We saw in my last post how W.H. Vanstone identifies the Church as the response of recognition of God’s love: all that which “would not be if the love of God were not recognised”. For Vanstone, the Church is a “work of art” and an “offering of love” rather than an institution or a “cause”.
To choose just one example of where I found this idea personally helpful: personal prayer and Bible reading.
Sometimes it can be difficult to see the point in these as a daily activity. One reads the Bible without feeling that one is learning much from it; one’s prayers feel desultory and unnecessary. It’s hard to notice any difference between the days on which one makes time to pray and the days where devotion gets overlooked, crowded out – or deliberately avoided.
This is particularly the case where our lives seem to be going well, without any urgent need to drive us to prayer – just as Vanstone’s book came out of his experience of ministering in a comfortable community that no longer felt the urgent need of the church’s ministry (especially its social ministry) that Vanstone had observed in his father’s working-class parish in the 1930s.
One “solution” to this is to become superstitious: if I don’t pray daily, then God will “zap” me or those for whom I should be praying. If I don’t read the Bible, God will allow me to fall away from faith. If we’re honest, such thinking comes more naturally to us than we might like to admit.
Vanstone, however, provides an infinitely better motivation: to see our psalm-singing, scripture-reading and prayer as simultaneously an act of recognition of God’s love, and a creative act of offering in response to that love.
As Luther puts it in his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer:
God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
Recognition, and response.
In the same way, we read the Bible not necessarily to learn new information, but to calibrate our minds and hearts to recognise God’s work and to respond with thanksgiving and faith.