Are you earnestly striving after it?
This is the last question about my own spiritual journey. Having reflected upon this question and the previous two, it is very clear that this issue of holiness (perfection in love, sanctification) was of the utmost importance to John Wesley. We’ve reflected on the meaning of going on to perfection as well as the expectation of reaching perfection in love in this life. Now the question shifts past the expectation and asks “Okay, so you expect it—what are you doing to get there?”
I believe that we strive after perfection by being open to the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. The ability to be open to that energy means that we, as Wesley exhorted, attend to the ordinances of God. This means being invested in the public and private worship of God, receiving Eucharist, prayer, searching the Scriptures, fasting, engaging in works of mercy and justice. Participation in these public and private means of grace keep our relationship with God from being static and propel us into dynamic and maturing faith.
Am I striving after it? Yeah. Do I do a great job of it? Sometimes. Sometimes I’m an utter failure. The point is that we can’t stay put. If we are going to earnestly strive after holiness of heart and life, we have to work it out. Keep practicing the means of grace even when it feels dry and routine. Work it out!
Striving after it reminds me of what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12:
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Even though I can be a stumbling, bumbling failure of a disciple…I know that God is still working in me, perfecting me in love and making me holy. This striving, when it’s going well and when it’s at a standstill is a part of that work…working out my salvation. In that striving, you never know when the perfecting moments might come.
In a previous appointment, I served as the chaplain of a United Methodist related retirement home. There was an old, wrinkly retired Methodist pastor among the residents. Well into his nineties, he was still always looking for those opportunities to work out his salvation. He just wanted God to be able to use him for God’s kingdom without his advanced age being an issue. Some days this was really difficult for him. He had spent so much of his life serving God’s kingdom, working out his own salvation , leading others to salvation, announcing the reign of God…that he often felt like wasted flesh now. Then I saw a perfecting moment. I was going to be away for vacation when one of the monthly communion services was scheduled. I asked him if he would be willing to preside at the Table. He wept. A lot. “I guess God still has use for me after all.” I’ll never forget that moment. It was a bright shiny moment of the fruit of striving for perfection in love.
God use me! Make me what you want!
Are you earnestly striving after it? With God’s help, I am.