Editor's note:

Finding good models for the Christian life is really not so hard. From the blessed ancients to modern-day saints, Christendom has been full of men and women who show us what it means to walk in the ways of the Lord.

Today, Richard Foster calls to our remembrance two of these—St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi. Through their unique friendship, bold faith, and joy-filled obedience, they can teach us, even across the many years, how to live this with-God life in full.

—Renovaré Team

The delightful stories of Francis and Clare have been recounted well over the years. What I want to stress here is the unique combinations we find in their lives—combinations that make them especially inviting models for us today even though we live in drastically different circumstances.

First, between Francis and Clare themselves we find a wonderful combination of devoted friendship which at the same time is free from sexual overtones. In Francis and Clare we see the deepest care and most passionate respect for one another without the slightest hint of eroticism. This is a powerful lesson to us who live in a culture that makes “love” and “sex” virtual synonyms.

Second, we see intense contemplation combined with evangelistic fervor. When Francis asked Clare for counsel on whether he should devote himself to contemplative prayer or to evangelistic preaching, she wisely replied that God wanted him to do both. What an instructive model for us today.

Third, we discover a radical critique of the Church combined with a profound love for the Church. When St. Francis heard the divine Word, “rebuild my church,” he went about obeying that command in such a way that called into question every craving for possessions, every hankering after status, every yearning for honor. Yet, through it all it is impossible to question Francis’ great devotion and concern and love for the Church, the community of Faith. It is a combination we would do well to imitate.

Fourth, we find an authentic charismatic leadership combined with a profound commitment to Christian community. In our day gifted leaders are sorely tempted to go their own way without regard for either the traditions that have gone on before them or the guidance and counsel of those around them. But for both Francis and Clare submission and obedience to Christian authority were central to their calling. In this they teach us.

Fifth, we learn from these two how to have an ecological sensitivity that refuses to deify creation. Francis could express the deepest reverence for nature—taming the wolf of Gubbio, preaching to the birds, writing his canticle to “Brother Sun and Sister Moon”—without ever worshiping nature. Consistently he called upon all of the creation—Brother Wind and Sister Water, Brother Fire and Sister Mother Earth, as well as the entire human creation—to “Praise and bless my Lord (God) and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.” It is solid guidance for us today.

These, I believe, are combinations that we can all appreciate and embrace. And I would hope we will find many inventive ways to integrate these combinations into our day-to-day experience.

Starting Now: The 2017-18 Renovaré Book Club

You’re invited to a journey through four soul-shaping books, like C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and Chris Hall’s Living Wisely with the Church Fathers. Read intentionally with a guided plan. Go deeper with exclusive study guides, essays and podcasts. Engage meaningfully in online or in-person discussion groups. Running late October 2017—June 2018, join now to receive the included first book.

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Originally written for Perspective in 1993.