulation, to refresh every corner of your heart.

Jesus already knows you, and He already loves you unconditionally. Allow Him to cleanse you.

Practice: Set aside time this evening to reflect on the day. Don’t be afraid to show Jesus the ugliest parts of it; He already knows. Confess and be cleansed.

Day Three - Servant Leadership

The act of foot washing is the ultimate image of a servant leader. Barry mentioned the upside-down Kingdom of God – that the last will be first, and the first will be last. Servant leadership is one of its greatest tenets.

Have you ever seen your CEO take out the trash in the office? Make the coffee in the morning? Take the custodial staff out for lunch? Invest their personal resources in a church or local nonprofit?

Here’s a harder question: Have you ever been the leader of a team or company and done any of those things?

We all carry pride, whether that be in our title, resources, connections, possessions. Jesus could have been the most prideful human to ever walk this earth. But would His words have held the same power if His actions didn’t mirror them? Of course not. That same concept applies to our lives.

Jesus doesn’t just exemplify servant leadership, He calls us to it.

“When He had washed their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

Not only was Jesus showing His unconditional love while He washed the disciples’ feet, He was also giving them a command. Love one another. Serve one another. If Jesus did not consider Himself greater than anyone, then surely we can’t either.

Practice: Everyone holds some level of pride. As you walk back through your day, notice places where you chose to exalt yourself rather than someone else. How can you be more aware of this tomorrow?

Day Four - Confessing Brokenness

Yesterday we reflected on our personal tendencies to move away from servant leadership and toward self-exaltation. As we journeyed back through the day, we recognized moments where we chose to ignore the needs of others and continue moving within our own comforts and gains.

Today, we take a step toward reconciling this brokenness by confessing our sins to God and one another. Every one of us ignores the needs of another for personal gain, but we do not reconcile the ways this creates brokenness in relationship.

In John 13:14-15, Jesus says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

Let’s be honest – we fall short of this calling. Yesterday we noticed the specific ways we fall short, which fragments our relationships. Later in John 13, Jesus calls us to love one another, that by our love we will be known as Christians (John 13:34-35). It is not loving to ignore each other’s needs, so let’s reconcile and build loving relationships by confessing our shortfalls to one another.

Who did you ignore today? Or yesterday? What if you approached that person the next time you saw them to apologize? I recognize that this is a step outside your comfort zone. It’s one thing to admit to yourself that you’ve wronged someone; it’s another thing to admit it to that person. But our call to love one another is to be taken seriously. Imagine the love of Christ you can show by laying down your fear and pride and serving that person by recognizing the ways you might have harmed them.

Not only can we be cleansed by God as He washes us, we can cleanse one another in love, humility, and servitude.

Practice: Reflect on the day and the ways you might have hurt a friend, colleague or loved one. Make a mental note to reconcile with that person the next time you see them by confessing and making them feel loved and cared for.

Day Five - Loving our Enemies

For the last couple days, we’ve meditated on the ways we exalt ourselves over people when we ignore their needs. We have celebrated the beauty of confession, reconciliation and elevation of God’s love and grace.

But we can often overlook an important detail of Jesus’ serving His disciples in John 13.

“During supper, when the devil has already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was around Him.” (John 13:2-5; italics added)

Jesus intentionally washed the feet of the man who betrayed Him to be crucified. He knew exactly the plans Judas had in his heart, and yet, Jesus still cleansed him.

This carries heavy implications for our lives. It’s hard enough to serve the people we love, but we’re supposed to serve our enemies, too? What about the person who wronged me? Lied to me? Accused me? Ignored me? Harmed me?

Yes, we’re supposed to wash even their feet. Jesus served the one who ultimately murdered Him. But He knew that washing Judas’ feet was worth it because that sin could not separate Him from God. “He had come from God and was going back to God…”

This is not an easy task, but it is our calling as Jesus’ disciples. It will take time, practice and failure. But Jesus’ grace, love and strength offers enough to try again. Our enemies cannot separate us from the love of God.

Practice: Journey back through the day and specifically ask God to show you a person who is hard to love. Consider that person through God’s eyes, as His beloved son or daughter. What ways does that person reveal the image of God? What’s a realistic way to show love to that person?

Day Six - The Depth of Salvation

As we enter the final day of our self-examination practice, notice if there is a deeper longing and appreciation in your heart for Jesus’ love. The recognition of our daily sin can feel disheartening, but it also opens our hearts to desperation for Jesus and the depth of His steadfast love.

Peter understood that his salvation was at stake if he wasn’t cleansed by Jesus, and his response was to offer his whole self to be cleansed by Him.

 “[Jesus] came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’” (John 13:6-9)

Let us replicate Peter’s response. The more we can see our sin, the more we desire cleansing. What’s more – we understand the profundity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we gain clarity in our daily missteps before God, Jesus’ taking on the sin of the world brings us to our knees in gratitude. Let’s celebrate Jesus’ unconditional love for us, that He washes us with His sacrifice and resurrected so we can have eternal relationship with Him.

“Self-examination is a practice that facilitates spiritual awakening – an awakening to the presence of God as God really is and an awakening to ourselves as we really are. When practiced rightly, it leads us into a greater sense of God’s constant loving presence in our life, it fosters a celebration of our created self, it offers us a safe place to see and name those places where we are not like Christ, and it opens us up to deeper levels of spiritual transformation.” – Ruth Haley Barton

Practice: As you practice self-examination today, meditate on the goodness of God. Allow the clarity of your personal brokenness to grow your perspective of God’s love for you. No matter how much you fall short of His glory, He has already taken on your sin, and His love for you is deeper than you could ever imagine. Celebrate this loving victory!


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