January 11, 2011
Many years ago while attending the University of Iowa, I took a course to study the Hebrew Bible which was taught by a visiting Jewish theologian, Leo Schwarz. It was an interesting experience and from it I continue to reflect on his thought about the single most powerful word in the Old Testament writings. In
Dr. Schwarz's view, it was the Hebrew word which is translated in English as STEADFAST. On almost every page of the Scriptures, we can find evidence of God's steadfast love, care and covenant with humanity.
Now, steadfast is not a word which usually falls off of the tongue and to many modern listeners, it is an unusual word with a cloudy meaning. My dictionary claims that this word means "fixed or steady in direction but chiefly is used to indicate an UNDEVIATING CONSTANCY or RESOLUTION". (1) At the beginning of a new year, it's a good time to think about this word and its implication to our spiritual lives and our ministry to other people.
"I am resolved to follow Jesus" is a song phrase that speaks of our heart's desire to enter this new year in a state of deeper and more committed relationship to Christ and his service. But we all recognize that it is easier to sing the words of a song than it is to live-them-out moment by moment. God may bring into our lives a special opportunity for loving service and the Holy Spirit may call upon us, as Christ's disciples, to act upon this situation. In our desire to be responsive to God, we may enter this service opportunity in whatever manner which meets the need. But sometimes the need is not fulfilled in a moment's time nor even in several of our interactions over a few days. This is particularly true when God asks us to become loving support to another person in emotional, spiritual or physical need. Often this type of Christian service to others is prolonged and complicated by factors that we can not fully control. It is easy to become frustrated, tired or just-plain fearful as we continue our God-directed support to such an individual. As our frustrations increase, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain constancy in our loving Christian support. And it may require personal time, strength and resources which we fear may become depleted or simply inadequate for the task. Yet, we are called to be "steady in our resolution" for service. But, HOW??....
First, I believe that it is important that we CLEARLY HEAR the divine wish which the Holy Spirit makes apparent to us. A soldier responds to his commander's orders, but only those orders directed to that particular soldier. Sometimes we assume a task which was not directed to us. It doesn't hurt your relationship with God if you ask God to affirm or clarify in your spirit the nature of what you are to do. And in the same prayer, you can ask for the right opportunity, adequate resources and sufficient courage and love to complete the service.
The next matter for you to realize is that God will not send you out alone to do the divine work, but rather, God will always be with you in the task. It is God's love, compassion and wisdom IN and WITH YOU which will be manifested in the service as you and God BOTH do the work. If God is the primary "mover" of this work which engages both of you, never fear that there will be insufficient love, opportunity and resources for the task. God adequately provides! As you engage with the person-in-need, try to be a "vessel" or "channel" for the Holy Spirit in you to flow forth in words, care and wisdom. Now, that may sound a little "too religious" and like jargon. But it is a fact that the Holy Spirit is present in a Christian and is adequate for any given task. Relax and let God's presence be expressed!
We all wish that the other person's needs could be "fixed" with a simple word, smile or deed. But unfortunately, often that is not the case. Here is the place where the consistent and steadfast nature of Christian service is important. The problems related to the other one's needs may be complex and multidimensional. Oh, and did I forget to mention that often people don't respond well to help or become fearful and withdraw from your interaction. Yet, does that mean that God "gives up on them and walks away" allowing them to struggle alone? No, that is not the nature of God. God wants to struggle onward to help them and God NEEDS YOU to be the physical agent for such steadfast, continued service to the individual.
The degree of "success" which BOTH you and God have in this service interaction depends upon the other person's free will to accept this help or change behavior. Neither God nor you can force their decision. And when this type of relational interaction becomes stalemated by unresolved blocks, it is easy for us to want to walk away from the task to which God called us. But, I remind you that God's Spirit can be " quietly persistent" in ministry to us humans. Often it persists by the means of our STEADFAST out-reach to that person. In such a situation, it may be necessary for God to "whisper" to the individual and, therefore, we must "tone-down" or reduce some of our effort; but it is important that we not give-up in our effort to reach the other one in need. There is a variable degree of urgency expressed in the nature of the Holy Spirit's communication with us. Sometimes, God seems to shout at us to serve the needs of someone, while at other times the Spirit quietly whispers the message to us. And certainly in those times, we must persist in steadfast, even if quiet, effort to help.
Our task is only to follow the Divine Commander's orders. WHEN, HOW and IF the ministry succeeds is not fully in or control. Many stories in the life and ministry of Jesus illustrate these principles and should remind us that "success" is not always an immediate or recognized matter. I hope that this reflection will be helpful to you as you initiate (or continue previous) ministries with God's children-in-need.
"Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine." (2)
(1) Random House College Dictionary, revised 1975
(2) a closing statement from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer