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True Satisfaction

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1 KJV).

Many of us memorized those words as children. And some of us may have thought, “Wow! That means God will give me whatever I want!”

So we prayed for new bicycles, the latest gadgets, and swimming pools in our backyards—absolutely certain that if God gave us these hearts’ desires, we’d be truly satisfied.

Some of our prayers were answered affirmatively. A new bicycle with sparkling spokes actually materialized by the Christmas tree. Or Aunt Kate heard the pleas for Mattell’s Magical Music Thing, and sent it as a birthday gift.

But as the years went by, the wise and introspective among us realized:

1. When one desire is fulfilled, another quickly takes its place.

Years ago I heard that a famous actress had accumulated seven houses, each one a different style from the others. Why? Because moving from one to another eased her boredom. (I wonder how long it took to become discontented with House #4, or #5, or #6, before she hired an architect to start the next?)

2. God isn’t in the business of making wishes come true.

Psalm 23:1 doesn’t mean: “I’m one of God’s flock! I’m gonna live on Easy Street!”

If he did grant every whim, we’d soon become self-centered and spoiled.

Perhaps a clarifying interpretation of the opening scripture would be: “God is my loving Care-Giver. All that I enjoy in my relationship with him far outweighs anything this world has to offer. I really don’t need another single thing.”

Ah, to be as soul-satisfied as King David, the author of this psalm!  How can we become that contented?

One place to begin is with gratitude and praise.

Think of all we enjoy as a result of our relationship with God.  Peace, joy, and provision quickly come to mind.

Here are a few more:

  • Companionship with a perfect Friend—every moment of every day–into eternity.  He is always listening, always watchful, always diligent.
  • Hope. No situation is beyond the control of our Almighty God.
  • Settledness, because he is in control, and “makes good things even out of hard times” (Erica Hale).
  • Truth. We don’t have to muddle through life like a do-it-yourselfer with no instruction manual. “The unfolding of [God’s] words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

The bottom-line is this: No possession or position, no place or person on earth can fill our hearts with contentment.

3. True satisfaction flourishes when we affirm that in God we have all we need.

Remember Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28?

Are you weary of the dissatisfaction that results from striving for the next desire?  Are you burdened by unfulfilled wishes and dreams?

Come to Jesus.  Count the scores of blessings he’s already provided in the past, is currently providing this very moment, and has already prepared in the glory of heaven yet to come.

Cultivate true satisfaction in your heart with gratitude and praise!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What helps you cultivate true satisfaction?  Please share in the Comments section below!

Art & photo credits: http://www.canva.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.rawpixel.com; http://www.wikimedia.org.

(Revised and reblogged from 7-10-14 while we enjoy house guests.)

Hidden in God

Play hide-and-seek with a two-year old and chances are, when it’s your turn to do the seeking, you won’t be looking for long. Their under- standing of true concealment is limited.

Some people play hide-and-seek in life. They’re looking for places to hide from such situations as financial ruin, hurtful relationships, and danger. But their understanding of true concealment is limited.

They may build up a hefty bank account, move from one relationship to another when the first difficulty arises, and purchase every means of protection against physical harm.

But these hiding places still leave a person exposed. Not all problems can be solved with money. Shallow relationships don’t satisfy in the long term, and physical protection can fail.

Just as our granddaughter in the first picture needed something bigger to cover her, we need something bigger than bank accounts, a few casual friends, and state-of-the-art alarm systems to cover us.

In addition, we face a number of monumental problems in America that leave all of us greatly exposed: rising drug addiction, increased violent crime, failing schools, the demise of Judeo-Christian values, inflation, supply chain failures, the national debt, and more.

There is only one place where we’re completely hidden and protected: in God himself.

Not that we’re shielded from every difficulty in this life. God hasn’t promised to prevent all trouble. But he is the One who can provide complete coverage no matter what we face, including the security of eternal life and blessings in the midst of trouble.

When God is our Hiding Place, he makes available to us his:

  • Strength

When tumult rages,

We have in him a strong citadel of calm.

–Herman  Lockyer (1)

  • Peace

The very act of breathing in his presence [is] balm.

Jan Karon (2)

  • Help

Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him

and expect help from Him, He will never fail you.

–George Mueller

  • Truth, including his unfailing promises

The roots of stability come from being grounded in God’s Word.

–Unknown

  • Hope

God has given no pledge that he will not redeem

And encouraged no hope that he will not fulfill.

–Charles Spurgeon

Rest assured, my friends, once we’ve placed our faith in Jesus Christ, we are completely covered—hidden in God. He is our steadfast and reliable Rock of refuge (Psalm 31:3).

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I praise you, O God, for sheltering me in the Rock-cave of your refuge. I’m surrounded by your unfailing love and compassion, your all-sufficiency in all situations, and your empowering presence.

I also take refuge in the truth of your Word that affirms you will put all things right when the time is right. In the meantime, I nestle into the protective shadow of your wings.

(Psalm 32:10b; Psalm 116:5; Philippians 4:1; Psalm 23:4; Romans 8:28; Psalm 17:8b)

Notes:

  1. Seasons of the Lord, 252.
  2. A Common Life, 116.

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg; http://www.fox19.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com.

Eliza strained forward as her legs churned beneath her, the underbrush tearing at her long skirts. The small boy in her aching arms whimpered, sensing a danger he couldn’t see.

“Hush, chile,” she gasped in a whisper. “Mama’s gone keep you safe.”

Eliza dared a quick glance behind her. She could see nothing of the slave catchers who’d found her hiding place, a house near the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.  She’d slipped out the back door and into the woods as they approached the front. But they would surely guess her run for freedom, and their long legs, unencumbered by skirts, would quickly bring them close.

Runaways like Eliza Harris

Eliza dared not slow her pace toward the northern side of the river, where she and her baby had a chance to be together. Though her master had been kind, he was planning to sell her son. Eliza could not let that happen; her two older children had already died.

Finally, Eliza could see glimmering flecks through the trees as morning light danced on the water. But this was not what she’d planned. Eliza had expected to walk across the mile-wide river on ice, given the winter season. Instead she found the ice broken up into mammoth chunks, drifting slowly on the current.

With a prayer on her lips, Eliza made the choice to cross anyway, jumping from ice cake to ice cake. Sometimes the cake on which she stood sunk beneath the surface of the water. Then Eliza would slide her baby onto the next cake and pull herself on with her hands. Soon her skirts were soaked and her hands numb with cold. But Eliza felt God upholding her; she was confident he’d keep them safe.

On the northern bank stood William Lacey, one of those who watched the river for escaping slaves in order to help them. Time and again he thought the river would take the woman and child, but she miraculously reached the bank, heaving for breath and weak from cold and exhaustion.

When she’d rested for a few moments, the man helped her to a house on the edge of town. There she received food and dry clothing before being taken to another home and then another, along the Underground Railroad. Finally she reached the home of Quakers, Levi and Catherine Coffin, in Newport, Indiana.[1]

Note the mention of Levi Coffin

By the time Eliza arrived on their doorstep in 1838, the Coffins had been helping escaped slaves for more than a decade. In fact, the following year they would build a house specifically designed for their work as station masters on the Underground Railroad.

A Federalist-style house, similar to the Coffins’ home

In the basement they constructed a spring-fed well, to conceal the enormous amount of water needed for their many guests. On the second floor, they built a secret room between bedroom walls, just four feet wide. Up to fourteen people could hide in the long, narrow room.

Eliza Harris was only one of more than a thousand slaves (some say 3,000) that stayed in the Coffin home on their way to Canada. Had the Coffins (or others) been caught helping runaway slaves, they would have owed a $1000 fine (which few could afford) and would have spent six months in jail (which meant no income for the family during that time). Slave hunters were known to issue death threats as well.

But the Coffins held strong convictions concerning slavery. In the 1870s Levi wrote in his memoirs, “I . . .  risked everything in the work—life, property, and reputation—and did not feel bound to respect human laws that came in direct contact with the law of God.”[2]

For the introduction of Coffin’s book, William Brisbane[3] wrote the following about Levi and two other abolitionists:

“In Christian love they bowed themselves before their Heavenly Father and prayed together for the oppressed race; with a faith that knew no wavering they worked in fraternal union for the enfranchisement of their despised colored brethren, and shared together the odium attached to the name of abolitionist, and finally they rejoiced together and gave thanks to God for the glorious results of those years of persevering effort.”[4]

Should we face such hatred and endangerment in our day, may we stand in the midst of it like Levi and Catherine Coffin—steadfast and unmovable in the power of God.

Addendum:

In 1854 the Coffins visited Canada and happened to encounter a number of former slaves they’d helped. Eliza Harris was one of them–settled in her own home, comfortable and contented.

Her story may sound familiar because Harriet Beecher Stowe, a friend of the Coffins, included the slave’s harrowing escape in her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


[1] Now called Fountain City

[2] https://www.indianamuseum.org/historic-sites/levi-catharine-coffin-house/

[3] a doctor, minister, author, and South Carolina slaveholder who turned abolitionist and moved north where he freed his slaves

[4]https://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/coffin.html

Other sources:

http://www.womenhistoryblog.com

http://www.rialto.k12.ca.us/rhs/planetwhited/AP%20PDF%20Docs/Unit%206/COFFIN1.PDF

https://mrlinfo.org/famous-visitors/Eliza-Harris.htm

Art & photo credits: http://www.nypl.getarchive.net; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.slr-a.org.uk; http://www.wikimedia.org.

Inside Me

(in celebration of Poetry Month)

Inside us all exists a place

unique in space and size.

Just one thing can fill this space;

it’s nothing money buys.

Some people try to fill the void

with work and busy-ness.

They think that to be well-employed

will bring true happiness.

Others try a different route—

they seek recognition.

But all too soon they learn about

the failings of ambition.

But inside me there is no void—

it’s a marvelous sensation!

Inside me grows peace and joy,

defying explanation.

The future holds no fear for me,

sleepless nights I don’t endure.

There’s no need to fret continually,

because my destiny is secure.

Even when problems come my way,

a sense of joy pervades.

From an inner strength, fears are allayed,

and anxiety begins to fade.

This peace and joy inside me

come from one amazing Source.

It’s Jesus Christ—he’s the key,

the almighty, empowering force!

The Lord alone can fit that space;

nothing else will ever do.

While following his excellent ways,

I experience his blessings too!

Art & photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

Ready for Anything

Most everyone knows her name and a bit about her work. But few know of the discouragement and self-doubt she faced, the depression during her early twenties that led to suicidal thoughts, the criticism she endured, her ruined health, and collapses from overwork.

Yet Florence Nightingale, Mother of Modern Nursing, persevered through it all.

Coloured lithograph by H. M. Bonham-Carter, 1854.

Even as she suffered, Florence wrote, “It is such a blessing to have been called, however unworthy, to be the handmaid of the Lord” [1].

We marvel at her determination and strength, yet such endurance is available to us too. God has provided numerous ways for us to endure all circumstances.

Especially in this time of turmoil and uncertainty in our world, we’d do well to build up a nest egg of intentional faith deposits—deposits that include:

STANDING firm on the Bible

Psalm 119 in particular celebrates the benefits of immersion in God’s Word. A short-list would include: delight (v. 16), counsel (v. 24), understanding (v. 32), hope (v. 49), comfort (v. 52), wisdom (v. 99), truth (v. 160), and peace (v. 165).

Who couldn’t use more of these qualities in their lives?

TIME with God

Turn your mind to worship throughout the day, and in the process of being worshiped . . . God will communicate his presence [2]. Awareness of his presence then leads to strength, and strength leads to quietness of spirit.

TRUST in God’s character

Those of us who’ve known God for awhile can attest to his unfathomable grace, unwavering faithfulness, never-ending compassion, supreme goodness, infinite wisdom, over-arching power, and perfect love.

Meditating on his attributes also replenishes our spiritual strength.

.   

APPROPRIATION of what God has provided

Think of the value of such God-given gifts as forgiveness, prayer, the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, and contentment.

Why would I ever say, “No thank you, God!” to such glorious gifts?

DETERMINATION to stay in the fight

You might remember that composer Ludwig van Beethoven became deaf, beginning in his twenties. Yet he declared, “I will take life by the throat” [3].

May we exercise such determination and embrace our life in Christ with the same tenacity, no matter the circumstances. Strain contributes to strength.

AWARENESS of the evidence

How has God provided for you? Protected you? Guided you?

Contemplate the examples and you’ll find yourself echoing the psalmist: “You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands” [4].

And joy in the Lord also fosters strength [5].

ENJOYMENT of God’s blessings

To keep the joy flowing, remember his magnanimous blessings—those gifts beyond necessity and surprises beyond dreams.

More joy; more strength.

FELLOWSHIP with God’s people

Praise God for family and friends whose winsome ways make our lives a little lighter, whose compassion makes our troubles easier to carry, and whose love and encouragement enable us to press on.

They infuse strength when ours begins to wane.

SINGLE-MINDEDNESS on the goal

With the Apostle Paul we can focus on one thing: forget what is behind and do our best to reach toward what is ahead, “which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above” [6].

All of these deposits . . .

S  tanding firm

T  ime with God

E  njoyment of God’s blessings

A  ppropriation of what God has provided

D  etermination to stay in the fight

F  ellowship with God’s people

A  wareness of the evidence

S  ingle-mindedness

T  rust in God’s character . . .

. . . will contribute to the kind of STEADFASTNESS that propelled such people of faith as Florence Nightingale and Ludwig van Beethoven through the adversities they faced.

And do you remember what happens when perseverance finishes its work in our lives?

We become mature, complete, and lacking in nothing [7].

Ready for anything.


[1] https://www.christiantoday.com/article/god-has-spoken-to-me-and-called-me-to-serve-12-inspiring-florence-nightingale-quotes-to-mark-her-birthday/108984.htm

[2] C. S. Lewis, quoted by Linda Dillow in Satisfy the Thirsty Soul, 17.

[3] https://bible.org/illustration/life-throat  

[4] Psalm 92:4

[5] Nehemiah 8:10

[6] Philippians 3:13-14 GNT

[7] James 1:4 HCSB

Art & photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.wkikimedia.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.piqsels.com.

Love So Amazing

Tonight, the Thursday before Easter, we remember the Last Supper and the heart-wrenching scene in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was there Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done”(1).

In a matter of hours from that moment, Jesus would face unimaginable pain and suffering. Yet his prayers were not only for himself that night. He prayed for his disciples, and he even prayed for us—those who would believe in him in the future. His desire was that God’s love and his presence would be in us (2). I marvel at such selflessness in the midst of supreme crisis, don’t you?

As a result of his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, Jesus made possible the fulfillment of that prayer. Our crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ indwells every believer (3).

Think of it. The all-powerful, all-wise Lord of the universe lives within us! But just what does that mean?

I like Sarah Young’s explanation: We are intertwined with him in an intimacy involving every fiber of our beings (4).

It means that God makes available to us everything we need:

  • Power to handle life’s challenges (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  • Wisdom to determine right actions from wrong (James 1:5)
  • Access to talk to him at any time (Hebrews 4:16)
  • Personalized purpose, to fulfill a God-ordained plan (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • Hope that can never be disappointed (Isaiah 40:31)
  • Resources that can never be exhausted (Philippians 4:19)

It means that in Christ we have:

  • Complete forgiveness (Hebrews 8:12)
  • Everlasting life (John 3:16)
  • Overflowing joy (Psalm 16:11)
  • Deep peace (John 14:27)
  • Attentive care (1 Peter 5:7)

Sometimes I act like the Israelites on their trek to the Promised Land. Remember the manna God provided so they wouldn’t go hungry? It tasted like wafers made with honey (5).

Yet they became so accustomed to the provision, they began to complain. Manna wasn’t good enough after a while.  “Yes, Lord,” they may have said.  “You’ve been very gracious to provide manna, but we need meat!”

These blessings of Christ in us listed above are more precious even than miraculous manna. How could I take such astounding blessings for granted? Add to that the incredible price Jesus paid so I could enjoy those blessings. How dare I think, Yes, Lord, you’ve been very gracious, but I need more!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *   *     *     *

Dearest Jesus, as I contemplate your deep distress in the Garden of Gethsemane, your suffering at the hands of Roman soldiers, and the unfathomable pain you endured on the cross, my petty wants become inconsequential.

Forgive me for allowing familiarity to dull my senses of awe and gratitude for the sacrifice you made. Willingly.  Lovingly.  

“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” (6).

So be it.

Notes:

  1. Luke 22:42
  2. John 17:26
  3. Colossians 1:27
  4. Jesus Calling, 332.
  5. Exodus 16:31
  6. From the hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Art credit:  www.free bible images.org.

(Revised and reblogged from April 17, 2014, while we enjoy a week-long visit from our daughter and family.)

Some time ago, wise-and-insightful blogger Michele Morin (at Living Our Days) shared that she was journaling through some of the old hymns. I imagined her digging into the meaning of some of the rich language and theology, personalizing the truths, and/or using them as the basis for prayer.

Putting pen or pencil to paper in such a way slows down our thinking, allowing wonderful blessings to emerge:

  • Increased knowledge of God and his Word
  • Clarity of understanding
  • A record of discoveries
  • A record of faith deposits for later encouragement
  • Renewal of the mind
  • Augmented intimacy with God

If writing a meditation sounds intimidating, adopt the attitude of Isaac Asimov:

“Writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers.”

Isaac Asimov

For Christian journalers, writing can be worshiping through our fingers.

But how do we even begin such a process? Try Anne Sexton’s approach:

When we invite Jesus into our lives, the Spirit of God takes up residence within our spirits (1). We can put our ears down close to our souls and listen hard for him to guide our thoughts and lead us to the insights he would have us discover.

And then, we fill our pages with the breathings of our hearts (2).

The following is an example of a journal entry, based on the first verse of the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”(3). The next four images contain the lyrics.

You, oh God, are the Source of every blessing—every provision, every answered prayer, every wise decision, every creative idea, every moment of joy. All good and perfect gifts come from you (4).

Out of your lavish generosity, blessings flow continually from your hand. May I be quick to praise you for each one as they demonstrate your lovingkindness.

This fount of blessing includes your mercy also. I praise you for your forgiveness, undeserving as I am. Thank you for looking upon me with compassion and tenderness in spite of my weaknesses, failures, and sins.

And I praise you that your mercy never ends! You are faithful to forgive me every time I come to you in repentance. Such grace is beyond comprehension. Yes, I want to sing songs of loudest praise, to honor you rightly for all you’ve done for me and continue to do.

Perhaps if I had the voice of an angel and knew the songs of heaven I could sing the full praise you deserve!

Nevertheless, I celebrate your name(s)—Shepherd, Lord of Peace, God of Grace, Father of Compassion and more. I glory in all the attributes indicated by each one. And I remember: the one trait that is part of them all: your unfailing love.

Thank you for loving me, in spite of my shortcomings; thank you for redeeming me from the consequences of my sins so I might enjoy you forever!

Should you decide to journal through a hymn or praise song, remember: perfection is not the goal, getting to know God better and worship him more passionately are the aims.

An added benefit? Our meditations will positively impact our words and actions (5).

Notes:

  1. 1 Corinthians 3:16
  2. based on a quote from William Wordsworth
  3. by Robert Robinson, text adapted by Margaret Clarkson
  4. James 1:17
  5. Joshua 1:8

Photo credits: http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.flicker.com; http://www.freebibleimages.org.

Turnings

Raise your hand if you ever created frothy foam with vinegar and baking soda.

OK, hands down. Now, who can name five other common chemical reactions?

M-m-m. Not as many hands. To be honest, I couldn’t have named that many either. But a bit of research turned up these:

  • Plants turn sunlight into energy for growth—photosynthesis
  • Yeast causes bread dough to rise
  • Bacteria in old milk transforms the lactose into lactic acid, creating that sour odor
  • Combustion causes wood to burn; burnt wood becomes ash
  • In a wet or humid environment, iron and steel will develop rust

And just as marvelous turnings occur in the physical world, God initiates and fosters marvelous turnings in our lives—with spectacular results.

For example:

God’s love turns mistakes into miracles. Joseph’s brothers made a terrible mistake, selling their brother into Egyptian slavery and lying about it. They still carried the guilt two decades later, when the brothers traveled to Egypt for grain during a famine.

Little did they know that Joseph had risen from slave to prime minister, was overseeing the distribution of grain, and saving thousands of lives. What the brothers intended for harm, God turned to miraculous good (1).

God’s power turns weaklings into warriors. Gideon felt powerless against Israel’s enemy, the mighty Midianites. He required much reassurance from God to go into battle against them. But with God’s encouragement and enablement, Gideon led his small army to a rousing victory (2).

God’s grace turns devastation into distinction. Saul was a broken man, blind and no doubt confused when Ananias visited him that day in Damascus. But it wasn’t long before he was traveling the region, preaching passionate sermons, and drawing hundreds of people to Jesus (3).

In addition to his love, power, and grace, our Heavenly Father provides ways for us to turn negatives into positives, and dull into delightful.

For example:

Proper perspective turns irritation into exaltation.

“We can learn to overlook the trivial and fix our gaze on the eternal. What is an offense compared to [God’s] love? What is a rejection compared to His unconditional acceptance? What is a momentary trial compared to an eternity with Him” (4)?

Wonder turns weariness to WOW!

“Even in the familiar there can be surprise and wonder” (5).

(Who’s the fairest beetle of them all? This one!)
(How many folds on this mushroom, do you suppose?)
(A dandelion dressed in dewdrops)

Are you feeling a bit of reverent WOW right now?

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough” (6).

“The bedrock of our contentment isn’t the goodness of our day but the goodness of our God” (7).

Trusting in God turns uncertainty into adventure.

We can lament, “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” or we can pray, “Lord, I can’t wait to see how you do this” (8)!

Hope turns apprehension into expectation.

What’s more worthwhile: worrying about what can go wrong or being excited about what can go right, since God is always at work?

Prayer turns anxiety into peace.

“Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus” (9).

Worship turns turmoil into calm.

“We would worry less if we praised more” (10).

The question becomes: Will we choose those actions that turn negatives into positives and dull into delightful? Or will we live under a dark cloud of malaise, apprehension, and turmoil?  

God has shown us the way to the former; he leaves the turnings to us.

Notes:

  1. Genesis 37-50
  2. Judges 6-7
  3. Acts 9-28
  4. Emmanuelle Gomez
  5. Tierney Gearon
  6. Unknown
  7. Melissa Krueger, Growing Together, Crossway, 2020, 132)
  8. Unknown
  9. Philippians 4:6-7, Phillips
  10. Harry Ironside

Art & photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wpclipart.com; http://www.lookandlearn.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.pixahive.com; http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.wikimedia.org.

Betsy gasped at the revolting scene before her. Yes, she’d been warned by Stephen Grellet, a family friend, but even his graphic descriptions could not have prepared her for this.

In a space meant for sixty women, three hundred women and children[1] swarmed over every square foot, some barely clothed. Screaming and shouting assaulted the ears.

But the worst offense was the stench of unwashed bodies, vomit, human waste and more which saturated the meager straw on the floor. Small barred windows offered little fresh air for relief.

The place: Newgate Prison in London England. The time: 1813.

Newgate prison. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

In that first moment inside Newgate, Betsy knew that “God wanted her to minister hope to these women who were being treated like animals and had lost their desire to live.”[2]

The jailers told Betsy and her companion, sister-in-law Anna Bruxton, not to enter the cells, that the women were bound to attack her.

But Betsy insisted, and they marveled when her quiet presence actually calmed the women. Betsy read the Bible and then prayed for the prisoners. Many dropped to their knees.

After that first visit, Betsy began to dream of better ways to deal with prisoners—especially those guilty of nothing more than stealing apples to feed their starving children. She wondered, Instead of severe punishment as the only purpose of confinement, what if rehabilitation was provided?  

Betsy went to work immediately.  She organized her Quaker friends (a group which quickly expanded) who made clothing for the inmates and their children.

Betsy recruited volunteers to visit the prisoners, read the Bible and tell them about Jesus, then pray with them, just as she did. No doubt many chose to believe in Jesus as a result.

Mrs. Fry reading the Bible to prisoners.

Betsy arranged for clean straw to be brought in regularly. A prison school was established, paving the way for children and mothers alike to escape destitution. Betsy also convinced prison authorities to hire a matron and female monitors for the women.

It’s no wonder people began to call her the Angel of Newgate. But financial backing proved difficult. None of the male-dominated organizations were interested. Nevertheless, Betsy was able to raise support through friends.

As she worked, Betsy prayed:

“Lord, may I be directed what to do and what to leave undone, and then may I humbly trust that a blessing will be with me in my various engagements—enable me, O Lord, to feel tenderly and charitably toward all my beloved fellow mortals.”[3]

News of Betsy’s reforms began to spread. In 1818 Betsy was invited to speak before a House of Commons committee concerning prison conditions. She was the first woman ever brought before such a body as a witness.

Her experience as a Quaker minister helped Betsy deliver a clear and powerful speech. And members of Parliament responded affirmatively. But when she spoke against capital punishment, any action toward prison reform stagnated.

Disappointed but not discouraged, Betsy continued her efforts toward further reforms. At the time many prisoners were shipped to Australia. Women were chained, then transported to the docks in open carts. Crowds gathered to mock and throw all kinds of filth at them.

Betsy initiated change by offering to escort each convoy and keep order if prison officials used covered carriages. They agreed.

She also supplied each woman with a bag of useful items including materials for a patchwork quilt, giving them something to do on the long voyage. Better yet, when the women arrived they could sell the finished quilts.

Inside the hull of the Edwin Fox, the last surviving convict ship. Just 157 feet long, she transported at least 180 prisoners each voyage.

Also in 1818, an American emissary John Randolph visited England to see Betsy’s work firsthand. He wrote, “I have witnessed there miraculous effects of true Christianity upon the most depraved of human beings. Bad women, sir, who are worse, if possible, than the devil himself: and yet the wretched outcasts have been tamed and subdued by the Christian eloquence of Mrs. Fry.”[4]   

Five years later sympathies in Parliament had changed and the Gaols Act of 1823 was passed. It included many of Betsy’s recommendations from three years before.

The new reforms didn’t apply to local jails or debtors’ prisons. Betsy and her brother Joseph traveled the British Isles to gather evidence of the conditions and then presented additional reform legislation.

And yet Betsy accomplished still more. “She established night shelters for the homeless, libraries for coast guards, societies to help the poor, and the Institution for Nursing Sisters to modernize British nursing. She also influenced Florence Nightingale’s training program.”[5]

For more than thirty years Elizabeth Fry championed these causes in the name of Christ. And to think, one year before that first visit at Newgate, she wrote in her diary, “I fear that my life is slipping away to little purpose.”[6]

But of course God would never let that happen to someone who trusts in him.

Addendum: Elizabeth Gurney (1780-1845), married Joseph Fry in 1800; they had eleven children.


Notes:

[1] The youngsters had no one else to care for them

[2] https://setapartgirl.com/story-elizabeth-fry/

[3] From Great Women of the Christian Faith by Edith Deen, quoted at https://setapartgirl.com/story-elizabeth-fry/

[4] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/to-act-in-the-spirit-not-of-judgment-but-of-mercy

[5] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/to-act-in-the-spirit-not-of-judgment-but-of-mercy

[6] (https://christiansforsocialaction.org/resource/heroes-of-the-faith-elizabeth-fry/ ).

Sources:

https://christianfocus.org/elizabethfry

https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/to-act-in-the-spirit-not-of-judgment-but-of-mercy

https://christiansforsocialaction.og/elizabethfry

https://setapartgirl.com/elizabethfry

https://encrustedwords.ca/elizabethfry

Art & photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.lookandlearn.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.lookandlearn.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.dailyverses.net.

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