King David knew something about what it means to be human that escapes most of us. He knew that we are complex creatures with an intellect, an emotive seat, and a will–all pulling us in different directions. That’s why he writes,
Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
How often do we ask the Lord to unite our hearts to a common purpose? David knows that to walk in the way of truth then our intellect, emotions, and will must all come together. Jesus explains in John 14 that 1) he is the way, and 2) the love is the way to be the friend of Jesus. Now things start to become more clear. We are to love God with our whole heart. That is the greatest commandment, and it involves our whole self.
This concept of the heart confronts our Western idea of romance and love. It confronts us in our marriages, dating relationships, and friendships. We — all of us — want our spouses, particularly, to do things and say things out of sheer emotion. We don’t want to ask for a date, we want them to think of it and want to do it without being told.
Is that how relationships are supposed to work?
Every relationship comes with inherent rules. We all understand this innately! Rules, duties, rigid adherence to a “law” — this are all deeply ingrained in relationships. We are created for covenant, and our relationships reflect this. Think about the ultimate human relationship, that of Creator to Created. We are in an ontological relationship with God due to being created by him; this comes with an inherent set of rules, doesn’t it? Do we, as the creature, have the right to tell off the Creator? Do we have a right to fly in the face of his authority? Certainly not. The relationship, by nature, has rules.
As there, so elsewhere. Spouses tend to obey the natural rules of their relationship: no flirting with anyone else, no sleeping with anyone else, et cetera. Perhaps if we can acknowledge the dutiful nature of all relationships we can begin to be free from the unhealthy and unrealistic expectations that continually plague us.
Reading the Bible to Check Off the Checklist
We all know what this feels like. I want to tell you right now that it’s okay. Go ahead. Pick up your pen, write a checklist, and put “spend time in prayer and in Scripture” right at the top. Then open your Bible, and pray with David: “Lord, unite my heart to fear your name. I can’t force the emotion to desire you, but I can keep meeting with you. Will you give me the desire? Will you bless me as I seek your face?” Just give it a shot, and see what happens. But for heaven’s sake, if it begins to feel like duty don’t shy away from it. In Christ, duty is redeemed. We’re made for duty. Duty is glorious.
The puritan Thomas Manton said,
By tracking about men get the wind, not by lying still; many times a supply of grace cometh ere we are aware.
The Christian who is listless and idle in his or her duties, who is lying still, should not expect to “get the wind.” As Chad Escue often says, we must lay wood on the altar; the fire comes from the Lord. We seek grace? Let us use the means of grace. There is our duty, and there we are blessed.
“I Don’t Feel Close to God”
How often I have cried this in my heart! The answer, I have observed, tends to be one or both of these things: sin, and neglect of the means of grace (duties). Again, Thomas Manton:
Fire is quenched by pouring on water or by withdrawing fuel; so the Spirit is quenched by living in sin, which is like pouring water on a fire; or by not improving our gifts and graces, which is like withdrawing fuel from the hearth.
Isn’t Duty Legalism?
Ah, if it were duty which earns, then yes. But effort ≠ earning. Work, effort, duty, striving–these are blessed gifts of the Lord, in which he meets us. How can Paul write, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? By following it with, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Your duty is to the pleasure of God. We have the privilege of working, as God works; working, with God being the one willing and working in us; working for his pleasure. What could be better?