A prayer for the day

“I pray, Lord, that the faith of Christ may penetrate into the depths of my heart, that Christ’s Gospel may penetrate all my thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds, into all my bones and my brains, and not me only, but all men, as the universal truth, the highest wisdom, and the life eternal.”

St. John of Kronstadt on Love

Quote of the day: Self-Knowledge

“He who senses his sins,
is greater than he who raises the dead
with his prayer.

He who groans one hour for his soul, is greater
than he who benefits the whole world.

He who is made worthy to see himself, is greater
than he who is made worthy to see angels.

To him who knows himself,
is given the knowledge of all things.
For the knowledge of ourselves is the fullness
of knowledge of all things.”

St. Isaac the Syrian 

http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.ca/search/label/Wisdom

Philosophy or Prayer?

I read a passage this morning that spoke to me personally and will I’m sure to many others. Often, we get too caught up in theology while ignoring practical application. God is not to be worshipped by mind alone but with all our soul, heart, and body as well. Let us always remember to balance the two. Our reading and theological education is a guide and means – not the absolute source of our communion with or knowledge of God.

“He who seeks the inner kingdom of God and a living communion with Him, will naturally seek to remain continually in the thought of God. Turning his mind towards Him with all his might, his one desire will be to read only of Him, to speak only of Him. But these occupations alone will not lead to what is sought, unless accompanied by other, more practical activities. A certain type of mystic talks only of these occupations: the reason is that such teachers are people of theory and not of practice.

This practice of reading and speaking of God will, used on its own, create a facile habit for such things: it is easier to philosophize than to pray or pay attention to oneself. But since it is a work of the mind, which falls so easily into pride, it predisposes a man to self-esteem. It may altogether cool the desire for practical effort, and consequently hinder sound progress by a flattering successfulness in this mental activity.

For this reason sound-minded teachers warn their pupils of the danger, and advise them not to concern themselves too much with such reading and talk to the detriment of other things.”

Theophan the Recluse

A Divine Visitation

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“When he arrived at the treasury with his bodyguard, the Lord of Spirits and all authority was already present. He caused such a great manifestation that all who dared to accompany him were panic-stricken at God’s power…For a certain horse appeared to them, having a fearful rider. It was arrayed with a very beautiful pack saddle, and it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck at him with its front hooves. He who sat thereon was seen wearing a full armour of gold. Two other young men also appeared to him, remarkable in bodily strength, very beautiful in grandeur, and illustrious in dress…so they came to know, and it was clearly proven to be the power of Almighty God...the people blessed the Lord, who acted marvellously for His own place. The temple, which a little while earlier had been full of fear and trouble, was now filled with joy and gladness, because the Almighty Lord had appeared.” 2 Maccabees 3:22-31

The Lord acted marvellously for His own place.

Throughout the Old Testament we witness God’s amazing protection of His people, His temple, and His chosen city – Jerusalem. Today, we are extraordinarily blessed to live in a time when we can worship in Spirit and truth, without being restricted to a specific location, for the Spirit of God dwells inside of each of us (John 4:24, 1 Cor. 6:19). Now we are His temple.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

If God acted so marvellously for a temple of stone, how much more wonderfully will He act on behalf of His human dwelling places – His creation made in His own image? We often lack faith and trust in our Father’s love, mercy, compassion, and goodness towards us. We struggle with disbelief that the Lord of Spirits and all authority could ever truly be on our side, come to our aid.

“For He does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men.” (Lamentations 33:3)

Like the Jews in this period of the Maccabees, who could not imagine that God would help them after everything they had been through and all of their sins against Him, we are also “full of fear and trouble” when we surrender to unbelief. This is where prayer comes in. Prayer is the means to access such a divine visitation because it unifies us with God who is inside of us.

“Prayer unites the soul with its creator and reconciles the two.” Saint John of Damascus

Through prayer we come before the powerful and Fearful Rider and plead our case; the defender of our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls rushes to comfort us. Through prayer the Almighty Lord’s presence is strengthened within us and our fear and trouble is turned into joy and gladness just like in 2 Maccabees 3:22-31.

For wherever the Divine Visitation (our Lord Jesus Christ) appears, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17). We are free from the bonds of fear, the chains of anxiety, and the blindfold of doubt when we unite with Jesus and experience His glory in prayer. Knowing thus that the Lord will never cease to act marvellously for His place, and being confident of His place in us, “let us come boldly before the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

On making peace with ourselves and why we don’t

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“Make peace with yourself, and both heaven and earth will make peace with you.” Saint Isaac the Syrian 

What does it mean to make peace with yourself and why is it so hard!? I meditate on this quote by St. Isaac the Syrian a lot – this is a man who knew that loving God, and loving others, has a lot to do with our ability to love ourselves. St. Augustine also wrote that we must know ourselves, if we desire to know God.

Jesus told us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

How can I love God with all of my heart, if I do not know what a heart is worth? How can I love God my all my soul, if I never consider its existence? How can I love God with all of my mind, if I am constantly busying myself with other things? How can I love my neighbour as myself, if I do not love myself at all?

The truth is that I simply cannot. If I am not at peace with myself, I cannot be at peace with God or anyone else. If I do not love, value, and appreciate my own existence as God has made me, I will not be able to do the same for others. I may be able to replicate peace, joy, and love but it will always be a facade of the real thing.

So then if making peace with ourselves is one of the greatest stages in our spiritual journey, why are we always trying to run away from this process? Here are a few reasons I can think of:

1. We are afraid of pride

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,  but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

This fear of pride, however, comes from a misunderstanding of humility. If I think little of myself, what humility is there in serving others or patiently accepting poor treatment and harsh words? This kind of behaviour and thinking is rooted more in insecurity, rather than humility. True humility is acting like Christ, summarized so perfectly in Philippians 2:5-8. Jesus knew that he was equal with God and YET He made Himself of no reputation. This is real humility and real self-sacrifice – knowing that we have the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven, that we are unconditionally loved and accepted children of God, and CHOOSING to put others before ourselves out of sacrificial love, kindness, and joy like Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

2. We cannot sit still

Many people have a hard time being alone – some may find it hard to live by themselves, be single, or even spend just a few minutes in silence. Instead, we always busy ourselves with projects, work, service, books, or even bible studies! Why? We say that we don’t have time. Or, we argue that we are doing spiritually beneficial things with the time that we have – I mean come on what is more important than serving God’s people!? But I think the truth is that (1) we are afraid to sit with ourselves, (2) it doesn’t occur to us that being alone with God is important, or (3) we are afraid to hear God and be convicted about our actions.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.” Psalm 62:5

“For faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17

“The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” St. John Climacus

“The arrows of the enemy cannot touch one who loves quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded.” Abba Nilus 

There are numerous bible verses, quotes by church fathers, and books on the importance of practicing regular periods of silence. It is in sitting before God in solitude that we are able to watch our own thoughts, meditate on our behaviour, and most importantly hear God speak to us. Do not expect to hear from God or learn about yourself, if you never have any time to listen and observe. Quiet time in God’s presence is crucial to learning about, loving, and making peace with yourself. It is a necessary step in sanctification, purification, and spiritual growth.

3. We avoid (seriously dislike) repenting

We are creatures of pride. Our very fall was due to human pride that still resides in each one of us today. As such, it is extremely difficult to confess our faults, struggles, weaknesses, and mistakes. It is extremely hard to admit such things to another person, but it is arguably harder to admit them to ourselves. If we are really being honest, we can confess that sometimes we apologize to someone because we want their love, respect, attention, acceptance (or because it is less of a hassle) than because we truly believe that we are at fault. There is seemingly less to benefit from self-reflection.

But daily repentance and reflection is the source of love and joy – love for yourself, God, and others. Yes, it is hard to be vulnerable about our flaws, but we must remember that we are not pouring ourselves out before a great black void that cannot help us! As we bring our struggles to God, He frees us from them. He works within us to liberate us from our weaknesses, our demons, our flaws, bad habits, and learned behaviours. What brings more love of self than knowing that God of the universe actively desires and enjoys working in your life – that he cares for you? What brings more love to others than seeing that we are all equally imperfect? What can bring more joy than freedom from such bonds? Thus, daily repentance before our Lord is crucial to making peace with ourselves.

4. It hurts and 5. It takes time and effort

Making peace with yourself is a healing process and we all recognize that healing is painful. Healing requires digging up bad experiences, painful memories, and shedding light on wrong beliefs. Healing may mean changing the way we think or act – it may mean letting go of certain people. Often confronted with all of this potential pain, we decide that we do not want to take the time to make the effort. We simply do not want to associate ourselves with “self-help books” or “therapy” – that stuff is for crazy people.

The truth is that we all have baggage and we all need to learn to be reconciled with ourselves. No one is born into self-love – especially in a world where any sign of weakness is seen as a defect at best, nonsense, or complete failure at worst. If you think you don’t need to make any effort to reach such peace, you are kidding yourself. If you think you can avoid pain and suffering, I’m sad to inform you that you are wrong. There will always be pain; however, you can suffer on your way to healing and building a better relationship with God and others or you can suffer and grow more isolated from everything and everyone.

With of all that being said, I hope you can see the importance and necessity of this process of making peace with yourself. I pray that you have the strength to begin your journey and the courage to ask for help. I know God is working in you at this very instant.

Some helpful resources:

Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud (deals with issues of bonding, boundaries, understanding good and bad, and growing emotionally and spiritually).

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (deals with issues of emotional and spiritual maturity)

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives by Elder Thaddeus

-A Christian Counsellor

-Spiritual father, mother, or mentor

Just remember the importance of sitting by yourself, in silence, before God!! This is perhaps the greatest tool when practised regularly and in combination with these others things!!

Heart to Heart

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“For in the human heart the Kingdom of God can be contained.” Saint Seraphim

The human heart can contain the Kingdom of God.

This quote shook me to the core. I’ve read Luke 17:20-21 before, “the Kingdom of God is within you” – in fact, I’ve meditated on it and given talks about it. I’ve also thought a lot about Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has also set eternity in their heart.” Yet, never before did such a revelation occur to me as when I read this quote by Saint Seraphim.

Hardly do we notice God’s Grace in our lives, or thank Him for it, but I wonder how many of us have ever really understood the Grace by which our heart is designed to contain the Kingdom of God. This is a mystery that, above all other things, deserves our praise and thanksgiving.

Truly when God created humankind, he did it with the intention and foreknowledge of His manifestation through Jesus Christ – in that, he made it possible for us to become living temples of the Most High God. We hear it so often, we are created in the image of God – we are growing in His likeness. But do we understand? This is not a process of moral purification as so many of us believe; it is a real death of the old self and birth of new life made possible only by the dwelling of the Almighty God in His Kingdom, in our hearts.

“So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Because God made our hearts His house, I am able to be IN Christ. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except that you abide in Me” (John 15:4). Thus, our entire relationship with God, our most intimate union with Him, the death of the old self and transformation into His likeness, and the gift of living in heaven on earth are all dependant on His design of the human heart, which is capable of holding the Kingdom of God.

Nothing is then more worthy of praise, for what did we do to deserve such grand design? Does this not bring to life David’s words – “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are your works; and that my soul knows well” (Psalm 139:14)? What could be more amazing than divine life dwelling inside a mortal body? It is proof that His intention from the beginning of our creation was (and still is) for us to live in unity with Him for eternity.

What does this mean for you and I? What have we to do with theology and divine design? Just about everything.

But first I want to talk about marriage. Your marriage. The greatest day of your life – perhaps I should say, eternal life. Everyday the Father and Son are knocking at your heart – they want to enter your heart and dine with you (Rev. 3:20). They want to build their Kingdom there, converse with you, and spend time in your presence. In your presence. Inside your heart. What is this dining with God, except a foretaste of our marriage supper with Him? For all of us, whether we realize what this means or not, will either marry our Lord Jesus Christ (there’s going to be an awesome ceremony and everything!!) and be in union with God for eternity…or the other option.

Think about the value of your heart in this light. Your heart was specifically designed to be the dwelling place of God – His Kingdom and dominion. Your heart is an eternal place – for where we are united with the everlasting God, we are living in eternity. Thus, your heart is where you can experience heaven now! Your heart is the site of your death and birth, whereby living in Him we are made new. Your heart is the source of divine life and presence. Your heart is where you are able to preview your marriage to Christ – your most beautiful and precious union with Him.

And this is what God desires, He created it after all.

“And you shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30). Mother Basilea Schlink said that God’s first command is the one most broken, for the battle over our heart is the fiercest and the hardest to detect.

If God so desires our heart, our most important possession, how can we be so careless with it? Think about how recklessly and easily we give our hearts to others – people we don’t know or barely know, people who don’t reciprocate our affections, people who we know full well will mistreat it; break it; or use it for their own benefit, people who have not given Christ a real dwelling place in their own hearts. Why do we do this? I think it is because we have been deceived about the value of our heart – our very own value – and so we let people trample all over it. We let people tear down His throne and destroy His temple, our most intimate meeting place with Him, without so much as a second glance.

We all have different reasons for doing it. Perhaps our natural and god-given desire for acceptance and affirmation has been perverted into a desperate lust for these things. Lust must be fulfilled immediately and at all costs, so we sacrifice the dwelling place of only One who can truly satisfy these desires (for it is He who gave them to us) in search of cheap alternatives. Perhaps we have reached a certain age and our lives aren’t meeting what is socially and culturally expected of us, so we trade God’s kingdom for the first person who can ‘redeem’ us from our ‘condition’. We throw away real redemption and real relationship. Perhaps we are have been so hurt and rejected that we can’t even see our own worth – that God would choose to dwell in our hearts, and all of the beautiful meaning that comes with that reality, is completely lost on us. We are blind.

There are many understandable reasons for the careless disposal of our heart. But just because we can understand something, it does not make it right. We need to carefully examine our lives and how we are treating God’s Kingdom – we cannot expect Him to reign alongside others. What King would dwell in a city without walls where His people welcome attacks from the enemy, where His people basically hand Him over hostage?

Whether we realize it or not, we all want God to reign in our hearts. Everyone wants abundant joy, unshakeable peace, the fire of that first-love relationship – those are things that come from giving God full reign in His Kingdom. These things are the result of a King at work. A King uprooting and destroying weeds, replacing them with His Grace – humility; love; gentleness; patience; self-control; wisdom, is a King enthroned.

Let us begin by confessing our sin in being so careless with our hearts in the past. Let us repent from this by learning to protect it from evil, unnecessary pain and destruction, and giving Him all authority. We must carefully reflect and identify the source of our reckless behaviour and bring whatever unmet needs or desires we have to God daily in prayer (and even fasting). We must review our relationships and seek the truth in them – what is their purpose and how do they affect God’s reign in our heart? Each morning, let us pray for God to show us His desire for our heart. Each night, let us sit before God and ask if He truly ruled there. Let us allow Him to fulfill us before we pursue fulfillment by any other means.

We must also realize that this extends beyond ourselves and to all people. If we have not been aware of the extraordinary price of our own heart, it is more than likely that we have likewise treated other people’s hearts with contempt. How often have we used someone? How often have we purposely or vengefully hurt someone? How often do we disrespect others in our thoughts? Let us come to the realization that each of these things we have done, we have committed against the Kingdom of God that we are so desperate to know personally.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

This proverb has never made more sense to me than now. Let us make it our active purpose to guard our hearts and the hearts of others. Then we will truly be soldiers of the Lord – protecting His Kingdom and promoting His reign.

All things to all men

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The Fountain of the Father’s Goodness at Kanaan, Germany (kanaan.org)

This week I’ve had the amazing opportunity to spend some time in paradise on earth – otherwise known as Kanaan, the land of promise. I’m not speaking of Israel, I’m talking about Kanaan in Germany – the headquarters of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. Kanaan is a Christian interdenominational place of worship with a garden that is designed after biblical places in Israel: Mount Tabor, the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, the Jordan River, Jacob’s well, and the garden of Jesus’ suffering.

Whenever I feel burdened by the world, or I need to hear God’s voice more clearly, I find some way to retreat to a natural setting. I had no idea what I was getting myself into in traveling to Kanaan in Germany; in fact, this is my first time in Germany altogether! But I cannot tell you that any experience has been so necessary or so worth it. The joy of the sisters is infectious. The peace is palpable. The love of God is everywhere. It’s only day two of four and already my soul is feeling refreshed, restored, and fulfilled.

The most beautiful part of this experience has been to completely surrender myself to quiet time with Jesus – to let Him comfort and embrace me, reassure and love me. A lot has been revealed to me on how I relate to God, some of which I will share with you here.

At Kanaan there is a big fountain with seven taps around the bottom basin. Each tap is connected to a name for God that is written on the rim: Comfort, Love, Mercy, Goodness, Patience, Grace, and Faithfulness. It is called the Fountain of the Father’s Goodness and people are encouraged to drink from whatever tap they are in need of. I drank abundantly from each of them.

This fountain has become my favourite place to sit at Kanaan – you might think it would be in the Garden of Jesus’ suffering by the cross or the resurrection, but there is a reason why this fountain is so special to me. The Father’s Goodness is the key to our faith. If I doubt the Father’s love or goodness towards me, I will not be able to have the fullness of communion with Him. I will not trust Him. I will not surrender myself to His will. I will not accept my suffering or my cross. Why would I suffer for someone whose intentions are unclear at best, malicious at worst? Many times when we have been forsaken by loved ones, we project our rejection and hurt towards God. We lose the ability, or do not develop it – if such a trauma occurred when we were children, to accept and believe in the Father’s goodness and good intentions for our lives.

Faith, in essence, is being rooted and grounded in this belief of the Father’s love and goodness. David says, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever” (Psalm 138:7-8). David’s confidence comes from his full assurance that God is working all things together in his life for good (Romans 8:28). It comes from a real intimacy with God, knowing Him in all of His different forms.

I will admit that this is an area in which I have particular difficulty – I would not claim faith as one of my gifts. To sit in front of this continuously bubbling fountain, visualizing God’s everlasting love and goodness towards me, was an incredible experience to say the least. To drink from it? Even better.

As I sat before the fountain for hours, it occurred to me that I’ve often held a very restricted and limited view of God. Only this year, as I have begun to know Him more intimately and personally, has it also expanded. You see, I have always known God as ‘God’ – however confusing that may sound. Now, I know Him as Jesus my Lord. I have known Jesus best as my Saviour, but now I am beginning to meet with Him as my Father. In the past couple of years, I have known Jesus as a Friend, but now I am coming to see Him as my Lover. I have tasted plenty of His mercy and patience, but now I also feel His comfort. I witness His faithfulness each day He does not give up on me. It is as though the sun is beginning to peak through dark clouds to light and warm up my whole heart – this is how I can best describe what it is to come to believe in the Father’s everlasting goodness.

He is all things to all men. Each of us, like puzzles, may be missing different pieces – some more than others – but God is one size fits all. Whatever it is that you need, it is contained in His love and goodness. Believing and abiding in His love are the only ways to contentment. The founder of Kanaan, Mother Basilea Schlink, wrote in Those Who Love Him: “Jesus’ love stands alone. No other can love as He loves. In no human love will you find the intense glow and power that you find in Jesus’ love. In no human love will you discover the depth and tenderness of our Lord Jesus. The most tender love of a bridegroom, the deepest love of a mother, is but a pale shadow of His love, for indeed such love finds its source in His love. No father, no mother, no bridegroom is so inventive and alert in love, bestowing blessing and good upon the beloved, as is Jesus.”

That is His desire – to bestow blessing and good upon us, His beloved. What is our desire? What is your desire? I pray for our only wish and longing to be to dwell continously in His infinite love. May comfort, mercy, goodness, patience, grace, faithfulness, and love be poured into your heart daily by the Holy Spirit and renewed each morning. May you come to know God in each of His forms of goodness personally in your life. May He be your all in all.

QOD: Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives

“‘All things here on this earth’, said Fr. Thaddeus, ‘all that is good and also all that is not, everything comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts determine our whole life. If our thoughts are destructive, we will have no peace. If they are quiet, meek and simple, our life will be the same, and we will have peace within us. It will radiate from us and influence all beings around us – rational beings, animals, and even plants. Such is our thought apparatus, which emits thoughts with which we influence all other beings. And everyone expects peace, consolation, love, and respect from us.'”

Elder Thaddeus in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives

Philippians 4:7

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“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

I have read this verse many times. I have studied and analyzed the idea of a peace that ‘transcends all understanding’ frequently. But today, April 30, is surely the first day that I have experienced it.

As I wrestled with a difficult and disappointing experience this morning, it came to me to repeat the Lord’s name – Jesus Christ – over and over again until I could make myself fall asleep. It began as a sort of senseless repetition, but it quickly became a desperate call to my saviour for His presence, proximity, and comfort. I kept thinking why am I saying this? Why don’t I do something else? Why don’t I just read a book, go for a walk, call a friend? What is the big deal anyways? I wondered how long I would need to call on Jesus before I would feel anything. I wondered IF I would feel anything at all. But as I didn’t have any other immediate means to console myself at the time, I continued. Jesus Christ. My Lord Jesus Christ. My saviour Jesus Christ. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus my heart. Jesus my beloved. Jesus King. I love you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.

And then it happened. I literally felt every painful and negative emotion, the longing and the aching, leave my heart. I’m not sure if it is possible to adequately describe this experience to you. It was possibly one of the greatest moments in my relationship with Him and it must be felt by each of you. I cannot explain this process by which all that was internal just evaporated. Truly, He guards our hearts and minds and He is near to the broken hearted.

Next time you face any sort of painful experience, find a quiet place and call on Him until He responds with His peace. Now I am convinced of His dwelling place in my heart.

Thank you God for the Grace of Peace. Thank you Lord that you are faithful to us, especially when the world is not. Christ you are the king and keeper of our hearts. Let your reign be forever. Amen.

God be with you all today and everyday.