This morning I was reading through some writings and prayers of Francis of Assisi. I enjoy entering into Francis’ journey of seeing God through His creation. A bird, a flowing stream, the sound of crickets at night…all these things centered the mind and heart of Francis on the sovereign God who created all things and gives life to all things. Here is a great prayer offering from Francis. Choose to slow, pause and be still and allow God to speak through his prayer.
You are holy,
O my Lord and only God,
mysterious and holy,
holy and amazing!
You are mighty, magnificent, transcendent.
You are all-powerful,
O most holy Creator,
beneficent ruler of heaven and earth.
You are manifold and One at the same time,
You are utterly wonderful.
You are wonderful, perfectly wonderful,
the very essence of all that is most wonderful,
O Lord God!
You are real and alive.
You are generosity and wisdom,
humility and patience,
safety and serenity,
ecstasy and delight.
You are righteousness and balance,
prosperity that surpasses all basic needs,
you are harmony and beauty.
You are my protector, guardian, and defender.
You are my strength.
You are my sustenance and my courage.
You are faith, hope, and charity.
You are my deepest tenderness.
You are everlasting vitality.
O supreme and marvelous Lord,
You are absolute mercy.
~St. Francis of Assisi
A famous anecdote was published in the New York Times in 1940 as an advertisement for Mortimer J Adler’s work “How To Read A Book.” As I read it again today I was reminded to read the Scriptures in a similar way. Slowly, anticipatorily and intimately. One of the most important aspects of reading Scripture is to begin seeing the details that submerge the text. When we read to quickly we miss most of what God is trying to say, and the transformative application stays shallow.
As you read this week, slow down, soak in the details, ask questions about the text as if you were a CNN reporter…let it all be absorbed into your mind and heart, or as you will read in a moment, read the Scriptures like you were reading your first love letters. Remember how you poured over the words over and over? Remember how no matter how many times you read it it still made your heart skip? If you’ll approach the Bible that way, you will definitely begin to see things you never saw before!
How To Read A Love Letter
This young man has just received his first love letter. He may read it three or four times, but he is just beginning. To read it as accurately as he would like would require several dictionaries and a good deal of close work with a few experts of etymology and philology.
However, he will do all right without them.
He will ponder over the exact shade of meaning of every word, every comma. She has headed the letter, “Dear John.” What, he asks himself, is the exact significance of those words? Did she refrain from saying “Dear-est” because she was bashful? Would “My Dear” have sounded too formal?
Maybe she would have said “Dear So-and-so” to anybody! A worried frown will now appear on his face. But it disappears as soon as he really gets to thinking about the first sentence. She certainly wouldn’t have written that to anybody!
And so he works his way through the letter, one moment perched blissfully on a cloud, the next moment huddled miserably behind an eight ball. It has started a hundred questions in his mind. He could quote it by heart. In fact, he will- to himself-for weeks to come.
To ponder…ruminate…chew…devour…savor…dwell in…and absorb are the only ways to read God’s Word if you want to experience more than an informational type reading.
In my book Sacred Space, one chapter is dedicated to his pursuit. Read the chapter titled “Sacred Words” and there you will find some more tools to learn how to allow God’s word deeper into your soul!
As I look around me I am overwhelmed by the variety of things we are pursuing. Things like: The perfect house…the right career…the right guy or girl…escape from life’s realities through books, film, poetry…
We pursue justice…vacations…accumulating stuff and things…the American dream…passions…health goals…life goals… financial goals…pleasure…money…power and control…recognition…family and independence…
We are tired and weary from the elusive pursuit, yet every day we get up and the race begins all over again.
What are you chasing after…who are you becoming?
The reason this is an important question to ponder and ruminate upon is because we become like the thing we pursue. The things that get our time, energy and focus are what we slowly shape-shift into becoming. Generally, the things we pursue are not actually what we truly desire, there is something deeper, but we have invested so little time into our souls that we are deaf to her cry. Out the soul’s deepest longings are desires that would bring about life, beauty and joy.
The soul is timid, powerful but timid. The energy-draining-crashing-around we exhibit as we pursue something generally causes the soul to stay in the shadows, waiting for a quieter moment…but the moment passes us by as the volume of life drowns out the soul’s whisper.
Psalm 34:14 in the Amplified translation notes:
“Depart from evil and do good; seek, inquire for, and crave peace and pursue (go after) it!”
Interesting…I wonder what our world would be like if instead of pursuing global-economic primacy nations instead pursued peace. I wonder what would happen in our neighborhoods if instead of one-upping the Jones’ we chose peace and received contentment. I wonder what our soul would sing if we chose to live a lifestyle that pursued peace and not all the stuff and things that we think will bring us peace.
King David was a man that longed for God’s peace yet lived a life where peace was as tangible as a steak at a Vegan seminar. Wars, subterfuge, marital conflict, adultery, betrayal and constant criticism nipped his heels daily. Yet his words seem to lock in on something beyond…something fascinating…something beautiful…something his soul was crying out for: Seek after…inquire for…and crave peace…then by all means make that your pursuit!
The greatest gift God has given me is an otherworldly saturation of peace in the midst of storms. A feeling so powerful and so real that I have wondered what it was, where it came from… and then, I pray it will never leave. It is more than peace though…it is God’s own Spirit unleashed in our soul causing her to sing in such a way that all those other pursuits fade on the sidelines of life.
To pursue peace is to become peace. Your presence will affect the people around you. Your countenance will be a calming reality and a contagious morsel. Your eyes will radiate a sense of God’s power and presence that is beyond the normal human pursuit.
You see, when we pursue peace and embrace it we are allowing God’s Spirit access to the control center of our life. As The Spirit slowly begins to lead us, there is something forming, growing, expanding and bringing even more peace with it and that is the very life of Christ Himself. The Spirit’s role is to form the living Christ in us by faith.
Jesus was called the prince of peace…the bringer of peace…so to pursue peace is to pursue the author and embodiment of peace, Jesus.
When we run around trying to experience a feeling we never quite get there because peace isn’t a feeling, it’s a person.
Let’s choose to pursue Peace at work; at home; in our communities of faith; in our storms; in our goals and in our soul.
Jesus said it this way:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
Jesus gives us peace by giving us Himself…no formula…no hoops to jump through…no major clean up in order to deserve it. No, He offers us His peace in and of Himself…to hold Him is to have peace…Isaiah said the the punishment that brought us peace was taken on by Jesus. (Isaiah 53:5).
May you be fascinated by Him this week, and may you experience peace as you pursue it in the face of the Messiah.
As you ease into Holy week, here is a meditation to help you find some focus and balance…MC
To Know the Cross
A Meditation for Holy Week from “Bread and Wine.”
The Christian must not only accept suffering: he must make it holy. Nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering.
Merely accepted, suffering does nothing for our souls except, perhaps, to harden them. Endurance alone is no consecration. True asceticism is not a mere cult of fortitude. We can deny ourselves rigorously for the wrong reason and end up by pleasing ourselves mightily with our self-denial.
Suffering is consecrated to God by faith – not by faith in suffering, but by faith in God. Some of us believe in the power and the value of suffering. But such a belief is an illusion. Suffering has no power and no value of its own.
It is valuable only as a test of faith. What if our faith fails the test? Is it good to suffer, then? What if we enter into suffering with a strong faith in suffering, and then discover that suffering destroys us?
To believe in suffering is pride: but to suffer, believing in God, is humility. For pride may tell us that we are strong enough to suffer, that suffering is good for us because we are good. Humility tells us that suffering is an evil which we must always expect to find in our lives because of the evil that is in ourselves. But faith also knows that the mercy of God is given to those who seek him in suffering, and that by his grace we can overcome evil with good. Suffering, then, becomes good by accident, by the good that it enables us to receive more abundantly from the mercy of God. It does not make us good by itself, but it enables us to make ourselves better than we are. Thus, what we consecrate to God in suffering is not our suffering but our selves.
Only the sufferings of Christ are valuable in the sight of God, who hates evil, and to him they are valuable chiefly as a sign. The death of Jesus on the cross has an infinite meaning and value not because it is a death, but because it is the death of the Son of God. The cross of Christ says nothing of the power of suffering or of death. It speaks only of the power of him who overcame both suffering and death by rising from the grave.
The wounds that evil stamped upon the flesh of Christ are to be worshiped as holy not because they are wounds, but because they are his wounds. Nor would we worship them if he had merely died of them, without rising again. For Jesus is not merely someone who once loved us enough to die for us. His love for us is the infinite love of God, which is stronger than all evil and cannot be touched by death.
Suffering, therefore, can only be consecrated to God by one who believes that Jesus is not dead. And it is of the very essence of Christianity to face suffering and death not because they are good, not because they have meaning, but because the resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of their meaning.
I was meditating on this traditional prayer today and thought I would pass it on…Monty
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me;
Within thy wounds hide me;
Suffer me not to be separated from thee;
From the malignant enemy defend me;
In the hour of my death call me,
And bid me come to thee,
That with thy saints I may praise thee
Forever and ever.
Great meditation from Eugene Peterson…mc
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 1:1
Jesse’s roots, composted with carcasses
Of dove and lamb, parchments of ox and goat,
Centuries of dried up prayers and bloody
Sacrifice, now bear me gospel fruit.
David’s branch, fed on kosher soil
Blossoms a messianic flower, and then
Ripens into a kingdom crop, conserving
The fragrance and warmth of spring for winter use.
Holy Spirit, shake our family tree,
Release your ripened fruit to our outstretched arms.
I’d like to see my children sink their teeth
Into promised land pomegranates
And Canaan grapes, bushel gifts of God,
While I skip a grace rope to a Christ tune.