I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) The sufferer needs to understand that if he will stand in the Cross and hurt, there is a place [for the pain to go], an end to the pain. I explained [to Patsy] how it is one stands and hurts. “See the Cross… see yourself standing and hurting, acknowledging all these feelings, but this time let Christ take them into Himself. Let them flow into Him, just as you would sins you have confessed.” Just as we take our place in Christ’s dying, dying again with Him to our own sins, so we die to those diseased feelings, by allowing Him to take them into Himself. And we learn to wait still suffering if necessary, until relief and healing come. But we do it from our true center, not from an immature or false one. 
Many are suffering losses as we walk in the Covid wilderness, the loss of good Christian fellowship, the loss of celebratory gatherings, and the loss of meeting with family and dear friends. In many, isolation may trigger long-forgotten childhood feelings of abandonment and rejection. Leanne asks us to look up and gaze at Christ in the Cross in the midst of our suffering. Let Him take the pain into His body on the Cross, and let us exchange the pain for His Heavenly glory that will fill our souls with His resurrection presence.
Gracious Lord, You know the pain of being abandoned by Your own Father on the Cross. You know our suffering and pain as we walk in the Covid wilderness. Let us live from our true center and enable us to look with courage to the Cross and to let our pain, our diseased feelings, flow into that Cross that bears all things, even those trials that are too great for us to bear. Help us to exchange our pain for Your wonderful life.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 205.
Fresco: Giovanni Battista della Marca, 16th Century, The fresco of Crucifixion in church Chiesa di Santa Maria ai Monti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
A note regarding rescheduling of the May retreat: Due to the continued concern regarding Covid-19 in Hungary, we are once again rescheduling our retreat from May 2021 to October 2021. We were preparing for our Healing Presence conference with much prayer, joy and hope, however due to the – understandable – request of our church leadership we need to cancel the May program because of the virus situation. There were many of you looking forward to these days, many made sacrifices (arranging kids, free days from work, financies), thus we know that it makes this decision hard.
The GOOD NEWS, however, is that we plan to have our conference at a new date, October 7-10, 2021. We booked the retreat center. Once registration opens for the May event we will let you all know about it and give you the priority to register.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Let those who fear the Lord now say, “His mercy endures forever.” I called on the Lord in distress; The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. Psalm 118: 1, 4-5
The humble acceptance of myself as fallen but now justified by Another who is my righteousness is the basis on which I can accept myself, learn to laugh at myself, be patient with myself. And then, wonder of wonders, be enabled for at least part of the time to forget myself. “Humble yourselves — feeling very insignificant — in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. He will lift you up and make your lives significant” (James 4:10, The Amplified Bible). 
The new year brings a fresh sense of the broad place in which God sets each of His sons and daughters. The way to enter into freedom is on the solid ground of Christ’s righteousness. Because we are in Him, we dare to desire, try, and reach; we find full permission to be and do in Him, with joy! We are released from bent ways of seeking significance and liberated as unselfconscious channels of His mercy. The circumstances of this fallen world can be anything but broad and merciful, be we’re enabled to endure by grace. We entrust ourselves wholly to our Lord and delight in the inner and eternal freedom that He so mightily gives.
Gracious Father, Your mercy endures forever. You are good and we give You thanks. You, Lord Jesus Christ, are our strength and song. Give us grace to begin this year in the freedom of Your righteousness. Tune our ears to Your voice alone. Pour out Your Spirit, breathing life into our creative desires and giving us freedom to live in joyous response to Your goodness.
 Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul through Healing Prayer, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1991), 51. Painting: Jacques d’Arthois, 1650, Landscape with Shepherd, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
“For to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12
God’s love for us is so great that as we wait in His presence, praising Him who is perfect love, He descends anew to and into us, drawing us into Himself. We become incarnate of His love, wisdom, and righteousness. We thereby always have love to give back to Him. In “looking, longing, loving, we become like the One we vision.” This is a built-in incarnational principle. C. S. Lewis puts it this way:
In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down…to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature he has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.
In praise, as in all true prayer and worship, we clothe ourselves anew with the Lord. There is a fresh mantle of His presence. We take on God’s character and take in Christ’s mind. That is, we “put on the New Man” and as a happy corollary we die anew and increasingly to the “Old Man,” which is the old self-in-sinful isolation. In such a union, praise is as natural as breathing.
The great miracle and hope of the incarnation never fails to amaze us as we gaze at the Christ child in His manger every Christmas. Christ living in us reflects Himself in us today. In “looking, longing, and loving” we become like Christ. Simon, the impulsive, becomes Peter the Rock and Mary Magdalene turns from her sin becoming an ardent follower of Christ. The old-self dies and God’s glory shines though us as we embrace the miracle of the incarnation. As Irenaeus wrote in Against Heresies, “the glory of God is a living man.”
Holy God, we open our hearts to You this Christmas as we gaze at You in the manger. We are in awe at the miracle of Your incarnation and we long to reflect Your incarnate glory. Awaken in us a great desire to be transformed into Your image and likeness. Quiet our hearts so that we can “become incarnate of Your love, wisdom, and righteousness.” Help us bring Christ and His radiant Heaven-scented presence into Your world this Christmas.
 John Gaynor Banks, The Master and the Disciple (St. Paul, Macalaster Park Publishing, 1954), 22.  C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (London: Collins, 1963), 115  Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), 38. Painting: Lorenzo Monaco, 1406-1410, The Nativity, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
Joy is a state of inner satisfaction and contentment and is the best antidote for the inward depletion we call weariness. The classic Bible song declares, “I’ve got joy like a fountain in my soul!” and everyone who belongs to Christ has such a living fountain within. But like any natural spring, the fountain of joy will flow more purely and freely when it’s looked after. Here’s a reminder of some of the ways God has ordained to keep joy bubbling within us each day.
Spend time with those who calm, encourage and inspire. Listen and share, openly and honestly. Hold hands or hug. Engage your relationship with the Lord, receiving, dialoging, and exchanging with the One who is always with you and within you.
Defy the ever-serious world by choosing to smile, laugh and play. Cultivate your sense of humor. Do something creative just for the fun of it. Feast and celebrate as part of the rhythm of your Christian life. Go ahead and rejoice, dance, and sing.
Tend to your heart
Pause often to come back to your true center. Conscious prayers like “Another lives in me,” and the Jesus prayer are a powerful reset for the harried soul. Simple activities like breathing and enjoyable exercise settle our hearts in well-being. We’ve posted a guided-prayer video below to help you quiet your heart as you practice God’s presence.
Take the time you need for each activity, setting a reasonable pace. When shifting from one thing to the next, take a still, quiet moment. Thank God for what has just happened, listen for His guidance, and dedicate what comes next to Him.
“Not everything is useless which cannot be brought under the definition of the useful.”  Spend time doing nothing. Value contemplation, giving your true imagination space to receive whatever God may want to impart.
Live at the Cross
Much of what makes us weary is the result of sin. Looking to Christ’s cross gives us grace to accept ourselves as He accepts us. Remembering His mercy moves us to bear with others in their weaknesses. The clarity of His cross delivers us from the temptation to dialog with the old man and gives us divine objectivity. And the might of His cross shelters us in unassailable spiritual protection.
Abide in God’s love by nurturing your bodily self. Eat wholesome food and engage in life-giving exercise. Honor your body’s rhythm in your sleep habits and schedule. Take weekly Sabbath rest. Savor the wonder and beauty of creation.
Do just one thing at a time. Keep sensory input at a healthy level and be present, whether you’re eating, reading, or whatever you may be doing. Practice God’s presence as you perform each simple activity in Him and with Him.
We were created for fulfillment. Paul reminds us that those who don’t give up will reap in due season, implying that it’s right to desire a harvest. When gratification is delayed, borrow some joy from the future. Imagine that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, “Jesus is Lord!” Meditate on the promise of the consummated Kingdom. Let the goodness of that coming reality cheer your heart today.
 Pieper, Josef, Leisure: The basis of culture (Ignatius Press, 2016), p. 10.
A few months ago, during a time of especially intense ministry, I noticed I was feeling low. The well-known words of Galatians 6:9 came to mind, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” We might translate “let us not be weary” as, “Don’t let negative influences cause you to become inwardly exhausted.”
The exegetes say Paul was speaking to himself as well as his brothers and sisters in Galatia, a collective “us.” I’ve felt that “us” in writing this piece. You’ve been on my mind as you seek wholeness and transformation in your inner life and relationships, fighting to persevere when it’s difficult or costly. And I’ve been thinking of you as you work to lead others, care for those in need, and influence the world around you for Christ. At the same time I’ve been deeply aware of my own highs and lows, the gratifying moments when I feel inwardly full and the days when I feel weary. The pandemic we continue to live through seems to create especially acute temptations to weariness.
We are people who truly desire to live in God’s service. We are not perfectly faithful, but much of the time and in many ways we offer ourselves to Him. We want Him to have His way in us, and we want others to receive their share in the blessedness He so freely offers. We have taken up our cross to follow Jesus, and He gives us the privilege of laboring for His kingdom in ways that involve sacrifice, self-denial, and even dying. Because He commissions us to minister in a world that’s under the influence of sin, there is a risk of weariness, as Paul’s exhortation implies. Following Jesus puts us in contact with negative influences that could, if we face them apart from Him, leave us exhausted and worn. We even carry some negative influences in the unhealed places in our own souls, and we must invite His presence into these places that need more thorough conversion. But following Christ is not an inherently wearying life — rather, we may get confused and go about it in a way that exhausts our inner wellbeing. Fundamentally, taking up our cross and following Christ is a life of joy because our lives are now rooted in the only real source of joy that exists.
I’d like to look more deeply at what we really think about our lives of service and sacrifice. What do we understand sacrificial self-giving to be? A right understanding of it protects us from weariness while a wrong understanding makes us vulnerable to utter exhaustion and emptiness. God led me into this exploration by showing me something in my own heart. I was dialoging with Him about weariness when a symbol bubbled into my awareness, one I’d picked up decades ago from Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. Nouwen summarizes his life as a Christian by saying, “I am called to become bread for the world: bread that is taken, blessed, broken and given” (42). Similarly, Oswald Chambers equates the Christian call to becoming broken bread and poured-out wine. “Keep right with God and let Him do what He likes, and you will find that He is producing the kind of bread and wine that will benefit His other children” (September 30). Many sermons and worship songs draw on this metaphor to symbolize what it means to live in God’s service.
When this symbol presented itself to give meaning to my weariness, I decided to re-read Nouwen’s book. As I did, I found myself asking the Lord, “Is this a true picture? Am I really the bread with which You feed Your people?” As Leanne Payne wrote, “The imagery really matters” (The Healing Presence, 139). The images we hold in our hearts shape our choices and our very grasp of reality, and if the symbols are distorted, we will be distorted. I could see that my heart had taken in this symbol, but not every picture, story and symbol we take in provides a right and true perception. Certainly, the broken bread picture resonates with our experiences of being spent, exhausted, and consumed. But our own subjective sense of reality may not be a reliable guide. So let us consider whether the image of us becoming bread and wine poured out for others provides our hearts with a true picture of Christian life and service.
Bread and other symbols
Let’s begin with the central scriptural symbol of bread, the Bread of Life. Jesus, the incarnate Son of Man, offered Himself in unbroken communion with His Father: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). As Schmemann writes in For the Life of the World, all our hunger from the very beginning was a hunger for Him and all our bread was but a symbol of Him (43). Through His self-giving, the life we lost has been restored to us and we are reconciled to God. I can write these few, simple words, but in doing so I am pointing to a great mystery, and it is because our capacity for understanding is so small in the face of such wonderful mystery that we are given metaphors and symbols. After Jesus told His followers that He would give His flesh for the life of the world, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). The twelve who continued on with their Lord didn’t profess perfect comprehension of His disclosure, but only confessed that they’d come to believe He is the Holy One of God (John 6:68). As I meditated on this mystery, the Lord pointed out to me that scripture never symbolizes us as bread, and I believe there’s rich, good reason — more than we’ll have space to unpack in this short essay — that this symbol is applied only to the Messiah. Jesus revealed Himself as the Bread of Life, for He alone is the source of all life and the end of all hunger.
Although the Spirit-breathed scriptures never call us bread, we are offered many ennobling and hope-filled symbols of who we are and how God’s love flows in and through us. We are sheep who know His voice and belong to His one flock. We are branches in the true vine, pruned for greater fruitfulness. We become members of Christ, unique and complementary parts of His Body. Something deep in my soul shifts to a better place when, rather than thinking of myself as food for others, I meditate on these whole and living images. Consider that you are a living stone built right into the wall of the house of God, a tree whose roots draw from the cool, fresh steam of living water, and an athlete who is growing stronger through your challenges and trials. These are images of vitality rather than weariness, of inner fullness rather than of exhaustion, and of union rather than separation.
Our attraction to the picture of broken bread and poured out wine relates to a theological confusion known as substitution. In substitution, we confuse following the Messiah with being a messiah. We confuse our witnessing cross with Christ’s once-for-all atoning cross. Rather than rejoicing that we are the disciples who get to share the Bread of Life with the hungry crowds, we start to think of ourselves as the Bread. Of course in our rational minds we know we are not saviors or redeemers. But in our intuitive, emotional being, we can slip into supposing that we are somehow given away or consumed so that others might experience healing and redemption.
This confusion manifests in many subtle ways in our approach to Christian service and what we understand bearing one another’s burdens to mean. At a gut level we may believe being converted means we’re now content to be the one who gets eaten so someone else doesn’t go hungry. The imagery in our hearts may suggest that Christian conversion changes one’s position in the eat-or-be-eaten equation. Perhaps followers of Christ are the meek and docile who no longer chew others up, and instead are ready to be consumed as a remedy for others’ deprivation. I suspect this subtle distortion also confuses our picture of what it means to be long-suffering.
I would suggest that thinking of ourselves as bread means we’ve unwittingly traded a different story for the gospel which is centered on the death and resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our cross is not an atoning cross, and no one is saved by it. Although we will suffer in following Christ, our suffering does not serve as a trade or replacement for any one else’s suffering, not Christ Himself, a loved one, or a stranger. Our cross is a cross of testimony, a witnessing cross, and as we carry it, we are continually transformed. So we can’t be food, but we can be witnesses, and witnesses bring glory to God!
Martyrdom & Joy
In being witnesses, we engage the battle in which the forces of evil attempt to thwart God’s loving and victorious actions in this world. Jesus has commissioned us to baptize others into His new life and make them into disciples. As we do so, we will suffer some of the hatred with which this world reacts to Him. Our witnessing cross can lead to drinking His cup. How essential it is then that we go about our lives of service thoroughly centered in Christ. Our offering of ourselves must be to Him, in Him, through Him, and for Him. If we deputize ourselves as substitute saviors, we’ll be devoured by the very world into which He’s sending us as witnesses. But if we do His works in union with Him, rather than making us weary, any suffering we undergo will have redemptive power.
This sort of suffering is what Paul is referring to when he says, “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body” (Colossians 1:24). The closest thing we find in scripture to the image of us being poured out wine is Paul’s admission that he will soon be poured out like a drink offering. Paul knew his martyrdom was near. The original Greek root of “martyr” means “witness.” Those who are persecuted or put to physical death for their testimony are witnesses to what Christ accomplished on His cross. Whatever we may suffer for His sake brings Him glory because we are witnessing to His offering, urging all to find the answer to their hunger in Him.
The story of the Maccabean martyrs gives us a winsome picture of the joy of witnessing, even when it involves great suffering. During the Greek persecution of Jews in the second century BCE, seven brothers and their mother were arrested. The king demanded that they eat swine’s flesh as a way of renouncing their faithfulness to God. These brothers valiantly refused in the face of cruel torture and death. In this telling of the third brother’s death we hear a joyful witness:
“When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said bravely, “I received these from heaven, and because of His laws I disregard them, and from Him I hope to get them back again.” As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.” 2 Maccabees 7:10-12
Although this man lived and died before Christ’s incarnation, he demonstrated eucharistic living, entrusting his whole being to God’s triumphant reign. Like him, we joyfully offer ourselves in Christ’s service because His perfect self-offering has freed us to be faithful witnesses. As we follow Him, rather than being made into bread and wine, we become whole men and women who are increasingly able to testify that He is the Bread of life.
If we embrace the image that God makes us bread to feed His world, the most troubling consequence is what this suggests about God Himself. It implies a zero-sum game in which God must take from one to give to another. It suggests some sort of scarcity in the Kingdom, some need in God’s economy that is met by using up the lives of His children. When we put it this baldly, we know it is untrue. The God of the universe has all He needs, and all we need. In pointing to the joy that Christ’s cross brought to this fallen world, Alexander Schmemann notes that this joy “is pure because it does not depend on anything in this world and is not the reward of anything in us” (For the Life of the World, 55). This gift of joy was made complete through Christ’s sacrifice and is given freely and eternally to all who will receive Him. Our God is the One who says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all its fullness are mine” (Ps 50:12). He neither needs nor desires to spend us. He has plenty to feed His children because He has given of His own life which is infinitely abundant. He is the great I AM, an unfathomable depth and height of love, and as the Father gave His only begotten Son, He poured out grace that is utterly and absolutely sufficient for all.
You’ve likely heard “The Blessing,” a worship song written in the early days of the pandemic and recorded and shared by community choirs around the world. If you’ve heard it, you’ve likely been moved as the song culminates with the simple but life-changing words, “He is for you.” This truth feeds a hungry place in us, a place where we need divine assurance: in the morning, in the evening, in your coming, in your going, in your weeping, and rejoicing, He is for you. If we offer ourselves to God, He wonderfully involves us in His redemptive work. He even gives us to one another, but not as food. He gives us whole and the giving makes us more of who we are. As He gives us we remain in Him, and we are not exhausted but rather filled and fulfilled. We are not bread; we are sheep of one flock who know His voice. We are not wine; we are oaks of righteousness. We are given, but never given away. Even as He gives and sends us, we never leave His hand.
Chambers, Oswald. My utmost for His highest : selections for the year. Uhlrichsville, Ohio: Barbour & Co, 2000.
Jobe, Kari, Elevation Worship, Caries, Cody. “The Blessing.” Graves into Gardens, Provident Label Group, 2020, 4.
Nouwen, Henri J. Life of the beloved : spiritual living in a secular world. New York: Crossroad, 1992.
Payne, Leanne. The healing presence: curing the soul through union with Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995.
Schmemann, Alexander. For the life of the world : sacraments and orthodoxy. Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973.
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, 1852-1929, The Last Supper.
Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1311, The Last Supper.
Rodrigo Fernández, 2015, Jesús multiplica los panes.
Fra Angelico, 1402-1455, Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saints.
Comments Off on Video: Restoring Hope and Choosing Life
A video for those who are suffering with depression, despair, or suicidality, prepared by Sarah Colyn.
No matter how long or deeply we’ve suffered in a dark place, Christ has opened the path of life, love and true fulfillment by His cross. We pray that His life-giving Word will flow through this video into your soul today.
Need more teaching and prayer on hope vs. despair?
Listen to this audio recording of a ministry session on the virtue of hope from our Wheaton school.
Clay McLean’s 3-part teaching on recovery from depression
A heart-to-heart talk by Clay about the roots of depression and a loving invitation to come up into God’s healing light (Grieving Childhood Losses; Recognizing Self Pity; Extinguishing Burnout) available at mcleanministries.org.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
To connect with a counselor for emotional support and other services via web chat visit the Lifeline website.
New Hope Crisis Counseling Hotline – 714-NEW-HOPE (714-639-4673)
New Hope Crisis Hotline provides telephone intervention and telephone suicide prevention counseling. Trained crisis workers provide peer counseling to those who are struggling to cope with day to day life. Services are free, and are available 24 hours a day/7 days a week. A faith based, ecumenical program of Catholic Charities of Orange County.
Need help finding a skilled counselor?
We’ve provided this guide on finding and working effectively with a counselor, pastor, or mentor in your healing journey.
If you’re unable to find a personal referral in your area, Focus on the Family provides this Christian counselor referral service.
Lifeline Aotearoa Call 09 5222 999 if you live within Auckland or 0800 543 354 for those outside of Auckland.
Comments Off on Video: Consolation for the Grieving
A brief teaching video about how God’s everlasting arms hold us securely through seasons of grief and loss, prepared by Sarah Colyn.
We pray that the Lord will anoint this video in a way that perfectly matches your need today.
Resources for the grieving:
Psalms of lament: Many find Psalm 22, 55, 69, 77, and 88 a good starting place in voicing the lament of grief. At least a third of the Psalms express lamentation, so you will find voice for your grief throughout these songs of scripture.
GriefShare: Find seminars and support groups through the GriefShare website.
Music: The MPC Music playlist includes many consoling songs. What songs help you share your sorrow with the Lord while lifting your eyes to Him in worship?
The Consoling Beauty of Truth: During seasons of loss, reading beautiful Christian writings brings deep comfort to the heart. What is a favorite book that you turn to for the comfort of gospel truth?
Books on Grief: Wise authors help our grief make sense and shine a light on the radiant path through the valley of the shadow of death. Some Christian classics: A Grief Observed, Lewis; Lament for a Son, Wolterstorff; A Grace Disguised, Sittser; Streams in the Desert, Cowman.
Comments Off on Video: The Virtue and Gift of Fortitude
A pair of videos with worship, teaching, and prayer to help us grow in fortitude, prepared by Sarah Colyn.
This is a 2-part teaching: the first video introducing what fortitude is and how we use it, and the second looks at how we grow in fortitude. The second video closes with a time of prayer, looking to the power of the Cross to dismantle barriers and strengthen us in fortitude.
We pray that the Lord will anoint this video for you in a personal way. Fortitude is a substantial topic, and so these teachings aren’t so brief or simple. Take your time with them and give yourself space to dialog with the Lord and ponder these things in your heart. As you watch, remember to invite God to actively minister to you, connect your head and heart, and move in your life with His great power and love.
Thanks to Fr Ryan and Emily Brotherton of Holy Trinity Edmonds church for the music clip.
Part One: What fortitude is and how it operates in our lives
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. Deut 31:6
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him… the spirit of counsel and might. Isaiah 11:2
But take heart, I have overcome the world. John 16:33
casting down the evil one like the strong young men of I John 2.14
We are afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. 2 Cor 4:8-9
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12
When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” Deut 20:2-4
For love is strong as death… Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
Song of Solomon 8:6, 7
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38-39
Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows My name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. Psalm 91:14-15
I love you, O Lord, my strength. Psalm 18.1
Leanne Payne, Heaven’s Calling
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
Josef Pieper, Four Cardinal Virtues, and On Hope
Servais Pinckaers and Bernard Gilligan, Virtue Is Not a Habit
Craig Titus, Resilience and the Virtue of Fortitude: Aquinas in Dialogue with the Psychosocial Sciences
“We Christians are called to an apostolic courage based upon trust in the Spirit…” (Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 219).
“act courageously on behalf of the good, the true, the beautiful, and the just… to initiate change and impact the surrounding culture positively ” and the “capacity to live fully in the present moment, recognizing the transcendent, the ‘gift of eternity’ in it… (Payne, Heaven’s Calling, p. 295).
“Now I think that I understand a bit more about what it means to truly love, because for my men, love was something much more than emotion…” (Donovan Campbell, Joker One, p. 301, 302, 303)
“Virtue enables us to perform excellent actions easily and joyfully, in a stable manner, with profound interior freedom, the freedom of children of God” (Charles Nault, Noonday Demon, p. 77).
Fortitude doesn’t allow “oneself to be forced into evil by fear,
or to be kept by fear from the realization of the good” (Josef Pieper, Four Cardinal Virtues p. 126).
“Cowardice is almost the only vice at which men still feel shame” (C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, p. 51).
To “meet the challenges that we face concerning meaning and commitment, coping and constancy,
and constructing something good out of human suffering and failure” (Titus p. 134).
“the friendly and intelligent assistance of another” (p. 81).
“It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual world” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 154).
A video with worship, teaching, and prayer to encourage us in fear of the Lord while ministering healing to any fearful heart, prepared by Sarah Colyn.
We pray that the Lord will anoint this video for you in a personal way. Before you press “play,” please get comfortable in a place where you feel free to stand, sing, and speak out in prayer. Invite God to minister to you, and be fully responsive as He accepts your invitation!
A friendly exhortation: this teaching and prayer is not a substitute for participation in your local church. Please don’t let this video or any of the other Christian media that’s currently on offer turn you into an isolated consumer. Active engagement with your local church body, even if from a physical distance, is essential now — you need your church, and your church needs you.
This is a brief teaching (the video with worship and prayer is just 24 minutes) — those of you who’ve been to an MPC event know that is a big victory for me! There is much more to this topic, so if you’d like to dig deeper, consider these resources:
Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul Through Healing Prayer, chapter 1 on self-acceptance.
An MPC lecture and prayer on sense of being and well-being can be downloaded here
Josef Pieper: On Hope, chapter 5, “The Gift of Fear;” the section on fortitude in The Four Cardinal Virtues.
An MPC lecture on seeing God rightly, and prayer for healing of fears can be downloaded here
This Godly Play Parable of the Good Shepherd sneaks past the watchful dragons of the rational mind and impresses the heart with the reality of our Lord’s faithfulness in places of danger.
We fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18
To acknowledge the Unseen Real requires a concerted effort of the will at first. We might think of it as actually practicing the Presence. The practice of the Presence then, is simply the discipline of calling to mind the truth that God is with us….Brother Lawrence, writing to a friend who is in great pain and suffering, tells her what it means to see the “sovereign Physician who is the healer of both body and soul,” with the eyes of the heart: 
I can feel that which faith teaches; I can sense what faith sees. This, of course works great assurance in me….So continue always with God. To be with Him is really your only support and your only comfort during affliction. 
Practicing the presence requires discipline but it gives us great assurance that God is with us and within us. We often do not remember, especially when we suffer, to acknowledge the Unseen and practice His Presence. We are often tempted by digital distractions or other hindrances instead of practicing His Presence. When we practice His Presence, He comes quickly to help us, encourage us, strengthen us and comfort us. In our time of affliction let us persist in practicing His Presence.
Gracious Lord, forgive us for not acknowledging the Unseen and practicing Your Presence. Enlarge our hearts so that we may enter into Your Unseen and Ultimate Reality and YourHeavenly kingdom. Nudge us gently back into Your Presence when we stray or are tempted by digital distractions and other hindrances. Like a good shepherd, lead us beside the still waters to refresh, encourage, and strengthen us in Your Presence. Thank you for the assurance that You are our Father and You are always with us.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 25, 26, 31.  Practicing His Presence: Frank Laubach, Brother Lawrence, Library of Spiritual Classics , vol. 1(Portland, ME: Christian Books, 1981), p. 6, 7. Painting/Stained glass: Alfred Handel, d. 1946, photo:Toby Hudson St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales The Good Shepherd [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Comments Off on Pandemic Imagery & Symbol: A Testimony
COVID-19 has altered the gestures and rhythms of life, and while we’re able to cope and adapt, our hearts still register these changes at a deep level. As Leanne Payne observes in The Healing Presence, we are mythical creatures who depend on symbols to bind up reality for us. I’ve recently been pondering how our hearts read the symbols of the pandemic. In many places around the world, we are seeing one another less. And when we are together, it may be behind masks or at a 6-foot distance, possibly forgoing handshakes and hugs. On a conscious level, we understand that these gestures and rhythms are a symbol of care for one another, an accommodation to the reality of the coronavirus expressing our commitment to the well-being of all. But beneath this rational understanding of circumstance, our hearts have a language we’ve spoken all our lives. And in this language, the distance and barriers necessitated by COVID-19 may symbolize the opposite of care.
In the ordinary lexicon of our hearts, declining to touch or draw near to one another symbolizes a lack of familiarity and intimacy or even ambivalence, aloofness, or rejection. A mask may symbolize illness, vulnerability, or danger (or perhaps highway robbery for big fans of spaghetti westerns). We’re finding new ways to convey a warm hello, offering a big, squinty-eyed smile that is visible around the edges of a mask, keeping our heads turned to the side for a COVID-safe hug, or using words to fill the gap of distanced body-language.
Through all this complexity, our inner translator is working overtime. Our rational minds can explain the reasons for it all, but that takes repeated, conscious effort. The number of times I’ve had to go back to my car for my face mask before entering a store proves that I haven’t learned these symbols by heart yet. I believe this is one of the factors that’s causing weariness as the pandemic continues.
There is much more to us than our rational grasp of circumstances. Coping is good, but to embrace life in God’s healing presence we must listen to our hearts and how these symbols are registering deep within us. The gestures and rhythms of the pandemic may be echoing with past experiences where the pain of separation or deprivation of touch and warmth were threatening to the life of the spirit within us. Even the present inhibition of our own reaching out may resonate with earlier times in which the love we were eager to give wasn’t welcomed and received. We needn’t suppress these echoes, because the One who can soothe them and heal the wounds they uncover is near.
At the peak of my pondering on these matters, I received a beautiful letter from a dear sister in Christ. She was writing to share how God had drawn near to her, working through the pandemic for her good. I was moved and encouraged, and so glad when she gave permission for me to share her story with you. Our merciful and compassionate God truly is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, and stands ready to show us our hearts that we might receive His life more wholly. I pray the Holy Spirit will anoint her story with illuminating, liberating, healing power for you today.
As you know, COVID has altered life in many many different ways. It’s been difficult for me to remain resting in God’s peace through the changes and difficulties of life during a pandemic. An issue that is hurting me a lot, but is also being used by the Lord to reveal what is still on my heart, is my deep sense of rejection and the feelings of not belonging, not having a place, not having the right to exist, and being excluded.
I’ll share the picture of my personal situation: I live alone, a 40 minute train ride from my father’s home. My father is elderly and has leukemia, although he is currently doing well. My single brother lives with him and takes wonderful care of him. My sister has also lived with them for the past year. During the COVID lockdown they have been afraid to get sick and have remained strictly isolated because of my father’s illness and chemotherapy a few months ago as well as my brother’s asthma. I did not visit or see them for three months. When the quarantine was lifted, I went to see them for the first time since covid, but things had changed.
I thought I was understanding and accepting, but pain and hurt began to emerge strongly. I felt a bit shocked, for I was not allowed to enter the house (my family home) and hadn’t expected it. I was only allowed to be in a very small terrace they have. I was not allowed to touch anything, and they did not allow me to enter further into the living room or house. I was shocked and hurt, but tried to be understanding and patient. After a few week my father asked his doctor about my coming to see him. I only know this through my sister because my father does not speak much, but he told my father to let me in and not to be afraid of getting sick. So after some time I was allowed to have dinner in the dining room, but just sitting on the chair, right on the spot, don’t move, don’t touch, don’t go around!
I was and am hurting a lot, more and more. I tried to bear it and brought it all to the Lord. I’ve tried to accept whole situation. But as I realized last Sunday when I burst into tears, pain and anger, I was in fact burying all my emotions and pain inside. Last Sunday I went for lunch with my father and sister (my brother was out that day). It had been two weeks since my last visit as I’ve seen them just a few times. At this visit I exploded.
You should know that throughout all my life and to the present day, I have been “perfect,” ok, joyful, and without problems in front of my father. I’ve always pretended, wearing a full mask all my life. A tear has never come out of me at home, but I cry rivers and flood of tears in the street and at church. As my real I, my true self is growing, there are things I cannot hide or bear anymore. Last Sunday I burst into tears in front of him, something I think I never did before! I was full of pain, anger, and sadness. The little child, little girl inside me finally came out and poured out all her pain and expressed her anger! Sadly my feelings were and are “forbidden” at home. No wonder I have been in pieces all my life. I expressed my pain to him and said I was hurting, that I felt like a leper, excluded and not belonging. I felt their way of relating toward me was out of proportion (I could give more details about this) and I was hurting. I said I wondered whether to come back, or what I should do. My father despised my feelings and told me to “stop being dramatic.” He said that if I felt not to come back during this situation of social distance, “then don’t come!” It was painful.
Afterwards, once I was at home and bringing all to the Lord in prayer, I felt strong shame. The Lord showed me how I was confusing the present situation with my deep wounds that this situation brought to the surface. The Lord brought light to what happened. I felt so ashamed, for I could see that little girl crying, demanding to belong, to have a right to exist, to be, to be accepted. I saw my immaturity in dealing with the present situation. I believe a mature way to act and speak would be to express my thoughts and feelings in dialog with them, to listen to their fear and feelings, and try to reach a place of agreement where their fears are taken into account, but my feelings have also a place. Instead I repressed it all inside myself and related to them in the immature way I had usually done. I sense the Lord wants me to grow, to mature, to not react to present situations and difficulties, but live from my true center instead of from the hurting child. I still do not know how to do this, but I believe growth and blessing will come. I ask for prayer for this.
I also realized that when I was child in my home there was no place for feelings, I had no right to be, and couldn’t be vulnerable. On Sunday I really was despised and ridiculed for expressing my pain and feelings. I expressed them correctly, not in a way that was extreme or out of order. But I believe most importantly that the Lord revealed to me what is still in my heart, blocking my becoming: the deep sense of rejection. I began to put into words and to write concretely and bluntly what I felt and thought: “I have no place; I don’t belong; in my father’s house I am rejected; there is no place for me; I am an outcast.” It was painful, but a grace. For at the same time that I felt strong shame as I tried to digest it all and pray over it, in me there also was, and is, a small, soft song of victory, shy but real. For for the first time, I dared to speak out and express my feeling, and in the midst of the pain something in me had been released.
In prayer, trying to receive from the Lord, I see He is not asking me to change my family, though I can speak my opinion and act accordingly. Rather, He is building my sense of being and well being, my identity and belonging in Him, in the Father, who affirms me and has a place for me in His heart. He asks me to bring all my pain, hurting, and the lies that are still in my heart about who I am to Christ on the Cross, and to receive from Him. Secondly, I am also learning to communicate, to be, to relate to others from my true center, my real self, so that circumstances and the attitudes of others, whatever may happen, do not break or crush me.
I am in this process right now. I do not know how to do it and I have fear about when I will go to my father’s house, but I turn to God. I can testify how many blessings He is giving me through this difficult time we are all in. I can’t thank God enough for the grace of knowing at a heart level that He truly is my Father, and is daily present in my life. I thank Him for the grace of practicing God’s Presence more and more. The Spirit really does remind me that Another is in me! At the same time, He really is breaking all my schemas, at all levels. And often, almost always, I feel so weak, so needy, so blind. It is so hard to let go, so hard to let Him “undragon” me. My heart feels the need to share this, and as I share and give testimony more grace and light comes upon me, it becomes more solid.
Paintings: J Rossakiewicz, 1989, The Last Supper; William Holman Hunt, 1827-1910, Light of the World [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
God’s children are sometimes the most bitterly tried. For them the fires are heated seven times; they suffer, not only at the hand of man, but the heavens seem as brass to their cries and tears. The enemy of souls has reason to challenge them with the taunt, “Where is now your God?” You and I have perhaps been in this plight. We have said, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” 
The matter of suffering is seldom dealt with today in such a way as to help us either understand or undergo it. Some of the popular drivel we hear seems almost to deny that the Christian does suffer….This is one more example of the modern’s estrangement from his own soul. 
The Christian does suffer, but we can lean into the heart of a loving, compassionate, and merciful God, walking through suffering with Him. Many of us are currently suffering from anxiety and fear and other negative emotions as we experience suffering from the Covid crisis but we can trust that God will help us. When we suffer, the enemy of our souls taunts us with the thought that God has forsaken us but this is far from the truth. We may think that God has forgotten to help us, but our loving, gracious God always holds us in His attention and care.
Lord, we acknowledge the reality of suffering. Remind us of Your love and comfort when we endure suffering. Reassure us that You are with us and walk through the fires with us. Let us fervently believe that You will never leave us or forsake us even in the greatest suffering we endure. Thank You that we are always held by Your gracious and loving arms and that we need not fear.
 F.B. Meyer, Our Daily Walk (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1982, March 21.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 207.
Painting: Simeon Solomon, 1863, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Blessed is the one who is not offended in me.(Matthew 11:6) Whether or not the suffering is remedial or that produced through the redemptive activity of carrying the cross, we need to understand that “blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me” (Matt. 11:6 KJV ). F. B. Meyer refers to this as “the beatitude of the unoffended, of those who do not stumble over the mystery of God’s dealings with their lives.” It is the blessedness of those who, though they do not understand the trial, yet “rest in what they know of His heart.” We are tempted to stumble. . . . But it is then that we have the chance of inheriting this new beatitude. If we refuse to bend under the mighty hand of God—questioning, chafing, murmuring at His appointments—we miss the door which would admit us into rich and unalloyed happiness... 
Christians suffer and often we don’t understand why we suffer. If we do not yet understand why we suffer, we can still rest in God’s great love towards us.As we undergo suffering and patiently walk through our suffering, God blesses us with His abundant grace and comfort. Let us choose to “not be offended” by suffering. As Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father we can entrust ourselves to our Heavenly Father and “rest in what we know of His heart.” As we are still before the Lord and quiet our souls before Him, His comfort, blessing, and peace will come even in the greatest of tragedies.
Gracious Lord, forgive us for murmuringas we endure suffering. Help us to be still and quiet our souls before You. Let not suffering and sorrow harden our hearts but let us chose to open our hearts to You so that we will be filled with Your tender healing and comfort. Help us by Your grace to enter into the blessedness in our sufferings. May we not forget that Christ, the Hope of Glory, lives within us to strengthen and encourage us.
 F.B. Meyer, Our Daily Walk (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1982, March 21.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 207.
Painting: Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1873, Kristus i Getsemane, An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Cor 13:14
To speak of the true self, of personality at all—that is of man as fully human—is to speak of man’s fellowship with God and with others. Even before the Fall, with its catastrophic disruption of all relationships, God said: It is not good for the man to be alone . .” (Gen. 2:18). The poet Milton, commenting on this word, said: “Loneliness is the first thing which God’s eye nam’d not good.” We know ourselves only in relation to God and others. 
The effects of the fall threaten to push us away from God and from one another, but God’s grace, love, and fellowship are stronger. In these days of pandemic-prompted distance and societal strife, we need to drink deeply from the fountains of His grace. He has not left us alone or lonely, and there is no disease or difficulty that can separate us from His love. Let us reach out to Him and to one another and engage in the spiritual fellowship that is ever-present and ever-good.
Gracious Father, we thank You for the immensity of Your love that holds us all. Lord Jesus, we thank you for Your grace that brings us into fullness of life. Holy Spirit, we thank You for the very real fellowship by which You knit us together. Brighten our spiritual eyes and energize our hearts that we might live this day in our full humanity, in relationship with You and with one another.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), 58. Stained glass: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1660, Dove of the Holy Spirit, St. Peter’s Basilica [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
“Get wisdom, get understanding;
do not forget my words or turn away from them.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will watch over you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will give you a garland to grace your head
and present you with a glorious crown.”
We live in a time, unlike any other, with unlimited access to information. During my childhood, if I had a question, I was directed to our treasured stack of World Book Encyclopedias. If I wanted to find a book at the library, I had to search through index cards to find its location. Each morning, at the break of dawn, a rolled up newspaper was hurled at our front door. Today, it is a challenge to turn off all of the information coming at us through our smartphones, computer screens, cable television, 24-hour news channels, and social media. Suddenly our Facebook friends aren’t so friendly. We are bombarded with conflicting messages, even amongst Christian brothers and sisters. It is easy to get caught up in our emotions to the point that we lose the ability to listen to one another and, much worse, we lose the ability to listen to God. We become wise in our own eyes, and we lose the good of reason (Is. 5:21; Prov. 3:7). Now, more than ever, we are in desperate need of our Holy Father’s wisdom.
How can we discern between godly wisdom and the deceptive messages of the world? James 3:17 gives us a litmus test: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” These good fruits are contrasted with the self-serving, proud, and contentious messages that regularly assault us. Our hearts long for mere kindness.
Persuasive arguments accomplish very little if we do not turn knowledge into action. As Charles Spurgeon explained:
Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom. 
Accumulation of knowledge is quite different from godly wisdom. Mere human reasoning does not lead to the freedom that the Lord’s wisdom brings. Instead, pride motivates a frenzied struggle to make sense of things or to develop persuasive arguments. This calls to mind the deadly snare of quicksand. As we set out to find wisdom, our restless activism only causes us to sink further into despair. In order to escape quicksand, one must simply be still, allowing the body to float to the surface, and reach upward for a lifeline. Similarly, godly wisdom is given when we are still, quiet, and focused upward to God.
Sometimes we take a more passive stance. We expect others to share their wisdom and we will blindly trust their words. We are easily “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming,” (Eph. 4:14). If lies were obvious falsehoods, we might not be so foolish to believe them. But lies sound good to our itching ears (2 Tim. 4:3), and we want them to be true. Unfortunately, deceived people will deceive people. It is sobering to recognize that when we allow ourselves to be deceived, we will inevitably deceive others. A passive stance is not an option for the mature Christian.
Proverbs 4:6-9 warns that growing in wisdom is costly. In fact, it may cost us everything. We must give up our pride, for wisdom requires humility (Prov. 26:12; 11:2). We must be teachable, for wisdom is received through the Lord’s correction (Prov. 12:1). We cannot have our own way, for we grow in wisdom through obedience (Matt. 7:24). We must be truthful about sin, for in order to receive wisdom, we must hate evil and fear the Lord (Psa. 111:10; Prov. 1:7). When we pay for something, we understand its value. Wisdom is costly because it is a rare and worthwhile commodity.
Since wisdom is an attribute of the mature Christian, we can rest assured that we are not alone in our pursuit of wisdom. Leanne Payne exhorts that our petition to God for wisdom is of utmost importance, and she confessed that most of her own petitions to the Lord were pleas for wisdom. 
Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud: “To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind.
Leanne notes that this passage personalizes wisdom as feminine. We are feminine in relation to God as we open our hearts and minds to receive from Him. The wisdom of the Lord, she explains, is contrasted with the seductive worldly wisdom of the harlot, which brings death. Wisdom comes in our response to God. We need more than human reasoning and must enter into the Real Presence of the Lord. It is through our meditation upon Scripture and quietly listening to God that we receive our creative capacity.
The essence of the true feminine is response to God, other, and all that is. A quality in God, we all—men and women alike—are to participate in her and receive her capacity to say, with Mary, “Be it unto me according to Thy will.” We then conceive within the womb of our spirits more of God and more of all that is true, beautiful, and good. 
Though our encyclopedias are obsolete, a few keystrokes can easily overwhelm our finite brains with infinite information. Let us set aside information and instead, actively pursue wisdom. The Lord is eager to give wisdom to His children if we will simply ask. As we grow in our capacity to listen to God and respond with humility and obedience, we will also grow in wisdom. We will grow in our capacity to love. Equipped with godly wisdom, we will respond to humankind with mercy, giving glory to our Heavenly Father. Leanne encourages us, “If anyone has not yet seriously petitioned the Lord for wisdom, now is certainly the time to do so.” Now is the time to get wisdom.
 Charles Spurgeon, The Fourfold Treasure (1871).
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal, (Baker Books, 2002) chapter 5.
 Ibid., p. 85
Artwork: Icon of Divine Wisdom from St George Church in Vologda (16th century), from Wikimedia Commons.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
This, it seems to me, illustrates the power to persevere that is given us along with the unique and greatChristian virtue of hope. Surely, it would be difficult to find a truer picture of the sheer grace God gives us not only to survive but also to overcome the impossible. It depicts the very way this grace is experienced as we inch a straight and steady line through a fallen, hostile, world to our true home.
I’m sure some who read these lines have faced or are even now facing the impossible in terms of what God has called them to do and to be. Perhaps calamity, in the form of circumstances so irrational and dark they could only have been engineered by the powers of darkness, is even now on their horizon, barreling toward them. The enemy’s blow is calculated to maim or to crush – to stop them right in their tracks. But God’s message to His own is ever the same: “My power and strength that I give you are sufficient. Call upon it,ask for it, see if I will not cause all grace to abound toward you!”
It is no small thing to abound in every good work when boulders the size of mountains hit us, but that is exactly what we can do when we place our trust, not in ourselves, or in other created things but wholly in God We learn to cry out with the psalmist, “You are a faithful God!” 
Our present reality may be full of“boulders.” Many are walking with the good shepherd through the corona virus crisis which has many challenges. We face the impossible undergirded by God’s grace and hope. God’s message to us is to trust in His power and grace in the midst of overwhelming difficulties. We place our trust in God Who created the heavens and the earth and Who gives us the power and grace to persevere.We partake of His divine strength and fortitude as we cry out to Him in our difficulties and we overcome.
Lord Jesus thank you for the grace and power to persevere through what can be impossible difficulties. We know that You walk beside us every step of the way infusing us with your grace and power. Help us to look to You in these difficulties so that we may persevere and not lose our hope. Strengthen us with your divine strength and fortitude as we cry out to you. We are afraid but we pray for Your courage to persevere and pierce through our difficulties. For you are a faithful and gracious God.
 Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul through Healing Prayer (Wheaton, Crossway Books, 1991), 219.
Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne. Image credit: Kraft, Carol, in Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul through Healing Prayer (Wheaton, Crossway Books, 1991), p. 218
Comments Off on The Prophets are the Healers: Repenting of Racism
The Prophets are the Healers: A Time for Racial Healing
I want to remind us of something very simple, something that we already know, but that we’re not hearing from the 24-hour news cycle: God is on the move. Who is the point of origin of the longing for righteousness? From whom does the capacity to judge good and evil proceed? Who most greatly desires the healing of the nations and the well-being of all whom He has made? Our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The cry for justice resounding in our society today is ultimately a cry to Him, and the answer to this cry flows from His cross. As His Church, we are his co-laborers, and I believe He is calling us in these days to a wonderful work. Pastors and church leaders, I am praying particularly for you. May the Holy Spirit pour out His gifts of fortitude, discernment, and love as you lead your congregations at this time, and upon all believers as we answer His call. To aid this effort, I would like to call our attention to two facets of the gospel that will help us collaborate with our God: the Christian office of prophet; and the process of repentance.
The Christian Office of Prophet
Leanne Payne said, “The prophets are the healers, because they call people to repentance.” Jesus Himself was the prophet, calling all men, “Come, leave your sins, and follow Me.” In this moment, He is calling America to leave its sin of racism against African-Americans and learn to receive His healing and walk in His ways. It’s a ripe-field moment of great opportunity in which the gospel directly answers the cry of our culture. Those who do not yet know Christ don’t realize it, but the Cross stands at the center of their need, protest, and concern. They need to hear from men and women endowed with the power to witness to Christ. Alexander Schmemann reminds us that this prophetic office is our true nature, our true vocation. “The prophet is one who hears God and therefore can convey God’s will to the world, the one who ‘reads’ all events, all ’situations’ with God’s eyes and therefore can refer all that is human and temporal to that which is divine and eternal” .
God gives the gift of prophecy so that we may have true knowledge and be free, but many have rejected this union with Him, even some who call themselves Christian. Schemann points out the ideological enslavement that evolves from this rejection: “Seldom before has the world been so saturated with ideologies promising the solution to all problems as it is today; seldom before have there existed so many ‘soteriologies’ claiming to know — ‘scientifically’ and ‘objectively’ — the cure for all evils. Truly our time is the time of prophetic fraud — of the pseudo-prophecy and the pseudo-prophet in ‘science’ and ‘religion’ alike” . Many such pseudo-prophets will offer their flawed answers to our nation’s cry. The world needs those who are in union with Christ to lead with discernment and divine objectivity, to be attentive to how God is moving, and to walk with steps ordered by His word. Any movement for reconciliation, healing, and transformation will only be true if it remains centered on God, His truth, and His ways.
To whatever extent followers of Christ engage this battle against the spiritual evil of racism and remain focused on Him, we will see breakthrough. Not only will God’s will be done on this issue, but we will emerge strengthened for future battles. We have other evils to fight in which the swell of public opinion will not be with us. I pray that as the voices and backbones of Christians grow stronger through addressing racism, we will also be strengthened to witness in other conflict zones (such as abortion, pornography, the deconstruction of marriage and gendered sexuality) with courage, and faithfulness.
Schmemann notes that the gift of prophecy restores the vertical dimension of true human nature. What a noble and worthy call, to be a prophet standing upright in Christ! Let us be alert about what could pull us out of that vertical posture. I believe the truest interpretation of our time is that God is on the move. But it’s also undeniably a secular cultural moment, and the strong gravitational pull of the culture could cause us to leave our vertical position and either bend towards or away from our fellow man.
We may be pulled to bend in by the gratification of being admired as socially righteous. But taking pleasure in being recognized as an ally by the world is tricky territory, and we put ourselves at risk of forgetting our heart’s deepest desire to win approval, admiration, and belonging from God. While we are working in the same direction as the Black Lives Matter movement in addressing the wellbeing of African-Americans, we part ways on abortion, an evil that disproportionally takes Black lives, and on our convictions about human sexuality and identity. As we’ve seen throughout history, godless ideology has a way of parasitically invading moves of the Spirit, and when it does, revival is weakened or even snuffed out. The best defense against this temptation to bend into those around us is to be listening well to our Father, receiving the encouragement, guidance, and acceptance we legitimately need from Him. As we do so, we are able to winsomely engage in genuine allyship with all sorts of neighbors, free to love them well because their approval or acceptance is not our daily bread.
Conversely, we could also bend away from this racial-reconciliation movement because we only see man at work in it and don’t want to be swept away by a worldly current. I believe the answer to this fear is to raise our eyes a little higher. Rather than focusing on the human drama, especially as its told on the TV news, we can look up to the great One in our midst. We have the privilege to ask God what He’s doing, how He’s moving, and wait expectantly for Him to answer. If God is not speaking on this issue, and if His will is not the mover of our hearts, then we would do well to remain silent and unmoved in kind. But if He is in it, and we don’t take the risk to engage, I fear we will be like the timid servant who displeased his master by taking a do-no-harm approach and burying his talent in the ground. Whatever caution we feel belongs in dialog with our Father. We can be confident that He will not just speak, but also provide all we need to walk in step with His will.
True prophecy calls people to repentance, and in order to repent, we must be able to name reality before God: “We did/failed to do ____, and it is an offense to Your ways of love and goodness.” So, in order to repent of racism, we must know the reality of it. Relationships help us tremendously here. As we hear the testimonies of those who have suffered, our hearts have the opportunity to embrace the reality of their experience, to bear witness, “I believe this happened.” Many Christians today are gaining needed insight through books and videos offered by those who are working raise awareness about the racism suffered by African-Americans. I commend those who are sharing both their scholarship and life stories, and commend those who are listen with humbly inquisitive hearts.
I’d like to remind all who are engaging in this learning process of an always-essential practice for Christian students: listen and learn at the foot of the Cross. Leanne Payne’s strategy was to always hold the symbol of the communion cup as a point of reference for her studies. As we study and discuss racism, we will learn best by considering its place in the central event of history: Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection, and the offering of His life to all through His body and blood. In these days we need to listen to experts and ordinaries, to friends and to enemies, in our search for wisdom about racism. There can’t help but be errors of pseudo-prophecy in any thought leader who doesn’t receive life from and refer all back to God. We still need to listen, because the gracious God of this universe speaks through all manner of sources. But we will do best to actively listen to the counsel of the Holy Spirit as we do.
If God-centered, this moment can lead to real and lasting change. Alongside much passion, we also hear doubt, fear, and even cynicism that this wave of conviction and call for change will have any effect. Many are warning of the risk that it could wash out with little meaningful outcome as after previous protests. If we rely on human concern, effort, and strategy alone, that is indeed what will happen. But if we believe God is active in His world, moved by His own heart of mercy and the cries of His people, then we have reason to hope that there is an incorruptible energy at work to heal our land. If true prophets will stand now in Christ and collaborate with the divine initiative, then we have reason to hope that righteous ground can be taken and the shalom of His kingdom might advance. There were true prophets in the generations before us, some who became famous and many who we won’t know until heaven. The prayers of these saints prepared the ground for the work we are sharing in today. Sojourner Truth was one of these, a valiant follower of Christ who was steadfastly God-centered in her activism. Her tombstone bears her exhortation to fellow abolitionists, “Is God dead?” Surely God heard her prayers, and countless others who cried out through the generations: “O Lord! O Lord! Oh, the tears, an’ the groans, an’ the moans! O Lord!”  God is moving in response to those prayers, and now the Spirit is asking afresh, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for Us?” Let us take heart, for many today are answering, ‘Here I am. Send me.”
The Process of Repentance
I’ve heard what I appreciate as a reasonable question from some Christians recently: *Wait, didn’t we already do this? Haven’t we already repented of slavery and racism against African-Americans?* I’m glad for the question, because it helps us renew our understanding of how repentance really works in our lives, leaving us with stronger groundwork for addressing our ongoing problem with racism.
First, a word about corporate repentance, which is an unfamiliar practice for many Christians today. Our unconscious anthropology is often more shaped by the “autonomous man” of secular modernity than it is by the Judeo-Christian picture of branches in the Vine, members of the Body, sons and daughters of the Father. I recently heard a man interviewed about protesting the government’s rules regarding coronavirus, and he expressed it quite plainly: “If you get rid of individualism, you get rid of America, and that’s what this is all about.” But from the beginning of the story of God’s people we have been not just individuals but a people, and from Genesis through Revelation, personal and corporate responsibility complement one another in the practice of repentance. In his book Repentance in Christian Theology, OT scholar Mark Boda notes, “[Torah] reminds us that we are deeply connected to one another within the community of faith, but also within our broader familial and cultural communities. The Western church in particular has become adept at focusing on individual confession of sins committed in secret. The communal dimension of sin and of confession found in Torah challenges us to consider ways we have offended God’s values as members of communities and ways we can confess and confront such sinful patterns.” 
The nation of Israel practiced corporate repentance throughout the stories found in the Old Testament, both intra- and inter-generationally. Those who had warned their erring neighbors and relatives and had themselves abstained from idolatry still came before God to confess, “We have sinned against you.” The descendants of even the most righteous and heroic members of the nation would put on sack cloth and ashes to cry, “We have done what is wicked in Your sight.” If the practice of taking responsibility before God to repent of the sins of our families, communities, and nation seems strange to us, it is not because it is foreign to Christianity, but because we have been shaped by worldview foreign to God’s people.
To help us work through any resistance to corporate repentance, let’s consider what it’s like when our spirits enter confession of sin by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We become keen to name sin, own responsibility, and admit guilt, even through tears. Concern about parsing blame, explaining mitigating circumstances, or naming accomplices fall away. We know ourselves to be in God’s presence and are eager to be set free by telling the truth and casting ourselves on His evident mercy. Corporate repentance is as Christian a practice as you can get, and one that has power to restore covenant relationship with our God and deliver us from our exile to the cursed domain of polarization, hate, and destruction that we call racism.
Repentance leads us to the cross, the place where God releases His healing power into this world. Repentance is a grace: the capacity to recognize and name sin, to come into agreement with God about it, and to turn from it. Through His cross, Christ restored freedom to all mankind to receive this grace and choose repentance. Racism is a sin, or perhaps a name for a whole complex of sins, and it will never be corrected or healed through human effort alone. There is no extent of wokeness, no thorough-enough policy changes that can atone for the sins of racism. The only way racism can be corrected is by redemption through the blood of Christ, a mercy which we receive when we repent.
Not only is racism a sin, it is a besetting sin, meaning that it is persistent and deeply rooted. Such sins are not eradicated from our lives through a single decision for repentance. Cleansing our hearts of racism, whether individually, collectively, or structurally, will require sustained, prayerful repentance. If you’re like me, you’ve spent prolonged seasons prayerfully targeting a character-level pattern of sin such as selfishness or a critical spirit. The sins of racism are perhaps even more entrenched than these defects of character because they’ve grown in us over generations, have taken root in the depths of our symbolic mind, and are continually reinforced by the brokenness of our culture.
Not only do besetting sins call for a long-term repentance project, but we also come to know that the project will not be completed in these bodies. The culmination of these repentance-efforts is humility and wisdom about our ongoing vulnerability to sin, rather than emerging immune to it. I have often used these helpful questions in my listening prayer journal to target the vices and character-level sins that I must confess repeatedly ((suggested by Leanne Payne, from James 1:15 and I Peter 5:8):
How was I dragged away and enticed by my own evil desire?
How did my desire conceived give birth to sin?
How have I rejected Your will and way as just and good?
Where is there denial, unforgiveness, displaced anger and unbelief?
How do I need to know You more truly?
Of what temptation must I be watchful, self-controlled and alert?
Mature Christians become more holy and godly not because they believe themselves to be beyond sinning, but because they’ve gotten to know their sin nature quite well, and have learned to submit their weaknesses more continually to Christ. As we progress in the project of repentance of racism, our hearts will be changed, our thoughts and reactions will become purer and more like our Father’s. And for the struggle that remains, we will become more sensitive to the footholds racism still has in us, and more aware of what circumstances and conditions may make us more likely to fall back into error.
Given that racism is an interpersonal sin, one that has formed in us through our participation in family and society, our repentance work will also need to take place interpersonally. This is one reason (among many) why we need our churches to facilitate repeated, corporate confession of the sins of racism that includes authoritative assurance of God’s forgiveness that can be received by all. We’ve mis-created this sinful state together, and it is good that we defy the shame that would shrink and hide, and instead engage in public, corporate repentance together. As John Coutts writes in A Shared Mercy, “The church stands before the world as a community of disturbed sinners continually gathered and built up in the mercy of Christ.”  To support churches in this effort, we are sharing this liturgy as an option for corporate prayer.
I’ll close by reminding us of the spiritual nature of racism. Of all the strongholds that I have played a part in confronting through MPC, none has provoked demonic opposition as vicious or potent as has our work in addressing racism. I am convinced that the satanic force of evil is energetically defending its territory here. But our God is faithful and mighty and yields no territory to His enemies. His gift of discernment breaks through our deception. His clarity descends into our confusion. His boldness overshadows our timidity. His radiant path shines in our darkness. He meets our need in manifold grace, including through our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Enemy is truly evil and intent on destroying all that God creates, including this movement for healing, reconciliation, and transformation. But I can emphatically testify that we have nothing to fear. As long as we cry out to our way-making God and utterly depend on Him, He is pleased to take our smallness and do great things. Yes, we are clay jars, and there is no shame in our smallness. Our God has surpassing power, and He is pleased to dwell with us, to descend into the midst of our fiercest bondage, and to shine the Light that banishes the darkness. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
 Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism (St Vladimirs Seminary Pr, 1997), 100.
 *ibid*, 101.
 Harriett Beecher Stowe, “Sojourner Truth, The Libyan Sibyl,” The Atlantic (Civil War Issue).
 Mark J. Boda & Gordon T. Smith, Repentance in Christian Theology (Liturgical Press, 2006), 22.
 Jon Coutts, A Shared Mercy (IVP Academic, 2016), 93.
Comments Off on Prayer for our nation: A liturgy to address racism
This liturgy was prayed at the close of a week of prayer and fasting for our nation. It includes a litany of repentance written specifically to aid the church in addressing the sin of anti-African-American racism in the U.S., engaging the ancient Christian practice of corporate repentance. This litany provides a means of acknowledging our personal sins as well as the sins of our and past generations. Through the grace of repentance we seek God’s forgiveness and restoration for our nation. We share it for your free use, to aid your family, small group, or church in continuing the work of repentance for the sins of our nation that constellate our present affliction of racism. If you would like a printable copy of this liturgy, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Words of Welcome:
This is a time of prayer for our nation and we will pray in a particularly corporate way. In our every-day prayer life, we tend to approach confession of sin as individuals. In tonight’s prayer we’ll name sins that we may not have not personally participated in but that we have authority to confess as members of our society. We’re going to name many aspects of the sins of racism, not to overwhelm or castigate ourselves, but to reach for the clarity, courage, and hope that are the fruits of receiving God’s forgiveness.
As we pray tonight, if voices of condemnation begin to whisper or shout in your mind, if your heart starts to shrivel up inside you as we pray this prayer of confession and repentance, or if you find yourself shrinking back or feeling defensive, I urge you to pay attention to that. Don’t ignore it, and please don’t give in to it.
Instead, acknowledge your response, whatever it is, and bring it to God. Place yourself consciously inside the cross of Christ, remembering that your life is hidden with Christ in God. Name the voices of self-hatred or condemnation, or, it may be, defensiveness or self-righteousness. Ask God to silence the voices that accuse or rationalize, and return the eyes of your heart to Christ.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there’s a scene after the traitor Edmund has been rescued from the White Witch. He’s had a long conversation with Aslan, the Christ figure in the book, and has been reconciled to his brother and sisters, whom he betrayed. Then the White Witch comes and demands the traitor be handed over to her. Everyone knows she’s talking about Edmund. Edmund knows she’s talking about Edmund, but he doesn’t listen to her shrill, angry, accusing voice. Instead, he keeps his eyes steadfastly fixed on Aslan.
Let us be like Edmund, not listening to the voice of the accuser but keeping our eyes on Christ who loves us with love so high and wide and long and deep that it covers all our sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
And still, we must let God do his purifying, sanctifying work in us, so that we can stand before Him holy and righteous all the days of our life. And that means we must name and turn from our and our forebears’ sin. We must confess and repent.
But we confess and repent while standing within the cross of Christ whose blood washes over us and washes away all our sin and guilt and shame. We can face the evil of racism without being overwhelmed by it because we stand in Christ. If you begin to feel flooded by guilt or fear, consciously place yourself in Christ. Remember that you stand in Him. Remember that He loves you—you…and me, despite our sin, despite our complicity in the sins of others, despite our grievous reactions to others’ sins. Hold yourself in His love—and ask Him to keep you rooted and grounded in Him as you pray, for it is His love that alone can empower us to repent and turn from our sin and receive the forgiveness and healing each of us, and our nation, so desperately need.
We will begin our prayer time with a few moments of silence and then pray Psalm 123 responsively.
Ad te levavi oculos meos
1 Unto you I lift up my eyes,
you who are enthroned in the heavens.
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
and as the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress,
3 Even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God,
until he show us his favor.
4 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have suffered more than enough contempt.
5 Long has our soul suffered the scorn of the wealthy
and the spitefulness of the proud.
Litany of Repentance
We gather to fall on our faces before God and plead for his mercy and intervention,
with broken-hearted contrition,
with commitment to repentance,
with confidence that as we ask according to His will He will hear us.
Let us humbly confess our personal and corporate sins,
as individuals and as those who share in the sins of our nation,
to almighty God.
You are invited to kneel as able.
Holy God, we come to You now to confess the sins of our nation against African-Americans. The weight of our sin crushes us, the horror of it sickens us, the shame of it oppresses us, but we know we find forgiveness, cleansing, and healing for all at Your cross. Come, Holy Spirit, and empower our confession. Help us to seek Your mercy so that Your righteousness can be established and the hope of shalom can dawn in our nation.
Father, we acknowledge that the very founders of our nation enslaved Africans. We acknowledge the evil, dehumanizing brutality of the Middle Passage, the slave trade, and the plantation system. We acknowledge the craven selfishness and greed that authorized what became an institution of slavery in this nation. We acknowledge that leaders and members of Your church misused scripture to perversely justify and perpetuate the evil of slavery. We acknowledge that the generations who were born into this system are very close to us, even our grandparents and great-grandparents, and that the unjust creation of wealth and poverty, of prestige and degradation still stand in our culture as a legacy of this evil institution of human enslavement.
Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have sinned against You.
Lord, have mercy upon those
who unjustly bear the consequences of our sin.
Father, we acknowledge that with the abolishment of legal enslavement, our nation developed new forms of sin and evil intended to continue the subjugation of African-Americans. We acknowledge the deliberate disenfranchisement of African-Americans in every area of legal and political, economic, educational, cultural, and religious life, through Jim Crow laws and unwritten social contracts. We acknowledge the torture and murder of countless precious souls, heinously disguised as vigilante justice.
Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have sinned against You.
Lord, have mercy upon those
who unjustly bear the consequences of our sin.
Father, we acknowledge that our sins of hatred, fear, and greed have fostered the criminalization of African-Americans. We acknowledge injustice at all levels of what we call our criminal justice system: legislation, policing, prosecution, and incarceration. We acknowledge these evils have formed an assault on the family and community structure of African-Americans that has caused grievous generational destruction. We acknowledge profound and willful economic discrimination that has unjustly oppressed African-Americans. We acknowledge the deceitful and defensive victim-blaming mentality that has accompanied these sins.
Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have sinned against You.
Lord, have mercy upon those
who unjustly bear the consequences of our sin.
Father, we acknowledge the creation of denigrating and villainizing images of Black men and women that infect every story-telling media, including news, literature, and film. We confess that the images of our hearts have been diseased by our sin-stained culture, sometimes by our consent and sometimes against our will. We confess our feelings of fear, contempt, and animosity towards African-Americans that are the consequence of this sin. We confess we’ve enjoyed and admired the creative fruits of African-American culture without honoring the fullness of who African-Americans are, and without repenting of the injustices that have shaped their culture.
Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have sinned against You.
Lord, have mercy upon those
who unjustly bear the consequences of our sin.
Father, we confess the racist talk we have heard and participated in, in our families, workplaces, social networks, and churches, actively with our voices and passively through our silence. We confess our sinful yielding to fear that has kept us compliant with the sin of racism in our families, workplaces, and communities.
Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have sinned against You.
Lord, have mercy upon those
who unjustly bear the consequences of our sin.
Father, in confessing these our sins, we come into agreement with your holiness. Only Your blameless Son could atone for these our sins. We look to You for forgiveness and earnestly desire that His blood might cleanse and heal. We thank you for Your grace that enables us to abhor sin. Have mercy on us Lord that we might hate this sin without hating ourselves or our neighbor. We cannot cleanse this stain from our own hearts, much less from the bodies and souls of those who have been its primary victims, much less from the structures and institutions of our society. We cannot, O God, but You can, and we know it is Your will to show mercy.
We are grieved by the harm that continues to happen every day in our nation. We long for the destruction to stop. We long to see Your redemption at work because we love You and we love Your ways. We seek Your healing and restoration for our African-American brothers and sisters because we love them, because You love them and Your love is in us.
So now we yield these trespasses, failures and infections to Your cross. We yield the burden of our commissions and omissions to You. We choose to receive Your forgiveness, the undeserved gift of pardon You so freely give. We receive the scandal of Your mercy. Thank You Lord, for separating this sin from us as far as the east is from the west.
Take time in silence to yield specific sins, memories, and burdens to the cross.
The priest stands and says
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who in his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
All standing or seated
And now, Lord, we ask for Your protection for our bodies, hearts, and minds. Drive far from us the evil spirit of divisiveness, the evil spirit of devouring and destructiveness. Empower us to walk in Your ways, to witness to Your death and resurrection, to pray and work for the repentance and healing of our nation.
Prayers of Petition
From the occasional prayers in the Book of Common Prayer (2019, Anglican Church of North America). Between each prayer, you are invited to pray silently or aloud, as the Spirit leads.
For the Unity of all Christian People
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace to take to heart the grave dangers we are in through our many divisions. Deliver your Church from all enmity and prejudice, and everything that hinders us from godly union. As there is one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so make us all to be of one heart and of one mind, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and love, that with one voice we may give you praise; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God in everlasting glory. Amen.
For the Spirit of Prayer
O Almighty God, you pour out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and of supplication: Deliver us, when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the Peace of the World
Almighty God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed: Kindle, we pray, in the hearts of all people the true love of peace, and guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquility your kingdom may go forward, till the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For Courts of Justice
Almighty God, you sit on your throne giving righteous judgment: We humbly ask you to bless all courts of justice and all magistrates in this land; give them a spirit of wisdom and understanding, that fearing no power but yours alone, they may discern the truth and impartially administer the law; through him who shall come to be our Judge, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the President and All in Civil Authority
O Lord our Governor, whose glory fills all the world: We commend this Nation to your merciful care, that we may be guided by your providence, and dwell secure in your peace. Grant to the President of this Nation, the Governor of this State [or Commonwealth], and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them continually mindful of their calling to serve this people in reverent obedience to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
For Our Nation
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure conduct. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom, in thy Name, we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image, and you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For Social Justice
Almighty God, you created us in your own image: Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In Times of Social Conflict or Distress
Increase, O God, the spirit of neighborliness among us, that in peril we may uphold one another, in suffering tend to one another, and in homelessness, loneliness, or exile befriend one another. Grant us brave and enduring hearts that we may strengthen one another, until the disciplines and testing of these days are ended, and you again give peace in our time; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For Those Who Inform Public Opinion
Almighty God, your truth endures from age to age: Direct in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may speak your truth to make the heart of this people wise, its mind discerning, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the Acceptance of Prayer
Heavenly Father, you have promised to hear what we ask in the Name of your Son: Accept and fulfill our petitions, we pray, not as we ask in our ignorance, nor as we deserve in our sinfulness, but as you know and love us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Looking to Christ our coming King
We look to You, Lord Jesus Christ, forgiver of sins and establisher of righteousness.
In the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. Revelation 1:13-16
We rest our hearts on You and watch for Your coming. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Comments Off on Pray like Nehemiah for America’s Racial Strife
by Sarah Colyn
Calling my brothers and sisters in Christ to prayer over the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd:
A 5th century Israelite named Nehemiah offers us a powerful model of what to do. Nehemiah’s story starts as he learns that his people are in trouble and shame (Nehemiah 1:3). His response to this terrible news provides us a model of how to respond to these killings and the broader trouble and shame they reveal. Nehemiah’s story is an important read that shows us how an ordinary person can utterly depend on God to rebuild a society that seems hopelessly broken.
When he heard that the walls of the city of God were broken down and its gates burned with fire, Nehemiah sat down and wept and mourned for days, and continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven (1:4). Nehemiah’s mourning put his heart in deep alignment with God’s as he grieved over sin and longed for righteousness. Some of us may not feel very connected to Ahmaud’s, Breonna’s, or George’s stories, and may be uncomfortable with the idea that their killings have anything to do with us. If you have hardened your heart in reaction to what seems like politicization of these deaths, repent. Their loved ones are weeping. Ask the Spirit to help you share their grief, and weep with them. Lay down your ideological objections, and come close to humanity like Jesus did.
If you feel apathetic, resistant, or angry, ask God to shine His light inside and reveal what’s controlling your heart. If you’re not willing, ask God to help you become willing. If you distrust the pain and outrage of others because you don’t understand it, ask God to lead you to someone wise and godly who can help you. Don’t hold yourself distant from this lament — ask God to help you enter it.
Nehemiah’s lament led him into confession:Hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. (1:6). His confession came not from a place of superiority, but from a place of deep humility as he put his shoulder under the burden of his countrymen’s trespasses. He was deeply offended by the evil that the Israelites were doing, but rather than dissociating himself, he identified with them and confessed their sin as his own. Some of us may take pride in our moral outrage. But any sensitivity or awareness you have about these issues is likely a gift of your circumstances or the privilege of your education. If your woke-ness has fostered a spirit of self-righteousness, repent. There’s a profound difference between being angry and grieved that “they” did this vs. that “we” did this. Nehemiah’s powerful leadership shows us how to pray with spiritual authority from a place of association with the trespassers.
“As for me and my father’s house, we have sinned against you.” Through his confession Nehemiah sought a new move of God for his nation on the grounds of repentance. We can kneel before God in the power of the Holy Spirit, naming sin for what it is and crying out for His mercy to deliver our nation from its relentless and devastating consequences. Let us pray for those who committed these murders, pray for the investigators, prosecutors, judges, and jurors who will be appointed to bring justice. Let us pray for the pastors of predominantly white churches in their communities and around the country, and for our brothers and sisters in the pews of those churches. And of course, let us pray for our African-American brothers and sisters, that God might deliver them from the terrible consequences of ours and our father’s house’s sin.
Yes, Nehemiah worked for reform, and his leadership was tremendously effective in recruiting allies and protecting a violently opposed mission. But he started with prayer, because prayer changes our hearts. In dialog with our Father we become people who can wield redemptive influence in our families, churches, communities, and the structures of society of which we are a part. If we won’t get on our knees as fellow sinners, our impassioned voices for justice will be clanging gongs.
We have a deep stain in our souls, worked into us through the generations of slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, red-lining, and mass incarceration that runs through of our family lines and our nation. We need a heart-healing of the deepest order. None of us are good enough to accomplish this, and apart from God’s grace we cannot even face it. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash us clean and bring restoration. We need our hearts to be resymbolized; we need God to cleanse diseased and hateful images of African-Americans from every heart in this nation. This is not something our human efforts can accomplish, but Christ’s living water is powerful enough to cleanse, and pure enough to renew all things.
The Church is meant to be the hope of the world, including hope for healing our country’s blight of racial hate and injustice. White Christians need to intercede for one another and for the nation. Where we let the Enemy trick us into polarization and fragmentation, the Body of Christ is weakened to impotence, and the flow of His grace and healing power choked to a useless trickle. Our Lord has the prerogative and power to bring about shalom, to create the conditions in which mercy and truth meet, and righteousness and peace kiss. We are members of His Church, and He is calling us to take up the weapons provided by His Spirit. Let us engage in the essential work of prayer. Let us fall on our knees together in lament, confession, and broken-hearted intercession. Through the cross of Christ, God has provided the rescue from our trouble and shame, so let us kneel at that cross now and let the power of God loose.
For further guidance, please consider the following:
A Family’s Journey– personal testimony of racial identity and the consequences of racism, given by Sill Davis, MPC Vice-President, Wheaton MPC School 2019
Healing of Memories – a lecture on corporate repentance focused on the sin of slavery and racism, given by Sarah Colyn, Wheaton MPC School 2019
Painting:Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1900, The Savior [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Comments Off on What We’re Reading: The Scent of Water
“My dear, love, your God, is a trinity. There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. They are these, ‘Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands.’
Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these you will do well.” 
The Scent of Water shares cousin Mary’s journey as formed by these prayers. The book title is a reference from Job’s miraculous hope for a long-dead tree: “yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant” (Job 14:9). In these strange COVID-19 days, hope is being tested, and the ruler of the power of the air is tempting us to a deadened, darkened, despairing outlook. The Scent of Water is a like a healing dose of convalescent plasma from an author who has experienced the fathomless renewing grace of God in her own seasons of darkness.
Elizabeth Goudge is an exquisite observer who re-sensitizes us to the ever-present beauty of creation. Reading this passage helped me see afresh the apple tree in our garden that’s currently in the same magical state:
“They crossed the road to the orchard and leaned on the gate, the scent of apple blossom coming to them on the light wind. From the crimson of the unopened buds to the white of the fully opened petals, every gradation of rose color was present in flights and drifts on the lichened branches. The apple trees were old and it seemed a miracle that such misshapen age could support this airy lightness.” 
Goudge’s keen observations of human foibles are warm-hearted and gracious. The characters in The Scent of Water learn to bear their own weaknesses kindly and love one another well. I laughed out loud at this endearing glimpse into the inner workings of Appleshaw’s priest:
“He took the cup without comment but sucked his cheeks in and out, as was his habit when suppressing comment. The suppression of comment was always difficult for him and the movement of his facial muscles was an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual victory.” 
What is The Scent of Water about? It’s about hope that will carry us through deep depression, and grace that can rescue even from the darkest temptation to throw life away. It’s about our need for quiet, and our need for one another. It’s about salvation, and the Cross stands wonderfully at the center of this book through a character I’ll leave for you to discover. It’s about our smallness, and the glory of humility. And it’s about heaven, the utterly-real and wonderfully good home that is being prepared for us.
The Scent of Water is on my shelf of regularly re-read books, and I am so glad I picked it up again now. If you are struggling with the strange sort of quiet that has descended over our daily lives, I’d encourage you to spend some time in Appleshaw with The Scent of Water. I’d love to hear which character warms you most, and what the beautifully crafted story imparts to your heart about the wonder of God’s renewing power.
All quotations from The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. These page references are from a version published by Coward-McCann, Inc., New York, 1963. A newer printing is readily available through Hendrickson publishers, 2011.  p. 115  p. 90  p. 237
Stay with me, remain here with me; watch and pray, watch and pray.
We offer these scriptural stations of the cross
as a means to enter the “abyss of wonders” of the cross of Christ.
As you visit each station, take time for three movements:
Behold: Look upon each moment of your Lord’s journey with your true imagination.
Speak: Express the the cry of your heart that arises in response to Him.
Listen: Wait. Receive. Welcome the Holy Spirit to pray through you.
The journey of the cross may stir your heart in many ways. Some possibilities to watch for:
As we embrace the Lord’s identification with our suffering, we are healed.
His journey to the cross resonates with every human story,
for He truly took upon Himself the burdens of the guilty, the poor, and the powerless.
In these scenes we witness Him bearing all that would kill our souls and spirits:
betrayal, accusation, injustice, abandonment, torture, degradation, mockery, shame, violation, physical agony, bitter grief, utter weakness, and the chasm of death itself.
As He takes all the worst that evil can give, He has the victory.
In this journey He breaks the bondage of sin and death over our race,
and as we meditate on His cross today, its power is again let loose.
Grieving over sin
As we behold the Man, we may receive the gift of a broken heart.
Let it break, for this is a suitable day to weep over our sin,
the sin of our families, tribes, and nations, the sin of God’s people, and of the world.
We are free to confess as the Spirit leads,
“It was my sin that held Him there; it was our sin that held Him there.”
As we confess, we cry out for God’s mercy and forgiveness, for ourselves and for all.
Intercession for the poor
Through His perfect obedience and righteous sacrifice,
Christ continues to actively bear the pain that mankind could not and cannot escape.
As we behold the Man through these stations,
the Spirit may stir us to intercession.
The power of His cross is active today
for those preyed on by human evil,
for victims of systemic injustice,
for those living in material or spiritual poverty,
and for the persecuted Church.
Worshipping our crucified King
Good Friday stands at the center of history,
as the One who is lifted up draws all men to Him.
Behold Christ’s humility, courage, and mercy on scandalous display
as He entrusts Himself fully to His Father and pours out His very life.
Here we find a love we can trust, worship, and adore,
today and forever and ever. What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest Friend, for this, thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end? O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.
Comments Off on Meditations on Wholeness in Christ: True Repentance
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant to the hands of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy on us.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord,
have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Psalm 123:1-3 ESV
In this introspective age, we easily substitute our subjective feelings about ourselves for the objective gift of God’s forgiveness. If we are on our knees, hating ourselves, we are not likely to look up and receive forgiveness. We have sunk into an inculcated, emotional state of feeling toward the self, an emotional view we’ve had so long we hardly notice it. And this is not prayer. It is a common and serious barrier to receiving the forgiving grace of God. 
Lent is a sober season, but also one that can yield great joy. We may resist a full embrace of Lent if diseased introspection is contaminating our confessional. An aversion to repentance grows where we’ve confused it with self-loathing and regretful ruminating over our weaknesses and mistakes. There is neither doom nor shame in true Christian repentance. As we lift our faces to the Father of all mercy, the restoration and freedom He gives scandalizes our self-hatred. Confessional prayer offered unto God ushers in a mysterious joy as we simultaneously face the heartbreaking extent of our need for Christ’s sacrifice, and the unfathomable depth of God’s kindness towards us.
Come Holy Spirit, come. Search us and illuminate any way that introspection is corrupting our experience of repentance. Remove from our hearts any cruel judge or merciless punisher who blocks our view of You. Create a cleansed and kind space within where we can receive Your merciful illumination. Flood our hearts with Your love so they can be tenderly broken. We praise you for the objective reality of forgiveness that both transcends and descends to us.
 Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul Through Healing Prayer (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1991), 146.
Painting: Jacob Jordaens, 1623, An Apostle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Comments Off on In the boat with Jesus through the COVID-19 storm
by Sarah Colyn
“As long as we dwell in time, there will never be more of Him available to us than now. Our walk with Him, our acknowledgement of Him with us, within us, while remaining fully sovereign – all this in the now – is what faith apprehends. God is available to us; Jesus is indeed, if we are born again of His Spirit, the living Fountain within.” 
What does it look like to know that God is fully, really with us, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? How do we partake of that living fountain within when things around us are disruptive and disorienting? Through His multi-splendored grace, God provides transforming and redemptive practices. As we engage these practices, I am confident we will not just make it through, but will actually know the joy of God’s creative power at work in us and through us right in COVID-19’s midst.
Practicing the Presence
The relentless news cycle and growing list of changes to our daily activities can crowd our field of vision. Tuning into God’s presence is a moment-by-moment practice, and the tempter will exploit the intensity of these circumstances to pull our hearts away from awareness of Emmanuel. When we forget to stay our imaginations on Him, we slide into a sense that there is less of God available and that we’re on our own to contend with the circumstances of this virus. When we remember, we are kept in perfect peace, a truly supernatural grace! In these days the practice of His presence may be more challenging,
like when an athlete adds heavier weights to their workout routine. A more strenuous workout leads to stronger muscles, so let us take heart. We may fail at times, but failure is part of any worthwhile practice. When we realize we’ve forgotten, that’s our chance to begin again, thanking God for His grace.
This pandemic gives us a fresh reason to endeavor to keep our eyes on the Lord. By focusing on Him, we will remain well connected to the source of all assurance and wisdom. If at any point we shift our gaze from His face to the stormy seas, we can always repent and cry out for rescue. He stands ready to deliver us from preoccupation with the things of this world and restore to us the joy of our salvation. Let’s remember too that He has given His Spirit who lives within us. He will grant the grace we need, from the inside-out. We can partake of Christ’s own peace, courage, hope, and whatever else we need of Him, in every present moment.
Living at the Cross
The shifting landscape caused by this pandemic stirs primitive reactions in all of us. Our reactions vary — some of us are prone to inordinate fear, others to criticism and blame, others to denial, and so on. Although not sinful in themselves, some of our gut reactions arise from the old man rather than the new and can therefore easily lead us to sin. It is good to admit that we still fall under the influence of that old survivalist within, the one who can’t and won’t rest in God’s peace. If we ignore our fallibility, we will be tempted to take our subjective reactions as objective fact. When we stray from humility, we authorize our hostile, paranoid, and judgmental tendencies and will lack charity. We will likely have the greatest difficulty with those whose primitive reactions rub ours the wrong way, and can be quick to see the old man in others while unaware that he’s rising up in us.
This struggle between our old way and Christ’s way is not one we can manage alone. Let’s kneel at the cross regularly, inviting the Spirit to search our hearts. Where He illuminates resentment or villainization of others, we can yield these grievous reactions to our crucified Lord. Where a critical or intolerant spirit is mounting in us, we can ask for grace to see as God sees and receive an infusion of agape love. Where we discern error in others’ choices, we can let this awareness move us into loving and fruitful intercession.
One way God works all things for our good is by using all things to refine us in character. The circumstances created by the pandemic may give us access to areas of woundedness or immaturity that go undetected in more comfortable times. Living at the cross allows us to humbly observe the content of our emotions and thoughts and share them with the Lord in prayer. Bringing our reactions to the cross will not only save us from sin, but will yield healing and growth as we exchange old ways of surviving for new wholeness in Christ.
Partaking of Well-Being
It is God’s desire that every person He’s created have fullness of life. Well-being is His will for us, and we serve His will when we “live loved.” We know that God’s will is not always done in this world, and suffering and deprivation touch every life. So we bear these experiences in hope when we must (more on that later), but we are not to resign ourselves to misery during this pandemic or at any time. We can ask God for inspiration on how to find joy and live creatively amidst whatever limitations the virus brings about.
We can watch our “diet” and feed our imaginations with the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. I can’t imagine a better time to read great stories to ourselves and our loved ones. If we notice that we’re descending into a dreary and unmotivated mood, we should reach out. Some of the best sustenance comes when we give the very thing we’re needing, whether it’s offering someone our attention, extending a well-washed helping hand, or inviting a friend to a time of play or creativity.
Uncertainty is hard on us humans — we were created for unbroken relationship with an unchanging God. Because worrying thoughts can trouble us most at night, practicing good sleep hygiene is important in these unfamiliar days. I recommend these habits to honor the way God created us for restoring sleep: keep a consistent bedtime and waking schedule; get exercise and sunlight during the day; avoid caffeine, alcohol, or large meals close to bedtime; minimize screen use before bed; make your bedroom cozy (quiet, dark, relaxing, a good temperature, and screen-free); and pray the examen or compline before bed, allowing God to clear your mind and prepare your body and soul for peaceful sleep.
If we’re developing symptoms of depression or anxiety, we should seek support early to help us stay emotionally healthy. Pastors and counselors are continuing to provide care, using technology in circumstances where face-to-face meetings are not advised. Religious posturing that erects a false front of pseudo-strength, -faith, or -joy hurts the poser and all around them. God has taken on our flesh and knows our frailty. He has walked this earth with us and has great compassion for what it’s like to live amidst viruses, economic strain, and communal anxiety. Union with Him protects us from the vice grip of pride and shame, keeping us free to cry for help to Him and to His body whenever we need it.
The prudent person sees the reality of a situation and takes right actions that match reality. Incarnational reality means that we aren’t on our own to acquire virtue but can ask God to grow prudence in us. Prudence has two key components, comprehending and acting, and we can look to God to aid us in both. In terms of comprehending, God will guide so that we see what we need to know about the reality of our circumstances. Yes, we want to be informed, but not obsessed, and so we should seek discernment about which and how much information to consume. TV news channels make a poor companion at times like this and we need to guard against a foolish or anxious fixation on the news.
Prudence also involves readiness to act, obeying the command we understand God to be speaking, to the best we know. Christian obedience requires submission as well as courage. In cooperating with the guidance of those in leadership, or in letting go of activities and liberties for the sake of the common good, we are submitting to God and the reality He has permitted. In times like this, God also calls believers to sacrificial actions so that He can love His world through us. The prudent are free to obey promptly and courageously, confident not in themselves but in the One in whom we live, move, and have our being.
The antidote to anxiety and introspection is to engage with the awesome world God has shared with us. The world, flesh, and devil may conspire to turn us in on ourselves, but there is so much lovely and amazing otherness that is untouched by COVID-19. Social distancing may change how we reach out, but doesn’t cut us off from the beauty and wonder of creation. Dirt and growing things are always good for us, and I foresee many countertop, porch-step and backyard gardens will be sprouting in the weeks ahead. Our fellow human beings are the crown of creation, and we will remain free to enjoy and be amazed by one another throughout this season. Beholding, enjoying, and blessing one another is a gift we can unwrap every day. Dr. Clyde Kilby recommended this resolution for mental health: “I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their ‘divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic’ existence.”
In our concern for those suffering around us, many of us have a longing to “do something,” a godly urge to serve, help, and care for others. Union with Christ holds us in a collaborative posture with the Lord, saving us from doing for the sake of doing. We can quiet our activistic impulses, taking time to wait, listen, and invite the God who gave His only, beloved Son to love His world through us. We can be confident He is eager to do so, for any true desire in our hearts surely had its origin in God’s own heart. If we will offer our desires to Him, we can trust that He will open up the path before us. We will be surprised and delighted by how He involves us in His loving initiative. No doubt, many testimonies will emerge through this pandemic of God loving His world through His people, and many more acts of love and service will escape the notice of man but bring much glory to God.
This is a good time to remember the spiritual nature of Christian fellowship. The communion of saints is an awesome reality, always true but especially meaningful during times of physical separation. When any one of us is praying, singing, or reading scriptures, ours is never a lone voice. Our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are worshipping too, not to mention the heavenly host before the very throne of God. These days I am singing a peppy doxology while I wash my hands, and it is so lovely to know that I am joining a song being lifted by so many tongues in so many lands. Union with Christ is a real thing, and our spiritual health benefits when we contemplate our membership in His body.
Remembering that we are part of a whole fabric of relationship can also inspire us in prayer. In these days it is especially important that we pray for civic, healthcare, and Church leaders. We are called to stand in prayer alongside every person who God has placed in a position of leadership. We may never know all of what God accomplishes through our prayers, but we know that prayer is how we bear with one another and participate in God’s faithfulness to His people. Intercessory prayer is a powerful antidote to loneliness because it shifts our attention from ourselves and engages us in real communion with God and those we are lifting to Him in prayer.
Hoping in Heaven
Incarnational reality (the good news that God is with us and within us) is no health-and-wealth gospel. To the contrary, knowing that God is with and within us enables us to hope-fully live amongst, and even suffer through, the worst realities of this fallen world. We see much of God’s goodness here in this life, but we also taste the bitter cup, and we are able to endure because we know the real prize awaits us at the end of the race. Christian hope is truly a supernatural virtue, one we need for ourselves and to have enough to share with others around us.
Let’s remember that we’re on a journey of becoming, and that our God is eager to use all of these circumstances to transform us from glory to glory. We are in the blessed season of Lent, a key time of renewal in the Christian year. In his essay Great Lent: A School Of Repentance, Father Alexander Schmemann notes that we participate in Lent by pursuing a change of life. It seems to me that the situation created by the spread of the virus invites us more deeply into this Lenten pursuit. Here’s how Fr Schmemann describes it:
And, last but not least: there must be an effort and a decision to slow down our life, to put in as much quiet, silence, contemplation, meditation. Radio, TV, newspapers, social gatherings—all these things, however excellent and profitable in themselves, must be cut down to a real minimum. Not because they are bad, but because we have something more important to do, and it is impossible to do without a change of life, without some degree of concentration and discipline. Lent is the time when we re-evaluate our life in the light of our faith, and this requires a very real effort and discipline. Christ says that a narrow path leads to the kingdom of God and we must make our life as narrow as possible. At first the natural and selfish man in us revolts against these limitations. He wants his usual “easy life” with all its pleasures and relaxations. But once we have tasted of such spiritual effort, once we have made by it one step towards God, the reward is great! We discover a joy that cannot be compared to any other joy. We discover the reality of the spiritual world in us. We begin to understand what St. Paul meant by “the joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” God Himself enters our soul: and it is this wonderful coming that constitutes the ultimate end of Lent:
“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
Let us make this Lent a real Lent!
I say amen to Fr Schemann’s exhortation. And for us today I would add this, as strange as it may sound: let us make this pandemic a fruitful pandemic. Let us press in to incarnational reality. As long as we live in this world, there will never be more of God available to us than there is right now!
 Leanne Payne, Real Presence (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1995), 72.
 Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: A School of Repentance (originally published by Department Of Religious Education Orthodox Church In America, 1970, now public domain, gutenberg.org), 14-15.
Paintings, all via Wikimedia Commons:
Jacopo Tintoretto, 1575, Christ at the Sea of Galilee
Meister der Schule von Nowgorod, 1360, Crucifixion
Rodrigo Fernández, 2015, Jesus multiplies the loaves
Jean-Paul Haag, 1906, Little gardener sniffs flowers
Sergey Vinogradov, 1938, Pilgrims
Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house;
his hands shall also complete it.
Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.”
Zechariah 4:6,9 ESV
In the Presence there is spiritual power, and under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we are to do the works of God. Whether our task, like Zerubbabel’s, is one of building a place where a nation can once again find its true identity in the worship of God, or if, like Zecharaiah’s, it is one of proclaiming truth and healing, we are authorized and under a mandate to move in the power the Spirit gives. We can then celebrate our smallness and our inadequacy, knowing that it is by His Spirit that we are to transcend our limitations. We do not run ahead, nor do we lag behind, but we moment by moment obey God. When we wait upon the Lord for His mind on the task or the difficulty, then we are spared from substituting our own limited vision and unaided wisdom for the mighty work He would do. 
Here we find a peculiar Christian mandate: engage in grandly important work, and do it without relying on human ability or coercive force. This rule puts every sinful inclination in check and places us in a posture that is both comforting and glorious. Our efforts originate in God’s own desires, and His steadfast will and inexhaustible resources will see us through to success. The very definition of success deepens, and we discover the secret smile, the inward fulfillment, of Christian obedience. Living by this rule confers a dignity on our actions and even our inactions, imparted by His loving countenance resting on us.
Gracious Lord, save us from our sinful impulses that would pollute good work with fallen tactics. When we look inward to take inventory of our abilities, lift our eyes back to You. When we consider using corrupt methods to serve pure purposes, correct our wanderings. Rein in our independence and teach our hearts to more closely follow You. Thank you for the glorious calling You have spoken over our lives. Teach us Your ways and bless the work of our hands, that You might be glorified through us, now and always.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), 42.
Painting: Pierre Reymond, 1550, Pentecost [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Matthew 28:18–20, KJV
The “all power” is in such contrast to the poverty and humility He knew as the divine Son who “laid aside His glory” and “emptied Himself.” His state of vulnerability never once veered but rather culminated in the cross and His full sacrifice for our sin. And Paul says that we should imitate Christ’s humility, even that our attitude should be as His:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6–11)
The immensity of who we worship, and who we become—real persons—sons and daughters of God by adoption into Christ, prepares us to look at the divine humbling and the incredible scriptural mandate to imitate it. 
In Jesus we find the ultimate Someone — so solid, so real, unswervingly entrusting Himself to His Father’s love. The gospel stirs our hearts with His dignity and faithfulness, and gives us the amazing news that we’ve been made to become like Him! We seek healing so that we can imitate Christ. His peace can ground us enough that we lay down our self-protections. His healing can integrate the divided heart so that we become servants of God’s will in this world. He gives us His life so that we can share in the glory of humility.
Fairest Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us the way. Thank you for being the Way. Thank you for countering all the power-grabbing, prideful pictures of power with the awesome reality of Your self-giving love. Lord we want to follow You, we want to abide in You, we want to please You, but on our own we cannot. We believe our lives are hid with You in God, but help our unbelief. Set Your unbreakable trust in the Father into our hearts. Cleanse us, heal us, and raise us up that we might know more of the joy of imitating Your humility.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), 44. Painting: R. van der Weyden, 1435, Deposition [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. I Corinthians 6:19-20a NIV
All afternoon we cried out to God, and there were terrible moments when I wondered what I would do if God failed to help me, if I would simply have to cry out like this the rest of my life.
Then suddenly my pleading was interrupted by an amazing awareness of Christ in me. From that center where He and I were mysteriously one, I extended forgiveness to my enemy. At that same moment, I was delivered out of the grip of the worst temptation I’d ever known…
…Christ in me was securely linking me to God the Father in all His sovereignty and to all else in highest heaven, above and beyond me. That incarnational link had been the reality through this whole terrible time.
Had I learned to acknowledge and celebrate God’s immanence as well as His sovereignty, I would have prayed more effectively, and from a much quieter, less frantic place. I would have been secure in the knowledge that Christ was closer to me than any human being could ever be; He was with me in this warfare…. 
Advent calls us to meditate on God’s immanence: He is really present and operating within this world and within our beings. It is all too easy to live, work, and even pray as though He’s far away, and so we need this annual pilgrimage to attune our hearts to Emmanuel. The reality that our God is with us, even in the midst of the terrible times, enables us to live this life with supernatural hope and peace.
Lord Jesus, pour out Your Spirit on our Advent worship and spiritual disciplines. Thank You for the now of Your presence; grant us Your mighty, untapped treasures as we wait for the not yet of Your fulfilled kingdom. Use this Advent season to bring us to a more secure union in You, and create an overflow of hope and peace for our families, churches, and communities.
 Leanne Payne, Heaven’s Calling (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2008), 100-101. Photograph: Liesel, Adventskranz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Comments Off on Edmonds 2020 MPC Spiritual Retreat
We are delighted that you are considering attending the
2020 Edmonds Ministries of Pastoral Care Spiritual Retreat
April 30 – May 2, 2020
After much prayer and consideration, Sarah and the MPC Board have decided to cancel the Edmonds Retreat. We believe that God’s wisdom at this time is to adapt our schedule for the sake of your health and safety. Those already registered will receive a full refund to your credit card or a check from MPC, depending on the method of payment you used when registering.
Sarah and the board are praying about how God desires to use MPC in this unusual time, and we ask for your intercessions, as you will remain in ours. We will stay in touch through our newsletter regarding plans for future events and trust that we will again worship together in His presence, at the time of God’s choosing.
For your encouragement, words from the Book of Common Prayer:
Increase, O God, the spirit of neighborliness among us, that in peril we may uphold one another, in suffering tend to one another, and in homelessness, loneliness, or exile befriend one another. Grant us brave and enduring hearts that we may strengthen one another, until the disciplines and testing of these days are ended, and you again give peace in our time; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Anglican Church in North America Book of Common Prayer, page 659)
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers,
that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,
and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything
from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:
“‘Look, you scoffers,
be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”
Anyone can be delivered from heterosexual or homosexual sin and behavior, just as from any other sin and compulsion. But deliverance comes only with choosing to remain in God. It comes from loving Him and dying (“in the teeth of every inclination” as C. S. Lewis says) to the old wounded, narcissistic self — that which wants to be separate and on its own. 
Sexual and relational brokenness isn’t the essence of our problem, but rather a symptom that shows our need of God. Our heart issue is that we avoid Him: we listen to that damaged thing inside that is afraid to pray, we let our proud and resistant impulses rule. God knows how to set disordered desires in order if we will put ourselves in His hands. It isn’t easy, but easy is an illusion anyway. Choosing Jesus delivers us from degrading, deadly kinds of hard and puts us on the good-hard, noble path of becoming. Remaining in Him simultaneously crucifies the old man and liberates the new. Daily prayer and active Christian fellowship are within our power to choose, and our Lord is eagerly waiting to deliver all who turn to Him.
Gracious Savior, thank you for opening the way of freedom. I do love you Lord, and ask you to empower me to put that love in action by remaining in You. Grant me the courage and humility to draw near to You. Strengthen my will to remain in You. Make my life a living witness to You, for I do believe that you can free everyone from everything.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), 226-227. Painting: Meister der Schule von Nowgorod, 1360, Crucifixion [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. Colossians 2:8-10
I sadly watched… neognostic spirituality penetrate and destroy the larger part of Catholic and Anglican renewal, together with that within the older Protestant denominations. Now it is flooding into the evangelical world. It is characterized by an absence of true learning — the good of reason that attends wisdom from the Spirit. And it always reconciles good and evil. It assigns innocence to sin and sinful behavior — calling it good.
Many who control church organizations today have fallen into the trap of neognosticism. They are busy not only publishing this new “gospel” to all who will listen, but because they are in authority they are enforcing their views as “politically correct” — a new “law.” They are often heard or read today as “Christian” speakers, teachers, and writers. Such is the final result of our egoistic subjectivism and the loss of the Unseen Real. 
Not every teacher who borrows Christian vocabulary is leading us to Christ. So how do we resist having our minds changed, our consciences captivated by the confusion? Only through Jesus, who still is the way, the truth, and the life. Turns out, “Keep your head on straight” is profound advice. Devotion to Christ gives us His mind and discernment, and keeps us in fellowship with others who are after the same prize. When we stand up straight under our living Head, we can effectively love His Church as He does, pray for her off-track influencers, and seek freedom for our brothers and sisters who’ve been taken captive.
Lord Jesus Christ, You are the head of all rule and authority, and we thank you for taking us into Your body through Your cross. Rule in our minds. Give us discernment that is free from paranoia. Give us love for Your truth that is free from hostility. Show us any teaching we’ve absorbed that lures us away from devotion to You. Have mercy on Your Church Lord, expose the schemes of the Deceiver, and deliver those who are imprisoned and separated from You.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), 216-217. Icon: Christ Pantocrator from Church of the Paster Noster [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
As I teach at every MPC school in the opening lecture on God’s holiness, we live in a nihilistic age. The contention that being has no meaning attacks our view of humanity in general, and sexuality in
particular. On the Meaning of Sex by J. Budziszewski is a winsome antidote that bolsters not just clear thinking but also greatness of soul. Budziszewski challenges the popular assertion that sex doesn’t have to mean anything, leading us into clarity where the slogans of the culture foster confusion. He intentionally leaves religious themes in the background for most of the book in order to help us look logically at the nature of sex and therefore get a firmer grip on what we already intuitively know is true. He challenges the fuzzy thinking that enables a nihilistic view of sex:
“What you intend subjectively can’t change what your act means objectively… To join in one flesh is to say, ‘I give myself to you in all that this act means,’ even if my mouth shapes the words, ‘This means nothing’” (27).
Budziszewski must have prayed for conciseness of speech on this project, because he covers every facet of what it means to be sexual beings in a slim, readable book.
The meaning of sexual powers: Although pleasure motivates us to use the sexual power we’ve been given, Budziszewski shows why sex is really about procreation.
The meaning of sexual difference: Budziszewski helps us see that difference between men and women is not constructed or invented by culture but exists in our nature, and offers a sound and inspiring definition of the two sexes.
The meaning of sexual love: Budziszewski cuts through our confusions about eros and romance to paint an exciting picture of what faithful self-giving and sexual love really are.
The meaning of sexual beauty: Budziszewski differentiates between dehumanized and humanized sexiness, restoring an understanding of sexual beauty as delight in the otherness of the other.
The meaning of sexual purity: Considering both the single and married states, Budziszewski points to the sweet disciplines of decorum, modesty, and temperance.
Understanding the true meaning of sex helps us have better lives, but there’s a much greater reason why this book (and the truths it conveys) is important. In his final chapter, Budziszewski connects all the dimensions of sex to their ultimate purpose: God. “An image of mortal love can’t point beyond itself unless it is faithful at its own level first” (139). We need books that help us think and live rightly as sexual beings so that we can rightly image. Awesomely, God created our sexuality in order to draw us to Himself!
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2 NKJV
When we hear educators or politicians pleading for the restoration of Christian values in the universities or in government, we know their calls are nearly useless because there can be no counteracting trend until the populace itself is converted… Therefore, our hope is not in calling for our systems to be Christian, but in becoming truly Christian ourselves. 
A pro-Christ trend in our nations can never be imposed top-down — it will only come from the inside-out, one believer, one household at a time. Our societies will only remain free by having citizens who are inwardly governed by the loving will of God. We serve society when we withdraw into our gardens of solitude, where we are being steadily transformed into the likeness of Christ. We bring help to this world when we let Him send us out to winsomely appeal to those around us to be converted too. We are members of the most potent grassroots movement this world will ever know: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus, we praise You as the King of history and confess that you are King of our time and of our nations. Forgive us for following the lead of any worldly influence; bring the perfect clarity of Your truth into any confusion. Forgive us for any way we’ve been looking to the government or our civic institutions to rescue us rather than courageously following You. Cleanse our hearts of anxiety, hopelessness, and unbelief, for we do believe You are faithful. Pour out Your Spirit upon us. Unleash Your Kingdom within us and among us. Renew our minds, make our wills one with Yours, and empower us to invite others into this blessed life of transformation in You.
 Leanne Payne, Real Presence (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1995), 53 Illustration: Limbourg brothers, 1416, The Apostles Going Forth to Preach from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
For we are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them.
What is my vocation? For what purpose was I sent into the world? These may be questions you will want to journal, because the obedience that comes out of listening to God puts us securely in our truest vocation. It is a radical place to be — a place of freedom from the words of the world, the flesh, and the devil. No longer slaves to sin, but alive to God’s voice, we are brought into that spacious place of genuine creativity. We are makers, ourselves made in the image of our Creator God. We learn to collaborate with what we hear the Lord command, and He in turn loves His world through us. 
Creativity is no frivolous extra, nor is it a gift given to just a few of us, but is essential both for personal wholeness and the welfare of this world. Our Creator God broods over the potentiality He’s knit into each one of us. No spiritual gifts inventory or career guidance can take the place of persevering responsiveness to His voice. By simply obeying His daily counsel — often without seeing the big picture of His awesome plans — we allow Him to place us on creative mission. Our collaborations with God will often be hidden and ordinary, may sometimes win admiration, and may also provoke persecution. But in every case we will find joy. It’s what we were made for: to simultaneously create and be created by having our very own hands in God’s good work.
Gracious God, thank you for this gift of a life so rich with meaning and eternal purpose. Thank you for the awesome glory of being in Your image, the privilege of being a maker in Your kingdom. Open my ears to Your instruction, open my eyes to Your handiwork, open my heart to the joy of union with You. Take all that I am — my desires and sensitivities, my energy and strength, my flawed and finite being — and love Your world through me.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), 124.
Painting: Arcangelo di Cola, 1425, The Calling of Simon Peter and Andrew [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
We enjoyed excellent workshops on sexuality for both men and women at Wheaton this summer. One question that was raised is about how to talk to our children and teens about sex. Anjonette Baum, MPC board member, licensed professional counselor, and certified sex addiction therapist candidate, emphasized the importance of ongoing dialog. She said that our kids need to hear from us about sex and sexuality, and need us to be present and ready to listen, teach, and guide through every stage of their growth. As parents we may lack confidence in talking about sex, but thankfully there are resources to help us. I’d like to suggest some books that parents may find helpful in catching a vision for the what, when, and how of these important conversations. Each of these books is written in order to be read with our children, but can also be valuable in equipping parents to have these conversations in their own way. As in all things, your discernment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is key here to identify what suits your family and the needs of your precious and unique children.
God’s Design for Sex series by Stan and Brenna Jones (2007) offers four books to help parents guide their children from early childhood through the teen years. The Joneses teach about sexuality as a gift from God, and recognize that the conversations we have about sex shape our children’s character.
The Story of Me is designed for children ages three to five, and begins to lay a foundation for understanding sexuality in a truly Christian way. The final book, Facing the Facts: The Truth About Sex and You is intended for young teens and includes a chapter titled “Tough answers to some tough problems” which parents will likely find a welcome help in our complicated world.
Theology of His Body/Theology of Her Body by Jason Evert (2009) points to “the beauty of God’s plan for sexual love and the joy of living it” in a way that teens and their parents will find compelling (quoting from the introduction by Christopher West on page 1). It’s two books in one, written specifically to young women and men, and Evert’s subtitles describe the book well. This book will help parents and teens discover the strength and mission of masculinity as well as the beauty and mystery of femininity. In our day I believe our young people need to be pointed to the transcendent meaning of sexuality, and how good and important it is that God made them men and women.
One final book I’ll mention isn’t written from a distinctly Christian point of view. It addresses pornography, a topic that I believe is critical for families today, in a developmentally sensitive and research-grounded way. Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen A Jenson and Debbie Fox encourages parents to consider ways to proactively protect our children from the destructive effects of porn.