REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 75: Unruly wills and affections!
O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may there be surely fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
“That was some prayer”, Graham responded, after the Rector prayed at our regular morning prayer last Wednesday. It is a great prayer in every way don’t you think? It’s realism about sinfulness stands in stark contrast to the fluffy sentimentalism and blind optimism of our day. It’s affirmation of the joys of loving obedience, reminder of God’s goodness and warning about how easy it is for God’s gifts to captivate our hearts rather than their giver are timely.
The pandemic, gives us a new reason to be called the “lucky country” and affords us many ways of displaying our unruly wills and sinful affections. Prudent self-protection precautions can easily lead me to self-righteousness when I see others flouting them, and on the other hand, if no one is watching, stretch the limits as to how to wear my mask. As in many cases I find it easier to see, and get more upset, about others failures, than my own. Michael Slater’s diatribe against the PM and the blatant disregard of the blokes for mask wearing sitting in front of me at the Super rugby, got my blood pressure up, yet I am often careless myself. My unruly will, even in relatively minor things on the sin scale, needed the reminder of this timely BCP prayer for Easter IV.
You may be thinking that I am getting somewhat neurotic [some might be tempted to think “what does he mean ‘getting’?”]. I hope not. What I found helpful was the prayers realism. Realism that prayer is good for us, and especially when we ask God for help in combating sin. Michael Slater and the blokes at the Rugby are probably not believers, but I am, and one of God’s great desires for his children is that we replace our unruly wills with those ruled by his good, pleasing and perfect will [Romans 12:2]. This realism was good for me since I need discipline in little things, even irksome and seemingly inconsequential things, if I am to be disciplined when it really matters. When serious sin amongst believers is exposed it often comes to light that the offender had not been careful in small acts of obedience and duty. When this happens we tend to make, rather than keep the rules. Practice makes permanent, not perfect. Practise at cutting the corners just makes us better at becoming a law unto ourselves, unruly, whereas practise in keeping the small and irksome requirements, trains us to be godly. Practice can never make any pardoned sinner perfect, but it can help us to be better at it aiming for it. Going in the direction of perfection, by seeking God’s daily grace, will increasingly become second nature for us. The ongoing transformation of 2 Corinthians 3:18 demonstrates the reality of 5:17, which we entered into at our conversion.
The pandemic thus becomes a blessing to us as we recognise that true joys and freedom were never to be expected from this world. The manifold changes of this world were signalled to us by our Lord and his apostles as realities [John 16:33, Romans 8:18-27, 1 John 2:15-17], to be responded to by faith in Him and his promises. Neither escaping from, nor immersing ourselves in the world is the way of the disciple. The pandemic has mercifully shown us who happen to live in a part of the world with many blessings, that it is the giver of the blessings alone, and above even his choicest gifts, who must be relied upon if we are to withstand the pressures of life and flourish through the demands of discipleship. The petition among the sundry and manifold changes of the world is where we pray that our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found.
We would be unwise believers to pray that God might end the pandemic if our primary motivation was so we could resume our normal life, with its ease of travel and lifting of privations. This would be to settle for an abnormal life, foreign to that envisaged in the New Testament for believers and experienced by so few in this world. Three passages are a challenge, and much needed reminders not to miss the opportunities each and every trial affords us. The first are the links in the chain of the psalmist in 119:67, 71 and 75 it was good for me to be afflicted…in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Then 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 what is seen is temporary, but what is seen is eternal and James 1:2-4 perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature. The reassuring promise of Romans 8:28 is followed by our Father’s purpose in 8:29 that we might become conformed to the likeness of his Son.
Unruly wills and affections must be replaced if they are to be removed. A heart fixed on our Saviour, trained and matured by the manifold changes of the pandemic, pain, persecution, privation and nurtured by prayer, perseverance, practise and the scriptural promises of God can only prove and placard his goodness to us and all who may be watching us [Colossians 3:1-4, 1 Peter 4:12-17, 5:6-11, 2 Peter 1:3-11, Jude 24-25].
Peter Brain 11th May, 2021