“Renew a right spirit within me.” —Psalm 51:10
Ten months after actor and comedian Bob Saget died last January, his grave now has a headstone. In Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, his headstone bears his full name, the date of his birth and death, and this tribute: “Loving & devoted husband, father, son, uncle, brother & friend. He brought people together and made them laugh. A very great man.”
What would you want your headstone to say?
You might have to think about this sooner than you think: a “planet killer” asteroid has been found hiding in an area that astronomers have difficulty observing due to the sun’s glare. This asteroid, named 2022 AP7, is comparable to the size of the US Pentagon and would be extraordinarily damaging across multiple continents if it were to strike our planet. Fortunately, orbital simulations conducted by NASA do not show any close approaches to the earth.
Nonetheless, the decisions we make today will help write our headstone tomorrow. Maya Angelou advised, “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.”
“Called to be saints”
Today is “All Saints’ Day” on the Christian calendar.
“Saint” comes from the Greek word hagios, meaning those who are “set apart” or consecrated to God. In the New Testament, all Christians are included in the “saints”: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2; cf. Acts 9:13; 26:10; Romans 8:27).
How, then, did some Christians come to be uniquely considered “saints”?
The first saint canonized by a pope was Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg, who died in 973 and was canonized twenty years later. Over the centuries, the procedure in the Roman Catholic Church has been defined and refined. In brief: at least five years after a person dies (though a pope can waive this waiting period, as was done for John Paul II), a process begins for documenting the sanctity of a holy man or woman. Evidence of miracles they performed is gathered. Those ultimately canonized by the church are considered its “saints.” If they have universal appeal they may be added to the church’s calendar; a feast day is often commemorated on the date of their death.
All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day or Feast of All Saints, is celebrated each year on November 1 in Western churches and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern churches. Today celebrates all church saints, whether known or unknown. Those in less liturgical traditions use the day to remember heroes of the faith and Christians who have been especially influential in their lives.
“We must seek the world which is above”
We are not to pray to the saints: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6). Nor are we to pray through them: “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
But All Saints Day reminds us that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) and that we are part of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) noted: “Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the councils of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors.”
Then he added: “Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven.”
“He will bear witness about me”
How do we do this?
If Jesus is our Lord, we are included in the “saints.” The question is: Will we be who we are? Will we live in ways that show the world the transforming, sanctifying difference Jesus has made in our lives?
I am convinced of this assertion: The world will be drawn to Christ to the degree that Christians live like him.
If churches are divided against each other, why would lost people want to join us? If Christians are angry, rancorous, and judgmental, why would non-Christians want what we have?
To live like Christ, we must be empowered daily by the One who empowered Christ (John 1:32–33; Acts 10:37–38). Jesus promised us: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26). Consequently, our Lord assured his followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
“We are leaky vessels”
Dwight Moody was right: “We are leaky vessels, and we have to keep right under the fountain all the time to keep full of Christ, and so have fresh supply.” Charles Spurgeon elaborated: “No man can be renewed without as real and true a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s energy as he felt at first, because the work is as great, and flesh and blood are as much in the way now as ever they were.”
As a result, Spurgeon encouraged us, “Let thy personal weakness, O Christian, be an argument to make thee pray earnestly to thy God for help.” Then we must “use the means through which God works” in response: “Be much in prayer; live much upon the word of God; kill the lusts which have driven your Lord from you; be careful to watch over the future uprisings of sin.”
In short, quoting David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10, he asked us to “cease not to cry, ‘Renew a right spirit within me.’”
Will you make David’s prayer yours today?
NOTE: Have you ever wondered what silent night actually inspired “Silent Night”? In this year’s Advent devotional, The Songs Tell the Story, my wife Janet Denison provides the origin stories of 25 well-known Christmas songs and hymns. While the stories are fascinating, you’ll be more inspired by the way she reveals biblical truth in each short chapter. Request your copy of The Songs Tell the Story today.