An Instrument of His Peace
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Lord, 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; 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; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.—Attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi
The prayer of St. Francis is a prayer loaded with spiritual meaning. For one, the words of the first few lines indicate how we should live our lives. In this world full of darkness, despair, and sorrow, we should be people who promote light, hope, and joy. This prayer is all about living our lives just as Jesus did during His time here on Earth. Living in a similar way is the most effective way of reflecting the image of God through our lives as His creation. …
Though born to a wealthy family, [St. Francis] chose to dedicate his life to Jesus Christ later on. It is said that he even had a vision where Christ told him to “repair my church,” and so he did with his own hands. He chose to live a life pleasing to Christ, even if it meant leaving his material wealth behind.
For many of us, we may not be called to the same path as St. Francis. However, as followers of Jesus, we are all called to be like Him and to live as He did. … This prayer reminds us of how we ought to behave every day, especially in the way we treat others.—From Christianity.com1
Sowing love, forgiveness, and joy
There is a tendency in human nature and especially in our society today to make everything selfish, to focus inward on the all-important “me,” while overlooking the way our behavior and attitudes affect those around us. It is so easy to forget that focusing on others is an important way of focusing on God, and some of our best opportunities to serve God well are found in serving our neighbor well. …
Because one response prompts another, even the smallest of actions can have a huge effect. We’ve all experienced having a day made or ruined because of one simple interaction with another person, having one quick word or gesture change everything. Our lives are full of opportunities to make a difference in someone else’s life, whether positive or negative, and rather than simply avoiding harm, our goal should be to actively choose love and be a true “instrument of God’s peace.”
Because God’s love itself is boundless, it is impossible to count or list the ways that we can reflect His love and share it with others. St. Francis’ prayer, however, can be divided into three particular ways. The first of these is an attitude of mercy and forgiveness, as we pray, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon.” Throughout the Bible, our Lord repeatedly reminds us of the importance of forgiveness, telling us that there can be no limit to the number of times we forgive those who have hurt us. We must cultivate an attitude of compassion, of offering mercy rather than revenge, even when it is difficult to do so. This can be done in so many ways—whether it is giving up the hurt of an old family fight or simply defending someone from malicious gossip, whether you know the person or not.
St. Francis also focuses on the love we show by simply being joyful and positive people: “Where there is despair, hope; where there is sadness, joy.” Cultivating a spirit of thankfulness for God’s blessings does so much, not only for those who we come in contact with, but also for ourselves, because by reminding others to be grateful, we remind ourselves as well.
It is amazing how little we have to do to raise someone’s spirits—a quick visit to an elderly or sick neighbor, a “just because” gift, or simply noticing someone and giving them a compliment and a smile. How often is the phrase heard that someone’s random act of kindness has “restored my faith in humanity”? When we live a life in Christ full of holy joy, we restore not only faith in humanity, but also more importantly, faith in God.—Rebecca Smith2
Seeking to understand
The Prayer of Saint Francis says, “Master, grant that I may not seek … to be understood, [but] to understand.” It’s not always easy to understand others. Each person comes with a different background, experiences, hopes, and dreams, and what makes perfect sense to me might not to someone else.
Because we’re all wired so differently, it can be pretty challenging to understand why people think and act the way they do. I think the natural tendency, though, is to assume others are like us—or to expect them to be like us. This can cause us to jump to conclusions. The problem with jumping to conclusions is that we very often miss landing on the right conclusion or even make the wrong conclusion. I could assume that something someone did or said was stupid, arrogant, or unkind because I don’t understand their motives or their circumstances.
It is so easy to assume. It is much tougher to take the time to find out the reasons behind a person’s actions or attitudes. It means that we have to step out of our own shoes—our own understanding, experiences, likes and dislikes—and into someone else’s. We have to intentionally seek to understand and move beyond our own assumptions.
The Bible tells us to “judge not”3 But when it seems like someone else is wrong or even just different or outside our personal experience, it can be hard to see much else. Before we even try to understand them, too often the tendency can be to put them in a box and slap a label on it. While we know (technically) that we’re not perfect ourselves, that’s often quickly forgotten when we’re confronted by the seeming imperfections of others.
When I see a flaw in someone else, I know that too often the last thing I’m thinking is “Well, I’m not perfect either.” But what if I were perfect. Would I then be in a place to judge? Not according to the Bible. “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”4
There has only ever been one perfect Person, Jesus. He never sinned—never has and never will. If anyone is in a position to judge, He is. So how did He deal with other people and their screw-ups? What kind of example did He set for us for interacting with all those less-than-perfect people?
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well,5 He had a prime opportunity to set her straight on a few things. However, that wasn’t His objective. Jesus didn’t judge her, and He didn’t write her off at face value—based on her appearance or her history. He took the time to really look at her.
Jesus sat with that woman and listened to her questions, her doubts, her misgivings. He took the time to answer her. He saw all she was and all she could be. Obviously, Jesus understood her well enough to be able to reach her on her own level, because she ran back to tell the whole town about Him. She had known Jesus not even a day, but she trusted Him enough to point to Him as the Savior. Because Jesus truly understood her, He was able to reach not only her but many others in that Samaritan town.
How often do we judge people based on their appearance or their actions, without first trying to understand what makes them tick? How often do we label others—and then treat them according to those labels—never stopping to hear their full story?
Who knows what friendships we can forge or opportunities to share the gospel by choosing to love and understand over labels and assumptions? Perhaps that person we have labeled and avoided is at a point in life where they could desperately use a word of encouragement or a friendly gesture. You have to let go of the labels and assumptions before you can truly understand and value the person for who they are—a fellow human being created in God’s image, someone for whom Jesus died on the cross, someone in need of His love and our understanding.—Marie Story6
Published on Anchor September 2021. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso. Music by John Listen.
3 Matthew 7:1.
4 James 4:11–12.
5 John 4:4–42.
6 Adapted from a Just1Thing podcast, a Christian character-building resource for young people.