“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.” (1 Peter 5:2)
One evening about ten years ago, as part of a high school mission trip, I was asked to help lead our devotional time. I spoke passionately and unswervingly about the need to serve God with our whole heart. “If your heart isn’t in it this week,” I said, “God doesn’t need your service. Don’t even do it.”
Afterwards, one of the other students came up to me. She expressed that my talk left her conflicted. She knew that her heart should be in her service, but she also believed that it was her duty to serve even if she didn’t want to. She asked how I would respond.
I honestly do not remember what I said. But since that night ten years ago, I have begun to understand the conflict she felt. Duty can be a form of love. In many ways, it can be deeper than the emotional whims I had appealed to long ago. It is duty (or something like it) that sustains marriages by continuing to love another person even if you don’t ‘feel it’ in the moment. It is something akin to duty that helps raise children, pastor churches, get work done around the house, and accomplish many tasks that require perseverance. Unlike the flames of passion, duty can burn like low coals – providing steady heat through the cold nights.
I have learned to appreciate duty as I have grown and learned to appreciate the value of perseverance. Duty is the marathon to the sprint of passion.
And yet Jesus’ echo of Deuteronomy six still looms large over me: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
With all your heart – 100%, not 25%, 50% or even 95%.
Faithfulness to God requires consistency, but might it also require intensity?
And yet, Peter’s words reverberate through my mind: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.
Peter contrasts the weight of requirement and the desire of the will. We should shepherd God’s people because we want to, because [we] are willing, as God wants [us] to be.
Amen and amen! But what about when we don’t want to? What about when our commitments and the desires of our hearts don’t always line up? Should I get up and go to work when what I want in that moment is to stay in bed, or read a book, or go on a vacation? Should we follow our hearts?
These days ‘Follow your heart’ has become a euphemism for breaking promises. It is part of a narrative where being ‘true to ourselves’ is seen as the highest good, where our truest self is revealed by the immediate desires of our hearts. Being true to ourselves has become more important than being true to our friends, our family, our spouse, or our God.
Where might loving intensely and consistently meet? What would it look like to for passion and duty to embrace?
Perhaps true love looks like keeping your promises. Perhaps it means choosing to love someone again and again when you don’t want to. Perhaps it means loving someone passionately enough that you care for them when you don’t particularly like them.
Commitment shapes our hearts and disciplines our willing. It can also awaken our passion when it fixed upon God and our neighbor. By loving a person, loving a people, day in and day out, regardless of the immediate feelings, our hearts take shape. We become more loving by loving. Passion and persistence intertwine in the patient, covenantal love that God calls us to.