4 Rules for Youth Ministry

I worked as a youth minister for five years before taking my first pastorate. As a solo pastor I have continued to work with younger age groups. I have developed a set of rules for youth ministry to guide me, I’ve continued to refine them. I continue to realize that working with children and teens is a passion for me, and as I train teachers and volunteers I share these with them. They aren’t based on exegisis and theology so take them for what their worth – just my experience about some more practical aspects of youth ministry.

1. Something will be broken.

I was teaching an adult class a while back when the children and youth classes came in passing the door to the room we were in. Our youth program has exploded with growth recently and the noise they made as they passed sounded like an explosion. My first instinct was to open the door and tell them to be quiet. My second thought won out, I remembered the quiet churches I have served and thanked God for all of the young people He’s brought to our congregation. They passed by within a minute and we could carry on class.

Children and youth are noisy, raucus and they tend to break things. This is especially true if you’re reaching children who haven’t been raised in Church and are having to be taught how to act during worship and in class. A few weeks ago some girls spilled super glue on the ladies room floor, the next person to use the facilities was immobilized when her shoes were cemented to the floor. We have walked into a hall to be greeted by a young man’s leg poking down through the ceiling. These accidents always lead to new rules for the kids, so I’m not saying that disturbance and destruction is a goal, but if a congregation is reaching out, especially to families who aren’t familiar with Church it is a part of having young people. The alternative is a pristinely clean and deathly quiet congregation.

2. Teens are bored with everything so do what you’re enthusiastic about.

The first trip I took a group of kids to was a week-long, nationwide youth camp. The opening service had a lazer light show, a loud rock band, kids jumping up and down throwing giant beach balls around the auditorium and a giant screen with CGI segments (when computer animation was still pretty new). When I looked at the kids I had brought they were standing still and looking very bored. It was in the first few weeks of my first position as a youth minister and I remember thinking that if this doesn’t excite them how could I. The lesson I learned was “You can’t out entertain MTV”. Over the next few months I tried to stir them with some pretty goofy stunts. All of them failed miserably. It was good for me because I decided that they were bored with everything so I might as well just do what I thought was exciting.

I continued this philosophy with my next youth position and I realized that enthusiasm is contagious. Videos marketed as “exciting” draw little more than a yawn from kids saturated with tv,movies,dvds,internet,cellphones,texts,tweets,youtube,myspace,cds,ipods. On the other hand a live person excited about Jesus and the Gospel stands out. Your passion has a much better chance of touching a life than novelty and attempts to be a “Christian” duplicate of everything else in a young life. I found this to be true of my best teachers. Someone giving a power-point presentation on a subject they don’t care about can’t compete with a teacher with a piece of chalk discussing something they’re passionate about.

3. Nobody remembers a lesson ten years later.

When potential teachers tell me they would like to help but are worried that they don’t have the ability to teach I tell them about the man who tought the youth when I was growing up. Lenford Nabors was in his late sixties when he volunteered to lead the youth program. For the most part he didn’t have Bible lessons prepared for us, he took us to a nearby fast food restaurant, bought everyone a coke or milkshake, then asked about what was going on in our life. Most importantly he listened. He did teach some. I don’t remember the lessons. He probably talked about whatever we were dealing with in our lives; I remember a few things he probably repeated to us several times. That man had a powerful impact in the lives of several young people because he loved us.

I’m not saying content is not important. We certainly need to teach the scriptures and catechize our children in the basics of the faith. But the greatest resource is people who genuinely love and are interested in the lives of young people. Christian education is more than simply conveying information, it is modeling the Christian life and so while I don’t remember the formal lessons tought in most of my youth classes, I do remember the lessons I learned from the example of Godly men and women who took time to teach us.

4. Don’t count on the parents coming.

Conventional wisdom is that a strong youth program is a way of bringing their parents into the Church. I’m sure this happens in some places, but I’ve seen several Churches were many children come without adults. They are brought by other people in the Church, dropped off by parents or attend with friends but the parents don’t stay or come back for Sunday morning. It’s wonderful if a youth program brings in the parents but I think those who make decisions should remember that ministering to children and teenagers is a valid work in itself. Rather than viewing a youth program as a means to Church growth, teaching, mentoring and providing a safe place for recreation is an end in itself and should be seen as an investment in the lives of those who participate.

Got any suggestions, additional rules, disagreement? Post in the comments.

Church on the Diamond

Got to see the Church this evening on a baseball diamond. No, it wasn’t a goofy worship stunt. A 12 year old in our Church lost his single-parent mother a few months back. His aunt and uncle have really stepped up to the plate and are doing a great job of taking care of him. Members of the congregation are also instinctively showing their love and support.
This evening he was playing in a little league tournament and I was proud to see one of our elders and his family take a seat right behind home plate to cheer him on. I think we tend to think of “Church” and “Ministry” solely in terms of what takes place either in the walls of our buildings or under the auspices of a board or committee sanctioned by duly elected officers. But the Church ministers whenever Christians share Christ’s love with others. I doubt the family would consider what they did as either Christian or service… which is seems to be the point of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats “When did we see you?” (Matt 25:31-46) But as James reminds us:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1.27)

Baseball Diamond by Canadian Veggie

Baseball Diamond by Canadian Veggie

The Road to Emmaus

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35 ESV)


The narrative of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to serves as a wonderful image of the church in microcosm.  Yesterday evening I taught on the passage and wanted to share in brief some of the connections I see Luke pointing to in the event.

  1. ‘That very day’ – that is the Lord’s Day, the day Jesus had risen.  The Church gathers on the day of resurrection to meet the risen Lord.
  2. ‘two of them’ – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20)
  3. ‘were going to a village name Emmaus‘ – that is to a small village not mentioned before.  True worship  is no longer in Jerusalem, but ‘in Spirit and in truth’ and everywhere.  The Church is not marked by a specific location, but gathers in Jerusalem, Emmaus, Glasgow, New York, secret house meetings in China and in Allsboro.
  4. They were ‘on the Road’ – Road (Greek: ὁδός) also means “way” the term used for followers of Christ in Acts which was also written by Luke. See for example Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9 and Acts 22:4.
  5. The disciples were Cleopas and an unamed disciple – that is, it was not Peter, James or John or even another of the Apostles.  It was ordinary followers that the Risen Lord met with, Cleopas and someone not named who could have been any other of the 500 regular men and women who saw Jesus before his ascension.  The implication Luke has is that it could easily have been any of his readers.
  6. ‘Jesus himself drew near’ – the Trimphant Christ meets his disciples on the Way on the Lord’s day.  This what happens every Sunday.  In many villages, cities and towns around the world as we gather he draws nears.  Moreover, they didn’t recognize him.  First, Jesus is truly present regardless of what they understand or feel.  Had Jesus never revealed himself he still would have been there, it his presence not our experience that makes it real.  Second, consider how often we gather to meet the Risen Lord without recognizing his presence.
  7. Worship is defined by and the Church is recognized in Word and Sacrament – “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures” and ” he was known to them in the breaking of the bread”
  8. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – All scripture”Moses and the Prophets” point to Jesus.  Jesus uses scripture as a means of revelation, and it is Jesus who is the true Teacher through his Spirit.
  9. “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.” – The four verbs took, blessed, broke, and gave are the words used to describe the actions of the Lord’s Supper. See Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:23 and Luke 22:19 (blessing and giving thanks are almost synonymous in mealtime prayers which is why we alternatively ask someone “Say the Blessing” or to “Give Thanks” before eating)
  10. Then they told what had happened on the road – From being nourished by the Lord in Word and Sacrament they leave to tell about the what had happened and how he was made known to them.  They go on a mission of bearing witness to what had happened.

This passage from Luke reminds us of who we are and the ordinary means God has given through which we disciples on the Way, wherever we are, experience the true presence of the Risen Lord.  He draws near to us through Word and Sacrament in the community of Faith every Lord’s Day.

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day
is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and
awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in
Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake
of your love. Amen. (A Collect for the Presence of Christ from The Book of Common Prayer)


We had two visitors with us last night for our Wednesday evening fellowship meal and Bible study.  Andrew and Jacob, two young men from Wisconsin are bicycling through the area.  Apparently they got off course yesterday after biking from Jackson, TN in the rain.  One of our church members found them in the area and invited them to a warm meal and offered a place to stay for the night.  This isn’t the first time I feel like our member’s cooking, friendship and generosity is the best sermon preached in our congregation.

They’ve been biking for about three weeks and plan to be back home before Christmas.  Sounds like a fun time.  We’ll be praying things continue to go well for ya’ll.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2)

Prayer Requests

Wednesday nights are great fun. We have a meal followed by our group Bible studies and prayer meeting. Tonights menu was Baked Ham, White Beans, Corn Bread and Turnip Greens, unfortunately all of the Chocolate pie was gone before I got to dessert.

Prayer requests in the country are always good too. We have in the past prayed for someone who as “on a drunk” and need our prayers, plus an announcement to get out of the way if you see him on the road. My own mother in law was on the pray list recently for a snake bite. This evenings requests included one man who fell off of a ladder and someone else who had a cow knock a fence over on him.

Additionally, we’re making plans for a funeral at Coon Dog Cemetery next week — I’ve been asked to offer the invocation.

A House Divided? or just a Vote?

I survived another meeting of presbytery.  My blood pressure always starts rising the week before such meetings and beginning about noon the day before I get naseous.  I can relax for another few months now until our next meeting.

One thing that particularly bothers me about church meetings is that differences of opinion are too often made into a litmus test of our Chrisitan committment.  In our meeting yesterday, our congregation strongly disagreed with our Board of Finances’ proposal to raise our per member share from $27 to $69.  The ammendment our congregation proposed passed thereby removing or eliminating several budget items.  The presbytery’s vote was condemned by one member on the floor as not trusting God to provide for us, for not being missional and being provincial and small minded.

In previous meetings I have called into question how we intend to take $10,000 from an account that has only $5,000 in it.  My question was met with an extendend rant of how people are dying and going to Hell and all we can think about is money plus it shows that we are racist.  (The proposal supported Hispanic missions.)  Apparently if I had more compassion for the lost the laws of mathmatics would change.

I’ve heard of several meetings were a member of the body claims that they felt the Spirit  leading the presbytery or assembly in a direction, so obviously to vote against them is to resist the Holy Spirit.

In the closing session of our meeting yesterday, when the tension over an issue was noted I overheard our moderator make a brilliant statement  — ‘It’s not a House Divided, it’s just a vote’.  Sometimes Christians — fully committed, reasonable and informed disciples of Jesus — can disagree.  Disagreeing with you doesn’t necessarily stem from a deep rooted sin or a lack of faith, it could just be a difference of opinion.

CHAP. XXXIII. The Parson’s Library.

I was really expecting this chapter to be advice on study and reading.  Instead, Herbert reminds us that the purpose of our studies is to serve God’s Kingdom.  It reminds me of the phrase ‘a christian’s life is the only Bible some people read’.  Notice he does mention we should study our souls, the ‘lusts and affections within’.  A good reminder to observe people and our own nature in addition to Commentaries and Theological Tomes.  (BTW: the Puritan, Richard Baxter did offer some good advice on reading.)


THe Countrey Parson’s Library is a holy Life: for besides the blessing that that brings upon it, there being a promise, that if the Kingdome of God be first sought, all other things shall be added, even it selfe is a Sermon. For the temptations with which a good man is beset, and the ways which he used to overcome them, being told to another, whether in private conference, or in the Church, are a Sermon. Hee that hath considered how to carry himself at table about his appetite, if he tell this to another, preacheth; and much more feelingly, and judiciously, then he writes his rules of temperance out of bookes. So that the Parson having studied, and mastered all his lusts and affections within, and the whole Army of Temptations without, hath ever so many sermons ready penn’d, as he hath victories. And it fares in this as it doth in Physick: He that hath been sick of a Consumption, and knows what recovered him, is a Physitian so far as he meetes with the same disease, and temper; and can much better, and particularly do it, then he that is generally learned, and was never sick. And if the same person had been sick of all diseases, and were recovered of all by things that he knew; there were no such Physician as he, both for skill and tendernesse. Just so it is in Divinity, and that not without manifest reason: for though the temptations may be diverse in divers Christians, yet the victory is alike in all, being by the self-same Spirit. Neither is this true onely in the military state of a Christian life, but even in the peaceable also; when the servant of God, freed for a while from temptation, in a quiet sweetnesse seeks how to please his God. Thus the Parson considering that repentance is the great vertue of the Gospel, and one of the first steps of pleasing God, having for his owne use examined the nature of it, is able to explaine it after to others. And particularly, having doubted sometimes, whether his repentance were true, or at least in that degree it ought to be, since he found himselfe sometimes to weepe more for the losse of some temporall things, then for offending God, he came at length to this resolution, that repentance is an act of the mind, not of the Body, even as the Originall signifies; and that the chiefe thing, which God in Scriptures requires, is the heart, and the spirit, and to worship him in truth, and spirit. Wherefore in case a Christian endeavour to weep, and cannot, since we are not Masters of our bodies, this sufficeth. And consequently he found, that the essence of repentance, that it may be alike in all Gods children (which as concerning weeping it cannot be, some being of a more melting temper then others) consisteth in a true detestation of the soul, abhorring, and renouncing sin, and turning unto God in truth of heart, and newnesse of life: Which acts of repentance are and must be found in all Gods servants: Not that weeping is not usefull, where it can be, that so the body may joyn in the grief, as it did in the sin; but that, so the other acts be, that is not necessary: so that he as truly repents, who performes the other acts of repentance, when he cannot more, as he that weeps a floud of tears. This Instruction and comfort the Parson getting for himself, when he tels it to others, becomes a Sermon. The like he doth in other Christian vertues, as of Faith, and Love, and the Cases of Conscience belonging thereto, wherein (as Saint Paul implyes that he ought, Romans 2.[21]) hee first preacheth to himselfe, and then to others.

CHAP. XXXII. The Parson’s Surveys.

The following chapter doesn’t relate immediately to pastoral work, but it is interesting to note the scope of Herbert’s view of the minister’s calling.  While the details don’t exactly fit the modern context, I am challenged by the idea of seeing the mission of the Church integral to the well being of the social order and the health of the nation.  It can be very easy to see the work of the Church only in terms of our local congregation.

THe Countrey Parson hath not onely taken a particular Survey of the faults of his own Parish, but a generall also of the diseases of the time, that so, when his occasions carry him abroad, or bring strangers to him, he may be the better armed to encounter them. The great and nationall sin of this Land he esteems to be Idlenesse; great in it selfe, and great in Consequence: For when men have nothing to do, then they fall to drink, to steal, to whore, to scoffe, to revile, to all sorts of gamings. Come, say they, we have nothing to do, lets go to the Tavern, or to the stews, or what not. Wherefore the Parson strongly opposeth this sin, whersoever he goes. And because Idleness is twofold, the one in having no calling, the other in walking carelesly in our calling, he first represents to every body the necessity of a vocation. The reason of this assertion is taken from the nature of man, wherein God hath placed two great Instruments, Reason in the soul, and a hand in the Body, as ingagements of working: So that even in Paradise man had a calling, and how much more out of Paradise, when the evills which he is now subject unto, may be prevented, or diverted by reasonable imployment. Besides, every gift or ability is a talent to be accounted for, and to be improved to our Masters Advantage. Yet is it also a debt to our Countrey to have a Calling, and it concernes the Common-wealth, that none should be idle, but all busied. Lastly, riches are the blessing of God, and the great Instrument of doing admirable good; therfore all are to procure them honestly, and seasonably, when they are not better imployed. Now this reason crosseth not our Saviours precept of selling what we have, because when we have sold all, and given it to the poor, we must not be idle, but labour to get more, that we may give more, according to St. Pauls rule, Ephes. 4. 28. I Thes. 4. 11, 12. So that our Saviours selling is so far from crossing Saint Pauls working, that it rather establisheth it, since they that have nothing, are fittest to work. Now because the onely opposer to this Doctrine is the Gallant, who is witty enough to abuse both others, and himself, and who is ready to ask, if he shall mend shoos, or what he shall do? Therfore the Parson unmoved, sheweth, that ingenuous and fit imployment is never wanting to those that seek it. But if it should be, the Assertion stands thus: All are either to have a Calling, or prepare for it: He that hath or can have yet no imployment, if he truly, and seriously prepare for it, he is safe and within bounds. Wherefore all are either presently to enter into a Calling, if they be fit for it, and it for them; or else to examinewith care, and advice, what they are fittest for, and to prepare for that with all diligence. But it will not be amisse in this exceeding usefull point to descend to particulars: for exactnesse lyes in particulars. Men are either single, or marryed: The marryed and house-keeper hath his hands full, if he do what he ought to do. For there are two branches of his affaires; first, the improvement of his family, by bringing them up in the fear and nurture of the Lord; and secondly, the improvement of his grounds, by drowning, or draining, or stocking, or fencing, and ordering his land to the best advantage both of himself, and his neighbours. The Italian says, None fouls his hands in his own businesse: and it is an honest, and just care, so it exceed not bounds, for every one to imploy himselfe to the advancement of his affairs, that hee may have wherewithall to do good. But his family is his best care, to labour Christian soules, and raise them to their height, even to heaven; to dresse and prune them, and take as much joy in a straight-growing childe, or servant, as a Gardiner doth in a choice tree. Could men finde out this delight, they would seldome be from home; whereas now, of any place, they are least there. But if after all this care well dispatched, the house-keepers Family be so small, and his dexterity so great, that he have leisure to look out, the Village or Parish which either he lives in, or is neer unto it, is his imployment. Hee considers every one there, and either helps them in particular, or hath generall Propositions to the whole Towne or Hamlet, of advancing the publick Stock, and managing Commons, or Woods, according as the place suggests. But if hee may bee of the Commission of Peace, there is nothing to that: No Common-wealth in the world hath a braver Institution then that of Justices of the Peace: For it is both a security to the King, who hath so many dispersed Officers at his beck throughout the Kingdome, accountable for the publick good; and also an honourable Imployment of a Gentle, or Noble-man in the Country he lives in, inabling him with power to do good, and to restrain all those, who else might both trouble him and the whole State. Wherefore it behoves all, who are come to the gravitie, and ripenesse of judgement for so excellent a Place, not to refuse, but rather to procure it. And whereas there are usually three Objections made against the Place; the one, the abuse of it, by taking petty Countrey bribes; the other, the casting of it on mean persons, especially in some Shires: and lastly, the trouble of it: These are so far from deterring any good man from the place, that they kindle them rather to redeem the Dignity either from true faults, or unjust aspersions. Now, for single men, they are either Heirs, or younger Brothers: The Heirs are to prepare in all the fore-mentioned points against the time of their practice. Therefore they are to mark their Fathers discretion in ordering his House and Affairs; and also elsewhere, when they see any remarkable point of Education or good husbandry, and to transplant it in time to his own home, with the same care as others, when they meet with good fruit, get a graffe of the tree, inriching their Orchard, and neglecting their House. Besides, they are to read Books of Law, and Justice; especially, the Statutes at large. As for better Books of Divinity, they are not in this Consideration, because we are about a Calling, and a preparation thereunto. But chiefly, and above all things, they are to frequent Sessions and Sizes; for it is both an honor which they owe to the Reverend Judges and Magistrates, to attend them, at least in their Shire; and it is a great advantage to know the practice of the Land; for our Law is Practice. Sometimes he may go to Court, as the eminent place both of good and ill. At other times he is to travell over the King’s Dominions, cutting out the Kingdome into Portions, which every yeer he surveys peecemeal. When there is a Parliament, he is to endeavour by all means to be a Knight or Burgess there; for there is no School to a Parliament. And when he is there, he must not only be a morning man, but at Committees also; for there the particulars are exactly discussed, which are brought from thence to the House but in generall. When none of these occasions call him abroad, every morning that hee is at home hee must either ride the Great Horse, or exercise some of his Military gestures. For all Gentlemen, that are now weakned, and disarmed with sedentary lives, are to know the use of their Arms: and as the Husbandman labours for them, so must they fight for, and defend them, when occasion calls. This is the duty of each to other, which they ought to fulfill: And the Parson is a lover of and exciter to justice in all things, even as John the Baptist squared out to every one (even to Souldiers) what to do. As for younger Brothers, those whom the Parson finds loose, and not ingaged into some Profession by their Parents, whose neglect in this point is intolerable, and a shamefull wrong both to the Common-wealth, and their own House: To them, after he hath shew’d the unlawfulness of spending the day in dressing, Complementing, visiting, and sporting, he first commends the study of the Civill Law, as
a brave, and wise knowledg, the Professours whereof were much imployed by Queen Elizabeth, because it is the key of Commerce, and discovers the Rules of forraine Nations. Secondly, he commends the Mathematicks, as the only wonder-working knowledg, and therefore requiring the best spirits. After the severall knowledg of these, he adviseth to insist and dwell chiefly on the two noble branches therof, of Fortification, and Navigation; The one being usefull to all Countreys, and the other especially to Hands. But if the young Gallant think these Courses dull, and phlegmatick, where can he busie himself better, then in those new Plantations, and discoveryes, which are not only a noble, but also as they may be handled, a religious imployment? Or let him travel into Germany, and France, and observing the Artifices, and Manufactures there, transplant them hither, as divers have done lately, to our Countrey’s advantage.

CHAP. XXX. The Parson’s Consideration of Providence.

Can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything… Here’s Chapter 30 from George Herbert’s The Country Parson.

THe Countrey Parson considering the great aptnesse if Countrey people have to think that all things come by a kind of naturall course; and that if they sow and soyle their grounds, they must have corn; if they keep and fodder well their cattel, they must have milk, and Calves; labours to reduce them to see Gods hand in all things. and to beleeve. that things are not set in such an inevitable order, but that God often changeth it according as he sees fit, either for reward or punishment. To this end he represents to his flock, that God hath and exerciseth a threefold power in every thing which concernes man. The first is a sustaining power; the second a governing power; the third a spirituall power. By his sustaining power he preserves and actuates every thing in his being; so that corne doth not grow by any other vertue, then by that which he continually supplies, as the corn needs it; without which supply the corne would instantly dry up, as a river would if the fountain were stopped. And it is observable, that if anything could presume of an inevitable course, and constancy in its operations, certainly it should be either the sun in heaven, or the fire on earth, by reason of their fierce, strong, and violent natures: yet when God pleased, the sun stood stil, the fire burned not. By Gods governing power he preserves and orders the references of things one to the other, so that though the corn do grow, and be preserved in that act by his sustaining power, yet if he suite not other things to the growth, as seasons, and weather, and other accidents by his governing power, the fairest harvests come to nothing. And it is observeable, that God delights to have men feel, and acknowledg, and reverence his power, and therefore he often overturnes things, when they are thought past danger; that is his time of interposing: As when a Merchant hath a ship come home after many a storme, which it hath escaped, he destroyes it sometimes in the very Haven; or if the goods be housed, a fire hath broken forth, and suddenly consumed them. Now this he doth, that men should perpetuate, and not break off their acts of dependance, how faire soever the opportunities present themselves. So that if a farmer should depend upon God all the yeer, and being ready to put hand to sickle, shall then secure himself, and think all cock-sure; then God sends such weather, as lays the corn, and destroys it: or if he depend on God further, even till he imbarn his corn, and then think all sure; God sends a fire, and consumes all that he hath: For that he ought not to break off, but to continue his dependance on God, not onely before the corne is inned, but after also; and indeed, to depend, and fear continually. The third power is spirituall, by which God turnes all outward blessings to inward advantages. So that if a Farmer hath both a faire harvest, and that also well inned, and imbarned, and continuing safe there; yet if God give him not the Grace to use, and utter this well, all his advantages are to his losse. Better were his corne burnt, then not spiritually improved. And it is observable in this, how Gods goodnesse strives with mans refractorinesse; Man would sit down at this world, God bids him sell it, and purchase a better: Just as a Father, who hath in his hand an apple, and a piece of Gold under it; the Child comes, and with pulling, gets the apple out of his Fathers hand: his Father bids him throw it away, and he will give him the gold for it, which the Child utterly refusing, eats it, and is troubled with wormes: So is the carnall and wilfull man with the worm of the grave in this world, and the worm of Conscience in the next.

One thing I find interesting about this chapter is that Herbert clearly shows an understanding of Providence as working through the natural order. I think we have a tendency to think that the doctrine of Providence is difficult for us because we are on this side of the Scientific Revolution. The amount of knowledge we have of the workings of the natural world, and the way we are raised to understand these causes from our earliest education (my daughter in 1st grade brought a picture she had drawn of the water cycle home from school the other day) might lead us to think that the belief in a God who provides rain or guides those ‘chance’ meetings is especially difficult for the modern world. What I find interesting in this passage is that Herbert, who died ten years before Newton was born, found an understanding of providence to be a problem for English villagers. They too saw a cause and effect world and had to be reminded that God was the ultimate cause of the gifts of creation which they labored for and enjoyed.

Note also that the vision of God’s providence is not, as might be supposed of an early 17th Century Divine, one of a God acting directly or supernaturally, but as guiding natural events to work out His purposes — ‘if he suite not other things to the growth, as seasons, and weather, and other accidents by his governing power, the fairest harvests come to nothing’.

(image The Storm Cloud by rachel_r)