I felt led by the Spirit this morning to share with you this “Franciscan Benediction,” quoted by Phillip Yancey in his book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?. When I find that I drift for days or sometimes weeks without paying attention to Christ’s call for us to be compassionate citizens of his Kingdom, I often go back to this prayer, just as a reminder. We are called to be the hands, feets, and especially the embrace of Jesus in our hurting world. This benediction speaks to this reality.
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
I don’t know about you, but I rarely think to pray for things like discomfort, anger, tears, and foolishness. Yet this sublime prayer truly captures the compassionate heart of Jesus, feeling the pain and suffering of the world and responding to it with healing love. The words of this benediction remind me so much of the scripture read by Jesus in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth and recorded in Luke 4:18-19:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has annointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see,
That the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.
I think there is no need to wax eloquent here, nor is there a reason to belabor the point. Jesus’ message was crystal clear and so are the words of the Franciscan benediction. Permit me, however, to share one more highly relevant passage of scripture from Isaiah. These verses, Isaiah 58:6-12 speak to the same theme and to the same calling; a calling that goes forth to each of us who claim the title “Christian.”
…this is the kind of fasting that I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Then your salvation will come like the dawn and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer. “Yes, I am here,” he will quickly reply.
Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkenss, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. You will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.
The words of this passage hold a special significance for me. Space in this article does not give me room to tell the whole story. Suffice to say that, in 1996, I had major cardiac surgery and an extended period of recovery. While still in the hospital after the operation, these words seemed to leap off the page at me. Over the next few months I prayed for God to reveal to me what he wanted me to do. I vowed that, since I had been given extended life, I would dedicate it to his service. Although I would have never predicted it, I ended up on the mission field in China, where I remained for over five years. These years were, without reservation, the most rewarding years of my life.
I have been home now for five years and God has continued to guide me into areas of service where I can be of use. Further, he has surprised me in some very significant ways, including, in 2004, the birth of my wonderful daughter, Salina. She was both a gift and a miracle. I suppose I should also mention that, at the time of her birth, I was 55-years-old. As I said, the Lord is full of surprises.
I didn’t mean to digress, but my point here is that, as Christians, we are to serve God through selfless service to others. Just as Jesus set us an example by washing his disciples feet, we have to get our hands dirty as well. But there is a wonderful promise in this. Our wounds, and we all have them, will quickly heal. Further, our light will shine out from us and God will continually guide us.
I know from my own life experience, my testimony if you will, these words ring loudly with truth. If possible, and it probably is, spend some time this week reflecting on the words from this Franciscan benediction, as well as the passage from Luke and the one from Isaiah. Pray about these words and these principles, and wait for God to make his move. A word of caution: Don’t be surprised if you are suprised.