The great desert monk Antony was once asked, “What good work shall I do?” Antony responded, “Whatever you find you are drawn to in following God’s will, do it and let your heart be at peace.” (The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks by Benedicta Ward)
What is your heart drawn to?
We forget that God can actually have a role in drawing the heart. It’s like those two disciples learned on the road to Emmaus — their hearts were “burning within them” as the resurrected Jesus spoke with them on the road (Luke 24:32). Becoming Jesus’ disciples doesn’t just mean learning Jesus’ words and ways — it means sharing his burning-heart passions. Where’s Jesus making your heart burn?
Things can easily go awry. The heart’s a tricksy bugger — “devious above all else” as Jeremiah knew (Jer. 17:9). We want the wrong things — or the right things in the wrong ways.
Yet, even if our culture’s platitude, “follow your heart,” sticks to the bottom of your shoe with vapid treacle, there’s still something to it.
Our hearts can be trained in the ways of God, etched with the pathways to Zion (Psalm 84:5), kindled by Jesus’ flame so that they burn with Jesus’ shared passion. We start to want what Jesus wants, to love what Jesus loves. We can follow our Jesus-shaped heart.
This is why Jesus’ teaching style wasn’t like Moses’. Jesus didn’t lay out a new Law. He used parables, a form which means “throw alongside.” His stories come alongside our own — not over or on top of. We’re called into Jesus’ way of life, little by little, bit by bit, story by story.
What this means is that the work of doing God’s will is going to be the work of training our wants and desires. It’s the work of love: learning to love with Jesus, as Jesus, through Jesus. We should expect fewer projects from God and more longing for God’s vision. God’s not interested in making us go-fers working our way through his divine to-do list. God wants us to become lovers.
This is what Augustine was getting at when, preaching on 1 John 4, he said “Love, and do what you will.” More than any yes/no choice at the fork in the road — however momentous — we’re called to pursue God and God’s vision in love. The question is less what should I do? and more where is God making my heart burn?
Perhaps we need to relearn this skill in the rural church. The will and work of God will not come down to a few consequential acts that we either succeed or fail at. God’s will is (to paraphrase Eugene Peterson) a long love in the same direction. We forget this when we come to believe that in our small communities, the church could be revived and restored if only we would make the right moves, like a good game of checkers. But there’s more at stake and less under our control than we know, and God’s faithfulness is bigger than any vision of congregational success.
The question we have to ask ourselves is in some ways very simple:
What makes your heart burn?
Do that, and be at peace.
Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan. He blogs at The Doxology Project, where this post first appeared.