When it comes to our spiritual lives, it’s more or less a universal tendency to compartmentalize. We recognize there’s both a personal and a communal aspect to the Christian life, that there’s a vertical and a horizontal dimension, that there are the things to be done within the walls of the church and things to do beyond those walls.
But so often we view these as competing priorities, failing to see all the ways in which they’re mutually reinforcing disciplines and practices for followers of Christ seeking an integrated way of life. In Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life (Image), Henri Nouwen writes:
Prayer and action… can never be seen as contradictory or mutually exclusive. Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. If prayer leads us into a deeper unity with the compassionate Christ, it will always give rise to concrete acts of service. And if concrete acts of service do indeed lead us to a deeper solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the sick, the dying, and the oppressed, they will always give rise to prayer. In prayer we meet Christ, and in him all human suffering. In service we meet people, and in them the suffering Christ. (pp. 116-7)
If we really understood this, it seems to me, we’d be on the whole a lot less frazzled, a lot less weighed down, a lot less distracted with endless “busywork” for God. And we’d be able to set aside more or less fruitless debates about the prioritization of evangelism vs. social action, or prayer vs. service, or community vs. mission, and get on with the truly good stuff: loving God and loving others as a grateful response to the grace we’ve so freely received.
[Image credit: from the cover of Touch: Pressing Against the Wounds of a Broken World by Rudy Rasmus]