I find it nearly unfathomable that Christmas stories as beautiful as these could be posted online for going on three years without any reader comments. And here it is almost 10 p.m. on a rainy night in April when I am blessed to finally unearth them … and to leave the first remark. I only recently discovered Dr. Peale’s work (as recently as this afternoon, in fact) and I already purchased a few of his books from an online seller. Realizing I would have to wait several days for them to show up in my mailbox, I sought out some of his writings available to me tonight. I am stunned by how genuine and gorgeous his words are … and I can only imagine how they would make one feel in the holiday season. I can feel his tender heart in these Christmas tales, and it makes me want to humble myself further … allow my heart to closer match the heart of our Lord and Savior. Isn’t it interesting how sometimes the greatest writings that end up changing our hearts have been on the bookshelves in libraries or random bookstores for most of our lives? May God bless you in Heaven, tonight, Dr. Peale. He certainly did so on Earth.
From the middle of the night came his anxious prayer.
In the dead silence, long before dawn,
the Savior sent up his voice on a clear line to his father.
His words were the direst ever to reach God’s ears
– a plead for the cup of his crucifixion to pass him by
– and for his father’s will to be done, not his own.
And it was the second part of this appeal that was obliged.
On his knees in the moonlit garden,
surrounded by his followers who’s long since fallen asleep,
the Savior’s fate was fully revealed to him:
hate and pain.
As the torchlight of his accusers came over the hill,
he arose, awakened from his fear.
The cup of pain and bitter sorrow were his to carry
to the cross, where the contents
— like water to wine —
would be changed to love and forgiveness.
On the path this morning, I saw a silver bird no bigger than my fist, too weak to fly. He ran along ahead of me in bursts. As I came closer, his legs moved in a flurry making up the distance between us. But still, he couldn’t lift his wings. I followed behind for 100 steps or so as he kept looking back, wondering what creature I might be and what I might do to him if I caught up. The winds blew the brush on the edges of the trail as he struggled to leap over the uneven grass greening with the spring. Just days before Easter, I could feel a Spirit of change in the air, and the world renewing itself. Finally, when I was almost on top of him, there was another flurry of energy — this time in his wings — and somehow up he went into the air about 20 feet and off the path into the tall weeds with tops like wheat stalks. I’m certain he thought himself safe — delivered from danger — though I planned to do him no harm. I imagined as I walked past that he would calm himself and rest there until he was able to take flight. Then off he would glide into April. Reborn like these fields. Full of new life. A bird of the air, cared for forever by the mysterious provisions of our Lord.
No sooner than I say amen, the shadows are upon me and I slip back into flesh.
The immediacy magnifies my failure and I feel even more distant from you though just a few hours before, kneeling at your feet.
I put my head down at night praying that the next day will bring a lasting change of heart — that a shot of Spirit will rush through me and I’ll finally have a light-filled revelation, becoming a completely new being.
The sun rises and I wake, beginning my day with earnest prayer and reading of scripture.
Then my enemy sets up the hurdles before me and I stumble over them, forgetting not to rely on my own strength.
On my face again — and sorrowful — I send up my prayers for forgiveness.
“Alight my heart with your Spirit, Lord. Pull me up from the sinful ground where I am rooted and plant me close to you. Near the water. By your eternal stream of love and forgiveness.”
Speak prophecy over me. Appear to me in my dreams and visions. Whisper to me in the quiet moments of my day and alight my soul with your wisdom. Impart on me a mission for your kingdom. Lead me into the paths of the wicked so you can use me to drown them in your Spirit. Entrust me with the power to do miracles in your name. Whatever it takes to deliver the lost from the eternal darkness that awaits them. I am yours, for your purposes. Take me over and let it all be done in love.
Judge me by my heart, O Lord.
Look deep into me.
See past my sin and search for my goodness.
In my actions, I constantly let you down.
Again and again I choose the wrong path
fully knowing the repercussions.
How can you go on forgiving me, Lord God?
How can you love me the same unceasing passion?
In my humanity I cannot understand your eternal love.
I place limits upon what you can do.
I compare your abilities with my own,
and I fail to see with spiritual eyes.
But I know your Spirit fills me and you answer my prayers.
And yet still I turn away!
Discipline me, Lord!
Create in me a pure heart!
Let me love you with the same sincerity and commitment
you show me!
Make my heart full so my love spills over on everyone.
Let your light flood the world through the Spirit
from the purified hearts of your most committed followers.
Tonight in the final calm of the day, the outdoors softened and quieted by blankets of snow, I heard your voice loud and clear. “With the right Spirit, or not at all.” Over and over, the words came — a phrase cutting right to my heart. I could the correction in your voice. My walk became about me. Seeking attention. The farthest from humble. What led my heart astray I’ll never know. Other desires silently came flooding in. I left myself unguarded and soon this Holy Spirit vessel was diluted by something like unholy water. Impurities clouded my vision and washed me off your path. But Lord, as you so often do, you taught me through my own failures. Before I share my testimony, before I share my faith, I have to be sure my heart is soft, my purposes are genuine, and you receive the glory. “With the right Spirit, or not at all. With the right Spirit, or not at all. ” Those words burned forever on my heart.
On the mountain pass, just before daybreak, I found you alone in prayer. I passed your followers a ways down the trail, still slumbering around a dying camp fire. By mistake I managed to find your holy ground while out searching for my own place to offer thanks to God for my blessings and then watch the sunrise. As I came nearer, I heard your Spirit speak to me. I put my blanket down at your side and prayed. An overwhelming peace came over me, as though I was in the presence of God himself. I felt so much love and my words came so easy. I don’t how much time passed, but I felt the sun rise and its sharp glare begin to warm my skin. When you said amen, I lifted my head and saw your eyes full of tears. “Thank you for making my morning prayers a blessing,” you said. All I could think to say was “Amen.” I watched you walk back down the pass, and like a little lost lamb, I followed after.
Dear Heavenly Father, Lord,
As twilight comes down and the color drains from the world, I offer my gratitude to you for being with me throughout the entire day. You kept watch over me and my family, as I prayed this morning, and presented no challenges too great for me to weather. I offered myself as a living sacrifice. I humbled myself. I did not give in to temptations. I shared your love with whomever I saw. You provided me clothing and warmth and food, and there was enough money to supply me with other needs. I am thankful for my house and honored to call it a Christian home. My few possessions are truly valueless compared to your eternal love.
I will lay myself down to sleep soon and I ask that you extend your protection over me into the night. I ask that you watch over my children and provide them with the same blanket of safety and care. I ask that if any dreams are given me that they somehow be prophetic or honor your kingdom in some way. I pray that when I rise, you are first on my mind, and that I can spend another day in pursuit of your own heart. I am so blessed to be yours, Lord. Amen.
Blessings be upon you. My children … my flesh and blood. May the Lord pour out his steadfast love over you and lead you in his ways.
I pray for you everyday. Before the morning breaks, I am at my window on my hands and knees praying for you. At the close of day, I can be found in the same way, in the same place, saying more prayers asking him to lead you to his heart.
I have but three children and two of you are well on your way to him. The other believes because I do. I ask the Lord everyday that he strengthen and embolden each of you to receive his saving grace and to feel his eternal love. For the longest time, part of me wanted this for you so you would understand me and how the Lord changed my life. But now I see the error of my ways. My ego fell away some time ago and now my hope for you is as simple as wanting you to feel his Spirit in you as I do.
I led the youngest of you to Christ. The oldest … it was your first visit to a church service where I watched you step out in front of hundreds of people and walk down front to the pastor to give your life to the Lord. I wasn’t a follower then – so close, but not yet. The Lord was just beginning to call my name then. My middle child – my son – you have it in your heart to believe, I know, but aren’t just there yet. I pray fervently that he overtakes you – that you begin to see all your blessings and gifts.
Here were are some six years later, now on a much deeper path. You all have Bibles and crosses in your bedroom. At least one of you is stepping into your God-given gift of vision or perhaps prophecy. Your hearts are opening. I pray that will continue – that his light will pour into your hearts. I pray, I pray, I pray! I put it in the Lord’s hands, everyday. He has your names in his book. All three. Amen.