The Desert (6.24.2017)

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80

Before this section of Luke I presumed what I knew what the focus of my reflection would be.  Those untold stories will remain just that because my attention was hijacked by a phrase that appears at the end of the Gospel.  The last sentence reads, “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

I’m sorry, what?  I know Elizabeth and Zechariah were new at this parenting thing but who puts a child in a desert?  Luke chose a strange transition from cute little baby John to camel hair wearing, bug eating, John the Baptist (though a childhood spent in the desert would explain a lot).  So that’s the line with which I prayed.

As I prayed with that line I thought about the symbol of the desert.  A place for nearness with the Lord.  The desert was a place where people could go to retreat into their proper relationship with God.  In the desert priorities get straitened, frivolous competitors for our attention fade way, God’s provision becomes clearer, and the time for prayer becomes more available.  Not to mention it is intentional.  Without a care or second thought I could wander one of the metro-parks in the area, but to go out into the desert is a choice you make with a purpose in mind.  One does not go into a desert to become comfortable, we desert comfort to become purposeful, and the purpose we hope to adopt is God’s.

This brings us back to Luke’s line about John being in the desert.  When I first read it I pictured the child John, but that seemed a little absurd to me.  However, I wondered how long of a desert stay are we talking here?  Surely, he could have been home or in Jerusalem for Passover, or any number of places, but, (and I’m not saying Luke intended it this way) he had the spiritual life of one in the desert.  There was a nearness to God that required John being able to enter the desert even if he did not physically travel there until later in life.

We all need to find this desert in our life.  We need to find a way to create, at the very least, a time, if not a place that we enter the desert.  We need that time in our everyday lives when we intentionally seek the purposes of God, not to mention see His provision.  It was the man from the desert that stood on the shore of the river, and through all the distractions and noise pointed out Jesus saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.”  John might not have known everything about God that the Pharisees and scribes of that time could have taught him, but he knew Him when he saw Him because he was from the desert.

1280px-Sunset_in_the_Negev_Desert_near_Yeruham,_IsraelSo let’s find a time to enter the desert.  Maybe it is a daily time of prayer, maybe it means having a prayer corner, or it means recommitting prayer time to the pursuit of God’s priorities.  Either way, if we are to model John’s ability to identify Christ when we see him, we need to know him, and for that, we need the desert.


Straight to Business (10.15.2016)

Scripture Readings

My oldest sister is a religious sister with the Nashville Dominicans.  Her state of life has humbled me, guided me, and even perplexed me.  I experienced disbelief one day as she explained how we would be communicating once she entered.  She told me that texting, phone calls, and emails were out unless it was an emergency. Instead we’d be writing letters; real, snail mail letters.  Now, I don’t write many letters.  I write emails, send text messages, and keep up with Facebook messages but don’t really write letters and unfortunately I haven’t gotten much better just because she is a sister.  Then, as I read today’s first reading, I was really convicted by Paul’s letter-writing and my own written correspondence in the first place.

So much of my written correspondence is based on what someone else can do for me.  Sure, I might open with pleasantries about family and health but at the end of the day I’m trying to take care of business.

Paul on the other hand, spends 8 verses at the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians proclaiming the Gospel and praising God for the Ephesians.  This is a man that knows he is writing to other Christians, but he still starts this way.  This practice reminds us of a few things.

ephesians-1-6-i-do-not-cease-to-give-thanks-black-copyFirst, we must never forget that we are called to encourage one another.  We are walking in free — but costly — grace and we aren’t walking alone.  We need the support and gratitude of one another.  This doesn’t mean we have to open every text or email paraphrasing Ephesians.  However, we could be better at expressing gratitude just for someone’s presence.  In a society where so many question their worth and value can we afford to skip this step as often as we do?

cfsk937weaanxp5Second, we dare not let the Gospel be implied or leave Jesus assumed.  It is never a waste of time to re-articulate the Gospel. Besides, so much of what we do doesn’t make sense without it.  Without a common understanding of the Gospel, the letter to the Ephesians would fall short, the same is true of our instruction, catechesis, and encouragement.  This can be done simply.  If we have a quote, passage or something like AMDG at the bottom of our email, we could think about putting it at the top instead.  Not in an obnoxious way, but as a reminder of what we are about.  For example the top of every page in one of my sister’s letters has a Cross with an M at the bottom.

0ee406a78d68d412d957e8e36f20005bThird, we should be praying for one another’s spiritual growth.  Not only should we be praying for it, we should be telling each other that we have their back in prayer.  Paul does this, why can’t we?

We live in a busy world and are often serving in an understaffed church.  Those circumstances tempt us to be straight to business without faith.  We need to let people know they are valuable; to remind them that all of this is flowing from Christ; and to ensure them that we are praying for them to grow closer to the Lord (and ask them to pray for us as well).

The 7 Deadly Sins & the 7 Last words of Christ

An Examination of Conscience

This examination started as a personal exercise that a friend asked me to put to writing. 

Thank you to Sarah Cerrone for putting that challenge to me and thank you to Will Marsh, Fr. Steve dos Santos, Dan Hutson, Austin & Makayla Citrigno their help editing it.  Thank you also to Bishop Robert Barron for inspiring me to begin examining my walk by looking for the 7 Deadly Sins.

Please pray this. 

Ask the Holy Spirit to take you down roads I missed and to allow you to be honest with yourself. 

I pray daily for anyone using this examination, please pray for me.


  • Does my anger persist long after an offense? Have I lashed out at others while angry?
  • Do I dwell upon the harm I wish to cause another? Do I have grudges? Do I fuel them in myself or others?
  • Have I allowed anger to damage, even break, my relationships, especially with family?
  • Do I blame others for my anger? Have I apologized for it? Have I refused another forgiveness because of my anger?
  • Do I pray for and bless my enemies?

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

The first words of Christ after being lifted up upon the cross are words of forgiveness.  The sinless one is being unjustly killed and yet he does not hurl insults and curses.  Instead, Christ is raised above the people gathered there and showers them with the mercy of the Lord.


  • Am I pained by the success of others? Do I take pleasure at other’s failures?
  • Do I find myself envious of the gifts and talents of another, instead of praising the Lord for them?
  • Am I envious of others’ possessions or relationships?
  • Am I drawn to gossip, slander, or libel (written slander)? Do I encourage those sins in others?

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

As Christ hangs upon the cross he does not take comfort in the suffering of the criminals next to him, rather he has pity on them.  He does not cling enviously to who he is – Life, Love, Light, and Truth – but in his generous mercy lavishes these upon all of us, even the repentant criminal at his side.


  • Do I view other humans as a means to satisfy my sexual desires?
  • Do I demonize my sexuality? Do I view sexuality as a gift to be cared for or a curse to be dealt with?
  • Have I committed adultery with my body, my mind, or my emotions?
  • Have I violated another sexually – committed sexual abuse or harassment?
  • Have I released my sexual desires through pornography, erotic reading, self-stimulation, or sexual activity outside of marriage? Within marriage, is our intimacy a renewal of our freely given marriage vows?  Are we open to God’s participation in our marriage (e.g. do we pray about our budget, do we use contraceptives, is our home our castle or a place of welcome)?

“Woman, behold your son … Behold your mother.”

When Christ entrusts Mary and John to each other he raises the dignity of motherhood.  However, it’s not just what Jesus said, but how he said it.  In using the word “Behold” he calls Mary and John to see each other as they truly are – as God sees them.  Lust, however, violates how I see another and how I see myself.  This is why it is commonly associated with the eyes.  Not because it is a sin of looking, but because it is a perversion of seeing.  It is to see another and believe we can take what is theirs and will never belong to us.


  • Am I the center of my own little world? Have I sidelined God and others?  Do I have idols?
  • Do I make time for a daily prayer life? Do I make Sunday Mass a priority?
  • Do I act as if God owes me or believe I can manipulate God? Do I help the Lord’s name and reputation be respected?
  • Do I set myself apart, particularly above others? Do I judge others’ hearts, something only God can do?
  • God is truth and life, do I insult Him by lying or degrading others’ human dignity?
  • Do I flaunt a false humility?

“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus teaches us that true humility is honest.  It is honest about how little I know of God’s plan and that God is God and I am not.  Thank God for that!  I am not trustworthy like the Lord is.  Thus, true humility is allowed to feel confused in the face of hardship and suffering.  When we are humble we might cry out for guidance like Christ on the cross, but we never forget that we can trust the Lord in our weakness, just as Christ’s words are the opening lines of Psalm 22 – a psalm of victory.


  • Do I overindulge in food or drink? Am I wasteful with that same food or drink?
  • Do I disregard my physical health? On the flipside, am I vain about my physical health?
  • Are my acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving used to help the poor and disadvantaged?
  • Do I use illegal drugs, drink underage, or put myself and others at risk through my drinking?
  • Do I spurn hospitality because what is offered does not suit my tastes?

“I Thirst.”

With these simple words, Christ stands in solidarity with all of those around the world who need food and clean water.  Christ needed.  The second person of the Trinity subjected himself to the needs of human life.  This legitimizes our need for food and drink, but a legitimate need is very different from an abused practice.  Our thirsty Lord was not satisfied by a choice wine that costs more than what some families pay to put food on the table.  Rather, he was satisfied by spoiled wine.


  • Am I wasteful with the gift of time? Am I inconsiderate of others’ time?
  • Do I lack motivation in the areas of life that matter – faith, family, well-being of others?
  • Do I lack the capacity to say “no,” thus allowing busyness to prevent me from committing to anything?
  • Am I lazy or apathetic? Do I lack diligence?  Do I procrastinate?
  • Do I put-off loving those around me because I presume I’ll have plenty of time for it later?
  • Am I sloppy and hasty in an effort to just be done with a task?

“It is finished.”

This world will come to an end.  Our earthly lives will come to a close.  Even the God-Man declared “It is finished,” as he neared death.  Christ, convicts us to act deliberately and diligently.  He doesn’t establish efficiency as a virtue, but he makes it clear that we have work to do and we best get to it.  The harvest is ready, but the laborers are few.


  • Do I place my worth and value in possessions? Do I thirst for power and authority?
  • Do I compromise my morality in order to possess and experience? (ex. piracy, lying)
  • Do I use resources excessively? Am I aware of the wider impact of my consumption?
  • Do I invest my time and talent into my church and community or do I only seek to receive?
  • Do I explore the most moral ways to spend my money or do I always seek the lowest price?
  • Do I give to charity and the Church? Do I take on the cost of hospitality?

“Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”

It is so tempting to grasp and grab at everything.  We live in a consumer culture that says “you are what you have” and “if you get it, hang onto it.”  God, on the other hand, is the divine gift-giver.  His divine life is gift.  Naked, destitute, abandoned, and nailed to the cross Christ made a gift of all he had left – his life.  Can we live lives of giving and receiving instead of taking and selling?

Lord, having recalled my sins and reflected the last sayings of your Son, whom I desire to imitate, please convert my heart and give me the grace to prevail against these sins in the future.
Let this meditation on both my need for forgiveness and the source of that mercy bear fruit in my life.  Stir in my heart a desire to hear your words of mercy again in Reconciliation.
I love you.
In Jesus’ name,

A Guided Meditation

1b66c4f33289d343a73a914c3452ce7cI wrote this for one of our youth ministry gatherings.
If you can have someone else lead you through this, stop now and do that.
Otherwise, take your time through this exercise and don’t read ahead.

Our spiritual and mental abilities are gifts from God.  This includes our memory, intellect, and emotions, just to name a few of them.  During this exercise, we will utilize the gift of our imagination.

Take some time to quiet yourself, making room for the Spirit.

If distractions arise, ask the Lord to hold on to it for you so you can let it go.

Focus on your breathing or your heartbeat to help you do that.  Something automatic and repetitive.

If you are reading this to yourself, close your eyes during the pauses to keep your focus.

Imagine your are standing on the cobblestones of a courtyeard outside a big European style cathedral on a warm sunny day.  The cathedral is tall, made of stained glass and stone. In front of you are two massive double doors.


You walk toward the doors.  As you do, a man with dark, tanned skin approaches you.  He introduces himself as Paul.  “Follow me, I want to show you something.”


As you get close to the doors he stops, looks up and says, “This building gives me such hope.  Long ago, God was seen as so distant, but through Christ we have churches like this everywhere as a reminder of just how close God has come to us.” Turning toward you, “So close, even, that people laid hands upon Him and killed Him.  It truly is remarkable.  Anyway, what I want to show you is inside.”


He pushes the massive door open with great ease.  The church is huge and open.


Multi-colored lights stream through the windows, a baptismal font serenely trickles, you hear quiet chanting from up near the tabernacle.


“I love walking in here.  Can you feel it?  Can you hear it?  It is peaceful.  This peace points to Christ.
He is our peace.
He brings peace to creation and humanity.

He has carved out a space where we can all gather.  Where everything that we are can encounter all that is good, beautiful, and true.”


He leads you further into the cathedral, under the tall vaulted ceilings and warmed by the lights from the stained glass windows.


He directs your attention to the stained glass windows. They are the tallest you’ve ever seen.


“Look, do you see that window?


Glassblowers made rock, sand, and broken glass into these good and beautiful works of art that proclaim the truth of God’s love for us.  So to God blows His breath into us.  He holds every one of us in hands, each of us a colored piece of glass, with our own brokenness.  Yet, he bring us together in a good way, to make a beautiful work of art, proclaiming His truth.


Each shard belongs.


Each piece essential to completing the image.


All the glass, whether it is a blade of grass, Jesus’ toe, filler in the sky, or Christ’s heart is illuminated by one and the same sun.  So to, we are all made radiant by the same Spirit.


No longer are we discarded shards, but we properly belong to the whole.


Beautiful in our own right as we capture the rays of the sun, purposeful as we are built into the walls of the Church, and so good as we tell the story of Christ with our lives.


I once reminded the Christians of Ephesus, that: ‘You are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the capstone.  Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord.’


This window reminds us of that.


Like us, it only finds its true purpose when it is for Christ.  Christ is working in us, to make us a church of people not of walls.  Wherever you go, He wants you to bring the Spirit of God with you.  Like a piece of glass that can bring the rays of the sun with it.


You belong here.


You are meant to stand alongside disciples like Francis, Mary Magdalene, Maximillian, Theresa, Oscar, Thomas, even Peter and me.


You are a piece of colored glass.


Will you allow the Father to bring you into His image?


Will you let the Son wash you clean and hold you in place?


Will you let the Spirit fill you and shine through you?


Will you be like a piece of glass in this window?” He says as he slowly backs away leaving you looking at your window.




What did your stained glass window look like?

I invite you to talk to someone or journal about what it looked it like.  As well as:

  • Does that have a connection to your relationship with Christ?
  • How does that image speak to you?
  • Are there ways that you resist being part of that image?
  • What do you find encouraging about this metaphor?
  • In what ways do you struggle with it?

Feel free to offer comments below and share this or use it if you found it helpful.

Praying with the Psalms

I read the Amos prophecy and thought of some really cool, impractical thoughts I could offer.  So, I ruled out those.  Then I read the Gospel and felt so distant from cloak patching and wineskin drinking that I wasn’t sure what to say there.  I then thought, what about this often forgotten section, the Psalm.  Remarkable isn’t it?  We read the Psalms multiple times a day in the Church.  Psalms are included in nearly every office of Liturgy of the Hours, every daily Mass, and every Sunday Mass.  This is one rich Old Testament book.  So today, let’s look to the Psalm, and I want to offer a rewording of the Psalm as a meditation.  So you don’t have to leave this page, here is the original text:

“I will hear what God proclaims; / the LORD–for he proclaims peace to his people. / Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, / glory dwelling in our land. / Kindness and truth shall meet; / justice and peace shall kiss. / Truth shall spring out of the earth, / and justice shall look down from heaven. / The LORD himself will give his benefits; / our land shall yield its increase. / Justice shall walk before him, / and salvation, along the way of his steps.”

Help me listen for your voice, Lord.  I trust that You speak and that I will know Your voice for it will lead me to peace.  For with You there is peace as I am near the fullness of life.  I find peace in You, especially when I admit that you are God and I am not.  When I walk so as to please other people I find myself lost amid the paths of wilderness.  But when I fear You, when I desire to please You above and beyond any creature, for You are Creator, I find the narrow way stretching out before me.  When I walk this way I see how little comes from me and how all that is around me is a gift.  The world is charged with Your grandeur, O’ God!  When I walk with You, difficult things to reconcile become well acquainted.  To know You, to follow You, is to walk as a disciple of Love and Truth incarnate.  It is to stand in awe as Justice and Peace kiss where the beams of the cross meet.  We call this choreographed collision of Love, Truth, Peace, and Justice, Mercy.  Misericordia, Your righteous heart (cordia) stooping low to encounter the truth of our misery (miseri) which is lifted to You by Truth nailed to a tree.  In this mercy, this meeting of Your heart with our misery, we share in Your love, compassion, and even Your divine nature.  Help us to bear fruit, Lord, so that Your vineyard may grow…

Now this prayer isn’t over yet.  I did not rewrite the last two lines of the Psalm because want to invite you to adapt them into your own words.  Use this as an opportunity to practice praying the Psalms.  Even share your rewrite if you are so inclined.

– Spencer Hargadon

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 3)

4. + the Work of Mary?

If I praised St. Paul for his prolific letter writing, tireless fight against the Judaizers, unquenchable desire to spread the Gospel, and legacy of church planting by saying “I don’t know where the Gospel would be without Paul” no one would bat an eye.

However, I can’t do anything like that with Mary.  I could never utter “Without Mary there is no Incarnation.” I don’t dare bring up that if we all bore Christ into the world, proceeded with haste to be with others, cared for children in danger, sought out the lost, pondered the actions of God in our heart, meekly interceded on behalf of those who may not be aware of their need yet, stood by those suffering, and gathered with the Church in prayer (aka if we were more Marian) then Christianity would be richer and more vibrant.  Saying any of that will likely mean I am accused of being a gospel denying, apostate, idolater.  Now you may say, “I don’t have a problem with what you said, except when you make Mary necessary for salvation.”  That raises a great question.  Was Mary necessary for God to achieve our salvation?  No.  Did God, by choosing to take flesh through Mary, give her a necessary role in our salvation?  Unequivocally, yes.  It’s a lot like the Cross.  Read this Socratic Dialogue [15] if you are confused.

5. + Prayer?

Many Protestants will be quick to point out that the Bible calls us all saints.  Which is true, which makes their denial of the intercession of the saints strange.  Denying the intercession of the saints as a violation of Christ’s mediation is to deny that any of us can pray on each other’s behalf.  However, interceding on behalf of one another, even loving someone to express God’s love for him/her (you could call that mediation) does not violate Christ’s singular role as the mediator of the New Covenant between heaven and earth, God and humanity.  Catholics are no different from Protestants in believing that we can and should pray for one another.  However, we differ because Catholics believe that those standing face-to-face with the Lord and Lover of Souls can pray for us.  They pray in and through Christ.  Their prayer like mine or yours, not Christ’s unique mediation from the altar of the cross.  And once again, the Protestant obsession with only/sola statements butts up against the Trinity as it is very clear in Scripture that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf (cf. Rom. 8:26-27).  I bring this up because the Protestant proof text against a Catholic understanding of the intercession of the saints is 1 Tim. 2:5, in which Paul specifically emphasizes Christ’s incarnation, His humanity, as the linchpin of His unique mediation.  The point being, that the common Protestant apologetic regarding this passage proves too much as it was not the Spirit that became incarnate.

6. + Tradition?

Did you know the reformed theology that seems to have saved the Gospel from the shackles of Catholicism is a tradition?  Did you know the Table of Contents in the front of your Bible is a tradition?  Did you know the Bible is in fact written tradition?  And in written tradition we find the command to observe all that was passed down by letter and word of mouth. [16] Weird…

“[Christ] is himself both the mediator and the sum total of Revelation” (Dei Verbum, 2).

7. + Response?

Why does free gift equal no response in reformed theology but nowhere else in God’s universe?  My life is a free gift… guess I don’t need to breathe.  In all seriousness, Catholic theology talks about response, Challies though decides to articulate it as effort possibly to emphasize his accusation of a works doctrine.  More about this in # 9.  (Read Bonhoeffer’s chapter in The Cost of Discipleship on “Single-Minded Obedience” to really see an honest wrestling with the need for response from a very faith-filled Protestant Christian) [17].

8. + The Mass?

The Mass is not added to the Cross. It is the door to the Cross.  Check out The Lamb’s Supper, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, The Mass of the Early Christians, or The Fourth CupSeriously, I’ll buy it for you.  (Here is my email:

Next Post:
Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 4)

16. What do Catholic’s believe about the transmission of that “faith that was once for all handed down (traditio) to the holy ones” (Jude 1:3)?  Find out in Dei Verbum (On Divine Revelation) from Vatican II.
17. “Single-Minded Obedience,” 79-85.

My (nearly) 2 Year Old Found this Prayer

I have no recollection of writing this, but it was floating around my house.

Lord, grant me humility by deflating my pride.
Lord, grant me courage by destroying my fear.
Lord, grant me confidence by forgiving my shame.
Lord, grant me strength in my faith by removing my doubt.
Lord, grant me wisdom by enlightening my mind.
Lord, deepen my love, by removing my barriers hindering Yours.
Lord, make me gentle as the sheep that I am.
Lord, set me free, by taking control.

Rhythm of Inconvenience

Scripture Readings (this is a day late)

Here we are.  We are nearing the first Sunday in Lent.  We have taken our Lenten fasts and devotions out for a test drive.  At this point, we might have been put in a situation by our Lenten practices where we say “Well this is inconvenient.”

Among the many purposes of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer during Lent, I find the moment of inconvenience so important.  It is a part of our training for the Christian life.  This rhythm of inconvenience is found throughout all the readings today.

The first movement of inconvenience is the call.  This is found in today’s gospel reading.  Luke records, “Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.  He said to him, ‘Follow me.’  And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.”  The inconvenience of our Lenten practices helps prepare us for the ever-deepening call from the Lord.  This is the Lord that shows up in the middle of Levi’s workday and just says ‘Come, follow me”.  When Christ, encounters us at inopportune times we hope to stand up and respond.  To do so, we need to be willing to do that which is inconvenient for our Faith.

The second movement is a hopeful effort to address injustice.  We see one approach to this in Luke today, “Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them.”  We also find this call articulated in the first reading, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”  Anyone of us can see how the call to “remove from your midst oppression” seems like an inconveniently impossible demand.  Yet we are called to pursue it in Hope, trusting that the Lord can do far more through our meager efforts than we could ever dream.

The third movement is the surrender of our rest.  The entire end of the first reading speaks to this.  Here is what is found in Isaiah, “If you hold back your foot on the Sabbath from following your own pursuits on my holy day; If you call the Sabbath a delight, and the LORD’s holy day honorable; If you honor it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice. Then you shall delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  The quintessential day off, or Sabbath, is not ‘my time.’  It isn’t the day that I get to spend however I want; doing whatever pleases me.  Instead, Isaiah inconveniently tells us that true rest, “the heritage of Jacob”, comes from the Lord.  And so we are called to Love the Lord to the point of even trusting Him with our rest.

Lord, this Lent, as we partake in fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, help them to deepen faith, hope and love within us so that we may respond to your call, offer ourselves as a solution to injustice, and surrender our rest to you.

Prayer in the Storm

Scripture Readings

It is striking how the same passage can speak into our lives in so many different ways.  I have read this gospel a number of times and always find encouragement or conviction in a new area.  This time it was conviction.  I read the passage and thought to myself, “This is my prayer life.” Continue reading “Prayer in the Storm”

Discerning the Lord’s Will

Saturday after Epiphany

Scripture Readings

Today’s first reading offers a strange relationship between our petition and God’s providence.  Here is what John says, “We have this confidence in Him that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked Him for is ours.”  This text seems like an appropriate clarification on Jesus’ “Ask and you shall receive,” but it also adds something to our side of the equation.  I not only read this and see John calling us to rely on prayer, but I sense him pushing us to discernment, particularly in three ways.

First, I should be pursuing and discerning the Lord’s will for me so that I may stand in greater confidence.  This form of discernment is more familiar to us.  This is the discernment of engaged couples, seminarians, postulants (baby sisters), and job seekers.  This is the discernment that builds off of the phrase, “God has a plan and purpose for you.”  This is good, but I think John asks us to go deeper.

Second, I need to try and understand the character and will of God, to the best of my fallible, human ability.  This level of discernment humbly recognizes that God had a will long before I ever existed.  The eternal God has me in His plan, but I’m only needed in it because He chose to create me.  This means that there is a discernible will and plan that is much larger than I.  This is important for me to pursue because it keeps my humility in check (see John the Baptist’s “I must decrease”), and it directly relates to prayer.  Scripture commands me to pray for others.  If I am to stand in confidence regarding those prayers, I need to discern God’s character beyond my own call.  The Gospel is accessible to me, and is meant for me, but it is far bigger than I alone.

Finally, discernment is necessary in the following verses.  “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life.  This is only for those whose sin is not deadly.  There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.”  These verses get tricky if: I don’t seek to understand God’s will; or I don’t try to get to know His character.  That ignorance can either make me blind to who my brothers and sisters are or make me as legalistic as the Pharisees in judging the severity of sin.  Not to mention, without discernment, how do I figure out what to do in the case of a deadly sin?

This entire section of 1 John calls me to get to know God, intimately, deeply, and in a way that I can stand in confidence.  Now in my language of discern and pursue I might make us sound a little too active.  Whether it is quieting yourself enough to pray in a posture of listening or letting the words of scripture transform your worldview, the Lord wishes to impart His will to you.

He is the bridegroom and we are the bride, let us enter into an exchange of wills with Him, so that we may stand confident in His love and His vows.