Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62, NIV)
I’ve looked back more than once. Indeed, I called my DS one day a few years ago and said I could no longer serve as a part-time pastor in the place I was. I did not just look back, I left the plow in the field.
I’m back at it now, up to my ankles in the mud.
And I think I understand what Jesus meant in the verse from Luke. You can’t plow a field while looking back over your shoulder. There is too much else to do if you are going to do it well. Divided focus makes for crooked furrows.
Lord, give me a steady hand and an undivided eye.
From John Wesley’s sermon “The Mystery of Iniquity“:
Persecution never did, never could, give any lasting wound to genuine Christianity. But the greatest it ever received, the grand blow which was struck at the very root of that humble, gentle, patient love, which is the fulfilling of the Christian law, the who essence of true religion, was struck in the fourth century by Constantine the Great, when he called himself a Christian, and poured in a flood of riches, honours, and power upon the Christians; more especially upon the Clergy.
Here is a question: If you could know for certain the will of God, would you do it?
There is a famous scenario sketched by Anselm of Canterbury. He asks the reader to imagine standing in the presence of God. Someone tells you to look at something off to your left or right. God tells you in that moment not to look. Would you obey God, even if obedience meant the death of someone you loved? (Anselm ups the stakes to the destruction of all creation.)
This seems to me to be a fundamental question. If we knew what God’s will was, if we had certainty about it, would we obey it?
Traditional Protestant theology says we would not, at least not until we have had a new birth. It says our will is corrupted and incapable of obeying God. A sign of that corruption is that we do not even desire to obey God.
It seems to me at times as if contemporary theology takes as a given that we should not obey God if God does not meet our standards of righteousness and love and justice.
Of course, this whole conversation is skewed by the fact that we have revelation, but not often consistent interpretation of that revelation. So, we live in a situation in which knowing for certain that we understand God’s will is rare. Or, at least, it is rare not to encounter plausible or at least rational alternative interpretations.
But the practical difficulties do not eliminate the question. Indeed, they may make it more urgent, since only a sincere desire to know and do the will of God properly motivates our encounter with revelation.
If we knew the will of God, would we do it? No matter the cost?
“Some of the Mystic writers do not choose to speak plainly; some of them know not how. But, blessed be God, we do; and we know, there is nothing deeper, there is nothing better, in heaven or earth, than love! There cannot be, unless there were something higher than the God of love! So that we see distinctly what we have to aim at. We see the prize, and the way to it! Here is the height, here is the depth, of Christian experience! ‘God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.’”
–From a letter to Betsy Ritchie, 1775
It is that time of year when United Methodist pastors report on the fruitfulness of their ministry in the last year.
And I must confess: I have failed to fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church this year.
The two little churches I serve have not grown. The grave took more people from us than we brought to Jesus Christ.
Lord, help me be a better servant of your kingdom in the year ahead.