Daily Prayer for July 26
Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. Psalm 119:89–91, NIV
Lord God, we thank you for your Word, greatest and most glorious of all that comes to our human life. Every day we want to find more joy in your help, in what you are doing for us. Again and again we feel and rejoice in the new help, new strength, and new courage for life given by your Word. We seek and seek to find Jesus Christ, the eternal Life. He will surely come to establish your kingdom. Praise to your name, eternal, glorious, almighty God! Be with us poor, lowly people. Strengthen us in spirit, and enable us to persevere until everything is fulfilled that is promised by your Word. Amen.
The Necessity of Reverence
Cultivating a pilgrim’s eye for beauty
Sister Dominic Mary Heath
“Holy sepulchre, Batman!” It’s a saying my family coined on a trip to the Holy Land when I was a child. The idea of pilgrimage was still foreign to my family of American evangelicals, and I remember my dad turning to me as we entered the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, a site at the heart of Christian devotion to the Incarnation: “Holy Sepulchre… Batman!” he said, and I echoed it back to him.
This saying, which has since become something of a family joke, captures the typical irreverence of tourists. Too often, that’s what tourists do: tame uncommon beauty with everyday irreverence. For every one soul flooded with grace in a sacred space like the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there are floods of tourists moved simply by curiosity and a very natural desire to see something famous. Sudden exposure to beauty just doesn’t work miracles for a lot of people, even those who should “know better.”
Discussions on beauty in evangelization tend to overlook just this point: conversion is a grace, but reverence is cultivated. Reverence is not a heightened emotional state provoked by a bring-me-to-my-knees aesthetic experience. It’s an attitude that involves a certain way of seeing the world, a discernment of the excellence in things and particularly the excellence of God, which gives me the capacity first to recognize, then to receive, the beautiful. Reverence can tell me what I’m looking for when I behold something beautiful. And when it tells me I’m looking for Christ, I become a pilgrim with purpose, not a tourist without aim.
The good news is that even if you can’t get to a famous cathedral in Jerusalem, Cologne, Santiago, or Westminster, you can cultivate reverence.
What Is Reverence?
Reverence is the attitude of submission we owe to God as the source of our being. It is the posture proper to us as human persons who should recognize our finitude: I did not make myself and I do not hold myself in being. Reverence can be called a posture in both senses of the word: it involves not only the subjection of our minds, but also the humbling of our bodies. The first leads to the second, like charity in the heart leads to charity in deeds. In fact, the posture of reverence is formed in us by a whole host of virtues with charity at their head. Reverence thrives on charity because charity is a love of God, self, and neighbor for God’s own sake that informs all the Christian virtues, animating and perfecting them like the soul informs, or animates, the body.
Charity forms reverence in us, first, by teaching us the fear of the Lord. When our fear of God is a slave-like fear of punishment, our reverence is real but imperfect. Reverence reaches its perfection when our fear matures into a childlike dread of separation from a beloved Father. As Saint Augustine says, “It is one thing to be afraid he may come, another to be afraid he may leave you.” Brought to perfection by love, reverence becomes the sign of the Holy Spirit in us crying “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6).
God, of course, is not just any father; he is the first principle of creation and the eternal wisdom governing all things. We revere him not because of his goodness (this is the object of our love), but because of his excellence. Reverence takes excellence as its object because it is a humbled response to what excels us. This gives reverence a special relation to another set of virtues – the virtues of justice.
Most of us know that justice renders to each what he or she is due. What may be surprising, however, is the name justice takes when it renders due reverence to God: it’s called religion. Religion is the moral virtue, belonging to justice, that pays God reverence by interior acts of devotion and prayer and by exterior acts of adoration and sacrifice. These acts are virtuous, not when they are sudden and coerced, but when they are sweet and habitual to us. A virtue in this sense is always something we’re good at. Religion makes us good at revering God because it gives us the ready will to do so. A person with the habit of religion has the benefit of a soul rightly ordered to God and creation.
Conversion is a grace, but reverence is cultivated.
Right order is the principle that distinguishes Christian reverence from all merely natural instincts about God as a “higher power.” It’s no longer possible for us to reverence God generically when we know that the eternal Word, Second Person of the Trinity, has forever united himself to human nature (the ongoing mystery we call the Incarnation). All I just said about reverence as a humbled posture expressing charity, religion, and holy fear applies equally to our reverence for Christ in his humanity – his body, blood, and soul – and divinity. The Incarnation makes one huge exception to the rule that we must worship the Creator of beauty but not the beauty of creation: Christ is simply both.
Christ, in his humanity, brings the excellence of God near to us. We owe him reverence because he is God from eternity, but also because his sacred humanity is the source of our life of grace in time and space. It is for our sakes, according to Saint Cyril of Alexandria, that the Spirit descended upon Christ at his baptism: “If we reason correctly, and use also the testimony of Scripture, we can see that Christ did not receive the Spirit for himself, but rather for us in him; for it is through Christ that all gifts come down to us.”
Reverence, rightly ordered, is a humbled submission to the one who humbled himself to share in our humanity, who continues to share his divine life with us. An attitude like this will overflow into our lives: at the Holy Sepulchre it could mean all the difference between Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the one who has risen and my own childhood encounter with the one who flies over Gotham.
No matter how old we are, the first way to learn reverence is in the childlike mode of imitation. A second story from my early trip to the Holy Land illustrates this for me vividly. This time we were in Emmaus, the village mentioned at the very end of Luke’s Gospel. In that account, two Christian disciples meet a stranger on their journey from Jerusalem but only recognize him as Christ “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).
Emmaus is a place of epiphany, and on the hot, bright day when I walked into a monastery built on the site, I experienced that for myself. There were no tourists, but the church wasn’t empty. Looking down from an upper loft, we could see nuns prostrate below us in total silence. I had never seen a nun before, but I was immediately overawed by what they were doing. What were they doing? I really didn’t know, but as I watched them I fell as silent and still as they were.
Twenty years went by without remark on this memory, which is why I was even more delighted when my dad brought it up recently. “You remember that too?” I asked in surprise. The Wailing Wall, Holy Sepulchre, Jordan River, and Gethsemane – nothing made as vivid an impression on us as the nuns in Emmaus. And now I understand what they were doing that day: keeping silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament where, like the disciples before them, they recognized and reverenced Christ “in the breaking of the bread.”
These examples illustrate a point: children intuit meaning in things they can’t yet fully understand. With the right teachers, they pick up more than good manners – they pick up good ideas. The nuns in Emmaus taught my dad and me something that all the buildings and sites we had visited had not. Their reverence was not a mental calculation; it was a full-bodied response to the truth they knew about who God is and how he dwells among us. I didn’t have to understand all that to learn it.
We don’t have to be young in years to learn reverence this way; we just have to turn and become as receptive as little children. For most of us, that will mean letting go of a certain cynicism, suspicion, and even dullness toward spiritual realities that we’ve learned from our highly developed consumer instincts: What am I being sold? How am I being manipulated? What can I get out of this?
It’s frightening to realize how deliberately irreverent our secular culture is. Alongside vast ignorance and inexperience there is something truly demonic at work here. Satan, after all, is the one who refused to serve. Irreverence is intrinsically disordered and, despite its seductive hold on our culture, basically ugly. If we cultivate it by choice, it chokes out the movements of charity, religion, and holy fear in us.
Many of us, unfortunately, won’t find good role models of reverence close by. But another way to learn reverence, which is open to all of us, is to grow in understanding.
I once met a man in his sixties who complained to me about the simplistic way his third-grade teacher had explained heaven to him. She told the class that they should imagine having good things in heaven just like they have good things now. For example, if they lived in a blue house, they would have a blue house in heaven. This analogy, similar to the one C. S. Lewis uses in The Last Battle, didn’t sit well with him as a child: his family lived in an apartment!
“Now, isn’t that a silly way to explain heaven?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I agreed. “But you’re not a child anymore. What have you done since third grade to understand heaven better?”
His is a common mentality. Many people grow up enough to criticize their first, childish ideas about faith, but don’t follow through to more mature ideas about God, creation, and the human person. Left in a state of arrested development, reverence can’t ripen.
To learn reverence, we have to become as receptive as little children.
Understanding allows us to experience reverence in its mature mode. It is the necessary completion of childlike imitation, no matter how young or old we are when we begin to comprehend divine truths. Understanding is something we can cultivate ourselves, firstly by studying the truths of nature and revelation, and secondly by removing misconceptions that are obstacles to reverence in our lives. If I imagine that God is a crotchety old man in the sky, for example, and don’t know that he is spirit infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, who has created me to share in his goodness, I won’t be able to assume an authentic posture of subjection to him, one of gratitude and supplication.
The point is that when I walk into a place of sacred beauty, the ideas I bring with me really matter. Irreverence grows out of ugly ideas I have about creation, the human person, and God’s saving providence. These misconceptions make it difficult for me to recognize beauty no matter how much of it I see around me. Becoming aware of my own misconceptions can open me to the experience of beauty in its three traditional properties – proportion, integrity, and clarity – and serve as a remedy for irreverence itself.
Reverence in a Flat World
One misconception that keeps us from experiencing the beauty of creation is radical egalitarianism. The culture around us endorses total equality in the worst sense of the word – we prefer to live in a flat world. The idea that I should submit to the excellence of another, God or not, is somewhat offensive. What we can’t abide about the idea of reverence is its reliance on hierarchy, and we don’t realize that an allergy to hierarchy is a reaction against a property of beauty itself, called proportion.
Proportion, as an aesthetic value, signifies the pleasure my mind takes in order and unity. We experience proportion in small ways every day: when we walk into a clean space instead of a cluttered one, or listen to a favorite song instead of the sound of traffic. On a much larger scale, however, the beauty of proportion is written into the universe itself.
That’s because the universe has a form. Not a shape, mind you, but a principle that constitutes its proper perfection. It not only is something: it’s also becoming something. And though we can’t yet see entirely what God has in mind for it, the form of creation is already visible in the order and diversity of its parts. It shows us what it is by showing us the beauty of its proportions.
This instinct for the hierarchy in the universe is deeply Christian. Augustine, for example, paints the scene this way: “Where does God’s creation begin? With the angels. And where does God’s creation leave off? With the mortal things of earth. The created order has an upward limit, beyond which is God; the created order has a downward limit, beyond which is nothing.” Each being is placed. It is ordered. It is desired by God as one possible expression of his own infinite beauty among all others. But the point is that it belongs and it depends.
Depending on another is of the essence of hierarchy, and it’s at the heart of created beauty. In fact, if you want a good example of dependent beauty, look at the human person in the attitude of reverence. We’ve already said that the first act of reverence is to submit the mind to God. But how?
The answer has to do with our place in the hierarchy of creation, and with the fact that we have both material needs and spiritual desires. It has to do with our capacity to grow in knowledge, love, and holiness. The answer is that reverence prays as Christ taught us.
Prayer is proper to someone in need, someone who depends. By prayer we accede to our place in creation and open ourselves to receive what God wants to give us as his children, made in his image and remade by baptism (Gen. 1:27; Rom. 6:3–4; Eph. 1:5). The hierarchy here is all in our favor, because lesser things are perfected by higher ones. What we gain by reverent prayer is nothing less than our own perfection. Listen to Saint Thomas Aquinas: “By the very fact that we revere and honor God, our mind is subjected to him; wherein its perfection consists, since a thing is perfected by being subject to its superior, for instance the body is perfected by being quickened by the soul, and the air by being enlightened by the sun.”
In other words, just like life and light flow into the world from higher causes, so purity and firmness of mind flow into my soul from God when I revere him. This effect in me is called sanctity, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more attractive in creation. It is the beauty of being proportioned to divine things by grace and of sharing in Christ’s own prayer to the Father who is “greater than all” (John 10:29). But in a flat world of low horizons, we miss this beauty.
Reverence and Bodies
Disregard for the body is a second common idea, one that keeps us from experiencing the beauty of the human person. Most of us are very comfortable with an easygoing attitude that says, “No worries, what I do with my body is spiritually irrelevant.” The idea that bodies have responsibilities is unfamiliar, and the fact that reverence makes demands on our bodies seems rude. Reverence, religion, God: these are matters of the mind and soul.
Meanwhile, however, we’re clearly missing something. And that’s not a bad definition of ugly. Beauty is characterized by integrity. Integrity as an aesthetic value refers to the pleasure our minds take in seeing completeness and wholeness in things. It is the beauty of a thing that has all its parts, neither too many nor too few. It pleases me because through it I glimpse something of God – the fullness of being – himself. If I want to see the beauty of the world and my place in it (proportion), I can’t overlook the fact that I am a soul and a body (integrity). It’s precisely the integrity of the human person that explains why we owe God acts of embodied reverence.
We need our bodies in order to receive knowledge of the world around us. We derive knowledge from our five senses, all day long, every day of our lives. What’s fascinating, however, is that we receive knowledge of God in the same way. God has chosen to reveal himself to us according to the embodied mode of the human nature he has given us – incrementally, over time, using sensible words and deeds that are often mediated through other people.
The bodily mediation of Christian revelation is a basic premise of the Incarnation: the Word became flesh to reveal the face of the Father whom no one has seen (John 1:18). What’s more, this mediation gives us a new perspective on the reverence we owe Christ in his humanity; it explains how what we pay him in justice returns to us in sweetness. Aquinas puts it this way:
Matters concerning the Godhead are, in themselves, the strongest incentive to love and consequently to devotion, because God is supremely lovable. Yet such is the weakness of the human mind that it needs a guiding hand, not only to the knowledge, but also to the love of Divine things by means of certain sensible objects known to us. Chief among these is the humanity of Christ.
Christ’s humanity is a divinely foreseen aid, a “guiding hand,” as Aquinas says; our hearts and minds are weak and cannot pierce the heavenly realms on their own. This is why reverence for Christ’s humanity – the kind of devotion motivating centuries of pilgrims to the Holy Sepulchre – is not an awkward compromise with superstition or an unfortunate falling away from pure, reasonable religion. Instead, it is an aid intrinsic to God’s ordinatio, or saving order: “God,” writes Saint Teresa of Avila, “desires that if we are going to please Him and receive His great favors, we must do so through the most sacred humanity of Christ, in whom He takes His delight.”
That God continues to work within this bodily mode is a basic premise of Christian anthropology for which we should be grateful. It not only means we can hear God in Christ. It also means we can speak back.
Our bodies speak reverence to God in the same way they have been spoken to: incrementally, over time, using sensible words and deeds often mediated through other people. For example, when we humble our bodies in God’s presence by bowing, kneeling, or even just folding our hands, we are using our bodies to speak reverence. When we deny our bodies by fasting, almsgiving, and other forms of Christian sacrifice, we are using them to speak reverence. When we gather our bodies at the times and places consecrated for God with the people of God, we are using them to speak reverence. And when we put our bodies at the service of others out of love for God and neighbor, we are using them to speak reverence.
At the same time, we are also shaping our lives into an integral whole that is nothing less than beautiful. But in a world where bodies have no responsibilities, we miss it.
Reverence and Providence
A third mindset does possibly more to mar our experience of beauty than the others because it is a misunderstanding about God himself. I’m referring to the habit of fatalism we’ve picked up from an unsavory friendship with materialism. When things – and their meaning – are reduced to matter and the laws of physics alone, what I see is what I get, and what I can’t see can’t mean much.
Fatalism like this blinds us to the actions of God in the world, and it makes the meaning of our own lives incomprehensible. Our heads may be full of the latest news, but our minds can’t discern the patterns of providence in these events. Meanwhile, the idea that we should revere a loving God who lets unloving things happen in the material world is hard to swallow. We doubt the beauty of divine providence because we don’t see it in all its clarity.
Clarity is the third property of beauty – its illuminative quality – that manifests the inherent radiance of all beautiful things. As an aesthetic value, clarity represents the pleasure our minds take in finding light and intelligibility in the world. Clarity is at work, for example, when we see a stained glass window lit up and understand the story the window tells.
Clarity outstrips both proportion and integrity in the delight it causes, in much the same way that love outpaces faith and hope: It first recapitulates and then surpasses them. But clarity also excels in mystery. As beauty goes, it can be very unclear indeed, especially if I’m used to sights that are cheap and flashy. Real clarity is neither of those things. As Jacques Maritain explains, “To define the beautiful by the radiance of the form is in reality to define it by the radiance of a mystery. It is a… misconception to reduce clarity in itself to clarity for us.”
The gap between what is clear in and of itself and what is clear for us is where the great mysteries of providence play out. It’s also where our attitude of reverence must find its perfection in the supernatural virtue of faith if it is to survive at all. Reverence perfected by faith shows us the inner light of God’s providence in everything that exists. With Saint Catherine of Siena, faith can say, “Hate sin and hold all else in reverence.”
Real faith is not blindness; it is a supernatural way of seeing.
It’s a common mistake to think that faith means closing our eyes and gritting our teeth against hard truths. Real faith is not blindness; it is a supernatural way of seeing that begins with the habit of believing God. Faith has God himself as its object, and it participates in God’s own vision of the world. It enjoys a clarity that surpasses our natural powers.
Take, for example, the beauty of the cross of Christ. Materially, we can point to a brutal and humiliating form of execution that is very dark, indeed. With the eyes of faith, however, we can see the cross differently. We see the material form of an uncreated love, infinity in flesh, which is the light and salvation of the soul. We see a mystery of divine love, “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in [Christ],” a mystery which is the light and salvation of the world (Eph. 1:10). We see a mystery of human love, gratitude and surrender to the Father, which is the light and salvation of all the suffering in our lives. And seeing all this, we can exclaim with the Psalmist, “but there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered” (Ps. 130:4).
By faith, we behold already what heaven will show us in absolute clarity: that the mystery of the cross has been the singular beauty of our lives. But in a world darkened to divine providence, we miss it.
God Is Near Us
Reverence opens our eyes to beauty in the order of creation, in the wholeness of human persons, and in the mystery of divine providence – beauty that is inaccessible to irreverent eyes. As an attitude that accompanies Christian life, reverence is not optional but necessary.
Do Christians also need beautiful buildings, liturgies, art, and literature in order to convert the world? Absolutely. Even more importantly perhaps, we need them in order to convert ourselves. But there’s an important sense in which each of us must cultivate a pilgrim’s eye for beauty in the places in which we already live and worship and in the daily crosses we already carry. That means recognizing God’s presence with us, in Christ, and submitting to him gladly through our practice of charity, religion, and holy fear. Once we begin to do that, our aesthetic experiences will show us more and more clearly that God is near us.
As a cloistered nun who no longer kneels in the great cathedrals, I can tell you that this kind of conversion by beauty is still possible, here in my own sacred space, with all its monastic simplicity.
“The most subversive thing that you can do inside your home” is to establish a wormery, Claudio Oliver of the Casa da Videira community tells Sam Ewell, whom he calls “the best failure of an American missionary I ever met.” The reason why is rooted in a radical idea about creation and the “culture of the discarded.”
“The world has ended many times since it began,” Oliver adds in an update on how his community is meeting the Covid-19 pandemic. People moving into the world that follows bring with them the scars of the old – badges of pain and hope. “We reflect that the resurrected body of Jesus had scars. They show that he has passed through that old life and he has been brought into the new life with the scars. That life wins, that we are here for life, not for death. Scars for us are proof that we will continue.”
Watching “the play of light on ripples” in an irrigation ditch, poet Jane Clark Scharl wonders if the Creator is like the person who accidentally left the spigot open or “more like this swift-loosed flood, a selfless rush bubbling up irretrievably to overflow.”
“How is it that during this time of crisis and suffering – this time of death – I am experiencing such joy?” asks Erna Albertz at our partner project, Breaking Ground, as she helps her niece and nephew put flowers on her mother’s year-old grave. “It is as if, in grief, I am united to every other person who has lost a loved one, like a society that no one wants to join, but which there is no avoiding.”
“Though the state is instituted by God, it is also an instrument of the devil,” writes Eberhard Arnold in a blistering critique of church complicity in fascism. In honor of Arnold’s 137th birthday on Sunday, this week’s free ebook is God’s Revolution, which fleshes out his vision for “the way of love and peace and justice in the midst of a hostile, untruthful, unjust world.”
Till next week,
P.S. “Preach as if nothing happened,” Karl Barth, Arnold’s contemporary, advised his peers in response to the same Nazi threat. What?! Will Willimon explains:
This vile mass murderer, a “nothing”? Barth warned that in condemning Hitler, the church must not allow its imagination to be captured by the world’s myths. In our strident (though justly deserved) criticism, he said, we must not give the Nazis inappropriate glory, honor, and dominion that belong only to God. We are in this mess because our witness has become so muddled we can’t tell the difference between Germany and the Kingdom of God. Bear witness! Much that we once regarded as something has been rendered into nothing because of the decisive something that has happened in Christ. . . .
Though a virus presents a different kind of evil than a genocidal ideology, this pandemic has aspirations to take over our history and name the significance of the present moment in hopes of determining the future. A primary way to resist that viral takeover is preaching. . . .
When the world asks, “Got any word from the Lord?” and we say nothing other than what the world is already telling itself, we impugn the gospel. Maybe the present time is a grand opportunity to tell the story – God has become a Jew from Nazareth who lived briefly, preached what the world didn’t want to hear, died violently, rose unexpectedly, and called us to do the same by joining his revolution. That’s a story the world can’t tell itself.
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Unstoppable! ‘God’s Amazing Plan’
So Paul stood, lifted his hand to quiet [the people in the synagogue], and started speaking. “Men of Israel,” he said, “and you God-fearing Gentiles, listen to me.
“Before [Jesus] came, John the Baptist preached that all the people of Israel needed to repent of their sins and turn to God and be baptized. As John was finishing his ministry he asked, ‘Do you think I am the Messiah? No, I am not! But he is coming soon — and I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the sandals on his feet.’
“Brothers — you sons of Abraham, and also you God-fearing Gentiles — this message of salvation has been sent to us! The people in Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the one the prophets had spoken about. Instead, they condemned him, and in doing this they fulfilled the prophets’ words that are read every Sabbath. They found no legal reason to execute him, but they asked Pilate to have him killed anyway.
“When they had done all that the prophecies said about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead! And over a period of many days he appeared to those who had gone with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to the people of Israel.”
O, gracious Father, thank you for sending Jesus. Thank you for your plan that insisted that Jesus, who is one with you, come and live among us as one of us. I rest my concerns and place my future in the hands of your Anointed One, the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of David, the King of Israel, and my Lord and Savior. Amen.
Related Scripture Readings
Passion for Praise:
A Year with Jesus: ‘Assurance in Weakness’
Note from Jesus
By his own admission, Paul came to Corinth with very little personal confidence. He wrote:
I came to you in weakness — timid and trembling.
(1 Corinthians 2:3 NLT)
In the verses below from Acts, Luke shared that Paul’s work in Corinth began with difficulty, especially among his fellow Jews who “stopped listening and began insulting him.”
However, Paul’s ministry and leadership were vital to the success of the early church and its mission, especially to the Gentiles. Despite the opposition he faced in Macedonia and “the great turmoil” he endured in Athens, I planned to use him to make a huge difference in Corinth. So I gave him these words of encouragement in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Paul. Speak! Don’t be silent! I am with you, and no one will lay a finger on you to harm you. I have many in this city who are already My people.”
My words of encouragement helped Paul regain his confidence. He remained in Corinth for a longer time than he had originally planned. He increased his spiritual investment in the people of this strategic city. He blessed these precious new believers. With his follow-up letters and visits, Paul helped these Christians deal with difficult problems. He challenged them to live for Me with spiritual passion in a city known for its immorality and depravity. Despite the early problems the church in Corinth faced, it soon became an example of cross-centered grace that comes to life in My followers.
So where are you in your faith and commitment?
- Are you discouraged?
- Are you frustrated?
- Are you facing opposition from a hostile culture?
- Are you dealing with problems in a congregation with many new believers?
- Are you needing to know that your efforts at reaching the lost and at growing new disciples are not in vain?
Ask Me to help you!
Ask Me to help you find assurance. Ask Me to help you find clarity. Ask Me to help you live out My will in your community and through your personal mission. Speak to Me openly about your concerns. Admit your lack of confidence and ask to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Admit your fears and misgivings. Paul admitted his failings to Me and revealed many of them to others through his letters. Admission of failure is not an admission of defeat or faithlessness, but of recognition. It is the recognition of the enormity of the task, the difficulty of the challenges, the greatness of the opportunity, and your insufficiency in being able to live out My mission for you on your own!
Paul would later talk about the source of his power in the face of his own insufficiency. His words are not only beautiful in imagery and meaning, but also powerfully true:
For God, Who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
(2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT)
Verses to Live
From Athens, Paul traveled to Corinth alone. He found a Jewish man there named Aquila, originally from Pontus. Aquila and his wife Priscilla had recently come to Corinth from Italy because Claudius had banished all Jews from Rome. Paul visited them in their home and discovered they shared the same trade of tent making. He then became their long-term guest and joined them in their tentmaking business. Each Sabbath he would engage both Jews and Greeks in debate in the synagogue in an attempt to persuade them of his message.
Eventually Silas and Timothy left Macedonia and joined him in Corinth. They found him fully occupied by proclaiming the message, testifying to the Jewish people that Jesus was God’s Anointed, the Liberating King. Eventually, though, some of them stopped listening and began insulting him. He shook the dust off his garments in protest.
OK. I’ve done all I can for you. You are responsible for your own destiny before God. From now on, I will bring the good news to the outsiders!
He walked out of the synagogue and went next door to the home of an outsider, Titius Justus, who worshiped God. Paul formed a gathering of believers there that included Crispus (the synagogue leader) and his whole household and many other Corinthians who heard Paul, believed, and were… washed through baptism. One night Paul had a vision in which he heard the Lord’s voice.
Do not be afraid, Paul. Speak! Don’t be silent! I am with you, and no one will lay a finger on you to harm you. I have many in this city who are already My people.
After such turmoil in previous cities, these words encouraged Paul to extend his stay in Corinth, teaching the message of God among them for a year and six months.
Response in Prayer
O Almighty Father, I am not sufficient to fulfill my mission. I am weak. I sometimes stumble and sin. I am an unworthy vessel for the grace You have asked me to share with others. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave me as a gift when I was saved, I trust that Your power will be displayed perfectly in my weakness. I trust that Your Word will be received as life-giving despite my frailties. I trust that Your grace will be found sufficient in my insufficiency. I trust, O LORD, that you will give me both the strength and the assurance I need to serve You and bring others to know You. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
A New Identity
Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, ‘I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed. Your seed will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.’ Genesis 28:13 WEB
Jacob was a young man running for his life. He had deceived their father Isaac, and stolen his brother Esau’s birthright. Esau was a renowned hunter, and he planned to kill Jacob as soon as their father Isaac died, so Jacob had to flee. He planed to stay with his uncle Laban for a while, so he traveled all day until night fall, then found a place to sleep. As Jacob lay down to get some rest that night, God appeared to him in a dream and He told him many things that were to come. He encouraged Jacob and told him ‘ I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go.’
Jacob was a bit of a rogue. His name means ‘He cheats, the supplanter, he undermines, the heel’ yet God was not interested in Jacob’s past. He spoke only of his future. As Jacob lived his life, and spent time wrestling with God, he became a different man. God eventually changed Jacob’s name to ‘Israel’ meaning ‘Who prevails with God’ (Genesis 32:28).
Decades later when Jacob returned to Bethel, the place where he had the dream, he was healthy, wealthy, married, had a dozen children, many servants, a great testimony, and a new name. The Lord fulfilled His promises to Jacob just as He had spoken, but during the process, Jacob became a better man.
God always sees the potential in us and He calls us into our future, even though some of us could use a new identity like Jacob. God is faithful to provide what we need when we put Him first in our lives, even a completely new identity. We can become better than we are. We do not have to be who we were in the past.
The things that the Lord has spoken to your heart, He will fulfill, no matter how impossible or unlikely it appears. Hang on in faith. Know that we will see the goodness of God, in the land of the living. Though it seems long, wait for it, for it will surely come.
Prayer: Heavenly Father I thank You so much for all that You do for me. Please mold me, shape me, and help me become the very best version of myself. May my family and I all come to know You in a deeper way, in the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen!
Bible Fun Fact: The word “Christian” only appears three times in the Bible (Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16).
When You’re in Need of Encouragement
As a young minister’s wife, I learned early on that part of my unwritten job description included “encourager.” And my husband’s first church handed me the unspoken title of “leader” before I ever turned twenty.
But there are times when the encourager needs encouragement. Occasionally, all of us experience times when depression or discouragement creep in unannounced.
Is a writing deadline crushing you? Has new technology left you behind? Are you struggling to maintain your responsibilities at work or at home because of increased pressures? Is your energy level running on empty? Has the pandemic drained your motivation and resources? What do you do when you’re the leader, the teacher, the parent, the grandparent, the friend or the spouse–and you can’t seem to find the strength to encourage those under your care? Where do you find encouragement for yourself?
Through the years, I’ve learned to find strength and encouragement in several ways. If you’re the encourager, and you find yourself in need of encouragement, here are three simple ways that might help you, too:
1. Find Encouragement by Encouraging Yourself in the Lord
How do you do that? I’m not referring to self-talk, but to “God-speak.” 1 Samuel 30 describes this secret practice that the Psalmist David obviously learned while he was just a shepherd boy, composing songs on his harp. David later encouraged King Saul with music, trying to soothe the king’s depression when he called for David.
But Saul’s depressive moods often turned into jealous rage. Even while fighting Saul’s enemies as the king’s servant, David ended up running for his own life from Saul’s spear.
David, the Encourager, Needed Encouragement
One day David returned home from a battle to find that another enemy, the Amalekites, had raided his town and kidnapped all the women and children, including his own loved ones. David and his men wept so much, they had no tears left. Grief can do strange things to people’s hearts. David’s men turned on him, blaming him as their leader for the tragedy.
Verse 6 (KJV) describes what David did next:
And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.
Another translation says that David found strength in the Lord. It was obviously a practice David knew well.
Identifying with David’s laments and struggles in the Psalms, I turned to God’s Word and discovered this principle as a young mother.
Following the birth of our first baby, I experienced a severe case of post-partum depression, brought on by sheer emotional and physical exhaustion. It only lasted 7 weeks, but to me it seemed like an eternity. I remember some days I felt like I was hanging by a thread. But in between the needs of a new baby and a husband in seminary, I grabbed moments alone with the Lord and read the Psalms repeatedly, clinging to those powerful words like a lifeline. I believe those moments of hearing God speak to me were the key that brought the healing and encouragement I needed.
2. Find Encouragement by Resting and Recharging.
That’s right. Get away if necessary, but allow your body to catch up physically. If you haven’t had a physical check-up in a while, it wouldn’t hurt to schedule one. When our bodies are run down, our emotions and even our spiritual focus may suffer. No one expects you to give beyond what you are able. Saying yes to too many activities or responsibilities can leave your body and spirit in dire need of recharging.
Both your productivity and relationships will suffer if you can’t handle stress well. You may even need to delegate some responsibilities to another family member or co-worker. Just like a car, you can’t run on empty very long and get very far.
One year after major surgery I felt discouraged when my body took longer than I wanted to recover. But a friend gave me some praise songs and encouraged me to rest without guilt and just “let God love me” for awhile. Each time I hear one of those tunes, I still remember what a healing balm that music brought to my body and soul.
3. Find Encouragement by Talking to a Trusted Friend or Loved One
Most of us don’t like to admit weakness. What will people think? Swallow your pride and expectations of yourself, and find a good friend who will listen objectively. We have this mistaken notion that people will think less of us as Christians if we can’t handle every situation in our lives perfectly. But the Bible reminds us that in our weakness we are made strong:
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT).
Two Are Better Than One
John Donne’s famous quote, “No man is an island,” is true. Ecclesiastes 4:9 (NAS) says:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.
That’s why it’s so important to be part of a body of people who love the Lord, ones who will pray for you, and help share your burden. Even though our church remains online now due to COVID 19, our small church Life Group meets weekly for teaching, prayer and encouragement on Zoom. Even the ones in leadership need accountability friends: non-judgmental servants who can listen objectively and offer encouragement.
If you’re married, your own spouse can be an encourager for you. Too often, couples try to hide their flaws and weaknesses from each other, instead of admitting and working on them together. Learn how to build each other up, to listen without being defensive, and to offer gentle encouragement that leads to helpful solutions, without feeling the need to bring a permanent “fix.”
Only God can bring the healing our minds, bodies, and spirits need. And right now, we all need that more than ever. But He also uses people as His instruments to guide us in the right direction.
Whether you’re struggling with work related stress, family challenges, physical problems, or other personal issues, you can’t carry your own burdens for long without buckling under the weight. Give yourself a break. Soak yourself in God ‘s words and let Him love on you awhile. Take time to rest and recharge, and seek out the encouragement you need for yourself from someone you trust. You’ll feel the difference, and others will, too.
Pray for One Another
Remember especially those who are under fire right now–the ones who serve on the front lines of this coronavirus pandemic. Our doctors, nurses, all our health care workers, those in authority, essential services, business owners open to serve others, teachers, and so many more. Pray for God’s protection and encouragement for them. Truly, we can all be in this together if we will pray for one another and do our part to help.
My Personal Prayer for You
Lord, when we’re spent and weary of trying so hard, You are the One who encourages us. Teach us how to depend on You, to rest in You, and to bask in the sweetness of Your presence. Help us to be wise with the time and resources You have given us, and to be content in each day’s tasks. Forgive us for the pride that prevents us from finding Your healing. Thank You for giving us friends and loved ones to help share our burdens. Most of all, thank you, Lord, for loving us just as we are.
It’s Your Turn
What about you? How have you responded when life is not fair? What did God teach you about Himself during that time? I love to hear from readers. You can always write me through my contact page. Just fill out the basic name and address info, and then the email will come to me. I will never share your name or info with anyone without your permission.
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3 Ways to Take a Vacation from Your Problems
Working on—and worrying about—our challenges shouldn’t be a 24 / 7 job.
One of my favorite summer movies is the 1991 comedy, What About Bob? Bill Murray plays a psychiatry patient, Bob Wiley, who follows his therapist, played by Richard Dreyfuss, on vacation to Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. Bob heads north because he is afraid to be without the support of his frequent therapy sessions.
Hearing Bob’s anxieties, the doctor’s advice is pat but profound—while I’m away, why don’t you take a vacation from your problems?
Of course, Bob takes the suggestion hilariously seriously, choosing to vacate his problems in the doctor’s own backyard. But that phrase—“take a vacation from your problems”—has always resonated with me, all comedy aside.
There’s a fine line between living in denial of our problems and taking a break from being weighed down by them. In denial, we pretend there’s nothing wrong, nothing going on that we need to solve, no challenges to our inner peace and happiness.
But when we “take a vacation from our problems,” we acknowledge and own our challenges while choosing to step away from them for a period of time. Problems, however you define them in your life, can occupy your thoughts to an unhelpful degree, leading you to spiral into worried rumination.
And even the best problem-solvers among us can’t be wrestling issues to the ground all day, every day. Which is why during summer vacation season, I highly recommend scheduling a vacation from your biggest challenges.
Here’s what such a “vacation” looks like to me:
1. It’s Short but Sweet
Few of us can afford to walk away from, for example, a financial stress for a month or even a week. But setting a boundary of a 24-hour period when you are not chasing a solution to your problem can help refresh you for the decisions ahead.
2. It’s Non-Negotiable
If a friend tempts you to discuss your problem, if an article pops up on your social media feed or if a worried thought floats into your mind, you need to be firm, just as you (hopefully) would be if the boss called during a physical vacation: “Sorry, I can’t talk about this right now. I’ll touch base when I’m back from vacation!”
3. It’s Purposeful
At the end of your scheduled problem-vacation, take some time to reflect on what the space has shown you about the problem. Perhaps it’s not actually as big and scary as you thought. Maybe a new approach or solution comes to your mind. Or maybe you just feel more rested and ready to face it anew.
Would you consider taking a vacation from your problems? What would that look like for you?