In May, five large, heavy boxes arrived in the chapel office. They were filled with books, eighty copies of the same book in fact. The chapel staff decided to send a text home with each Student Ministry leader for them to read over the summer. We considered many titles: Devotional Classics like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress or Thomas á Kempis' Imitation of Christ; beloved texts of evangelical theology like Packer's Knowing God or Stott's Basic Christianity; and recent titles on the practical implications of seeking God's Kingdom like Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution or McLaren's Everything Must Change. In the end we choose a new book that weaves together the inner disciplines of prayer and friendship with God with the outward expressions of telling others about Jesus and pursuing righteousness—The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling [San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2007]. As the title implies, this text is concerned with the relation between intimate communion with God and right-relations with others. "Being fully devoted followers of Christ", writes Campolo, "involves commitment to what Jesus was committed to: maintaining a deep, mystical connection to God that empowered him to be compassionately connected to others." (p. 15)
Isn't it interesting that the call of God in our lives pulls us in two directions; one towards communion with Him and one towards loving and serving others around us. The God who invites us to find rest from our wearisome burdens in Jesus (Matthew 11) is the same God who compels us to "seek first the Kingdom" (Matthew 6) and to "seek the peace and prosperity of the city in which you dwell" (Jeremiah 29). We are invited into a rich and righteous life, one that is marked by being in right-relationships with both God and our neighbors.
It is a common temptation to neglect one or the other aspect of this call. We can become so caught up in looking for God or expressing our praise to God that we fail to love our neighbors in practical ways. Likewise, we can be so busy with addressing the physical, social, and emotional needs of others that we fail to rest in the reality of God's love and His delight in us. Both temptations are distractions from what God calls us to and both can steal from us the joy of a life in Him. Jesus warns us that on the day of final accounting there will be some who have been very busy doing good things in his name but whom he never knew: "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you." (Matthew 7:22–23). Inversely, there will be those who are sent away from his presence because they failed to act with compassion towards others: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matthew 25:45).
As followers of Jesus we cannot afford to ignore either aspect of God's call. It is in heeding Christ's invitation to commune with and rest in him that we find our true identity as beloved children of God. And it is in actively loving our neighbors through word and deed that we find God's purpose for our lives. I challenge you to hear anew God's call to seek peace as both an invitation to rest and an exhortation to act.
Dr. Greg Carmer