800) Prayers for a Blessed End

Vincent van Gogh's Woman on her Deathbed Watercolor

Woman on Her Deathbed, Vincent van Gogh, 1883

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By Martin Luther, adapted from Luther’s Prayers (chapter 6), translated by Charles Kistler (1917)

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My dear God, if you so desire that this be my last hour, then let thy will be done, and I shall gladly die.  Only let your holy name be praised and glorified by my sufferings and death.  If it were possible, dear Lord, I would live longer for the sake of your people.  But if the hour has come, then do as you please, for you are the Lord of life and death.  Amen.  (#214)

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My dearest Lord Jesus, you have graciously granted me the knowledge of your holy name.  You know that I believe in you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the only true God.  You are my Savior who has shed your precious blood for me and all sinners.  Support me in this hour and comfort me with your Holy Spirit.  You are indeed the God of the weak and sinful who feel their need and anxiety.  I heartily desire your grace, comfort, and help, according to your Word which says, “Come to me all that labor and are heavy laden.”  Lord, I am in great trouble and distress.  I accept your invitation to come.  Help me by your mercy and in your truth.  Amen. (#216, #217)

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Merciful God, be gracious to me.  I know that even when I have done my best, I am still a miserable sinner and deserve nothing but your displeasure.  But regardless of my past life, I am comforted knowing that Jesus Christ has died for me, and that in Him I have the forgiveness of all my sins.  For I have indeed been baptized in your name; and, I have heard the Word through which you have called me, commanded me to believe, and assured me of grace and life.  With these blessings I will gladly die, without anxious doubts and fears about what will happen to me then.  For I now live in the assurance of the gracious promise which God has given me from heaven:  ‘He who believes in the Son of God has eternal life.’  Amen.  (#222, #228)

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O, God of all comfort, I give you thanks that you have revealed to me your dear Son, Jesus Christ, in whom I believe.  I know of no one else in heaven or on earth in whom I may have safe refuge except in Him.  Without this hope, I would be lost.  I pray Lord Jesus, let my soul be commended unto you.  O heavenly Father, although I must be torn away from this body and must leave it, I know that I shall remain with you forever, and that no one can ever take me out of your hands.  I rely on this assurance, and will gladly leave this life in it.  Amen.  (#220, #223, and #224)

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Dear Lord Christ, even though I do not fulfill your law and still have sin, and even though I am still afraid of death and hell, yet I know from the Gospel that all of your promised blessings are mine by faith.  I am sure of this, for you would not deceive me.  You will surely keep your promise.  And so now, dear Father, if it would please you, I would gladly die, for I know that you are mine.  Death cannot harm me, for it is swallowed up in victory.  Praise be to Thee, Lord God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. (#225)

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O Lord Jesus Christ, will not this misery finally come to an end, and the glory of the children of God soon begin?  You have promised us the day in which you will deliver us from all manner of evil.  Let it come, even in this hour, if it be your will, and my death make an end of all my misery.  Amen. (#232)

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Luther’s prayer on the day of his death, Feb. 18, 1546:
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, faithful God. (#221)

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Romans 14:7-9  —  We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Psalm 31:5  —  Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

Luke 23:46  —  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Psalm 23:4a  —  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

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799) Prayers When One is Suffering

By Martin Luther (1483-1546), adapted from Luther’s Prayers, translated by Charles Kistler (1917)

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Lord Jesus, misery and misfortune annoy and oppress me.  I long to be relieved of them.  You have said, “Ask, and you shall receive.”  Lord, I am asking.  But Lord, my longing is so great that I cannot express it in words.  I don’t even know how to ask.  You, O Lord, can see into my heart.  What can I say?  My suffering is greater than my complaint can be.  I cannot counsel myself with my own reason, nor comfort myself with my own courage.  Comfortless, helpless, and forsaken, I am altogether undone.  My God, I know you will not leave me hopeless.  You will hear my prayer and comfort me.  It is for me to pray and await your grace.  It is for you to hear me and give me hope.  Amen. (#17 and #18)

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Dear Father, you may rightfully scourge and punish me, for alas, I fully deserve it.  Nevertheless, let it be the discipline of a loving Father, as you chastise all your children whom you love.  If you do not reprove me for my sins, I am like an abandoned child, and I pray that may never be.  Therefore, correct and strike and punish me, O righteous Judge.  But merciful Father, do not turn your Father’s heart away from me, for I want to praise and glorify you forever, in this world and the next.  Amen.  (#178)

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Dear God, you have overwhelmed me with many adversities and have enabled me to clearly see your wrath.  But cease now in afflicting me, O Lord, for you have troubled me enough, and have sufficiently pressed, burdened and humiliated me.  Graciously turn to me again in mercy, and show me how gentle you are, so that you may bring comfort to my troubled heart.  Amen. (#179)

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Dear Lord Jesus, I am hemmed in by Satan, grievously tormented by my sins, and constantly surrounded by death.  You came to earth to destroy the works of the devil.  You have abolished death and have brought to light the promise of eternal life.  Come to me now, for you bring forgiveness and life.  Help me to withstand the works of the devil by which he would cast me from life into death.  O Christ, who has overcome the devil, help me also to overcome him.  Amen.  (#9)

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O Father and God of all comfort, grant us by your Word, a firm, happy, and grateful faith, by which we may readily overcome this and every trial, and at length realize that it is the truth when your Son, Jesus Christ says:  “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”  Amen. (#174)

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O Father of all mercy and God of all comfort, strengthen and uphold me by your Spirit, until you reveal to me the purpose of my tribulations.  For it is your will that we, at times, be troubled and grieved.  Indeed, you do not permit any evil to be done, unless you can make it serve a good purpose.  You see my distress and weakness.  I pray that you help and deliver me.  Amen. (#180)

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Dear God, give us peaceful hearts, and a right courage in our strife against the devil, so that we may not only endure and finally triumph, but also have peace in the midst of the struggle, praising you and giving you thanks without complaining against your divine will.  Let peace rule in our hearts, so that we may never through impatience undertake anything against you, our God, or against our fellowman.  Rather, may we remain both inwardly and outwardly quiet and peaceable toward God and all people, until the final and eternal peace shall come.  Amen.  (#169)

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Matthew 7:7-8  —  (Jesus said), “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

John 16:33  —  (Jesus said), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Hosea 6:1  —  Come, let us return to the Lord.  He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us, but he will bind up our wounds.

798) New Life for an Old Church

 

Adapted from the June 10, 2015 Breakpoint blog at http://www.breakpoint.org, The Growth of Christianity in the Muslim World, by Eric Metaxas

       Even while the West turns its back on the faith, Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds.

     A Washington Post article tells the story of a tiny Baptist church near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  The congregation had dwindled to just fifteen members.  With bills stacking up, Deacon Larry Montgomery told the congregation, “We’re just not going to make it.”

     Montgomery then told the people of Scenic Drive Baptist that there was a congregation who might want to buy the church.  This congregation had been meeting in homes and had a pastor whose business card quoted John 4:35:  “Look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”

     Montgomery approached the pastor, who then called his flock to pray about it.  His prayer began “Abuna Semawi, nashkurak.”  That’s Arabic for “Heavenly Father, we thank you.”  The pastor, Egyptian-born Raouff Ghattas, a nuclear engineer by training, had attended a Southern Baptist seminary with a view to becoming a missionary.  He and his American-born wife, Carol, share a mission:  “Never rest until you tell every Arab about Jesus.”

     For two decades they served in places like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia.  But when they returned to Carol’s hometown of Murfreesboro, they found that their mission field had come to them.  The town even had a mosque.

     So they went to work telling local Muslims about Jesus, and ‘Scenic Drive Baptist Church’ became ‘Arabic Baptist Church,’ a place where Arab Christians and non-Arab Christians can worship together.

     In every sense that matters, Scenic Drive Baptist did “make it.”  It just did so in a way that suited the moment we are living in.

    Here’s a statistic that will – or at least should – blow your mind:  More than half of all Christians who have ever lived are alive today.  The Gospel is being preached all over the world, and people are saying “yes.”

     This includes the Islamic world.

     In a recent “Breakpoint This Week” broadcast, my colleague John Stonestreet spoke with David Garrison and Paul Filidis about the upcoming “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World,” which starts on June 18.

     Garrison traveled more 250,000 miles around the Islamic world chronicling what is probably the most under-reported important story of our time:  waves of Muslims converting to Christianity.

     His book, A Wind in the House of Islam, documented nearly 70 movements of Christianity in the Islamic world in the past two decades:  movements being defined as “1,000 Muslims receiving Christian baptism, a public statement of their faith in Christ.”

     In fact, Garrison estimates that these 70 “movements” represent more than 80 percent of all such movements in Islam’s 1,400-year history.  As he put it, Muslims all over the world “are falling on their knees, finding that this is the living God who has come into the world— God with us, God among us— who is bringing them salvation that they were never able to find” in Islam.

     The “30 Days of Prayer,” which coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is one way we can participate in this great work of God.

     Come to BreakPoint.org and we’ll link you to John Stonestreet’s broadcast on the month of prayer for the Muslim world.  Also see:

http://www.30daysprayer.com

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Acts 4:8-12  —  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them:  “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel:  It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

John 14:6-7  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

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Lord Jesus, you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Without the Way, there is no going.  Without the Truth, there is no knowing.  Without the Life, there is no living.  You are the Way which we must follow, the Truth which we must believe, the Life for which we must hope.  Lord Jesus, may all come to know you as the Way and the Truth and the Life.  Amen.

–Adapted from The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis

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Pastor Raouff Ghattas of Arabic Baptist Church:

797) Prayers for Living the Christian Life

By Martin Luther (1483-1546), adapted from Luther’s Prayers, translated by Charles Kistler (1917)

FOR GREATER FAITH (#138)
Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.  My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.  I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbor.  I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you at all.  O Lord, help me.  Strengthen my faith and trust in you.  In you I have sealed all the treasures I have.  I am poor, you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.  I am a sinner, you are upright.  With me there is an abundance of sin, in you is the fullness of righteousness.  Therefore, I will remain with you from whom I can receive, but to whom I can not give.  Amen.

FOR THE ABILITY TO FORGIVE (#173)
My Lord Jesus, look at how my neighbor has injured me, slandered my honor with his talk, and interfered with my rights.  I cannot tolerate this, and so I wish he were out of my way.  O God, hear my complaint.  I cannot feel kindly toward him, even though I know I should.  See how cold and insensible I am.  O Lord, I can’t help it, and so I stand forsaken.  If you change me, I will be devout and have better thoughts.  Otherwise, I must remain as I am.  O dear God, change me by your grace.  Amen.

SERVING WITH HUMILITY (adapted from #201)
Dear Lord God, I thank you that you have directed me into this place of service in which I know I am able serve and please you.  I will serve here willingly, gladly comply with the requirements, and abandon myself to doing what needs to be done.  What harm is there if I am occasionally rebuked, when I am assured that this is an acceptable service to you?  You suffered so much for me, should not I gladly do and suffer something to your honor and service?  I would not rebel against being even a dog in your house, if only I may at least eat the crumbs that fall from your table.  You owe me nothing at all.  I depend on your grace and mercy.  Amen.

OUR OFFERING TO GOD (#205)
O Lord, come to me and use my bread, silver, gold, and all that is mine.  How well they are applied, if I spend them in your service.  Amen.

FOR THE GRACE TO BE OBEDIENT (#168)
Lord God, I have indeed disobeyed your commandments.  I have been impatient in suffering.  I am unsympathetic and unmerciful.  I fail to assist my neighbor as I ought.  I am unable to resist sin.  I do not tire of doing what is wrong.  Dear Lord, pour out your grace to me so that I may obey you and keep each one of your commandments.  Help me to give my heart and soul to you, even if that means I must be at odds with the world.  Amen.

BEFORE RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION (#157)
Lord Jesus, I have fallen, but I would rather be strong.  For this purpose you have instituted this sacrament, that with it you may rekindle and strengthen my faith, and thus I may be helped.  Therefore, I am here to receive it.  My sins and faults are all known to you.  But you have said in your Word:  “Come unto me all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest.”  I now come to be helped.  Amen.

TO CHERISH GOD’S WORD (#167)
We pray that you so nurture us in your Word that our lives may please you and that other people may be attracted to you by our godliness.  May your commands and promises be written into our hearts, and constantly kept in our minds.  May your Word be for us far more precious than our own life and whatever else we cherish on earth.  Help us to live and act accordingly.  Amen.

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Psalm 119:105  —  Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Romans 12:2  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Philippians 2:12-13  —  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed– not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence– continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

796) Eternity Set in Our Hearts

By Randy Alcorn, http://www.epm.org, June 8, 2015 blog.

     Thornton Wilder, the late great American playwright and novelist, wrote the play Our Town in 1937, which won a 1938 Pulitzer Prize.  In the play, a character says, “I don’t care what they say with their mouths– everybody knows that something is eternal.  And it ain’t houses, and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even stars… everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings…  There’s something way down deep that’s eternal in every human being.”

     This corresponds with what Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us:  that God “has also set eternity in the human heart.”  Look around you at all those people walking the streets, working in offices, standing in lines, sitting in restaurants.  Their eyes are filled with needs, hopes, longings.  The world tells them they’re just molecules and DNA, time plus chance.  But their hearts cry out for eternal realities, for what will last, what really matters.

     They search for something, anything, to fill the raging emptiness within.  Satan offers them anesthetics that temporarily dull the pain, but they wear off.  The promise of fulfillment is always broken.  So they go right on searching in all the wrong places.  They turn to drugs, sex, money, and power for the same reason they turn to religion and self-help seminars.  Their instincts tell them “something’s missing, there has to be more.”

     And they’re absolutely right.  Something is missing.

     The first thing missing is the person we were made for– Jesus.  Haggai 2:7 refers to Messiah as “the desired of all nations,” the Person that all people of all cultures long for.

     But there’s something else missing.  Every human heart yearns not only for a person, but a place.  The place we were made for.  The place made for us.

     In Revelation 7:12, Jesus makes a great promise to those who obey him:  “I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem which is coming down out of heaven from God, and I will also write on him my new name.”  Jesus says he will put on us the name of the person and the name of the place (heaven) for which we were made.

     We spend our lives longing for this person and this place.  Just as people restlessly move from relationship to relationship seeking the person they were made for, they move from location to location seeking the place they were made for.  Somewhere new and better.  A bigger house.  A different city.  The suburbs.  A new neighborhood– safer, nicer, with better schools.  That dream house in the country.  That idyllic mountain chalet.  That perfect beach cottage.

     People are made for the eternal and therefore cannot be ultimately satisfied by the temporal.  We long for a future world of justice, purity and joy– and a King who will bring all of those.  We therefore cannot be happy with the present world of injustice, impurity and suffering.

     True joy comes in anticipating, and living now in light of, the world yet to come and that world’s King, who made us for Himself.

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Ecclesiastes 3:11  —  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

John 14:2-3  —  (Jesus said), My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

John 6:68-69  —  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Revelation 21:3-5  —  I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

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795) The Imitation of Christ (i)

From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis  (1380-1471)

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Do not trust in your present feeling, for it will be quickly changed into another.  As long as you live you will be subject to such change in your emotions, even against your will.  You will become merry at one time and sad at another; now peaceful, but then disturbed; at one moment devout and the next vulgar; sometimes diligent while at other times lazy; now grave and then light-hearted.  But the man who is wise and well-instructed in the Spirit stands above these changes.  He pays no attention to what he feels in himself, or which way the wind of fickleness blows.  Rather, the whole intention of his mind is to make progress to his proper and desired end.  Thus, he will be able to stand undivided, unchanged, and unshaken, with his firm intention directed unwaveringly toward Christ, even in the midst of so many changing events and feelings.  And the purer this intention is, so much more the strength and stability he has to pass through many storms. 

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 Trust firmly in the Lord, and do not fear the judgment of men when conscience tells you that you are upright and innocent.  For it is good and blessed to suffer such things, and they will not weigh heavily on the humble heart that trusts in God rather than in itself.  Many men say many different things, and therefore little confidence is to be put in them.  Moreover, it is impossible to satisfy all men.  Although Paul tried to please all in the Lord, and became all things to all men (I Cor. 9:22), yet he made little of their opinions (I Cor. 4:3); and he committed all to God who knows all things.  Who are you, then, that you should be afraid of mortal man (Isaiah 51:12)?  Today he is here, tomorrow he is gone.  Fear God and you will not be afraid of the terrors of men.  What power does anyone over you by words or injuries?  He hurts himself rather than you, and no matter who he may be, he cannot escape the judgment of God.  Therefore, if you suffer undeserved abuse or shame, do not grieve or become impatient.  Look instead to heaven, to the One who has power to deliver you from all disgrace and injury.

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How good and how peaceful it is to be silent about others, to not believe all that is said, and to not report it further.  
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How is a man the better off for being thought greater by men?  The deceiver deceives the deceitful, the vain man deceives the vain, the blind deceives the blind, the weak deceives the weak as often as he extols them, and in truth his foolish praise shames them the more.  As St. Francis said, “Whatever anyone is in God’s sight, that he is and nothing more.” 
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Psalm 91:15  —  (The Lord says), “He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”
Isaiah 51:12-13a  — (The Lord says), “I, even I, am he who comforts you.  Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth?”

I Corinthians 4:3-5  —  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.   He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God.

Psalm 119:71  —  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

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    To what have we come, Lord?  We bewail a temporal loss, and for a pitiful gain we toil and run; but dangers to the soul pass away into forgetfulness, and scarcely ever come to mind.  That which is of little or no value claims our attention, whereas that which is of highest necessity is neglected; all because we give ourselves so completely to outward things.  Unless we withdraw ourselves, we lie immersed in that which is perishing.  From this preserve us, dear Lord.  Keep us steadfast in our faith in you alone.  Amen.
–Thomas a Kempis
 
My God, the Father of mercies, to you I look, in you I trust.  Listen to the prayer of your poor servant exiled from you in the land of the shadow of death.  Protect and preserve my soul amidst the many dangers of this life, and by your grace, direct me to my native land of everlasting light.  What does it matter how much I suffer, if I eventually come to that haven of safety in your heavenly home?  Grant me a good end, O Lord.  Grant me a happy passage out of this world.  Remember me, my God, and lead me by the right way into your kingdom.  Amen.
–Thomas a Kempis

794) The Imitation of Christ (h)

From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis  (1380-1471)

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     The voice of Christ:  “Let not your heart be troubled, therefore, nor let it be afraid” (John 14:27).  Believe in me and trust in my mercy.  When you think you are far from me, then often I am the nearest.  When you judge that almost all is lost, then oftentimes the greater gain is close at hand.  All is not lost when things go contrary to your wishes.  You ought not judge according to present feelings.  Do not consider yourself forsaken if I send some temporary hardship, or for a time withdraw some desired comfort.  For this is the way to the kingdom of heaven, and it is better for you to be tried in adversities than to have all things as you wish.  I know your secret thoughts, and I know that it is profitable for your salvation to be left sometimes in despondency, lest perhaps you be puffed up by success and fancy yourself to be something you are not.  What I have given, I can take away, and then I can restore it when it pleases me.  What I give remains mine, and thus when I take it away I take nothing that is yours, for every good gift and every perfect gift is mine (James 1:17).  If I send you trouble and adversity of any kind, do not fret or let your heart be downcast.  I can raise you quickly up again and turn all your sorrow into joy.

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  Of what use is anxiety about the future?  Does it bring you anything but trouble upon trouble?  “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34).  It is foolish and useless to be either grieved or happy about future things, which perhaps may never happen.  But it is human to be deluded by such imaginations; and it is the sign of a weak soul to be so easily drawn away by the suggestions of the enemy.  For the devil does not care whether it is by things true or false that he delude and deceive, nor whether he overcomes you by love of the present or by fear of the future. 

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     It is a great obstacle to be satisfied with external things, and to have so little concern for one’s eternal soul.  I know not what it is, or by what spirit we are led, or to what we pretend, that we spend so much labor and anxiety on things that are transitory and trifling, while we seldom or never give full attention to our spiritual concerns. 

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Do not covet what you may not have.  If you seek this or that, if you wish to be in this place or that place, to have more ease and pleasure, you will never be at rest, nor free from anxiety; for in everything there is some defect, and in every place there will be someone to vex you.

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John 16:33  —  (Jesus said), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

Ephesians 3:16  —  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.

Matthew 6:33-34  —  (Jesus said), “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

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   Keep me, most merciful God, from the cares of this life, lest I be too much entangled in them.  Keep me from many wrongful desires, lest I be ensnared by pleasure.  Keep me from all darkness of mind, lest I be broken by troubles and overcome.  Let not the world and its brief glory deceive me, nor the devil trip me by his craftiness.  Give me courage to resist, patience to endure, and strength to persevere.  Give me the soothing comfort of your spirit rather than all the consolations of the world.  Grant me the grace to use such worldly comforts moderately and not to become entangled in too great a desire for them.  In these matters, let your hand guide and direct me.  Amen.

–Thomas a Kempis

793) The Imitation of Christ (g)

From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis  (1380-1471)

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The wise lover of God regards not so much the gifts of Him who loves, as the love of Him who gives the gifts.  We should esteem the affection of the Giver more than the value of the gift, and love God more than all His gifts.  The child of God should not take comfort and security in the gift, but in the One who is above every gift.

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    “I will speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27).  This verse shows me to myself–  what I am, what I have been, and what I am coming to.  I am nothing, but I did not know it.  Left to myself, I am nothing, and altogether weak.  But when God looks upon me, I am at once made strong and filled with new joy.  May you be blessed, my God, for although I am unworthy of any benefits, yet your infinite goodness never ceases to do good, even for those who are ungrateful and far from you.  Turn us to you, that we may be thankful, humble, and devout, for you are our salvation, our courage, and our strength.  “How great, O Lord, is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear You, which you bestow on those who take refuge in you” (Psalm 31:19).  You have shown your love to me, O Lord, especially in having made me when I did not exist, in having brought me back to serve you when I had gone far astray from you, and in having commanded me to love you.  How can I forget you who will remember me even after I have wasted away and perished?

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    The Voice of Christ:  My wish is not that you seek that peace which is free from temptations or meets with no opposition, but rather that you can be at peace even when you have been tormented with many tribulations and tried with many adversities.  Do you think that other people in the world have no suffering, or only a little?  Ask even those who enjoy the most delights and you will learn otherwise.  ‘But,’ you will say, ‘they enjoy many pleasures and follow their own wishes; therefore they do not feel their troubles very much.’  Granted, they may seem to have whatever they wish, but how long do you think it will last?  Behold, they who prosper in the world shall perish as smoke, and there shall be no memory of their past joys.  And even in this life they do not find rest in these pleasures without bitterness, weariness, and fear.  For they often receive the penalty of sorrow in the very thing from which they believe their happiness comes.  Oh, how brief, how false, how unreasonable are all these pleasures.  Yet, in their blindness men do not understand this, but they incur the death of their souls for the miserly enjoyment of a brief and corruptible life.

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    Commit all things to God, saying: “Lord, you know what is best for me; let all be done as you please.  Grant what you will, as much as you will, when you will.  Do with me as you know best, as will most please you, and will be for your greater honor.  Place me where you will and deal with me freely in all things.  I am in your hand; turn me about whichever way you will.  Behold, I am your servant, ready to obey in all things.  Not for myself do I desire to live, but for you.”

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    The Voice of Christ:  My child, do not be curious, troubling yourself with idle cares.  Follow Me.  What is it to you if someone you know is a ‘such and such,’ if another does or says ‘this or that?’  You will not have to answer for others, but you will have to give an account of yourself.  Why, then, do you want to meddle in their affairs?  Behold, I know all people.  I see everything that is done under the sun, and I know how matters stand with each; what is in each mind and what is in each heart, and the ends to which each intention is directed.  Commit all things to me, therefore, and keep yourself in good peace.

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Matthew 5:45  —  (Jesus said), “Your Father in heaven… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” 

Psalm 116:12  —  How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? 

Job 7:1a  —  Does not man have hard service on earth?

James 1:2-3  —  Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Psalm 4:8  —  I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

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Grant me your grace, O merciful Jesus, and grant that your grace may be with me and work within me with me to the very end.  Grant that I may always desire that which is most acceptable and pleasing to you.  Let your will be mine, and let my will always follow yours.  Give me above all my desires the desire to rest in you, and in you, let my heart have peace.  You alone can give me such peace and rest.  Without you, all things are difficult and troubled.  But in the peace that is in you, my Lord, I will sleep and take my rest.  Amen.

–Thomas a Kempis

792) The Imitation of Christ (f)

From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis  (1380-1471)

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Thoughts on Death  (from chapter 23)

    Very soon your life here will end (Job 9:25-26; 14:1-2); consider, then, what may be in store for you elsewhere.  Today we live; tomorrow we die; and when we are taken away from sight, we are quickly forgotten.  Oh, the dullness and hardness of a heart which looks only to the present instead of preparing for that which is to come!

    Therefore, in every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day.  If you had a good conscience you would not fear death very much.  It is better to avoid sin than to fear death.  If you are not prepared today, how will you be prepared tomorrow?  How do you know you if you shall have a tomorrow?

    What good is it to live a long life if we amend that life so little?  Indeed, a long life does not always benefit us, but on the contrary, frequently adds to our guilt.  If it is so terrifying to die, it is nevertheless possible that to live longer is more dangerous.

    Blessed is he who keeps the moment of death ever before his eyes and prepares for it every day.  In the morning consider that you may not live till evening, and when evening comes do not dare to promise yourself the dawn.  Always, therefore, be ready. When that last moment arrives, you will have a far different opinion of the life that is now entirely past, and you will regret very much that you were so careless and remiss.  How wise and happy is he who now labors to be in life as he wishes to be found at his death.

    You can do many good things when in good health, but what can you do when you are ill?  Few are made better by sickness.  Do not put off the care of your soul until later.  Time is very precious.  “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2).  The time will come when you will want just one day, just one hour, in which to make amends; but you do not now know if you will be granted that time then.  Try to live now in such a manner that at the moment of death you may be joyful rather than fearful.

    Ah, fool, why do you think that you have a long life yet to live, when you have not one day that is safe?  How many have been thus deceived and then suddenly snatched away!  Death is the end of everyone and the life of man quickly passes away like a shadow.  Do now what you can, because you do not know when you will die.  Think of nothing so much as your salvation.  Keep your heart free and lifted up to God, for you have here no lasting home.

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Psalm 90:12  —  Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 

Hebrews 9:27  —  Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. 

1 Peter 2:11  —  Dear friends, I urge you, as pilgrims and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 

Hebrews 13:14  —  Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Acts 16:29-31  —  The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved; you and your household.”

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    Dear Lord Jesus, I feel my sins.  They bite and gnaw and terrify me.  Where shall I go?  I will look to you, Lord Jesus, and believe in you.  Although my faith is weak, I look to you and find assurance, for you have promised, “He that believes in me shall have everlasting life.”  My conscience is burdened and my sins make me tremble, but you have said:  “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven and I will raise you up on the last day and you shall have eternal life.”  I cannot do any of this for myself.  I come to you for help.  Amen.    

–Martin Luther

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May the eternal God bless us and keep us, guard our bodies, save our souls, direct our thoughts, and bring us safe to the heavenly country, our eternal home, where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ever reign, one God for ever and ever.  Amen.

–Sarum Breviary

791) The Imitation of Christ (e)

From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis  (1380-1471)
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Consideration of Oneself  (from chapter 5)
     We must not rely too much upon ourselves (Jeremiah 17:5), for grace and understanding are often lacking in us.  Oftentimes we fail to perceive how great is our inward blindness.  Meanwhile, we do wrong, and then do worse in excusing it.  We take others to task for small mistakes, and overlook greater ones in ourselves (Matt. 7:5).  We are quick enough to feel and brood over the things we suffer from others, but we think nothing of how much others suffer from us.  If a man would weigh his own deeds fully and rightly, he would find little cause to pass severe judgment on others.  The inward Christian keeps watch over himself more than others; and he who attends to himself carefully does not find it hard to hold his tongue about what his neighbor is doing.
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The Joy of a Good Conscience   (from chapter 6)
     The glory of a good man is the testimony of a good conscience.  Therefore, keep your conscience pure and you will enjoy happiness, for a good conscience can bear a great deal, and can bring joy even in the midst of adversity.  But an evil conscience is always restless and fearful, for “there is no peace for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22).  Even if they say:  “We are at peace, no evil shall befall us and no one dares to hurt us” (Luke 12:19), do not believe them; for the wrath of God will suddenly arise, and their deeds will be brought to naught and their thoughts will perish.
    He has great tranquility of heart who cares neither for the praises nor the fault-finding of men.  Praise adds nothing to your holiness, nor does blame take anything from it.  You are what you are; and not by the words of men can you be made better or worse than what you are in the sight of God.  They look to appearances but God looks to the heart (I Samuel 16:7).
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 Loving Jesus Above All Things   (from chapter 7)
     The love of Jesus is true and enduring.  He who clings to anything else will fall with its frailty, but he who gives himself to Jesus will ever be strengthened.  Love Him, then, and keep Him as a friend.  He will not forsake you as others do, nor suffer you to perish in the end.  Sometime, whether you want to or not, you will have to part with everything.  Cling, therefore, to Jesus in life and death, and commit yourself unto his faithfulness.  He alone can help you when all else fails.  For the man who does not seek Jesus does himself much greater harm than the whole world and all his enemies could ever do.
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Friendship With Jesus (from chapter 8)
    How foolish and vain if you desire anything more than Jesus.  The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace.  If you drive Him away and lose Him, to whom will you go (John 6:68)?  Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus. 
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Loving the Cross of Jesus (from chapter 11)
Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His cross.  He has many who desire consolation, but few who willingly endure trials.  All desire to be happy with Him; but few wish to suffer anything for Him.  Many love Him so long as they encounter no hardship.  Many praise and bless Him, so long as they receive some comfort from Him.  But if Jesus hides Himself for a while, they fall either into complaints or deep dejection.  But they who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all tribulation and anguish of heart, as well as in the highest comfort.  What power there is in pure love for Jesus; love that is free from all self-interest and self-love.  Those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ (Philip. 2:21).
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Gratitude for the Grace of God  (from chapter 10)
Why seek rest, since you are born to trouble?  Job 5:7 says, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”  Resign yourself to patience rather than to comfort, to bearing your cross rather than to enjoyment.  God does well in giving the grace of comfort and joy; but man does evil in not returning unto God with thanksgiving and praise.  Thus, the gifts of grace cannot flow in us when we are ungrateful to the Giver.
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Matthew 16:26  —  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
 
John 6:66-68  —  From this time many turned back and no longer followed him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”
Luke 14:27 — (Jesus said), “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
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    O kind and loving Lord, you know the weakness and the necessity which I suffer; in what great evils and vices I am involved; and how often I am depressed, tempted, defiled, and troubled.  To you I come for help, to you I pray for comfort and relief.  I speak to you who knows all things, to whom all my thoughts are open, and who alone can comfort and help me.  Behold I stand before you, asking for your grace and imploring your mercy.  Inflame my coldness with the fire of your love.  Enlighten my blindness with the brightness of your presence.  Turn all grievance and adversity to patience.  Help me to remember that only you are eternal, and all earthly things are passing away.  Raise my heart to you in heaven.  Amen.            
–Thomas a Kempis
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PART TWO:  MORE ON BEARING YOUR CROSS

     To many this seems a hard saying, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow Me,” (Matt. 16:24).  But it would be much harder to hear that final word: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41).  Those who hear the word of the cross and follow it willingly now, need not fear that they will hear the word of eternal damnation on the day of judgment.  Then all the servants of the cross, who in their lifetime conformed themselves unto Christ the crucified, will draw near unto Christ the judge with great confidence.  Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life (Luke 14:27).  He Himself opened the way before you in carrying His cross (John 19:17), and upon it He died for you.  If you die with Him, you shall also live with Him (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:8), and if you share His suffering, you shall also share His glory (II Cor. 1:5).  Behold, in the cross is everything, and on it, everything depends.  There is no other way to life and to true inward peace than the way of the holy cross.  Go where you will, seek what you will; you will not find a higher way, nor a safer way, than the way of the cross.

    Arrange and order everything to suit your will and judgment, and still you will suffer, willingly or unwillingly; and thus you will always find the cross.  Either you will experience bodily pain, or, you will undergo tribulation of spirit in your soul.  At times you will seem to be forsaken by God, at times troubled by those about you and, what is worse, you will often grow weary even of yourself.  The cross, therefore, is always ready; and everywhere awaits you.  No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself with you.  Turn where you will– above, below, without, or within– you will find a cross in everything, and you must have patience if you would have peace within.

    If you bear the cross cheerfully and willingly, it will bear you, and will lead you to the desired goal where indeed there shall be no more suffering.  But if you carry your cross unwillingly, you create an added burden for yourself and increase the load; and still you have to bear it.  If you cast away one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one.  Do you expect to escape what no mortal man could ever avoid?  Which of the saints was without a cross or trials on this earth?  Not even Jesus Christ, of whom it is written, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26).  How is it that you look for another way than this, the holy cross?

    The whole life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom, and do you seek rest and enjoyment for yourself?  You deceive yourself if you seek to avoid all suffering, for this mortal life is full of miseries (Job 7:1) and is marked with crosses on all sides.  Indeed, the more spiritual progress a person makes, so much heavier will he find the crosses, because as his love increases, the pain of his exile also increases.

    Yet such a man, though afflicted in so many ways, is not without hope, because he knows that great reward is coming to him for bearing his cross.  For while he willingly puts himself under it, all the burden of tribulation is turned into the confidence of divine comfort.  Besides, the more the flesh is wasted by affliction, so much the more is the spirit strengthened by inward grace (II Cor. 4:16).

     Set yourself, then, like a good and faithful servant of Christ, to bear bravely the cross of your Lord, who out of love for you was crucified.  As for comforts, leave them to God; let Him do for you as shall best please Him.  On your part, be ready to bear the suffering, for even if you alone were to undergo them all, the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to come (Romans 8:18).

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Matthew 16:24-26  —  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  

II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  

Romans 8:18  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.