Sometimes we need it to be simple
There’s a powerful, but simple, little summary for spiritual living in the first letter of Peter, chapter 4. He lists 2 or 3 or 5 keys of Christian living – depends on how you count, but it’s still a simple, basic list. 1 Peter 4:7-11
He’s writing to people under stress – some kind of persecution, it seems. But also just the normal stresses of life. Some of us might be under stress – who knows, eh? – not me …
- Think honestly, seriously.
- Love each other deeply.
Then he adds a couple of points that you can take as important ways to love – so we just have those three – think, pray, love.
But if we count these last two examples separately, it adds two more. They are:
4. Practice welcome, which English translations usually call “hospitality.”
5. Serve. Use any special abilities or opportunities you have – we often call those “gifts”, or “graces.” Use your gifts to serve.
Think, Pray, Love, Welcome, Serve. Christian living in a nutshell.
EVEN IN INTERESTING TIMES
He starts this paragraph with “the end of all things is near.” That could mean a couple different things – but whatever it means specifically it means in practice that what we do now matters. The clock is ticking. Things are changing. “If not now, when? If not us, who?” What we do now matters. How we live is a big deal. It merits our attention!
So – he starts off showing how important it is – how we live – but he also ends this little section with a similar idea: “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” It’s God’s agenda, these 5 things, it honors God – how we live can actually serve and honor God.
He ties the thinking directly to praying. Think in order to pray.
Maybe THAT’s why Jesus was so hard on repetitive prayers. It’s not because we can’t say something really good over and over – like we do the Lord’s Prayer. That can be helpful. The concern is – don’t avoid the very personal and sometimes hard work of actually thinking about what we are praying about – or what we are going to pray about.
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”
Do you pray?
Notice that he does not elaborate. No instruction of when or how often, or where, or any specific things to say. Just “be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” Sometimes, of course, I must pray a bit just to get somewhere near being alert and sober-minded.
But in general, we get the idea – as Paul says elsewhere, whatever is a live issue to you or to people you care about, you can and should pray about that. No fuss about how you say it or when or where. And you don’t have to be an expert. Just think about what’s up, and pray about it. We can do that!
And we’ll love them even when they are really pretty different from us, even when they have a different first language – that happened a lot in these very early churches – even when they are different in personality, and in life history. You know, even when they are different!
One big secret of loving others is to pay attention – be aware – know what’s going on with them, maybe even understand, and care about it. Sort of like he says about prayer – “be alert and of sober mind.” That also plays a big role in loving people.
The word English translations often use here is “hospitality.” Etymologically the Greek word translated “hospitality” means love of strangers. It does not mean having your good buddies over for barbeque. It means showing genuine welcome to strangers or to people unlike you. It’s a serious thing. It can disrupt your comfort. Sadly it is a thing that church people – most people, in fact – often energetically avoid.
But it is a thing Christians have been known and honored for in certain times and places. Like white northern Baptists serving freed slaves during and after the civil war. Like during plague years in the Roman Empire where Christians were the ones who stayed around to take care of people when others fled to their country estates, or holed up in their houses. Maybe like so many heroic health care workers today – except sadly today some Christians seem more intent on spreading the coronavirus than in helping those who are affected by it. “Offer hospitality – show welcome … without grumbling.”
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” So if we’re 1) thinking seriously, being honest about ourselves, if we are people who 2) know something about praying and do it, if we 3) are loving people around us, if we 4) have a spirit of welcome – then a logical result would be that we want to 5) do what we can to be of help.
Whatever our individual situations, whatever our individual abilities, we can make a contribution. Let’s.
So in this list there’s an inner focus and an outward focus.
Inwardly – Think. Look inside. Get an idea, if you can, of what’s going on around you but also inside of you. Don’t try to evaluate it too quickly but DO observe it. And DO please pray about any and even all of that stuff.
Outwardly – Be aware of the people around you, and love them – figuring out what ways you in particular can be of service or help to them – directly or indirectly – maybe by talking, maybe by more physical kinds of service, maybe both.
You can see how this is a valuable summary of Christian spirituality. Like the Lord’s Prayer, it’s short and to the point but still covers a lot of ground. First Peter 4:7-11.