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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
The healing of this [separation from one’s self] brings into harmony the intellect and the heart—that is, the cognitive and intuitive capacities and ways of knowing, and these “two minds” are thereby enabled to balance and complete each other. The will, the emotions, the intuitive and imaginative faculties are cleansed and receive the very life of God. With this healing, the self is freed to come into the Presence of the Unseen Real—the Presence of God Himself—where we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). It is in this way that we become persons. True personality is rooted in relationship: first of all in God, the Uncreated, then with everything He has created. 
This vision of human personhood stirs the soul. Our hearts rise, even ache, to be that free, that alive, that whole. To know that God has purposed to bring us into such largeness of being and relationship is awesome. God desires us for Himself, and to give us into relationship with this world that He so loves. This is no cheap splendor, but puts our feet on bedrock reality while our spirits ascend. Something in us knows we are destined for such a weight of glory, and we truly desire to walk the costly but radiant path of becoming.
Thank You, Creator God, for the spark of life that glows within every human being. Come, Holy Spirit and blow the embers of desire to become whole. We believe you can make true persons; help our unbelief. Continue your work within us, integrating, balancing, harmonizing, cleansing, and freeing. Empower our listening and obeying, that we may come into this fullness and help others do the same, today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), 37.
Woodcut: von Carolsfeld, 1860, Die Bibel in Bildern, Sixth Day [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself
and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them,
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Christ empowered and commanded His followers to heal because He knew that all men, in their exterior relationships and within themselves, are broken and separated. In order to gain wholeness and the opportunity to mature as persons, we must acknowledge and deeply repent of the separations in our lives. The primary separation is between the self and God, out of which issue the separations between the self and other selves, the self and nature, and the self and one’s “deep heart.” 
These separations cause our most private shame and strife, and are behind every societal evil and environmental catastrophe. Praise God, all can be reconciled! We must begin by admitting that we are fractured, and yield to Christ as Lord and Healer. Those who initiate change with hearts yet separated from God will stumble and err, but those who have Another indwelling their hearts become ambassadors for Christ. Maturity comes through successive reconciliations, of coming home again and again into ever-deepening union with God.
Gracious Lord, we thank you for the warm eyes of compassion with which you behold brokenness. Thank you for seeing through our layers of denial, self-seeking, and striving, calling us out of our miserable separations. Thank you for Your steadfast, reconciling presence in every place in this world. We confess that like sheep, we have gone astray, and we ask you to come now and lead us back home. Raise us up in the particular vocations You’ve ordained for each of us, that we might make Your appeal to whomever You send us. We long to see Your reconciling work completed in us, among us, and around us.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), 37.
Painting: John Macallan Swan, 1888, The Prodigal Son [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained,
separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins
and then for those of the people,
since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath,
which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest,
one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,
minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.
It is wonderful to meditate on the fact that Christ’s intercession for us did not end with His death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven and the “right hand of the Father.” For He is the ultimate Mediator-Priest, and as such “ever lives to intercede” for us. “Jesus, intercede to the Father for me!” is always my cry when I am most desperate. I often wonder why I waited so long to turn to Him as Intercessor. What an immense privilege we have. What an infinite conduit of mercy opens to us when we remember to invoke Him in His office of divine Mediator. 
Incarnational Reality continually takes us higher and deeper. Our Lord doesn’t leave us; rather He becomes all the more available even as He is lifted to the highest place. Let us practice His presence as our very real and present help. Truly He is perfectly attentive, perfectly faithful, perfectly merciful, the Yes and Amen to every promise of our Father!
Lord Jesus I thank you that you have not only died for me, but also live to intercede for me. Help me to practice Your presence so that I may rely more and more on this truth. Grant my heart to see You rightly, that I might more readily turn to You as my intercessor. You are worthy of my absolute trust, utter confidence, and wholehearted praise, now and forever.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), p. 70.
Painting: Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino, 1572-1645, The Ascension, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Cor 3:12-18
When Christ strengthens us in the inner man, what is He strengthening? Some of us have, in recent years, preferred to ignore the strictly human side of incarnation: that which thinks, feels, imagines, dreams, symbolizes, remembers, wills, and is the vessel through which the Divine Light is to shine. Just as we feel safe in thinking of Christ in His divinity, but not His humanity, so it is with ourselves. We may even speak rather glibly of Christ’s indwelling us (our divine side), but fear to marvel at how wondrously our inner being is fashioned and constituted to receive and pass on this imposition of divine splendor. 
What a rescue, what a gift! We have been awakened from the zombie-like daze of alienation from our full humanity. It takes faith, yet more than faith, to embrace this truth. It takes greatness of soul, the deepest courage. We Christians are to live confidently because every aspect of our humanness has been interpenetrated by God’s glory. We are to live unselfconsciously and without anxiety as those who are becoming noble, beautiful, and true. We are to live humbly, honestly and freely because all that we are, and all that goes on inside us, is in His loving presence.
Gracious God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I thank you that I am in You, and You are in me. I celebrate the reality that You are transforming me and making Your great splendor visible through little me. Thank you for taking the fullness of my real, human being into your incorruptible life. You indwell my sensations and emotions. You indwell my thoughts, imaginations, and dreams. You indwell my memories and the symbols in my heart. You indwell my desires and my will. Grant me gifts of faith and courage to rest in Your promise and stand in Your glory.
Comments Off on The power and responsibility of choice
For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that you should say,
‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
But the word is very near you.
It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
In cases where the will has long been in captivity, and is not only passive but is for whatever reason undeveloped and withered, we may need to pray for its freedom and strengthening, or even for an outright miracle of restoration. But the will, that most essential faculty of the human soul, the one that chooses self or God, must then actively choose life or death, Heaven or Hell. Then, in the strength and grace of God’s Presence, we do not look up and ask God to strike a death blow at any lusts of the spirit, soul, or body that war against the full ‘putting on’ of Christ. We do it. We then, in the practice of the Presence, ‘put on’ Christ.
Every human being has a will, although in this darkened world this vital organ is too easily broken, bent, and co-opted. Regardless of its condition, our will is the critical frontier where we meet God and confront our responsibility to choose life. We must learn to wield the power we’ve been given, the power of the will. Using this power properly yields great dignity for the one who chooses Christ. Knowing the inescapable and eternally consequential decisions we must make, we have powerful motivation to pray for the strength and right orientation of our wills.
Come, Holy Spirit. Descend into me anew, Divine, Eternal, Masculine Will. Descend into me, radiate through me. Make my weak and insufficient will one with Yours. Thank you Lord for Your literal and actual indwelling, forming my will in union with Yours. Speak your commands to my ear, and will your commands within my heart. Thank you for empowering me with Your heart, Your mind, Your energy, and Your love. I do put You on once again, my Lord and my God. To You be all honor, glory, and praise, now and forever.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 95-96.
Painting: Szymon Czechowicz, 1758, Resurrection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Heavenly Participation: The weaving of a sacramental tapestry by Hans Boersma
In Heavenly Participation, theologian Hans Boersma calls for a “resacramentalized Christian ontology” (20). His aim resonates strongly with Leanne Payne’s work, urging that our whole sense of reality needs to be understood not just as a means of knowing about God, but of knowing His real presence. In part one, Boersma demonstrates how the sacramental understanding of patristic and medieval times was lost to the church through the rise of modernity. He traces the consequences of theological errors, misguided church reforms, and misdirected debates that led to the current, impoverished postmodern mindset. This historical sketch is illuminating, and his work has sharpened my discernment of theological distortions that so readily poison our hearts’ images of God, ourselves, and all reality. I’ll share this insightful quote from part one:
The fragmentation of postmodernity witnesses to the fact that once we lose this Christological foundation, natural realities end up drifting anchorless in the raging waves of history. To put it differently, the loss of the Christological thread undermines the unity of the sacramental tapestry. Culturally, therefore, we are more than ever in need of a philosophical position that allows us to maintain that universals are real, as well as a theological position that argues that they find their reality in the eternal word of God (51).
In part two of Heavenly Participation, Boersma suggests that our theology must once again become Christ-centered in order to recover the knowledge of God with us. Or as he puts it, “A retrieval of the sacramental ontology of the patristic fathers and the Middle Ages requires a focus on Christology in every area of theology” (101). He draws on the mid-twentieth-century Catholic renewal movement of nouvelle théologie in his mission to help evangelical theology recover what we in MPC would call an incarnational worldview. He dedicates chapters to looking at the particular sacramental nature of the Eucharist, Christian tradition, biblical interpretation, truth itself, and theology. There are many beautiful passages I could share, but I’ll choose one that illuminates our understanding of the healing of memories: “Augustine’s concept of time was sacramental: time participatesin the eternity of God’s life, and it is this participation that is able to gather past, present, and future together into one” (126).
I’ll close with gratitude for Dr. Boersma and the true Christian humility that shines through the pages of Heavenly Participation. I believe his work rises to the call that he articulates for our theologians today: Theology is “not there to explain God but to draw us into the very mystery of his life. The modesty that theology needs is the recognition that we cannot rationally comprehend God. Theology is based on mystery and enters into mystery” (26-27). If you are looking for a book that will draw you both thoughtfully and joyfully into the very mystery of God’s life, Heavenly Participationis a most worthwhile read.
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Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:11-14 ESV
The early Christians understood that our union with Christ in His death and resurrection is what saves us, and water baptism is at once symbolic of this and a means through which the reality is imparted. The catechumen ‘died to’ his old life, was found hidden in Christ, and rose with him to an utterly new life. …
As with baptism, so too it is with healing prayer, which is in reality part of the work of baptism. We go into healing prayer as one kind of person, and we come out another. And in this action, our will is involved; unholy, we put on the new. True enough, in His Presence there is grace to do these things, but we do them. You do them. I do them. 
The fallen world is ever peddling ways to “become your best self now.” Sadly, resolving to be a new person in one’s own strength more often produces despair than goodness. We mustn’t confuse misguided, humanistic self-improvement with the revolution of character that occurs through healing prayer. It is only by putting on Christ that one can realistically resolve to become better, to become new. When we determine to be clothed with Him, it’s not so much that we resolve to be good as that we resolve to be Christ’s. It is awesome to be a human being, endowed with the power to do, and we begin to know the weight of glory when we do this highest of actions, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Gracious Father, thank you for my baptism. Thank you for uniting me with Christ in His death, so that my old life and all that would bind me to death has no claim on me. I bow before you in humble gratitude, casting off the works of darkness. Thank you for hiding my life in Christ, imparting to me His immortality and incorruptibility. Thank you for raising me with Him. I stand before you now, putting on Christ as my robe of righteousness. Indwell me, in-will me, for I choose to be new, I choose to be Yours. I thank you for giving me a will, and I thank you for this glorious mystery of being one with You in Christ.
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Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord,
nor of me his prisoner,
but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,
who saved us and called us to a holy calling,
not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace,
which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
and which now has been manifested
through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus,
who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
2 Timothy 1:8-10
The Christian union with God is Christ in us, uniting us to God the Father and all that is ultimate reality. Read more…
and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.
Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:16b-19, NIV
I am in the ministry today because of the knowledge that within many of us is not only the rebel in need of forgiveness but an abettor as well: a wounded soul that is also an obstacle to faith and in need of being led out of the prison house. Today this freeing of the captives is often referred to as a healing ministry, but even so, it should be understood as merely a vital part of the gospel ministry that has been seriously neglected, if not lost… In the cross of Christ is forgiveness for the rebel and healing for the traumatized and wounded soul as well. I am in the ministry because of the sure knowledge that this healing comes in and with taking our place in Him, the very identification with Christ that is at the heart of baptism and of our ongoing empowerment to live out our lives in that baptismal reality. 
Most of us in this life absorb some serious soul-wounding, and it needs to be tended to. Damage in our souls distorts who we are, restricts our capacity to know God and others, and holds us captive to the worst of what we’ve experienced in this life. Seeking healing for our souls is not primarily about feeling better, but is about getting free so that we can live as vibrant people of faith. The awesome truth is that our ordeals and injuries can be healed – Jesus has already accomplished it on His cross and desires to bring us into the wholeness He won. Let us take our place in Him: our healing place, our whole place, our free place.
Holy God, we thank You that You have indeed conveyed us out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son of Your Love. Thank you for Your gaze of mercy that sees not just a willful rebel, but also a wounded son or daughter. Thank you for Your passion to heal those wounds and free our faith. Give us all we need to choose healing, to take our place in You. Fill us with Your Spirit that we may have power to stand in You, rise with You, and collaborate with You fully.
My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
Psalm 63:1-4 NKJV
Created in the image of God, we arrive in this world with an inborn hunger for the transcendent, even for heaven. Something in us is born knowing. In such a time as this, when
the Western world finds itself in the horrors of a spiritual and moral freefall, many come out of this culture to our conferences trapped in the ugliest of sinful compulsions, having forgotten this inborn holy craving. And it is in the presence of the Holy One, the very coming into sacred space filled with true worship, that these dread bonds begin to break and fall away from them. The true self that yearns for the good, the beautiful, the true, and the noble then begins its heroic journey up and out of the false self, with its layers and layers of sordid behavior, and breaks through into God’s light with His pathway in sight. 
We exist for a single and awesome purpose: to enjoy the Holy One forever. Daily news reports grieve us with the consequences of the loss of knowledge of Him, but let us keep faith that returning to Him is the remedy for every horror. No matter how buried our longing for Him may be, our holy God never calls off the search party, for He wills to pull us from the rubble of generations of neglect and rebellion. We are yet responsible to consent to and participate in His rescue mission. The Father is calling through Jesus His Son to every man, woman, and child: “Come out, come out of the prison house and live!”
Father, we thank You for calling us to such a heroic journey. We praise You for Your holiness that is undiminished by our faithlessness. We thank You for continuing to seek us in Your faithfulness and mercy. Truly You are a loving God, not willing that any should be destroyed. Come Lord Jesus, come Spirit of the Living God, and increase in us knowledge of the Holy. Breathe on us that we might lift true worship to Your throne. Make our homes and churches places where bondage is broken and many are empowered to walk the radiant path, for the glory of Your name.
 Leanne Payne, Leanne Payne Newsletter (Advent 2007), p. 1-2.
Painting: Arkhip Kuindzhi, 1895, Sunrise [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.