Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
“And this will be a sign for you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12
Good morning Prayer Team!
One of my favorite hobbies is mowing my lawn. I find it very relaxing. One of the things I have never been able to do is mow only part of the yard, leaving the rest for another day. If I’m going to mow the lawn, I do the entire thing, always! One day in summer in Florida, I was mowing the lawn, when dark clouds quickly moved in, as they are prone to do here. Dark clouds in summer is usually a sign for rain. I kept on mowing the lawn, ignoring the sign of impending rain. And sure enough, soon it began to rain. I kept on mowing, undeterred by the rain. Then it began to pour heavy rain. I was stubbornly determined to continue mowing in the downpour. In the distance, I heard the rumbling of thunder. I still wasn’t deterred. I kept on mowing. Soon the thunder got louder. Then I started thinking, maybe this wasn’t the safest thing I was doing, mowing out in a thunderstorm, but the thinking still wasn’t enough for me to stop. Yes, I was ignoring all the signs that I should stop—the clouds, the rain, the heavy rain, the rolling thunder, the loud thunder. Then, in the nearby vicinity, there was the bolt of lightning. And THEN I thought to myself, “this is totally crazy that I am out here mowing the lawn. It is really worth me getting hit by lightning and dying so that the lawn can all be mowed today?!” So, for the one (and so far only) time in my life, I went in without finishing the job. Two days later, I went out and mowed the whole lawn over again. No, I wasn’t only going to mow the part I didn’t—I mowed the whole thing again.
Years later, it doesn’t even matter that I didn’t finish the yard that day. I ended up a little frustrated for ONE day, I got some extra exercise in and now I have a good story to tell people. Had I stayed outside, got hit by lightning and died, my child would be without a father, my wife without a husband, my parish without a priest, and my life would have been really wasted. All of that could have happened because I was stubborn and ignored the signs that I should stop mowing that summer day.
God gives signs in our lives. He gives us signs for how to behave, how to forgive, He gives us talents that we are supposed to use for His glory. Yet, how many times do we ignore these obvious signs! Is it because of our own stubbornness? Pride?
When the angel told the Shepherds the good news of the Nativity of Christ, he gave the Shepherds an OBVIOUS sign—that they would find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. There was nothing tricky or confusing about this. When the Shepherds came upon the baby Jesus, there would be no doubt that they would have found what the angel was speaking about.
God gives obvious signs in our lives. We are sometimes too stubborn or too proud to heed them. We are sometimes too busy to hear them. This is where we go back to listening to God through scripture, but also watching for signs that are obvious for what God expects us to do.
I’m reminded of the joke about the person whose house was flooding and they prayed to God for deliverance and then a rowboat passed the house and the person in the boat beckoned the homeowner to row to safety. The homeowner stayed put and as the floodwaters rose, they asked God for deliverance. A motorboat passed by and the driver beckoned the homeowner to come into the boat. But the homeowner stayed put. As the floodwaters continued to rise, the homeowner stood on the roof of the house beckoning for deliverance. A helicopter flew by and the pilot beckoned the homeowner to climb aboard. The homeowner stayed put. Eventually the homeowner was swept away by the floodwaters, and as he was about to drown, he screamed out to the Lord, “I asked you to deliver me. Why didn’t you save me?” To which the Lord replied, “I sent you a rowboat, a motorboat and a helicopter. What more did you want?”
The moral of this story is that God oftentimes is sending us signs, and we somehow manage to ignore them. There are many middle-aged people who are not happy in their work, who will admit that years ago, they felt called to do something but didn’t do it because it wasn’t lucrative enough. They missed a sign. Many people who are not married will admit that there was an obvious person they should have married looking back, but they missed signs as well. Many people miss signs that they need to forgive someone. Some people miss signs that they are over-committing or overloading. We ignore signs that our health is worsening. We avoid signs that we should get help for a problem. I can’t tell you how many times, for example, a couple comes in for help for their marriage that is crumbling and laments, “there were signs that we were in trouble a long time ago, and we didn’t get help and now it might be too late.” And that’s not just with marriage or health. There are many instances in life where we ignore signs that we need some help.
God provides signs, some obvious, and many subtle, that can lead us to a better understanding of His will for our lives and can lead to better lives overall for us. The question is, are we watching for them? The smart person isn’t the one who stubbornly plows ahead, but the one who makes the sometimes smarter decision to stop, or to ask for help.
One lesson I have learned from speaking with my Spiritual Father, is that when I am in doubt of what God’s will is for my life, if I’m not sure if a sign is from God or from my own ego, I ask God for two things: First, for His will, not mine, to be done. And secondly, for Him to make His will OBVIOUS to me, to not leave me the opportunity for second guessing. When there is an opportunity I’m not sure if I should take or not, I ask God to either roll out the red carpet for me or slam the door on me, but not to leave room for me to think about it too much.
Today’s hymn is from the Royal Hours of the Nativity and it recounts for us the many signs of Christ’s divinity that were present at His Nativity.
Today He who holds the whole world in His hand is born from a Virgin.
He who in essence is impalpable is swaddled in rags as a mortal.
God who established the heavens of old in the beginning is lying in a manger.
He who rained down manna for the people in the wilderness is breastfed with milk.
He who is the Bridegroom of the Church is summoning Magi.
And He, that Son of the Virgin, is accepting their gifts.
We adore Your Nativity, O Christ.
Show us also Your Divine Epiphany.
(Hymn from the Royal Hours of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
May you see all of God’s signs today!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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