June 22, 2011
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Luke 18:22 NIV
"I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone." St. Francis of Assisi
Have you ever wished you could share your faith with friends or loved ones who do not know Christ? Or have you ever worried that our culture is slipping farther and farther away from God's truth, but don't know how to turn it around? In past devotionals, several of us have quoted St. Francis of Assisi's approach to evangelism: "Preach the Gospel all times and when necessary, use words."
St. Francis' entire life was one of radical conversion that led to many giving their lives to Christ. Let's see what we can apply from his medieval story to modern times.
Francis' story takes place in the early 1200's - an era when Christianity enjoyed prominence in Europe. But sadly, even with widespread power and acceptance of the Church, many Christians did not lead lives in keeping with their faith. Francis was no exception. He came from a wealthy Italian family; his father earned a comfortable life as a successful cloth merchant, and his mother was of noble birth. The handsome, witty Francis was spoiled rotten by his parents, showing more interest in playing than in his academics or his father's career.
Francis' life of ease and play received a rude but life-changing interruption in 1201. After being captured in a small battle between rival cities, Francis spent a year sick and alone. His time of weakness and contemplation made him realize how useless his life had been up to that point.
But transformation for Francis was slow. After he regained his health, Francis desired personal glory. He signed up for the military, even fancying one day he'd be a great prince. But illness and a sense that God was calling him back to Assisi brought him home again.
It was around this time friends began to notice a lasting change in this attractive, party guy. Friends asked if he had a woman on his mind. He responded, "I am about to take a wife of surpassing fairness." But this wife was not a mortal woman. Instead, Francis renounced his inheritance, gave what he had to the poor, and wedded himself to "Lady Poverty" (much to his father's fury).
Not long after taking his vow of poverty, Francis heard Christ speak to him while he was praying in a small, shabby chapel. The voice said, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." At first, Francis thought he needed to repair the actual building he was praying in. But soon it became clear Francis' mission was really to restore genuine faith among the church - God's people.
So Francis began spending most of his time praying, serving the sick and preaching repentance throughout the region. He had no intentions of starting a community of religious, but single men of diverse backgrounds became intrigued by Francis' humility and wholehearted devotion to the Gospel. And not long after men began joining his mission, a privileged young woman named Clare left her riches behind, bringing women alongside Francis to restore genuine faith among the people.
With so many joining in, Francis realized he was becoming the leader of a monastic movement. So, he sought to keep their focus on Christ by establishing a rule of life on Scripture. In short, the mission of the Franciscan monks and Poor Clare nuns would be to "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). They imitated the early disciples by traveling in twos, owning few personal possessions, and serving those in need while sharing the Gospel to all. Their spiritual legacy continues with Franciscan and Poor Clare communities in regions all over the world today.
Some other little-known facts of how God worked through this influential Christian:
Did you know Francis once challenged a Muslim sultan to consider the truth of Christianity - and the sultan actually considered it?
Did you know Francis is credited with creating the first living Nativity scene at Christmas?
Did you know that, centuries before the Reformation, Francis taught and wrote about the faith in local dialects so commoners could understand?
Francis' story gives us encouragement today. After all, we too live in a culture where Christianity was the dominant religion for a long time but sadly, it's now common for good people to lose sight of the faith. But God worked through a spoiled, wealthy young man to show the surrounding community that even worldly comforts could not satisfy the deepest yearnings of their souls - and He can do the same today.
While most of us are not called to take vows of poverty, it was Francis' unwavering, single-minded devotion to the Gospel that most attracted others to him. And this is something we can - and should - aspire to imitate. As we seek to surrender our lives to Christ more completely, God will work through each one of us in unique ways to inspire others to join us on the faith journey.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Sometimes, the idea of giving everything to God is scary. I personally used to dislike reading stories like Francis of Assisi's because I was afraid I'd have to leave my life behind and become a nun in a foreign country. But the truth is, God will never disappoint those who surrender all to Him. Are you holding anything back from God? Ask God to give you the faith to surrender whatever fears, sins, or idols to Him.
"Pulling an Assisi" - Laura MacCorkle, Crosswalk.com Devotional, Sept. 12th