make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
This is often called the Prayer of the 13th century Saint Francis of Assisi. In fact it probably started life in 1912 in Paris printed in French in a small spiritual magazine. Around 1920 a Franciscan priest printed the French prayer on the back of Saint Francis. It was copyrighted in English in 1927 in a Quaker magazine which wrongly entitled it “Prayer of Saint Francis.” Actually it is quite similar to a saying attributed to a companion of Francis’s called Blessed Giles of Assisi. The song we sing was written by a South African called Sebastian Temple in 1967.
We will look at this prayer over the next five sermons and use it as a starting point for our own reflections and prayers.
1. Make me a channel of your peace
One of my favourite jokes of all time comes Disney’s Musical, “The Lion King.” It stars
Simba the young lion born to be the Lion King and his friends Pumba the Warthog and Timon the Meercat.
One day Simba was unhappy and grouchy and depressed.
“What’s eating him?” Pumba asked.
“Nothing,” Timon replied. “He’s on top of the food chain!”
There is this assumption that people who are “on top” will have a comfortable safe easy life. In reality the opposite is often the case. So many people are struggling to “get on top” and their lives seem more pressured and stressful because of that.
Vinoth Ramachandra in “Gods that fail”
“The people of the modern West (and the middle class of non-Western cultures) are better fed, better housed, better equipped with health care than those in any previous age in human history. But paradoxically, they also seem to be the most fearful, the most divided, the most superstitious and the most bored generation in human history. All the labour-saving devices of modern technology have only enhanced human stress, and modern life is characterised by restless movement from place to place, from one experience to another, in a frenetic whirl of purposeless activity.”
What most people are desperately seeking, but few are finding, can be summed up in one word – peace.
What does peace mean?
We often think of peace as just the end of war, or the absence of conflict. But in the Bible peace is not just a negative, an absence of something. Rather peace is something very positive: a condition of calm, tranquillity, serenity, harmony, reconciliation.
Peace in HEBREW is shalom – a concept embracing wholeness, completeness, soundness, well-being: all very positive experiences.
Our world is desperately lacking in this peace. So many of the folk we meet in daily life are deeply troubled. Many Christians are struggling with great problems. And there is so much conflict! All around the world many people are working hard to bring peace and reconciliation: Syria and the Middle East, Israel and Palestine, Ukraine and the Crimea, North and South Korea.
All these situations remind us that there is much more to peace than a cease fire or a peace process. Deep and lasting peace demands healing and forgiveness.
Fifteen years ago I had the privilege of spending six weeks on Sabbatical Leave in Uganda. For a few days I stayed at the Africa Inland Mission guest house Matoke Inn in Kampala . There I met Joanna, aCanadian Christian social scientist speaking at an International Conference on Reconciliation and doing research interviewing members of parliament, police and academics, looking at the process of reconciliation and healing in Uganda following the rule of Idi Amin.
Joanna’s thesis is that reconciliation will only be effective and lead to true and lasting peace if there is acknowledgement by those people who have murdered and stolen and abused power that they have done wrong. Until such people are willing to acknowledge their wrongdoing then the people who have been hurt will not be able to move on – there cannot be “closure”. She argues that the problem with most peace processes going on around the world are not working very well because those who have done wrong are usually NOT willing to put their hands up and admit what they have done! The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa led by Archbishop Tutu is being successful because people ARE showing genuine forgiveness. Joanna believes that this is because it is rooted in true Christian forgiveness.
The Bible shows us that this gospel of peace which Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace has brought is the ONLY hope to bring peace to this sin-spoiled world. Christ came to bring us peace. Peace is God’s gift to us through Christ’s death and resurrection.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
The most important peace any of us can ever experience is peace with God. Reconciliation with our Creator and Heavenly Father, forgiveness of our sins and a restored relationship with God. But status of peace should also bring us a sense of peace, a consciousness of God’s peace which fills our hearts, quietens our restlessness and sooths our pains.
The way to experience peace in the middle of our frenetic lives is to fix our minds on God
Isaiah 26:3 3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD for ever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. (NIV)
3 You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you. 4 Trust in the LORD for ever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. (GNB)
You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is fixed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3 (RSV)
And we fix our minds on God in prayer.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Paul is not saying, “Whatever your problems, one quick prayer and everything will be alright.” It is an invitation to continuous prayer, to pray without ceasing! Paul is saying “keep on presenting your requests to God”. And as you keep on bringing your situation to God in prayer, God will keep on meeting your needs and so you will continue to experience that peace which passes all understanding, which only God can give.
And this peace will only come by making time to be with God, by making space for God’s peace to fill our lives. As we were saying this morning, progress in our Christian lives is all about giving God opportunity to reveal Himself in our lives and breathe His peace into our situations.
For all their problems with water supply and health and transport and survival hand to mouth from day to day, the Christians in Uganda know much more of the peace God gives than most English Christians. Even though many of them suffered terribly at the hands of Idi Amin’s regime, these Christians experience God’s peace. They depend on God for their daily bread and for all their day to day needs much more than we think we need to. Their lives are not filled with mindless entertainment on radio and television. Their thoughts aren’t continually interrupted by telephones and “muzak”. They have space in their lives to commune with God and experience His peace.
In contrast, we like to be busy and active. Sometimes we hide from God in busyness and activity. We surround ourselves with noise. What we need is silence and space to meet with God. It’s all about how we use our time.
And then as we experience the peace God gives, we must not keep it to ourselves! In the beatitudes we hear the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” The Bible calls US to be peacemakers, to be peace-bringers, to share God’s peace with all that we meet in this troubled world.
The starting point is that each of us needs to experience God’s peace in our own lives. And then we are called to become CHANNELS of God’s peace to others – sharing the peace we have experienced – this is our witness to the world. We don’t have anything of ourselves to offer our hurting neighbours. But we can become channels of the blessings we ourselves have received – as Jesus Christ lives IN us and THROUGH us by His Holy Spirit.
“Make me a channel of your peace.” This prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi is one example of what we could call a “formation” prayer. A prayer and meditation which helps form the character of Christ in us. For many years I used this prayer every evening just before I went to sleep. And over the next few weeks we will look at this prayer as a pattern of the kind of life God calls us to lead, and as a prayer we can use to invite God to transform us.
But to begin with tonight I want to share with you something else that I found tremendously helpful from Richard Foster’s book on prayer as I studies it in Uganda. It is a form of prayer which is a way of bringing God into every part of our lives. It’s a kind of prayer which helps us fix our minds on God and so experience His perfect peace. It’s called a breath prayer, which simply means it’s a very short prayer which you can say in a single breath. It’s a prayer you could breath many many times through the day.
One breath prayer has been used by Christians for centuries. “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I used this prayer many times each day during my time in Uganda.
But here is a suggestion of a different breath prayer. “Make me a channel of your peace.” A simple prayer we can use first thing when we wake up. “Make me a channel of your peace.”
Last thing before we go to sleep. “Make me a channel of your peace.” Inviting God to take and use us tomorrow.
It’s a prayer we can use whenever it comes into our minds during the day, as a way to help us focus on God whenever we have a moment to pause. “Make me a channel of your peace.”
It’s a prayer we can use during the day whenever anything worries or troubles us.
“Make me a channel of your peace.” May I experience your peace!
And any time when we face conflict, or meet other people who are struggling with pain. “Make me a channel of your peace.” Lord, use me to help these people today!
So I invite you to use the whole of this formation prayer in your devotions every day. And I invite you to use the first line as a breath prayer. “Make me a channel of your peace.”