Fridays are one of my favorite days. I plan my week so that my main Friday task is the study, prayer and imagining work for Sunday’s sermon. I get started earlier in the week, but the bulk of study time before writing happens Friday. If I’m preaching from a New Testament text, I always start by trying to translate from the Greek. Note that I said “trying.” Despite all those hours and weeks and months and years in seminary of memorizing, parsing and diagramming, my skills are very weak– I’m not sure they were ever strong, but they have definitely atrophied over the years. So I sit with my Greek New Testament, and an English version right next to it and rough out my own translation. The most important thing this does is force me to slow down and consider every single word of a text, look at every phrase.
So yesterday, I started looking at John 14:15-20, readying a sermon on the Holy Spirit, and I had to stop after the first four words (three in Greek): “If you love me…” That’s what Jesus said. The rest of the sentence is “…obey my commands”, but I couldn’t even get that far. “If you love me…” Jesus said to his followers, which ignited a long God-conversation and thought process for me. I sing songs in worship about loving God, I’m trying to live my whole life out of love for God, but I think most of the time I just assume God knows I love him, without me stopping to verbalize that exactly. I’m pretty sure that strategy wouldn’t fly in my marriage, so why would it with God? If you love me will quickly need to be demonstrated by obedience, but in that first moment I just sat with the question. Do I love you, Lord? I do. With all my heart I do, but it sure felt good to specifically ponder that for a while and speak the answer.
I have a pastor friend who every year, on the anniversary of his ordination, takes part of a day and reads through his ordination vows. He has a conversation with God, trying to listen to make sure he still senses a calling to what he is doing, and to see if his own answer is still “Yes.” Yes, I’m in, Lord. Yes, I feel your calling and I’m signing up for another year. Re-upping. I’ve never taken that on as an annual rite, but it feels like a very healthy practice to me. Rather than just keeping our head down and putting one foot in front of the other, what about a direct conversation to check in with the Lord of the Universe and make sure we are walking the right road? Love that. As a second step.
The first step is the one Jesus put in front of his followers in John 14. If you love me. Before ministry, before leadership, before any affirmation of calling, even before deciding on our obedience comes this confession: do we love the Lord? Ministry that flows out of that love will be life-giving for others as well as ourselves. Obedience that comes from a deep love of God will be a blessing, not drudgery. Without that bedrock motivation, we are left slogging through John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond.
It seems to me that re-upping my love for Jesus ought to be a daily confession, part of every quiet time or devotional practice I do. It certainly can take place multiple times during the course of a day, but at least at the beginning. We don’t know how many days we get, but we know we have this one. “Lord, I love you.” All sorts of things can happen from there. The Lord might speak, direct, call, affirm or confront. We might be called to costly service or new relationships, to difficult tasks or immense joys or a long obedience, but to begin with, on this one day…are you re-upping with Jesus? Are you signing on, again, to follow? Jesus said “If you love me…” Let’s start there.
Peace of Christ,
Dan Baumgartner is the senior pastor at The Cove in Santa Rosa CA and serves as Secretary on The Fellowship Community Board.