Advice to Ministers – Hannah Whitall Smith

Here is sound advice written to ministers, but really it’s good for any situation.

“Years ago I came across this sentence in an old book:

‘Never indulge, at the close of an action, in any self-reflective acts of any kind, whether of self-congratulation or of self-despair. Forget the things that are behind, the moment they are past, leaving them with God.’

This has been of unspeakable value to me. When the temptation comes, as it mostly does to every worker after the performance of any service, to indulge in these reflections, either of one sort or the other, I turn from them at once and positively refuse to think about my work at all, leaving it with the Lord to overrule the mistakes, and to bless it as he chooses. I believe that would be far fewer “blue Mondays” for ministers of the Gospel than there are now if they would adopt this plan; and I am sure all workers would find their work far less wearing.”

–Hannah Whitall Smith – The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life

I find this to be true mostly because I am capable of a lot of worry and despair after preaching on Sunday, or other events I help lead in ministry. “Did I say the right thing?” “I could have presented that in a more compassionate way.” “I don’t think anyone really understood what I was saying.” “I don’t think I understood what I was talking about…”

I don’t think she is saying to be unreflective, it is important to think about the work you do, how it connects to your vocation, why you do it, but there is a difference here between “self-awareness” and “judgement.” She is calling for a non-judgmental finish to our work and I think this is right. To be self-aware, present in that moment, awake to what is alive and/or dead in you while do that work is another thing.

Quote: Presence is a Situation

What a great quote to reflect on for Christmas and the arrival of God in creation. It makes me think about all of the opportunities we have had as of late, with the increasing unrest and protests in our country and around the world, where we are being called on to physically show up and be present to the need for justice in our society.

The divine quality of the Bible is not on display, it is not apparent to an inane, fatuous mind; just as the divine in the universe is not obvious to the debaucher. When we turn to the Bible with an empty spirit, moved by intellectual vanity, striving to show our superiority to the text; or as barren souls who go sightseeing to the words of the prophets, we discover the shells but miss the core. It is easier to enjoy beauty than to sense the holy. To be able to encounter the spirit within the words, we must learn to crave for an affinity with the pathos of God.

To sense the presence of God in the Bible, one must learn to be present to God in the Bible. Presence is not a concept, but a situation. To understand love it is not enough to read tales about it. One must be involved in the prophets to understand the prophets. One must be inspired to understand inspiration. Just as we cannot test thinking without thinking, we cannot sense holiness without being holy. Presence is not disclosed to those who are unattached and try to judge, to those who have no power to go beyond the values they cherish; to those who sense the story, not the pathos; the idea, not the realness of God.

The Bible is the frontier of the spirit where we must move and live in order to discover and to explore. It is open to him who gives himself to it, who lives with it intimately.

—From God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Nouwen and The Discipline of Gratitude

I really like what Henry Nouwen writes about the discipline of gratitude:

Gratitude … goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint…The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious.