[Jesus] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself… Philippines 2:7, 8 (KJV)
Aidan, the beloved saint who founded Lindisfarne* in the 7th Century, was known to live and instruct his monks in the way of service. The devout community who lived together divided their time between prayers, study, work, and loving action for others. Aidan “learned to travel lightly, knowing that the less you had the less you need fear being robbed. The more you carried about with you the more anxious and burdened you became.”
Aidan taught his monks to walk among the people, not to ride on horseback where they would be far above them and unable to talk with them. Once the king hand-picked a beautiful horse and equipped it with jewel-studded saddle and tack and presented it to Aidan. With a heavy heart, but grateful for the king’s generosity, Aidan left the palace. He became anxious about robbers, about protecting his valuable new possessions, and about being so high above his people. Soon he saw a beggar standing by the roadside and thought of giving him the valuable saddle, and then it occurred to him that the man would be unable to carry it. Immediately, he resolved his dilemma by getting off the horse and handing it over along with saddle and tack, telling the beggar where it could be sold for a good price.
Occasionally, we hear of contemporaries who have given themselves in service for others. Think of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, whom we now know as Mother Theresa, a young woman from an affluent family who gave her life to serve lepers, disabled, the blind, and the aged. What about Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, who was discovered early one morning polishing all the shoes that had been left in the hall by the Korean staff? And there’s Elisabeth Elliott, missionary, whose husband Jim was killed by the Auca Indians – she went back to lead them to Jesus. On and on we could go, listing those who have chosen to give more than possessions; they have given themselves to serve our Lord by serving others.
It is easy to talk and read of service, but the doing requires an inner letting go of pride, of place, of possession, of time, and of self. Where do we begin? Or how do we continue?
Father, as people of the Cross, make us doers as well as hearers of your word. Show us now the door that opens to us in service. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
*Lindisfarne Island (Holy Island) is off the northeast coast of England.
Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Jeremiah 29:7
In my work with foreign missions of our diocese, I meet many distinguished church leaders and am often inspired by their insights. Such was the case with a bishop whose authority extended over a number of countries ruled by despots, dictators, and self-serving autocrats. This godly man told me that he had adopted Jeremiah 29:7 as his theme for the year and had shared the mandate among his wide-spread churches.
If this man and his thousands of parishioners could pray for peace and prosperity in lands where persecution and martyrdom were everyday occurrences, what might happen if we as faithful followers of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, prayed and practiced peace in our own nation? What might happen if, instead of criticism, fault-finding, and hatred for our leaders, we actively modeled peace and sought to reach out in Christ’s love to those with whom we disagree?
In just three short years Jesus showed us how to love our neighbors, how to speak truth to our enemies without animus, and how to give ourselves in loving service for our Lord and others. Rather than advancing his own agenda, Jesus selflessly gave all for our peace and our salvation and that of the whole world.
Do you see the outcome of the Jeremiah directive? Do you see what occurs when we set our hearts to seek and pray for peace and the prosperity of the place where we have been situated? Remember the old adage, “A rising tide floats all boats?” I think this is what God is saying through Jeremiah: When the country prospers, we, too, will prosper.
Seek and pray for the peace and prosperity of our country.
Father, may we be instruments of your peace and seek the good of all around us. You are our resource, and we ask you to use us as conduits of your bounty. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8
I am in company with the disciples as we walk to Emmaus after the death of Jesus. The conversation is full of tears and disillusionment, downcast faces and dashed hopes. They had walked with Jesus and had trusted. They had watched him heal and do miracles. They had even seen the dead brought back to life. Now it seems that they must have missed something.
Have you ever trusted God about a matter—your expectation of how he should intervene in a particular way—and then he acts in a contrary manner? You had prayed with faith, all for his glory, and then you discover God’s ways to be confounding.
Joy Dawson, New Zealand missionary, once preached a spontaneous sermon about Lazarus and Jesus’ nonchalant attitude toward his friend. Remember that Jesus got word that Lazarus was ill, and still he stayed in place. By the time Jesus arrived at the scene, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. The miracle that followed far surpassed the healing the sisters had been expecting. Dawson asked her audience, “Do you want a healing or a resurrection?”
It would seem that we can be satisfied with a band aid rather than a display of God’s omniscience and divine power. We see the finite matter of our interest and conclude that this, yes, this is what God should do, rather than surrendering to God’s will. To the infinite God who sees and knows far more about every circumstance than our collective minds could dream. And God is able to do exceeding above all we can ask or think.
I’ve asked myself if I trust God only when he answers prayer to my liking or if I can let go of my hopes and trust him when I do not understand. How many people followed Jesus when the loaves and fish were in abundance? And how many were at the foot of the cross when Jesus was becoming the Savior of the world?
Could it be that we follow when we understand but are adrift when divinity outstrips our humanity?
Father, I ask your forgiveness when my faith is earth-bound. You are God, and I am not. Let your will be done. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
Search me, God, and know my heart… Psalm 139:23.
While Socrates is credited with saying, “Know thyself,” how many people have the courage to look in the mirror or the humility to see the potential for evil within? Ever had anyone (usually a detractor) point out an unattractive attitude or behavior? The response, most likely, is hurt or denial or anger, rather than gratitude.
Foster (Celebration of Discipline) says self-knowledge should be one of the principle objects of study.* He doesn’t provide a laundry list, but here are some questions that I frequently ask myself:
• What just happened when he “pushed my button”?
• What did he say that provoked my reaction?
• Why did that upset me?
• What is the root of this negative emotion?
• What from the past am I suppressing or ignoring rather than recalling, processing, and dragging to the Light for healing and resolution?
• What am I choosing not to forgive?
This is just a starting point. Foster also asks Who or what controls us?
Honest reflection can be helpful, but when I experience pain in ordinary daily transactions, that’s when I’m most motivated to ask the questions that bring about change. And when God, the Holy Spirit, initiates the event, I’m ready to cooperate. When, on my own, I begin unhealthy introspection, the flaws can be overwhelming.
Essentially, we wait until the disequilibrium comes in everyday living, ask God to search us and show us the root issue causing the problem, and then start the questioning of ourselves. Working with the Spirit, we confront the source of the pain and then take the necessary action to begin the healing process.
Why should we suffer from the same injuries or misconceptions for decades when confronting and resolving them can lay them to rest forever? Jesus asked a man who’d been crippled for years, “Do you want to be healed” (John 5:6)? Good question. What’s stopping us?
Father, sometimes it seems that we cling to those things that wound rather than allowing ourselves to get well. Open our foolish eyes and make us well. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
*Foster warns “depressives or others who are bowed low by the burdens of life” should avoid this exercise as self-defeating.
My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. I John 4:1 (MSG)
Recently, a friend received an angry email purporting to know defamatory things about a mutual friend. I was copied and troubled because the communication was totally based on hearsay. I talked with my friend about a response—how does one deal with someone who is totally convinced of his own opinion and not open to discussion? I said I’d be praying.
To my immense admiration, my friend wrote a grace-filled letter acknowledging the anger of the writer while thanking him for taking time to write. He went on to explain the truth as he had personally experienced it. I think that we both thought that would be the end of the matter. But it wasn’t.
A few days letter, my friend got a response and again copied me. In the response, the antagonist stated that there were things about this person that he hadn’t previously known. He went on to say that he probably needed to find out the truth for himself, and to my surprise, presented himself at the next gathering where the man being criticized would be speaking.
I introduced the two men, and I watched carefully through the evening for any reaction from the letter writer. Sure enough, there was applause at certain times, nodding of the head, and smiles. And he came back the next day with the same reaction. He even participated later during the Q&A session. Because his initial angry query was greeted with understanding, grace, and love, he came to see for himself. And because he was a truth-seeker, he didn’t just take the word of a detractor, he came to see, and he came to listen.
We live in a time of great division, confusion, anger, and frustration. Proverbs 18:17 says, “He who pleads his cause first seems right; until another comes and questions him.” We seem unable to converse with someone who disagrees with us or someone who may hold another opinion. How will we ever come together if we can’t speak with open hearts and open minds? If we can’t listen? If we don’t try to understand? What happens when we dare not question one another?
It’s time we returned to God’s mandate: loving him and loving our neighbors. And that includes the way we speak to and treat each other. And when we disagree, we learn the truth for ourselves, and we continue to relate in love. We don’t buy into second- and third-hand stories. We verify, and then we live out the truth with grace and love.
Father, your royal law of love never changes. Help us to reach out to those with whom we have differences; help us to listen; and help us to love. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.