EDITOR’S NOTE: Fourth in a four-part series by Amy Kalm
This week we finish up our Three Simple Rules series. Rules that really aren’t so simple. Even this last rule is simple in concept, but much harder to follow. But following this rule is the key to being able to do no harm and to do good.
The last rule we will consider is “Stay In Love With God.” To stay in love with God means to be disciplined in following the means of grace. John Wesley insisted that following the means of grace was essential to maintaining a vital relationship with God. It is these practices that keep us alive and growing in grace. As John Wesley would say, these are the practice that help us in “going on towards perfection.”
What practices are we talking about anyway? Specifically, we are talking about attending worship services, Taking the Lord’s Supper, offering private prayers, leading family prayers, daily searching the scriptures, joining other faith seekers in Bible study, and participating in fasting. Fasting is giving up something for a length of time. Typically, it’s food, but could be anything really. Fun fact, John Wesley refused to ordain any minister who couldn’t fast at least twice a week. He felt that anyone who didn’t have control over their own appetite couldn’t be a leader in a church.
Engaging in these practices is agreeing to be part of something bigger than ourselves. To embrace values that are much different than the values of the world. In her book, Illuminated Life, Joan Chittister said this. “All we have in life is life. Things ... the cars, the houses, the educations, the jobs, the money…come and go, turn to dust between our fingers, change and disappear …the secret of life … is that it must be developed from the inside out.”
It is these practices that help us learn to live life from the inside out. That help us find moral direction, wisdom, and courage. That lead to the desire to truly live up to God, to be a witness. These practices are not unique to the Christian faith. Across all denominations and religions there are sacred texts, sacred practices or sacraments, prayers, the study of sacred texts, and even fasting. Perhaps we’ve come to understand a common concept. With the daily practice of spiritual disciplines, we position ourselves to better hear and respond to the whispers and leading of God. We learn trust and love better.
Christians have no better example of how to practices these disciplines than what was demonstrated by Jesus. He observed the sacraments (baptism), he fasted (40 days in the wilderness), he went to quiet places to pray, and he attended the synagogues regularly. Because of how much he quoted the Hebrew Bible throughout his life, we know he read and studied Jewish sacred texts.
Jesus asked many questions during his life. But one of the most striking questions to me was what he asked of Peter after he was resurrected. In John 21, Jesus asks Peter not once, not twice, but three time, “Do you love me?” Jesus asks this after being rejected, wounded, crucified, and even denied. Of all the things he could have asked, all Jesus wanted to know at this point was, “Do you really love me?” And for Peter his anguished answer was, “Yes Lord.” I believe that this was a moment of faith transformation for Peter that could only happen by being able to verbally acknowledge his love of Jesus, the Son of God. (Remember, it was also Peter who acknowledged this fact).
When we work to stay in love with God, when we commit ourselves to practicing the means of grace something else happens. We will find ourselves challenged as Jesus challenged Peter. We will find that we are driven to find the lost sheep, to feed them, and to take care of the flock. The means of grace in turn become the means of love. But beware when you accept this challenge, you will find yourself more and more aware of and moved by the pain of injustice and inequality in the world. You will desire more to do no harm and do good.
Stay in Love with God. An easy rule to say but not so easy to follow. Because we are always going to be seduced by power. This goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Back to where it was more tempting to be God than to love God. When we seek control, when we seek to own life more than love life, we may very well be tempted to respond to Jesus question of “Do you love me” with the question, “Can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in the Kingdom?”