Humility prayer

Last month I enjoyed attending a conference for pastors in Calgary (with a daytrip to Banff!) organized by the Pastor Church Resources office of the Christian Reformed Church. Our worship time included the prayer below, adapted from the Litany of Humility, a prayer attributed to Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, who likely drew from earlier sources. The words are memorable and powerful; I’ve found myself returning to them numerous times since the conference.

From the desire of being praised,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being esteemed,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of comfort and ease,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being criticized,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being passed over,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being lonely,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being hurt,
deliver us, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than ourselves,
Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and we ourselves set aside,
Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and we ourselves go unnoticed,
Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
make our lives like Yours.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
strengthen us with Your Spirit.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hands graphic found with Google
help us put our
self-importance aside
to learn the kind
of cooperation
with others
that make possible
the presence of Your
Abba’s household.

Louis

I recently stumbled across the story of 9-year-old Louis. He was watching his father work with leather in his harness-making shop in 19th-century France. “Someday, Father,” said Louis, “I want to be a harness maker, just like you.”

“Why not start now?” retorted his father. He took a piece of leather and showed his son how to work with a hole puncher.

Excited, the boy began to work, but soon the hole puncher flew out of his hand and pierced his eye! He lost sight in that eye immediately. Later the other eye failed, and Louis was totally blind.

His life came to a standstill until one day when Louis was sitting in the family garden, holding a pinecone. As he ran his sensitive fingers over the layers of the cone, he could picture it clearly in his mind. Suddenly he thought, “Why not create an alphabet of raised dots to enable sightless people to read?” So Louis Braille opened a new world for the Bust of Louis Braille by Étienne Leroux found at Wikipediablind, something that would never have happened if not for the tragedy he experienced.

There have been times I could look back and see something good come out of a bad situation. I’ve heard about a death in a family bringing two estranged relatives together again. And natural disasters can bring out the best in communities as people pull together to help one another. A lot of times, though, it seems to me that sad and hurtful circumstances happen for no good reason.

Regardless, I can choose one of two ways to respond to hard times. I can choose to become angry and bitter; however, that will only make the difficulty more painful. Or I can choose – by God’s grace and with his help – to endure. A pastor colleague I know once compared going through hard times to the work of a jeweler. Like an excellent jeweler, the Lord brings his most treasured possessions – you and me – to journey through the crucibles of fire so that you and I become stronger and more beautiful on the other side. In the Bible, the apostle Peter puts it like this: “Troubles test your faith and prove that it is pure. And such faith is worth more than gold. Gold can be proved to be pure by fire, but gold will ruin. When your faith is proven to be pure, the result will be praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ comes.”

I don’t like hard times. I don’t go looking for them. But, as Louis Braille discovered, God can use them to bring about something good. In fact, one of the greatest miracles is that God – the one who knows how to bring back to life that which was dead – regularly uses hard times so we can grow, live, and hope in him.

I shared the story of Louis Braille in a chapel with the students at Rock Valley Christian School last week. I wrote these reflections for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.

Unexpected blessings

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, hard hearts, half-truths, and superficial relationships. May God bless you so that you may live from deep within your heart where God’s Spirit dwells.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people. May God bless you so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war. May God bless you so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world, in your neighborhood, so that you will courageously try what you don’t think you can do, but, in Jesus Christ you’ll have all the strength necessary.

May God bless you to fearlessly speak out about injustice, unjust laws, corrupt politicians, unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners, and senseless wars, genocides, starvation, and poverty that is so pervasive.

May God bless you that you remember we are all called to continue God’s redemptive work of love and healing in God’s place, in and through God’s name, in God’s Spirit, continually creating and breathing new life and grace into everything and everyone we touch.

Graphic provided by agenerousgrace.com


Several times now in worship services at
Trinity CRC I’ve used and adapted this Franciscan blessing that asks God to bless us with discomfort, anger, tears, foolishness, and courage. Originally published in Troubadour: A Missionary Magazine, it now appears on many websites.

God’s poems

This past week at Trinity CRC, Pastor Henry spoke from Ephesians 2 about how Jesus is the center of the Biblical story and desires to be the center of our life stories, too. The apostle Paul has a great line in this text – “We are God’s handiwork.” Retired CRC pastor Dale Vander Veen reminded me of how Paul’s words get even more powerful when you hear them as the first listeners to Paul’s letter heard them. Dale wrote this meditation last year and graciously welcomed me to share it here.

::– –::– –::

Authors and speakers often explain that “We are his handiwork” can be translated, actually transliterated (letter by letter), as “We are his poem,” noting that the Greek word is poiema. Checking numerous translations, I never saw “poem” used. I found God’s workmanship, Poiema graphic found with Googlemasterpiece, creation, accomplishment, work of art, product of his hand. Frequently the noun is rendered as a verb, i.e., “God made us what we are.”

I still like “We are his poem” because I admire the time and effort that poets expend in their creative process. William Cowper (1731-1800), best known for “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” and “Oh, for a Closer Walk with God,” wrote,

There is a pleasure in poetic pains
which only poets know.

My favorite poems are found in the Scriptures and the hymnal. Even those who have little affection for poems find solace and joy in the psalms. And hymns with the music removed become delightful poems. Some hymns have sprung spontaneously from the mind and pen of their composers. Many more have been written with great labor. The “poetic pain” behind Cowper’s hymns and many of the psalms was not the pain of finding the right word, but the pain of excruciating experiences.

Exactly what is a poem? Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) wrote,

Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet’s job.

That is a pretty good description of God’s poetic work. He took me, a commonplace, and began the long task of cleaning, polishing, and lighting me. When eternity reveals his finished product, I will have all the youth, freshness, originality, and spontaneity of Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) wrote,

In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all.

God loves me with all his capacity to love anything at all, and so he is making me one of his poems. Amazing!

~

“A good poem is a contribution to reality.
The world is never the same
once a good poem has been added to it.
A good poem helps to change the shape
and significance of the universe.”
Dylan Thomas, “On Poetry”

~

…With the prayer that today, as one of God’s good poems, you will make a contribution to his world through the works he has prepared in advance for you to do.

Calls to prayer

Retired CRC Pastor Dale Vander Veen graciously welcomed
me to share with you these reflections he wrote.

Adherents of Islam are required to pray five times daily—at dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, and nightfall. Muezzins (criers) announce the prayer times from the minaret or tower of the mosque.

Our community is a rather quiet one compared to the almost incessant noises of large cities. Arriving home last night we did hear an automobile alarm. Almost daily we hear the arrival of the mail with the telltale hum of the USPS truck. We enjoy the susurration of the automatic sprinkler system. Yesterday we heard a radio and teenage conversation as a quartet of high schoolers sealed our deck. Occasionally we hear the plop of the newspaper on the front porch. The squeaky brakes of the trash truck and the unmuffled roar of the lawnmowers remind us what day of the week it is.

Why not consider those noises as calls to prayer—God’s very earthly and earthy muezzins? When I hear the sirens of an emergency vehicle, why not pray for the first-responders and those they are rushing to assist? When I hear the squeak of the trash and recycling trucks, why not pray for the driver and his family? I have heard those drivers step on the brakes over a thousand times in the last sixteen years and never thought of praying for them. How many other calls to prayer have I missed in my preoccupation with myself?

The disciples saw the crowds as hungry people to send away. Jesus saw them as hungry people to feed. Are the city noises signs of people to ignore or calls from God to pray?

Graphic found with Google

“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them,
because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples,
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore,
to send out workers into his harvest field.’”
~ Matthew 9:36-38 ~

Jesus is not a conservative

…or a liberal. Or a capitalist or a socialist.

He is not a card-carrying member of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party – or of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois, or the New Democratic Party.

The One who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and staggered out of the city carrying a cross is the King whose reign transcends any political affiliations or associations we may hold. The One who rose on Easter Sunday defeated sin and can destroy the barriers that strain the unity of believers who hold to different perspectives.

Believers – people with whom you and I will live for eternity face to face with Jesus in the new heaven and new earth – hold to different political, economic, and social opinions just like I can hold the February 2019 issue of Maclean’s in my hand. That month the editors of Canada’s current Maclean's February 2019 issue with its two coversevents magazine did an ingenious thing: They created two covers – a “tumble edition,” as they called it. One cover boldly asks, “What’s wrong with the Left?” But then you flip the magazine over and the other cover asks with equal audacity, “What’s wrong with the Right?” As Canada’s federal election looms, the editors’ objective was to “to raise the alarm. Both sides of the spectrum are spoiling for a fight to such an extent that nuance, irony, and reasoned debate are at risk.” Reading forward from both sides allowed me to respectfully listen to cogent arguments from the Right and the Left without flippantly or angrily dismissing them or attacking those “on the other side” with my words or actions. Is this not how Christ would have me behave?

But this goes beyond behavior.

While Christians will likely always identify as Right or Left (or perhaps Centrist), I believe this identification should not be my primary way of identifying or labeling myself. I am a follower of Jesus before I am a conservative or a liberal, before I am Canadian, Romanian, Cambodian, Mexican, Dutch, Liberian, or American. If by the way I think or act I make being a Canadian or anything else more central than being a Christian, I am committing idolatry.

I appreciate how my former teacher at Abbotsford Christian School, Trent De Jong, puts it in an article he wrote for Christian Courier earlier this year:

“…Many Christians believe that being Christian goes hand in hand with being conservative or being liberal. This is plain wrong. If we follow the Jesus of the Bible, we will find ourselves uncomfortable on either end of the spectrum.”

We’re uncomfortable at either pole because we realize that neither are sufficient to completely express who we are in Christ.

Frankly, sometimes my loyalty to Jesus puts me in the Right camp when, for example, it comes to recognizing the intrinsic value of individuals from the womb to the tomb (Psalm 139 and 1 Timothy 5 support this). But sometimes my loyalty to Jesus finds me walking alongside those on the Left who, for example, are often the ones advocating for the foreigner, widow, and orphan (Exodus 22 and Matthew 25 quickly come to mind). Similarly, I personally feel those with a more liberal outlook tend to have a better track record at being good stewards of creation and the environment (texts connecting with this include Genesis 1 as well as Mark 16 with its command for the Gospel to impact all creation) while those on the conservative side often seem to be better stewards of my tax dollar (I haven’t tried connecting specific Bible texts to this before but some suggest Leviticus 25 and 2 Thessalonians 3 imply small government and conservative fiscal policies). Overall, Jesus doesn’t let me pin Him down to any one particular political label; perhaps I should be cautious with such labels for myself and others, too.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be conservative or liberal. I’m not saying you should switch sides or just sit in the middle. What I am humbly asking is that Christians remember that our primary identity is in Christ. Through Christ, God the Father adopts us into His family, makes us citizens of His eternal Kingdom, and fills us with His Holy Spirit. Christ is King ahead of any president or prime minister, ahead of any political, economic, or social philosophy.

I see White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, White Memorial Presbyterian Church, Raleigh NCmodeling how to live into this. With a membership of around 4,000 in a city and a state that alternates between voting red and blue, White Memorial Church calls itself a “purple church.” Instead of taking the easy path of finding a church where they can worship only with people just like them, the members take the harder route of seeking community (and civility) within their diversity. And the media noticed.

This Spirit-enabled willingness to listen to and love those who are “other” than you and me demonstrates and strengthens our identity and unity in the crucified and risen Christ. This transcends political, economic, and social labels. It’s how Jesus calls you and me to live. And it’s appealing both for Jesus’ disciples and for people watching us from outside the church.

This piece from NPR gives practical tips about talking politics
with civility: “Keeping It Civil: How To Talk Politics
Without Letting Things Turn Ugly”

Make me your manger

Christmas Manger

And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed Him in a manger…
This will be a sign to you:
you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger…
So [the shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph,
and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

— Luke 2:7, 12, 16


Come, Lord Jesus, make me a place
where you can rest.

Make me a place where others will see you
and find peace and joy.

Make me a place where the empty
will be fed by your presence.

Make me a place where the unimportant
will find their significance as they gaze at you.

Make me a place where lost people
will see the light of your face.

Make me a place where the hardened
will be softened by your tenderness.

Make me a place where the helpless
will find help through your seeming helplessness.

Make me a place that people will forget when they leave,
caught up in the joy of the One who makes his residence in me.

Make me a manger—
of your grace,
your mercy,
and your life.


Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
when thou camest to earth for me;
but in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
for thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—
there is room in my heart for thee.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
proclaiming thy royal degree;
but of lowly birth didst thou come to earth,
and in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—
there is room in my heart for thee.
— from Emily E.S. Elliot’s hymn, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”


This was Dale Vander Veen’s daily e-devotional for 21 Dec 2018
which he gracious welcomed me to share with you.
Email dalevanderveen@sbcglobal.net
to receive his daily e-devotions yourself.