I remember when I first learned of Francis of Assisi. I was a student at a Lutheran university when the choir that I was in sang a piece that was an arrangement of the words from the Franciscan attributed “Prayer of Peace.” Eventually through research I found that there is no evidence that Francis himself wrote the prayer, nevertheless I was captivated by the story of Francis (he did, after all, personify that prayer). It radically impacted my heart. Having been to a third world country out of high school, I returned to the U.S. unsatisfied by what the U.S. culture offered in empty promises and visions of material dreams. And it was not whether it could be attained, but rather, whether it was worthy of the dreaming and pursuit. When I heard the story of Francis, it was an invitation to not ‘buy in’ to glitz and pursuit of material happiness. Rather, it was an invitation that said: what if Jesus meant what He said? And: what if we truly gave everything we had to that? Not just metaphorically, but quite literally.

That was where the journey started. Now, over twenty years later, the same draw is there. It’s a draw of material and spiritual minimalism. What if Jesus is all we need? And what if we actually need a lot less than we think in terms of possessions? In 2020 I think it is easy to see all the additives that we’ve grown accustomed to – not only material and social, but even in our spirituality, theological pursuits, and doctrinal opinions.

So, today as I pray this prayer on the weeks following the Feast of St. Francis, I can’t help but give commentary – if to anyone, at least to myself. It’s not comprehensive of all these years, but at least for this moment in time.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: I believe, this is a prayer He invites us to pray. I believe that everyday, Holy Spirit wants to lead us into the places that He wants to bring His presence. His peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather, it’s His abiding presence. We get to be the bearers of that.

…where there is hatred, let me sow love: It is counter-cultural, because the aim is not passive co-existence, but rather passionate and driven agape/hesed/God-based love for people. Not just for those who love you, but especially for those who don’t.

…where there is injury, pardon: Let’s not let hurt feelings fester. Let’s practice the spiritual discipline of not having to have the last word. Let’s learn and become proficient in forgiveness – which is a foundational tenet of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

…where there is doubt, faith: I’ve learned that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but rather an opportunity for it. I’ve often found certainty to be more damaging to our spiritual maturity than doubt, because it can often create conditions where we turn off our brain and forget how to trust. John Wimber said, “Faith is spelled: R-I-S-K,” and that’s what it feels like. Dallas Willard said/wrote in The Allure of Gentleness, “If you’re going to be a doubter, you need to believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts as well as to doubt your beliefs and believe your doubts.” Doubt in the life of a Jesus follower is not a ‘giving up,’ but an invitation to ‘press in.’ To trust.

…where there is despair, hope: Mother Teresa is recorded as saying,

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

I believe that this kind of poverty is pervasive in our society and world – especially now, where many have been broken by isolation, loneliness, loss of loved ones, and loss of jobs. If not in your own home, it could be your next door neighbors. The world needs hope. The good news is that the Kingdom of Heaven is all for the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those hungry for wrongs to be made right, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and those who suffer on account of righteousness. That has been good news for me, and for you if you are down and out.

…where there is darkness, light: I’m reminded by something that Frederick Buechner wrote in his book Wishful Thinking, he wrote:

“We can’t see light itself. We can see only what light lights up, like the little circle of night where the candle flickers-a sheen of mahogany, a wineglass, a face leaning toward us out of the shadows.

When Jesus says that he is the Light of the World (John 8:12), maybe something like that is part of what he is saying. He himself is beyond our seeing, but in the darkness where we stand, we see, thanks to him…”

Of course, He then hands the lamp of Himself to His followers and says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). It’s not about being the light, but about helping a dark world to see.

…where there is sadness, joy. In Psalm 34:18 (NIV) it says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” In Eugene Peterson’s Message Version, he beautifully paraphrased it to say, “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” In my own life I’ve found that it’s not (necessarily) happiness that I find on the other side of heartbreak, but rather joy. Not an absence of pain, but a revelation that the Suffering Servant and Savior is close in those times. Dr. Jim Wilder has made the point that neurologically speaking,  joy means “we are glad to be together.” And as I look back at my own times of suffering and trials, I find some of the most memorable and deepest senses of the closeness of God – and I believe He invites us to His Immanuel presence with those in pain, suffering, and sadness.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love. It’s an important time to learn how to listen, to exercise empathy, and learn meekness. It’s always important, but now more than ever in an increasingly polarized world. Dallas Willard presented us with a helpful alliteration of 3 P’s for cultivating humility in our lives. First, don’t pretend. Don’t be someone you’re not. Be truthful in the ‘you’ that you put forth. Second, don’t presume. Don’t assume that you know the heart and mind of the other person. Don’t think that you understand without listening…really listening. We can’t love, let alone console without turning the focus from ourselves to others. Third, don’t push. In a world that wants to bulldoze others, we are called to another way. A way of loving our enemies. A way of caring for the weak and hurting.

For it is in giving that we receive: Author and speaker Joshua Becker once said, “maybe the greatest benefit of generosity is this: generous people realize that they already have enough,” and maybe this is one of the greatest things that we can receive through the gift of giving. When our hearts become alive in the all sufficiency of the provision of God, I believe we experience great freedom – a recognition that we have what we need, and a freedom that does not cling to what we have. It’s the ‘birds of the air’ and the ‘flowers of the field’ of which Jesus spoke (Matthew 6:25-34).

…it is in pardoning that we are pardoned: We might try to detour around this, but Jesus did say, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).  What if we prioritized forgiveness as highly as Jesus did? I believe the world would look a lot different. Well, Jesus invites us to make it look a lot different.

…and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. The apostle Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) as he was telling the church in Philippi that he was caught up in the tension between the already and not-yet reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. Longing to be in the full presence of Christ, but also be fully devoted to bringing that kingdom to a broken world. Of course, there is a daily dying also, where living in eternity now by way of bringing the Kingdom into every nook and cranny of our lives often means surrender, dying to ‘getting our way,’ and instead, taking up the promotion of God’s way and His kingdom.

Amen. That is just the way we want it.