All through this week, in our Canadian Anglican daily prayers, we’ve been praying this prayer:
Almighty God, we are taught by your word that all our doings without love are worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
It’s my habit to drive down to the church (where my office is located) just after eight each morning and begin my day by praying Morning Prayer. As I was doing so this morning, it really hit me how appropriate this prayer is for a Christian pastor about to begin his or her ‘working day’.
You see, there’s a growing tendency for Christian ministers to carry out their work in the spirit of the coffee mug message I once saw: ‘Jesus is coming – look busy!’ At this time of year, my temptation is to fill up my Fall calendar with workshops and conferences and programs of every conceivable variety to meet the needs of every conceivable group of people. I do this year by year, and then wonder why I’m exhausted by the end of November, with very little sense of having accomplished anything worthwhile for the gospel and the kingdom.
‘All our doings without love are worth nothing’. If I’m so busy that I don’t have time for people, then I’m too busy. Relationships are what it’s all about – helping people build relationships with God, with each other, and with the world around them. Nowadays the world moves at such breakneck speed, and the idolatry of productivity is so powerful, that many people literally have no time for the slow, quiet conversations that are so crucial to building those relationships. Sadly, that includes conversations with God; many people feel so rushed that they just don’t seem to be able to make time for listening to God and talking with him.
Notice the language we commonly use: ‘make time’. That’s deceptive; no-one gets to ‘make time’. The time has already been made; all we get to do is choose how we will use it. And if we’re busy people and some enticing new activity comes along, the only way to ‘make time’ to do this new thing is to stop doing something that we’re already doing. Hence the cost of relationships and the cost of discipleship; you can’t add them on to a busy life. you have to stop doing something else in order to make room for them.
So what am I, as a busy pastor, prepared to ‘stop doing’ in order to make more time for loving people and building relationships with them?
Of course, there’s a vocabulary problem here too; we live in a society where the word ‘love’ is almost always a description of an emotion, and so when we hear that ‘all our doings without love are worth nothing’ we may well understand it to mean ‘If you don’t feel it from the heart, it’s worthless’. But in the Bible love is not a feeling, it’s an action – a decision to live your life to bless and serve other people, whether you feel like it or not, whether it’s convenient or not, whether it’s costly or not.
This is a tall order – hence the second part of the prayer, calling on God to send his Holy Spirit to ‘pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love’. The ‘heart’, in the Bible, doesn’t mean the feelings (the Greeks thought that the bowels
were the seat of the emotions, not the heart!!!). It means the whole person, especially as expressed in the choices we make, the decisions of our will. So we’re asking God to fill us with the Holy Spirit and give us the strength to love other people, not just in words but in actions. As John says, ‘Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action’ (1 John 3:18).
One of my favourite pastoral authors, Dave Hansen, likes to quote a former pastor of his: ‘Do the right thing, the loving thing. People before programs. Faithfulness to Christ above all’.