Tag: faith

Out on a Limb for God

A friend once told me, “Being out on a limb for God is the perfect place to be in ministry.” It is such a simple yet profound thought, and it reminds me of another phrase I often hear: “The way you spell faith is R-I-S-K.” While I can envision those phrases being used as an excuse for lack of preparation or as a license for a foolhardy person to undertake every crazy idea that pops into his or her head, there is still undeniable truth in them. Church history is filled with countless examples of saints and regular modern-day Christians risking everything to follow the Lord, traveling to foreign lands to evangelize, and accomplishing heroic feats up to and including the ultimate sacrifice of giving their life for the Lord in martyrdom. In fact, Jesus himself gave the humanly risky command to his disciples to “take nothing for the journey . . . no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no second tunic” (LK 9:3). He asked them for nothing short of total dependence on Divine Providence and the generosity of others. But what does it mean in my own life and ministry to “go out on a limb” for God?

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It all starts with prayer. Communication with God in prayer fosters a relationship with God that roots us in our identity as his son or daughter, and then overflows into mission. Prayer is the first domino in the chain reaction. Therefore, the first question is not so much, “Am I bold and courageous enough?” But rather, “Am I encountering God every day in prayer?” Through prayer, we become the kind of person that can’t help but speak the name of Jesus. Through encountering the Lord in daily prayer, we gain a “fire in our bones” like Jeremiah that we cannot keep inside (Jer 20:9). Then we can echo the words of St. Paul, “For if I preach the gospel, it gives me no grounds for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). As baptized Christians, we are called to evangelize and embrace the mission of Jesus “to seek and save the lost” (Mat 28:18-20; Lk 19:10). This is our foundation, but it is only when prayer and discernment provide clarity of the specific task or mission God is asking of us that taking a risk for God comes into play. In short, God does not give us a mission without giving us the grace to accomplish it.

Therefore, it is in the response of prayerful obedience that taking a risk for God has its proper context. For example, if you receive a consistent prompting in your personal prayer life which is confirmed by the advice of a spiritual director or by the encouraging prophecies you have received from Christian brothers and sisters, then it is reasonable to conclude that God may indeed be giving you a specific mission that should provoke a response of faith. That response may very well include something out of your comfort zone. If we only trust God when it is easy, then do we really trust God at all? Many times, it is in the step of faith that the Lord will bless you with great graces.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a Charismatic group near Columbus, Ohio, with Peter Herbeck. In preparation, I kept hearing the voice of the enemy say, “Who are you to speak to a group of people who have been moving in the Spirit since before you were even born? Plus, they came to hear Peter Herbeck, not you. You will make a fool of yourself.” But, instead of listening to that voice, I took to heart the words of 1 Timothy 1:18, which says, “Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the good fight.” I reflected on and declared all the truths I had received in personal prayer that were consistently confirmed by prophecies from brothers and sisters in Christ. I said, “In the name of Jesus, I believe and I declare that I am a Kingdom Builder. You have given me an apostolic anointing to boldly preach your name and spread your Kingdom not by own ability but by your grace and power. When I keep my eyes fixed on you, I radiate your goodness and compassion, and your lost sons and daughters return to the Father’s house. On my own, I can do nothing. But with you, God, all things are possible.” When God’s truth shattered the enemy’s lies, I had a renewed conviction that God was asking me to speak boldly in his name and leave the results to Him. What followed was one of the most powerful exhortations I have ever given. It had little to do with the content or the preparation, but through my simple words and my act of obedience, the Spirit of God convicted hearts in a way that I rarely see.

You see, the Lord only gives the grace of mission when you take a step of faith into your mission. In the words of C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.” It is not enough to believe that we have a mission. We must have the courage to step into that mission for the glory of God and the salvation of others. This is not mere natural courage, but a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember it was the Holy Spirit that gave the courage and conviction for the apostles to preach at Pentecost, which was the spark that spread the gospel message to the ends of the earth. We need to be fearlessly open to the Holy Spirit prompting us to actions that are out of our comfort zone—and perhaps at times beyond what we would have concluded by human reason alone.

Let me pose a question. When St. Peter got out of the boat to walk on water toward Jesus in Matthew 14:28-32, was Peter more safe and secure when he was closer to the boat or closer to Jesus? While the boat is a mere creation of man, Jesus is the Creator who holds all of the universe in the palm of his hand. Ironically, the closer Peter gets to Jesus the more secure he actually is. It is only in taking his eyes off of Jesus that he begins to sink, prompting Jesus to say, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” From a human perspective, Peter had every reason to think it was unreasonable and impossible for him to walk on water. But, from heaven’s perspective, walking on the water with Jesus at his side is even more secure than sitting without Jesus on a boat or even walking on dry land for that matter. When our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit, we can see that taking a prayerful and obedient step of faith is really only a risk in earthly terms. Yes, we may fall flat on our face and look foolish. But, as Mother Teresa said, “God does not call us to be successful. He calls us to be faithful.” Our reward is in the obedience, and the fruit is up to God. In heavenly terms, there is no risk at all. For it is nothing more than a step deeper into God’s hands and into greater dependence on our good Father who delights to give us the Kingdom (Lk 12:32), and who always gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Lk 11:13).

In that sense, the farther we “go out on a limb” in faith and obedience to the promptings of God, and the more we fall into the arms of our heavenly Father in total and radical dependence on Him, the more secure we will be and the more solid the ground beneath us becomes. For indeed, we are standing on the eternal Rock—on Jesus Christ, our firm foundation. Relying more fully on God will look different for each of us according to our state in life and the mission to which God has called us. But all of us must live in the constant faith-filled expectation that God will always supernaturally provide for the life and ministry He has called us to, even in situations that seem hopeless and impossible from a human perspective. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith—trusting more in God’s providence than on our human abilities and plans. When the Lord is our shepherd, we will lack nothing. When we seek first the Kingdom, we truly will have all we need.

The Call and Opportunity for Today’s Christians

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A member of our staff recently sat down with Peter Herbeck to discuss what he sees as the great call and opportunity for every Christian today. This article originally appeared in the August 2017 Renewal Ministries’ newsletter, which can be viewed here.

Q: Your newest booklet, Light in the Darkness, discusses the many challenges of our times. How can these challenges become an obstacle to Christians?

A: The constant stream of news often grips people with worry and anxiety. It stifles the work of the Spirit in us, making it difficult to keep first things first, to recognize what’s most important, and to see the great opportunity that exists in the midst of this challenge.

We can’t be constantly plugged into the voice of the world—which is filled with anxiety—and still hear what the Spirit is saying to enable us to maximize our service to the Lord.

Q: What do you think the Spirit is saying to us?                                    

A: We need to lay hold of our identity in Christ. We are sons and daughters of God. We are loved by the Father. It sounds obvious, but if we lose sight of it or just live it on the surface—if it’s not sinking into our hearts—we won’t have the confidence and peace of knowing that we live in the hands of a loving Father. That knowledge is what helps us transcend the circumstances of our lives.

Q: What do you think is the second part of His message?

A: We are on mission. As Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium (EG), “That is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing” (273).

Q: How does the Holy Spirit help us with this mission?

A: I am a child of God, and I can say all is well, even in the midst of trials. God said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). The Holy Spirit helps me to see the circumstances of my life do not dictate how I am going to live or understand myself. So I will not let circumstances steal my joy, peace, the clarity of my identity, or my security in God.

Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about your life” (Mt 6:25). He wants disciples to internalize that—or we won’t be useful to Him in the way He wants us to be. That is why He says to “strive first for the kingdom of God . . . and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 25:33).

Q: Can you share an example of living out this call to trust?

A: When I was a young, married guy working in full-time ministry, my financial support was drying up, and I got filled with a lot of fear. I wondered if I’d missed what I was supposed to do with my life. In that state of fear and panic, my circumstances began to control my thinking. I looked for a new job, without really bringing it to the Lord.

Then, in prayer, I heard the Lord say, “You can take the job, but I want to show you what’s leading you to take the job: You’re scared. I need to teach you what it means to be my disciple. I am faithful to everyone I call, and I can provide. I am going to release money to you that I have set aside, that the devil has tried to hold back. When it comes, I want you to make a decision. There is a battle going on, and I have a mission for you. You can choose either way (to stay in ministry or to pursue other work); I will still love you.”

In the next few weeks, some totally surprising donations came in—about $4000. One friend, who knew nothing about my situation, sent a card saying that in his prayer time, the Lord had asked him to send me money.

Q: What did that experience teach you?

A: That I am called. I am a son. He is faithful. Panic and fear are human emotions, but if you let them control you, it’s easy to go off the Lord’s path.

Q: How do you see this reflected in people’s lives today?    

A: The world’s circumstances are causing fear, and people want to protect themselves and secure a place of safety, rather than to live the Lord’s call.

If you are in that position, just repent and turn back to Him. Your circumstances don’t determine your destiny; your response to Jesus determines your destiny. Now is the time to be a light to the world, to be salt to the earth.

Take Jesus’ perspective of the world: “In this world, you will have tribulations; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

What an amazing witness to an anxious world! We can be of good cheer!

Q: What is the key to a relationship with Jesus that allows people to respond to Him with this kind of confidence?

A: Regularly spending time with the Lord in prayer. It won’t come from anywhere else. It comes from being with Him.

Also, Pope John Paul II emphasized the need for prayer, community, and mission. In addition to daily, ever-deepening prayer that is the foundation of our identities and fruitfulness, we need community. The Lord wants us to gather with brothers and sisters who share our same mission. He wants us to risk opening our lives and sharing our burdens, and to be accountable. He wants us to help each other be salt and light, and to love God and neighbor. The devil’s strategy is to isolate us and to cripple us with loneliness.

The Lord wants us to be on mission, both individually and as a community. He is sending us to make disciples.

Finally, we need to live in the presence of the Holy Spirit. One of the fundamental characteristics of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is to create movement. The Holy Spirit makes us capable of responding.

Q: In addition to understanding our mission on a community level, how can we determine our individual call and mission from the Lord?

A: We learn about our identity on a deeper level through prayer. Ask the Lord, “How do You want me to live out my individual mission?” Also, in a community, people can help us discern our gifts and understand how God has equipped us.

At ninety-three, my mom prayed all fifteen decades of the rosary daily, read Scripture, and prayed for a long list of people. She had a walker and didn’t go outside much, but she was very alive to the mission and felt very much a part of it.

Also, I had a good friend who was active in church attendance, but not much else. One day, his pastor said he needed someone to distribute Communion at the hospital. His wife nudged him, thinking it would be a good fit, but he didn’t think he would have a good bedside manner or be spiritual enough to help people. However, when the pastor asked again the next week, my friend offered his services. He continued in that position for over twenty years and became a central figure in that hospital, through praying with people and both bringing them into the Church and helping prepare them for heaven.

Knock, ask, seek. If you are determined and you’re open, He will show you the role you are supposed to play.

Q: You spoke about challenging times providing an opportunity to serve the Lord. How is that possible?

A: The need is so great right now, as is the seriousness of the spiritual battle we are facing. Jesus helped Teresa of Avila understand what service He prizes most: “I think He prizes one soul which, by His mercy and through our diligence and prayer, we may have gained for Him, more than all the other services we can render Him.”

That’s something we all can do: to pray, fast, and labor with the Lord for the salvation of the men and women of our generation. Pope Francis confirmed that call for each one of us: “Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization” (EG 120).

We need to resist the paralyzing fear and anxiety that dominates the world today, keep our heads clear, and stay focused on the mission the Lord has personally given to each one of us.

This is a moment of opportunity to give the Lord what He most desires, the salvation of souls.

Turning to Prayer in St. Peter’s Square

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Ralph recently receive the following letter in response to a mention made on The Choices We Face about meeting Pope John Paul ll in St Peter’s Square on Pentecost 1998.

By Kerri Dunn

Dear Ralph,

I want to share with you an experience I had at the same event. I thought it might put a smile on your face; it still does for me, almost twenty years later!

Our Father is so good to us! We really just are His little children, and I do believe that He delights in the chance to do things like this for us.

In May of 1998, I was given the chance to go to Rome to celebrate the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter’s Square with Pope John Paul ll. This was a dream of mine. I had always wished that I could be in the presence of this holy man.

I had been joking around with God for a while prior to this—asking, or rather telling, Him to make it possible for me to just be somewhere near Pope John Paul ll. I didn’t know how I would ever make it work. I was about twenty years old, and I had no money. I asked God to work out the details for me of when, and where, and how I would ever afford to make it happen. It sounds pretty bossy! It was very much a Father-daughter conversation between me and my Daddy in Heaven!

Shortly after this prayer request, a woman I knew came into the place where I was working. She told me her daughter was going to Rome to see the pope. I was excited and told her I would like to go. She said I could probably join the trip. She said the whole trip only cost $500.

Airfare, simple lodging at a camp ground, and meals were included. I realized that I could really make this work! This in itself is pretty miraculous to me—how it all just fell on to my lap—but something even more amazing happened once we got there.

We arrived in Rome. Since I was a little older than some people on the trip, I was put in charge of ten girls. I had to hold on to their tickets to get into St. Peter’s Square. The time came for our first gathering there with Pope John Paul ll! With 500,000 people, it was very crowded. We were walking in a huge crowd through the streets of Rome leading into St. Peter’s. There was such an energy and excitement all around! I was so excited! Suddenly, I realized that I had forgot all ten tickets and my own behind. There was no way for me to get them back. Without the tickets, we would not be able to get in. I just sunk inside. I had just ruined this trip for these ten girls.

I knew there was only one thing left to do—put my trust in the faith that got me to Rome in the first place! I turned to the girls and said, “I am very sorry; I lost your tickets. Now we have to just pray for God to help us.” I proceeded to lead them in prayer as we walked, calling on God’s mercy, knowing that He had brought us all this far and wasn’t going to end it this way. I begged. I asked Saint Michael the Archangel to help me fight this battle. I pled with Mary, as my mother, to fix the problem for me: “Beg Jesus for me; He always listens to you.” I knew the Holy Father had a special love in his heart for Mary, so I played on that a little too: “Come on Mama, I know how special the Holy Father is to you too! You want us to see this man!”

But above all, I trusted my Jesus.

We came to the entrance. We waited in a long line, body-to-body with people. We watched as two guards checked each person ahead of us, examining their tickets and their bags before they could enter. Finally, our turn came, and I led the way. I told the guards that I lost our tickets, hoping that my innocent face would be enough. NOPE. They said, “No, no, no, you must go down there and stay on the outside, where people go with no tickets.”

I was weary and turned away, with the ten girls following me. We got about sixty to one hundred feet away from where the guards were. A large crowd stood between us and the guards.

(I am literally shaking as I type this next part, as I do each time I have ever told this story; it is all very real and amazing to me.)

In a crowd this large, you have trouble hearing the person next to you, never mind someone far away. As we were walking away, I suddenly felt the urge to turn around. When I did, I instantly locked eyes with this very large guard, who I had not see before. He was standing at the gate we had just tried. In that same very instant, I clearly heard him say, “Go.” I did not take any time to think about it. If I had, I might have realized that this did not make sense, but I think that it was a grace of the Holy Spirit that caused me not to question it. I just turned to the girls and said, “Let’s go!” We made our way through the crowd again and went to the same gate, with the same guards who had just told us “no.” The large guard who I had just seen and heard through the crowd was not there. I walked up to those same guards and this time said nothing; I just passed by them, with the ten girls behind me. They did not stop us or speak to us. It was as if they could not see us. As soon as we all passed by, I looked back, and directly after us, they were checking each person’s ticket and bag carefully, one at a time. AMAZING!

Now for the Star Wars fans out there, I have to put this in; one of my prayers that day was: “Jesus, You know that scene in the movie where they are looking for the droids, and Obi-Wan uses a Jedi mind trick on the soldiers who are looking for them? He just waves his hand in front of their face and says, “these are not the droids you are looking for,” and the soldiers just let them pass by. Make that happen, Jesus!”

Basically, that is what happened! I was so thankful, I just cried out, “Thank you Jesus! Thank you Mary!” And just as I did, I smelled a very strong scent of roses pass by me. My eyes filled with tears, as I quickly scanned the concrete for any sign of roses being around. Of course, there weren’t any! I turned to my cousin, who was standing there with me, and she asked, “Did you smell that?” We just smiled. I knew that God, through the intercession of my mother Mary, had just done a great thing for us! All for a chance to be in the presence of Saint John Paul ll!

This is my miracle in Saint Peter’s Square. And, who was that large guard who told me to go? I don’t know; he was dressed in a different uniform than the others. I once told this story to a priest, and he told me it was probably Saint Michael the Archangel, like I had asked for!



Sr. Ann Shields: The Light of Faith

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Sr. Ann Shields at the 2017 Lift Jesus Higher Rally in Toronto, Ontario.

At the 2017 Lift Jesus Higher Rally, Sr. Ann Shields stressed the importance of prayer in difficult situations—and the importance of persevering in prayer, even if things only seem to get worse. She explained, “That means the enemy and God have actively engaged.”

“If any of you are feeling discouraged by something in your family, keep praying,” she said. “The light shines in the darkness, and your prayers and mine, by the grace of God, will be allowed to have an effect.”

Sr. Ann explained that those who have Christ’s light are called to bear “that light to others.”

She encouraged people to pray with confidence, and to trust that even when they don’t know what the Lord is doing, they can say to Him, “I know who You are.”

“I want you to have hope and a growing faith,” she said. “We need to be a channel of God’s light by daily prayer—crying out to God. We need to pray for ourselves and our families. Keep praying, even when you see things going in the opposite direction.

“I think one of the greatest graces God wants to give us an increase of faith. Whatever our level of faith is, God wants to increase it. God wants us to be light in the darkness. Our lives need to more clearly reflect Him . . . which we can do by honest admission of sin and frequent reconciliation.”

Faith: It’s a Decision

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This post originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ May 2017 newsletter. You can view it here.

Scripture tells us much about faith and growing in faith. I urge you to open a concordance and look up the word “faith.” See how often the word is used, the gift that it is, and the means by which we can genuinely grow in our faith. Let faith become, in a certain sense, part of our oxygen and blood supply.

One Scriptural definition is this: “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for and conviction about the things we do not see” (Heb 11:1). Let me repeat a short, true story that reveals this kind of faith:

A number of years ago, there was a woman in Minnesota. She and her husband developed a very successful frozen pizza business before such places were popular. But the beginning was not easy. No matter what she and her husband tried to do to make the business a success, it failed. One desperate day, she was out driving and praying that God would help them, when she heard a minister on the radio speaking about faith. He told people to bring everything to God—family, business, relationships, finances, etc: Bring everything to God and ask God what He wants to do. Seek His will for the situation you are bringing to Him. Don’t try to figure it out and then ask God to bless it; rather, bring it to Him first and ask Him to lead and guide you.

The woman actually pulled off to the side of the road, got out of the car, knelt down in a grassy space, and gave the business to God right then and there: “You do with it, Lord, what you think is right.”

A little while later, she drove home and found a letter saying that the government was giving them a loan available to new businesses. That was marvelous, but what was more marvelous was that they had gotten a letter the previous week saying their request had been turned down! This woman and her husband, from that point on, dedicated everything in their family and in their business to the Lord. Their faith had grown; they knew God was with them and was blessing their willingness to turn to Him in every decision they made. The business was very successful.

Fast forward to many years later: This woman was dying in a hospital, her heart was failing, and her family was around her. She saw what she described as a great light in the corner of the hospital room and asked her children if they also saw the light. That interchange went on for several days. By this time, doctors and nurses were actually kneeling in her room, because they said that the peace they experienced in taking care of her was profound.

As the end neared, she called out to her daughters again, “Don’t you see the light?” “No,” they replied. Then she looked at all of them and said, “Well, next one up bring my sunglasses!” And she died. Her faith was living, it was real, and it was applied even at the moment of death. God wants the faith of each of us to be living and active.

Why do I address the issue of faith now? The Church is literally hemorrhaging . . . people are leaving the Church all across the country. Yes, we are trying in many parishes to evangelize; we are spending ourselves to offer programs to strengthen us spiritually and bring people back to the faith of their childhood or young adulthood. All this is very, very good and necessary. But if we don’t personally grow in our faith—feeding it daily with a healthy diet—we too could drift away, as well as more of our family and friends.

In the story I just told, notice how the woman listened to the program and then did something. She got out of the car, knelt down, and dedicated everything she and her husband hoped to accomplish to Him, for His honor and glory. And God heard. He took her seriously, and their business bore fruit—not just for their family, but for the local community and the Church as well. Each of us needs to make and remake decisions to bring Him into every aspect of our lives—every aspect!

About a year ago, I was reading a book on prayer by Sister Ruth Burrows. The book contains several paragraphs that gave me food to meditate on for several weeks. Below is one of those paragraphs for your own reflection on growing in faith—a living faith!

Faith is not a thing of the mind; it is not an intellectual certainty or a felt conviction of the heart. It is a sustained decision to take God with utter seriousness as the God of my life. It is to live out each hour in a practical, concrete affirmation that God is Father and that He is “in heaven.” It is a decision to shift the center of our lives from ourselves to Him, to forgo self interest and to make his interests, his will our sole concern. Each of us has the choice either to live by faith or to live by flesh. To live by “flesh” is to live within the limits of our own perception, our own understanding, according to how things seem and feel, according to our natural experience. It is instinctive for us to live thus, taking for granted that our conscious experience is to be trusted, that it is the way things are, the way we are, the way God is—that this is our life. We want to remain on this level because it is within our grasp; it is “ours” and affords a sort of security and assurance. This is so natural to us . . . that we are unaware of how much our life is lived from self and not on faith in the Son of Man. We cannot rid ourselves of this deeply rooted pride and self-possession by our own strength. Only the Holy Spirit of the Crucified and Risen One can effect it and this He is always trying to do. But we must recognize His work, and respond “Amen.” [Sister Ruth Burrows, Essence of Prayer (Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2006), 2].

As we, in our various parishes, seek to bring the Good News to those who have never heard it or who have left the Church for whatever reason, let’s seek to make sure that our own faith is being fed and strengthened daily—so that we may be instruments, servants, disciples of His will. Doing His will yields fruit that will be abundant beyond our hopes. May God’s Spirit inspire and lead us all to yield to His will daily.