Henri Nouwen: Solitude to Community to Ministry

Home » Meditations

Henri Nouwen: Solitude to Community to Ministry

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all. Luke 6:12-19

“The word discipleship and the word discipline are the same word — that has always fascinated me. Once you have made the choice to say, “Yes, I want to follow Jesus,” the question is, “What disciplines will help me remain faithful to that choice?” If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we have to live a disciplined life…

The word discipline means “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.

I think three disciplines are important for us to remain faithful, so we not only become disciples, but also remain disciples. These disciplines are contained in one passage from Scripture with which we’re familiar, but one that we may be surprised to find speaks about discipline…

[Today’s Scripture] is a beautiful story that moves from night to morning to afternoon. Jesus spent the night in solitude with God. In the morning, he gathered his apostles around him and formed community. In the afternoon, with his apostles, he went out and preached the Word and healed the sick.

Notice the order—from solitude to community to ministry. The night is for solitude; the morning for community; the afternoon for ministry. So often in ministry, I have wanted to do it by myself. If it didn’t work, I went to others and said, “Please!” searching for a community to help me. If that didn’t work, maybe I’d start praying.

But the order that Jesus teaches us is the reverse. It begins by being with God in solitude; then it creates a fellowship, a community of people with whom the mission is being lived; and finally this community goes out together to heal and to proclaim good news.

I believe you can look at solitude, community, and ministry as three disciplines by which we create space for God. If we create space in which God can act and speak, something surprising will happen. You and I are called to these disciplines if we want to be disciples.”

Henri Nouwen in Community, edited by Stephen Lazarus (Orbis, 2021) excerpts from chapter 1.

I hope you appreciated this reading. If our living, giving, serving, and loving flows from solitude to community to ministry, we will surely dispense the power, blessing, and abundance of Christ with rich generosity.

Think about this as it relates to your life in the three areas. What does solitude look like for you? Do you have an intimate prayer life that propels you to community. I find that the Lectio 365 app helps me with this daily.

How about the discipline of community? It is easy for us (myself included) to work alone. This results in personal isolation and growth comes by addition. The example of Jesus causes our service to bless others and grow by multiplication.

Lastly, reflect on the discipline of ministry. Notice power came from Jesus because He tapped into the Father in solitude first. Are you tapped out or tapped to the Father? Attuning to this will ensure our generous service.

Read more

Henri Nouwen: The Distant Country

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:5-7

“Addiction” might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates society. Our addiction make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in “a distant country.” It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.”

Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (Crown Publishing, 2013) 42.

Most people who live in “the distant country” don’t realize how addictions control them. They’ve been deluded to seek their own prosperity rather the prosperity of the place where God has planted them.

Related to generosity, rather than enjoy and share God’s blessings, they accumulate wealth and power and pursue lavish consumption of food and drink. These things will never satisfy. They only leave us disillusioned.

What is the pathway from “the distant country” to experience the only peace and prosperity that satisfies? We must stop aiming at self-fulfillment and focus on knowing Christ who is the only One who satisfies.

This weekend people across USA celebrate Independence Day. Let’s instead think about dependence on Christ and interdependence with one another. Ponder what addictions hold you captive. Fast from them and feast on Jesus. See what happens.

Read more

Henri Nouwen: Mystical

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:7-8

“Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance.

Through the disciplines of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them. Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.

But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required.”

Henri Nouwen in In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (1989) 22.

I had a call yesterday with a fellow CEO. In the call we discussed that our role was really to discern direction from God and to depend on God to supply where God guided. Our work is discerning and depending.

Or as Nouwen might say, our role is mystical.

If we want to live generous lives, we must be rooted deeply in a relationship with Jesus. Out of that relationship, contemplative prayer comes into view as listening to the voice of love and finding wisdom for each day.

This guides our generous living, giving, serving, and loving.

Many of you may we wondering how GTP is doing in pursuit of that major grant. I have told you for days that we were praying for 200+ givers from 32+ countries. The number was only 120 from 18 countries on 6 June 2022.

As of yesterday the total hit 201 givers from 46 countries.

That is not a typo. We did it. You did it. All over the world, you stepped up. Thanks for giving so that God’s workers in hard places would not get a handout that creates a dependency but a hand up to build them as disciples.

And may each of us be mystical disciples who discern direction from God and radically depend on God.

Read more

Henri Nouwen: Community

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. Romans 14:7

“The word community has many connotations, some positive, some negative. Community can make us think of a safe togetherness, shared meals, common goals, and joyful celebrations. It also can call forth images of sectarian exclusivity, in-group language, self-satisfied isolation, and romantic naiveté. However, community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another.”

Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey (New York: HarperCollins eBook) reading for 23 January.

Over the past month it’s been awesome to watch people from the global community step up and share gifts large and small with GTP to help empower national workers in challenging places to build trust and grow local giving.

Most givers will never meet the people that the giving will touch. They will never meet the pastor in Belize, the Sunday School teacher in Malawi, or the ministry administrator in Indonesia. But God sees it all.

And He sees the hearts of these givers who realize that they are alive not for themselves but for others in the community of faith. I am so thankful to watch this community in action.

That said, I am still praying for 4 more givers today. Could you share $5 or $10 with GTP today to help people in poor places. Click here to give. I’m unashamedly asking because if we hit the mark it will help us secure a major grant.

Read more

Henri Nouwen: The opposite of begging

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Philippians 1:3-5

“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission. Fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging. When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, “Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard.” Rather, we are declaring, “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you—your energy, your prayers, and your money—in this work to which God has called us.”

Henri Nouwen in The Spirituality of Fundraising (New York: Henri Nouwen Society, 2004) 3-4. If you want a PDF copy of this amazing little ebook, reply to this email. I will share it with you freely.

Many times people think of fundraising as begging. I love that Nouwen emphasizes that it’s the opposite of that. It’s inviting people to invest their energy, prayers, and money in God’s amazing and exciting work.

But, let’s take a minute to deconstruct why fundraising is not begging. If we said, “Can you please give me some of your money.” That’s begging. And the thinking is off base in two ways.

Firstly, the gift goes to God and not to me. When we invite people to give, we are like Levites facilitating their act of worship which is giving to God. And secondly, it’s not their money; they are only stewards.

So, since all we possess belongs to God, it’s actually the role of God’s workers to encourage each other to deploy God’s resources to the things God cares about. Again, let me know if you want this ebook by Nouwen.

It’s a great tool for ministry worker’s whose boards or fellow staff members say that “fundraising is begging” because it helps them see a higher and deeply biblical perspective in a short time. It’s a quick read.

And, please, to help GTP empower national workers to build trust and grow local giving in some of the hardest places on earth, click here to make a gift today. We are praying for 10 more new givers by Thursday to meet a foundation challenge.

Read more

Henri Nouwen: Human Solidarity

Pray continually. 1 Thessalonians 5:17

“We often wonder what we can do for others, especially for those in great need. It is not a sign of powerlessness when we say: “We must pray for one another.” To pray for one another is, first of all, to acknowledge, in the presence of God, that we belong to each other as children of the same God. Without this acknowledgement of human solidarity, what we do for one another does not flow from who we truly are. We re brothers and sisters, not competitors or rivals. We are children of one God, not partisans of different gods.”

Henri Nouwen in Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York: Crossroad, 1994) 22.

I’ve switched from reading one of my favorite ancient authors, Basil of Caesarea, to one of my favorite modern ones. Henri Nouwen. I hope the readings this week inspire you!

Praying for people in great need is not a “sign of powerlessness” but rather an acknowledgement that we belong to each other and that we are standing together in “human solidarity” with and for each other.

Do you see needs around you?
Pray for God’s grace on them and provision for them, and call others to pray. This is how we care for each other as brothers and sisters.

I am praying for 14 more new givers to GTP in the next 3 days. Join me in praying for this and click here if you feel led to give. If we hit the goal we find out about a major grant in August.

Read more

Basil of Caesarea: The Halcyon Days

I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. Psalm 50:11

“The halcyon is a sea bird. It is accustomed to build its nest along the very shores, depositing its eggs in the sand itself; and it builds its nest almost in the middle of winter, a time when the sea is being dashed against the land by many violent windstorms.

Nevertheless, all the winds are calmed and the waves of the sea become quiet for seven days when the halcyon is sitting upon her eggs. In exactly that number of days it hatches its young. But, since there is need of food for the nestlings so that they may grow, the bountiful God provides for the tiny creatures seven more days. As all the sailors know this, they call the halcyon days.

These laws divine Providence has ordained concerning the irrational creature to encourage you to ask God from what pertains to your salvation. What wonders would not be performed for you, who have been made according to the image of God, when, indeed, for the sake of a bird so small the great and fearful sea is held in check, submitting to the command to be calm in the midst of winter?”

Basil of Caesarea (330-379) in Homily 8 on “Creation of Winged Creatures and Those Living in the Waters” in Exegetic Homilies, The Fathers of the Church, Volume 46 (CUAP, 2010) 127.

Today Basil points us to another bird, the halcyon, to remind us of God’s care.

This sea bird has it young in the dead of winter and yet our bountiful God cares for it. Fascinating that in the fourth century all sailors on the Mediterranean knew of this bird and how God helped it birth its young in winter! Our bountiful God stilled the seas for two weeks so that it could nurture its young.

This reminds us that creation shouts of God’s Providence and rich generosity toward us.

Is there something in creation where you live that reminds you of God’s faithful care. Perhaps it has turned to Summer and the flowers are blooming? Or it is now the rainy season so God is watering the land? Maybe where you live it has turned to harvest time and you are enjoying and sharing the fruit of the land?

Look for something in creation that reminds you of God’s care and give thanks today.

On this Lord’s day, celebrate the reminder of God’s faithful care. Ask Him for whatever you need that pertains to your salvation. He will supply it. Also ask if you should increase your generosity. To make a gift to GTP, click here. We are still praying for 21 new givers by 30 June 2022 to secure a major grant. A gift of any size counts.

Read more

Basil of Caesarea: Swallow

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26

“Let no one bewail his poverty; let no one who possesses little at home despair of his life, when he looks at the inventiveness of the swallow. When building her nest, she carries the dry twigs in her beak, and not being able to raise the mud in her claws, she moistens the tips of her wings with water, then, rolling in the very fine dust, she thus contrives to secure the mud. After gradually fastening the twigs of wood to each other with mud as with some glue, she raises her young in the nest. If anyone stabs the eyes of these young, she possesses the nature remedy, through which she restores to soundness the sight of her children. Let this warn you not to turn the evil-doing because of poverty, nor in the harshest suffering to cast aside all hope and remain idle and inactive, but to flee to God; for if He bestows such things upon the swallow, how much more will He give to those who call upon Him with their whole heart?”

Basil of Caesarea (330-379) in Homily 8 on “Creation of Winged Creatures and Those Living in the Waters” in Exegetic Homilies, The Fathers of the Church, Volume 46 (CUAP, 2010) 126-127.

We are living in hard inflationary times. Many feel they have nothing to give. If that’s you, I want to encourage you to look at the birds. Basil teaches us much today from the swallow. Notice how the mother gives what she has for her young.

And I love how he echoes the exhortation of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Birds have no barns or bank accounts and limited capacity but God cares for them. And our Lord tells us that we are more valuable than they are.

So if you are enduring the harshest suffering today. With Basil, I beckon you not to cast aside hope and remain idle and inactive. That’s the tendency of hard times. They immobilize us. I feel it too. Do what you can with what you have.

Let us together flee to God. Run to Him for help and hope. Today I am praising God for slow but sure progress toward our goal for GTP. Praying for 25 new givers by 30 June 2022. Click here to give today.

The grant we hope to get will help us grow from 6-12 staff over the next 2 years to increase our capacity to empower national workers to build trust and grow local giving in some of the poorest places on earth where people are really suffering.

Read more

Basil of Caesarea: Prosperous

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. Acts 9:36

“You can see that a city is prosperous by the wealth of goods for sale in the market. Land too we call prosperous if it bears rich fruit. And so also the soul may be counted prosperous if it is full of good works of every kind.”

Basil of Caesarea (330-379) as cited in Drinking From The Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary. Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World by Tomáš Špidlík (Cistercian Publications, 1994) 110.

Everyone thought Tabitha was on her deathbed but God had other plans. I am thankful to be recovering from Covid and praising God my mom’s heart procedure eliminated her atrial fibrillation. Like Tabitha, she’s back in the game!

The world defines prosperity in terms of wealth, goods, and abundant crops. Basil reminds us that a soul full of good works is prosperous, like Tabitha in the early church. She was full of good works and acts of charity.

When we do acts of grace or charity we show we have received grace. We reveal that the key to prosperous living is actually found in receiving and dispensing God’s grace. It’s quite different from the world’s measure.

Nothing can touch grace. Nothing is more beautiful. It’s unmerited favor. Unfathomable blessing. Undeserved kindness. Unconditional love. It’s not what anyone deserves but what everyone wants. Get it and share it!

Think about it. How will you be described on your deathbed? Will people say you had wealth, goods, and abundant harvest? Or will they say you were full of acts of charity? Your living today writes your legacy tomorrow.

Thanks to the charitable givers who have helped GTP this week. We are still praying for 28 more givers to hit a mark set by a foundation considering a big gift. Even $5 or $10 can help. Please click here to give to GTP today.

Read more

Basil of Caesarea: Reward of Charitableness and Faithful Stewardship

And [Jesus] said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

“Why are you rich and another poor? Surely it is that you may win the reward of charitableness and faithful stewardship, and he the noble prize of patience? And yet you store up everything in the pockets of insatiable coveteousness and think you wrong no one when you are defrauding many. Who is the covetous man? One for whom plenty is not enough?”

Basil of Caesarea (330-379) in his homily “I Will Pull Down My Barns” 7.

In Basil’s sermon on Luke 12:13-21, he offers a brilliant reminder to all those blessed with more than enough: “Surely it is that you may win the reward of charitableness and faithful stewardship.”

Let’s look closely at those two ideas.

Firstly, the reward of charitableness is immediate blessing. When the rich extend gracious generosity to those in need, God sees. He blesses. He replenishes them for greater levels of giving. Think of this reward as refreshment.

But what hinders the pursuit of this reward? Covetousness, that is, thinking having plenty is not enough.

Secondly, faithful stewardship is a longer term gain. The rich are faithful when they use the Master’s resources in keeping with His desires. Helping others fits. To share rather than store up for yourself is faithful stewardship.

In real-time, I want to thank the people who responded yesterday and gave a gift. Hang with me.

At GTP we are working with some of the poorest people in difficult situations. And I concur with Basil that these people have won the “noble prize of patience”. But let’s not make them wait forever to be helped!

They are not looking for handouts that create dependencies. They want a hand up to build generous disciples in their context. Yesterday we needed 43 givers. Today the total is down to 30.

As I stated yesterday, at GTP we aim to receive a six-figure grant from a foundation who wants to help us grow our staff. But they want to see more growth in our support base.

We need 30 more new givers before 30 June 2022. Please pray for us to hit the goal.

Even a gift of $5 or $10 will make a difference to help us empower more national workers to build trust and grow local giving, click here to give today.

If you do, I can promise that the poor will be blessed and you will receive the reward of charitableness.

Read more
Next Page »