Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection, and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

It is easy to dismiss I Thessalonians 5:13, as “pie in the sky” i.e. how can we hope to be at any kind of peace in this stressful world? Even these verses from Philippians 4 may cause us to shake our heads, I mean, how can we not have any anxiety about anything?

For those who know Christ, there is a peace of God, which as Saint Paul writes, “passes all understanding.” This is the kind of peace we can experience in the midst of conflict. Most often, people think of peace as the absence of conflict. God’s peace is a peace that comes in the midst of conflict.

It’s kind of ironic that even in times of peace, we may struggle with inner conflict. There may be peace all around us and yet we will not feel peace, or we will feel insecure or struggle with our confidence.

The peace of God is what allows us to feel calm and secure even in the midst of chaos all around us. The peace of God is what allows us to stay above the fray, so to speak, to keep our focus, to feel confident and secure even in the midst of a storm.

In Tampa, Florida, where I currently live, we get a lot of rain in the summer. We get afternoon thundershowers that dump large amounts of rain quickly. The wind sometimes picks up during these thunderstorms and blows trees and scatters leaves. The rain is so hard that I could get soaked walking from my car to the office, a space of not even ten feet. When I’m driving the car with the radio on, in air-conditioned comfort, with the windows up, sealing out both the water and its sound, I feel at peace. The car is like a little cocoon. It keeps me safe and dry in the midst of the squall.

The peace of God is a lot like this scene. It protects us and makes us feel warm and secure in the midst of conflict. The peace of God is like the cocoon that protects us in the middle of the storms and stresses of life.

Teach me the way I should go, for to Thee I lift up my soul. Deliver me, O Lord from my enemies! I have fled to Thee for refuge! Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God! Let Thy good Spirit lead me on a level path! Psalm 143:8-10

One of our team-building activities at summer camp is called “the maze of encouragement.” This activity consists of one thousand feet of rope strung around dozens of trees creating a very complex web of ropes which are about four feet off the ground. (Think of a movie where there are laser beams all across the floor, but instead these are ropes.) A bandana is tied to one of the ropes somewhere in the maze. All of the campers of a particular cabin stand around the outside of the maze. A couple of campers who have not done this activity stay a distance away from the maze so as to not see it or hear the instructions. They are brought one at a time, blindfolded, and told that they are to find a bandana which has been tied onto one of the ropes.

The cabin-mates who are around the outside of the maze have been told that when the person makes a step in the right direction, they are all to clap. When they make a step in the wrong direction, they are all to remain silent. The activity begins. The blindfolded participant will eventually catch on that the clapping means they’ve gone in the right direction and silence will mean they’ve taken a misstep. This person will have to use the audio cues to figure out his or her way around trees and under ropes and eventually to find the bandana.

Here is how this activity relates to real life. The clapping in this activity represents encouraging voices in our lives. The bandana tied on the rope represents various goals we set in life. The goal might be an educational goal, like going to college. It might be an athletic goal, like making the basketball team. Or it might be a spiritual goal, like getting closer to Christ. The person being blindfolded represents our inability to get to our goals without help and encouragement from others. Tell the blindfolded person to find the bandana with no help and they are not very likely to succeed. In fact, the most likely outcome would be they quit or to end up getting hurt.

This activity is successfully done when two things happen. First, when the blindfolded participant listens to the audio cues and takes them, i.e. doesn’t just keep going when the clapping has stopped. Second, the people clapping must be consistent. They need to start and stop clapping at the same time. They need to clap immediately when the participant makes a good decision and they need to stop immediately when they don’t.

Here is where this activity, at least he way we do it at camp, is NOT like real life. Sure, it is true that we need encouragement to help us reach our goals. However, we hear many voices in our lives, some encouraging and some discouraging. Which voices win? The loudest ones? If this activity were to mirror real life, it would be much more difficult. If half of the group clapped for the right direction and half clapped for the wrong direction, it would be virtually impossible to find the bandana. That’s a lot like real life, especially for teenagers. For example, they hear voices telling them, “drinking and drugs are bad,” and they hear voices telling them, “drinking and drugs are cool.” Which voices do they listen to? Adults hear conflicting voices as well. For example, the Bible and the Church tell us to live simply. Advertisements tell us we need expensive clothes. Which voices do we listen to?

What if we did the activity this way? Let’s say there are 15 campers standing around the maze, and we tell fourteen of them to clap when the participant does wrong and one to clap when they do right? Will the participant figure out that the one lone voice is actually the right one? Or will they think, fourteen couldn’t possibly be wrong?

What if we told ten to clap all the time, whether the participant moved right or wrong? And we told five to snap their fingers when the participant did something right? The clapping of ten would certainly drown out the snapping of five.

This is how real life works. The voices we hear are inconsistent. We are often both encouraged and discouraged to do the same thing. It’s hard to know what is right when this happens. Sometimes we hear many voices of discouragement and only a single voice of encouragement. These are the times when it’s hard to make the right choice or to feel confident, when it’s just one voice of encouragement against many voices of discouragement. And sometimes, we hear loud clapping and faint snapping, and we wonder, which is the right voice to follow? Because it’s really hard to figure that our when you can’t see where you are going!

We’ve discussed before that the proper ratio of encouraging to discouraging voices in our lives should be five encouraging voice to every one discouraging voice. If we had fifteen people clapping for encouragement and three people snapping for discouragement, the sound of the clappers would overwhelm the sound of the snappers. And sadly, that often mirrors real life for many of us.

I ask the campers whether they hear more encouraging voices or discouraging ones, and the answer, for anyone in high school or above is that they hear more discouraging voices than encouraging ones. These discouraging voices include their friends, the media, and sometimes even their parents.

Each of us takes on both roles in this exercise, probably on a daily basis. As the blindfolded person trying to find Christ, success, or whatever we are trying to find, do we have enough voices of encouragement around us, do we listen to them, are we confused as to whether we are hearing encouragement or discouragement, are we moving confidently, or are we about to quit? We all walk uncertain paths at times, which hopefully are filled with more encouragement than discouragement, more clarity than confusion.

When we are the people who are “clapping” for others, are we encouraging them to do right, encouraging them to do wrong, or are we a voice of inconsistency and even confusion? This is a challenge for each of us, to be voices of encouragement and clarity for others. Will we be one of the five voices of encouragement, or one of the voices of discouragement that will take five people to overcome? It’s a choice we make on a daily basis. There are lots of people around us who are stuck in the “maze” of life and encouragement can make a real difference in helping them get to their goals.

Lord, be with me in the challenges I face today. Many days, my life resembles a maze and it is hard to know exactly the right thing to do. Give me the patience to listen to the voices of encouragement around me. Bring people around me that will encourage me. Give me the discernment to hear their voices. Give me the discernment to know which voices not to listen to. Help me to be a consistent voice of encouragement for people. Put someone in my path today that I can encourage. Amen.

If we are to help others, we need to be encouragers. Take a few minutes today and write a message of encouragement (can be a text, an email, or a real letter) to someone today! If you want a challenge, make a short text of encouragement to someone part of every day!

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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    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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros 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


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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros 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