Sunday, July 21, 2013

Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life: Suggestions for Morning Prayer

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

“In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
  in the morning I lay my requests before you
  and wait in expectation.”
-Psalm 5:3

Morning Prayer
One of the greatest aids to spiritual growth is establishing a rhythm of prayer. Just as rhythm gives “backbone” to melody and harmony in music, so a spiritual rhythm helps to give strength and structure to our devotional life with God, freeing us from the mood of the moment.

Many, if not most, Christians during the past two thousand years who have walked with God over the long haul have found the value in establishing a morning and evening routine. Far from being a form of legalism, such a pattern of morning prayer and evening prayer becomes the steady rhythm of breathing for our spiritual lives.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offers some insightful—and very practical—suggestions for daily morning prayer.

1. “Thank God, and adore Him for His Grace which has kept you safely through the night, and if in anything you have offended against Him, ask forgiveness.”

2. “Call to mind that the day now beginning is given you in order that you may work for Eternity, and make a steadfast resolution to use this day for that end.”

Each day is an opportunity to start out on the right foot. God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), and we can tap afresh into his grace and faithfulness to empower us to love and serve him.

3. “Consider beforehand what occupations, duties and occasions are likely this day to enable you to serve God; what temptations to offend Him, either by vanity, anger, etc., may arise; and make a fervent resolution to use all means of serving Him and confirming your own piety; as also to avoid and resist whatever might hinder your salvation and God's Glory.”

Thinking about the potential challenges of the day is not enough: we must be ready to obey the Lord if the temptation indeed comes. “Nor is it enough to make such a resolution,--you must also prepare to carry it into effect,” states de Sales. “Thus, if you foresee having to meet someone who is hot-tempered and irritable, you must not merely resolve to guard your own temper, but you must consider by what gentle words to conciliate him. If you know you will see some sick person, consider how best to minister comfort to him, and so on.” De Sales—like the Scouts—wants to think things through and be prepared for the day!

4. “Next, humble yourself before God, confessing that of yourself you could carry out nothing that you have planned, either in avoiding evil or seeking good.”

Our plans are worth little without committing them to the Lord. De Sales continues, “Then, so to say, take your heart in your hands, and offer it and all your good intentions to God's Gracious Majesty, entreating Him to accept them, and strengthen you in His Service, which you may do in some such words as these: ‘Lord, I lay before Thee my weak heart, which Thou dost fill with good desires. Thou knowest that I am unable to bring the same to good effect, unless Thou dost bless and prosper them, and therefore, O Loving Father, I entreat of Thee to help me by the Merits and Passion of Thy Dear Son, to Whose Honour I would devote this day and my whole life.’”

More than our own will power, we need his strength to carry out our good intentions. There is our part, and there is God’s part. As Paul asserts in Philippians 2:12-13, we need to actively and passionately engage in the process as we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling”! However, we do so because the Lord enables us to, “for it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Let us likewise seek the Lord in the morning, engaging our whole heart and will and determining to act in full obedience. Let us offer our good intentions to the Lord, receiving his grace to follow through with all he directs!

*All quotes are taken from the online free edition of Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life,

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life: Placing yourself in Scripture

Minnesota Arboretum

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105 KJV)

In his Christian classic, Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales lays a foundation for spiritual growth by encouraging all believers to meditate on God’s Word. Precisely because it is God’s very Word, it is beyond value. We must therefore be attentive to whatever the Lord has to say to us.

“Cultivate a special devotion to God's Word,” exhorts de Sales, “whether studied privately or in public; always listen to it with attention and reverence, strive to profit by it, and do not let it fall to the ground, but receive it within your heart as a precious balm.”

Receiving Correction and Direction
Sometimes God gives us a word of comfort in Scripture. Other times it is a word of correction, as 2 Timothy 2:16 states: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Often times the comfort or correction is accompanied by some specific direction for our lives.

Whatever correction or instruction comes our way, we need to be ready to obey Scripture. Reading the Bible or hearing it is not enough, we must have our minds made up ahead of time that we will truly “listen” to it and follow through on whatever the Lord speaks in his Word. As Jesus asserts, we will be blessed if we hear the word and keep it (Luke 11:28).

Scripture should never be boring! If our Bible reading is dull, it is because we come to it with a dull mind and dull attitude. God’s Word itself is alive and vibrant, as Hebrews 4:12-13 declares, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”

Helping us to approach God’s Word with all our attention, de Sales offers some very practical steps as we approach Scripture to read it and reflect upon it.

First, we Need to Place Ourselves in God’s Presence
One way to do this is by realizing “that His Presence is universal; that is to say, that He is everywhere, and in all, and that there is no place, nothing in the world, devoid of His Most Holy Presence, so that, even as birds on the wing meet the air continually, we, let us go where we will, meet with that Presence always and everywhere.” Another way to make ourselves attentive to God’s presence, says de Sales, is “simply to exercise your ordinary imagination, picturing the Saviour to yourself in His Sacred Humanity as if He were beside you just as we are wont to think of our friends, and fancy that we see or hear them at our side.”

Second, Ask for God’s Grace
De Sales instructs, you “must ask of Him grace to serve and worship Him in this your meditation. You may use some such brief and earnest words as those of David: ‘Show me Thy Ways, O Lord, and teach me Thy paths’ [Psalm 25:4]. ‘Give me understanding, and I shall keep Thy Law: yea, I shall keep it with my whole heart’ [Psalm 119:34].”

Third, Place Yourself into Scripture
We can also mentally place ourselves right into the biblical scene that we are meditating on. This is a great way to bring God’s Word alive in our hearts and lives! De Sales challenges us simply to kindle “a vivid picture of the mystery to be meditated within your imagination, even as though you were actually beholding it. For instance, if you wish to meditate upon our Lord on His Cross, you will place yourself in imagination on Mount Calvary, as though you saw and heard all that occurred there during the Passion; or you can imagine to yourself all that the Evangelists describe as taking place where you are.”

Spiritual Life Founded on God’s Word
Many forms of “spirituality” are in circulation today. How do we know which ones are true Christian spiritual formation? First and foremost, we must see whether they are founded upon and saturated in Scripture.

In his classic, de Sales gives some down-to-earth suggestions in approaching God’s Word and making it our own. He also offers some helpful devotions in the opening chapters of his work, including meditations on Creation, on the Purpose for which we were Created, the Gifts of God, on our Sin, and others.

I pray that we would all be so saturated in God’s Word that it transforms our thinking, empowers us for godly living, and fills our hearts with God’s inextinguishable love for us!

*All quotes are taken from the online free edition of Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life,

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers

Friday, July 5, 2013

Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life: Spiritual Growth for All

Minnesota Arboretum

“Do you not know that in a race the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

One of the great spiritual classics of all times in the Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales. Welcoming believers of all ages and levels of growth to move forward in their walk with the Lord, de Sales’ work breathes a breath of fresh air and candid invitation. It describes what a genuine believer’s spiritual or devotional (devout) life can look like. Above all, it offers encouragement in our relationship with Jesus and a gentle challenge to move toward Christian maturity.

Spiritual Maturity for All Christians
De Sales is down to earth about spiritual progress. Rather than seeing spiritual formation as something set aside for those who are “spiritual,” he encourages everyone to nurture a deeper walk with the Lord. He recognizes that spiritual rhythms will look different for people in different callings in life—a pastor and a mother with small children have very different demands on their time.

Nevertheless, we can all cultivate our spiritual life. God “bids Christians—the living tress of His Church—to bring forth fruits of devotion, each on according to his kind and vocation,” writes de Sales. “A different exercise of devotion is required of each . . . the artisan, the servant, . . . the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual.”

Work with Peace in Your Hearts
De Sales is one of the first major spiritual writers to highlight everyday spirituality. Christians can grow through their daily activities, as well as through their consistent devotional life.

How do we live in the active work-a-day world and still maintain our sense of connection with God? De Sale observes that “we must attend to the business of life carefully, but without eagerness or over-anxiety.” When Jesus rebuked Martha, it was not for her serving “but giving way to disquiet and anxiety.”

He goes on to paint a picture for us of what anxiety of the much-ness and many-ness of life is like: “Flies harass us less by what they do than by reason of their multitude, and so great matters give us less disturbance than a multitude of small affairs. Accept the duties which some upon you quietly, and try to fulfill them methodically, one after another. If you attempt to do everything at once, or with confusion, you will only comber yourself with your own exertions, and by dint of perplexing your mind you will probably be overwhelmed and accomplish nothing.”

Our devotional times need to influence our daily life and work. If we have truly connected with our loving Lord during our time of Scripture reading and prayer, we need to actively bring that peace into all our activities. Summing it up de Sales exhorts: “In all your affairs lean solely on God’s Providence, by means of which alone your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet cooperation with Him, and then rest satisfied.”

Deep Devotion and Service to Others
Genuine spiritual maturity consists of both a fervent pursuit of our personal relationship with God and a self-emptying service of those around us. No matter our place in life—whether young or old, student or parent, in Christian work or a secular job or retired—we all need to put our roots down as well as stretch our branches out toward others. The devout life is both vertical and horizontal. Our spiritual formation will be lopsided without both dimensions.

“Ponder Jacob’s ladder,” recommends de Sales, “it is a true picture of the devout life.” Just as we can go both directions on a ladder, we need to be “ascending by contemplation to a loving union with God,” as well as “descending by good deeds on behalf of our neighbor.” What a great invitation that is to us follow the two great commandments: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Mk 12:29-31).

*All quotes are taken from the online free edition of Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life,

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers