What do you do when everything seems to begin falling apart in your life? What do you do when life as you have known it seems to begin unraveling, so that life will likely never be the same again?
At times like these, the common human tendency is to do one of two things: A person tends to give up and despair of life, or a person decides to hold more tightly to the great essentials of his or her life.
1 Peter 4:7-8 challenges us to do the second, to hold more tightly to the great essentials of our lives. Peter puts it this way: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Peter picks up here on two great essentials of the Christian life: prayer (our relationship with God) and love (our relationships with one another).
Peter begins by telling us to be “clear minded and self-controlled,” but the focus is not on us being good stoics in our approach to life; the focus is on nothing getting in the way of our prayers and of our relationship with God. When life as we have known it is changing drastically so that nothing will be the same for us as it was before, what we need to hold to most tightly is the One constant in our lives, the One who does not change, who is thoroughly dependable, who will never leave us or forsake us. That’s why prayer is so essential to us at such times.
But I need to keep in mind what prayer is most deeply about. The main thing about prayer is not getting God to give me the things I want but getting God more fully in my soul (or opening up my soul to know God’s person and presence more fully). In The Pressure’s Off, Dr. Larry Crabb remarks, “If we live for blessings, we pray a certain way. If we live to know God, we pray another way.” In Recovery of Love, Jeffrey Imbach adds, “Prayer is essentially the expression of our heart-longing for love. It is not so much the listing of our requests but the breathing of our own deepest request, to be united with God as fully as possible.” No wonder Abba Nilus can add, “Prayer is the source of gentleness and the manager of anger. It is a remedy for grief and depression.” When everything in our lives seems to be unravelling, what we need to hold onto most tightly is our relationship with God (and that happens significantly through our conversations with Him in prayer).
The second thing Peter challenges us to do is to “love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
When life as we have known it is changing drastically so that nothing will be the same for us as it was before, common human reactions are anger, resentment, and irritability toward one another. But what we need most deeply is the love of one another. We need each other, but we get angry at each other and irritable with each other. Fortunately, “love covers a multitude of sins.”
When life is changing, leaving us unsettled and resentful, we need the love of one another—which also means that we need to love each other deeply. It’s God’s command to us at such a time as this because God knows how desperately we need this. I love the way Charles Morgan expresses this truth: “There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved. It is God’s finger on a person’s shoulder.”
I grew up with a father who was a professional singer and who told me throughout my growing up years that I was tone-deaf and could not carry a note. When I graduated from U.C. Berkeley, my father asked what I would like for a graduation present. I told him that I would like voice lessons. He informed that would be a waste of money and bought me a stereo system instead. It was my wife who sang with me in the car who convinced me that I am not tone-deaf, and that I actually have a nice singing voice. Nevertheless, I remain a rather intimidated and insecure singer. In my insecurity, I have learned only to match the notes of the person singing beside me. I have not gained the confidence to harmonize.
Harmonizing has to do with singing different musical notes that sound pleasing together. I love listening to good harmony as singers hit different notes that blend together beautifully. I love listening to good harmony, but I have a hard time achieving it. Because of my musical insecurity I have a difficult time breaking away from simply copying the notes of the person singing beside me.
It seems to me that such insecurity often hits churches as well. Because of our own spiritual insecurities we tend to do one of two things: We tend to copy the spiritual thinking of the persons beside us, or we tend to reject the differences of the persons beside us.
But 1 Peter 3:8 tells us to “live in harmony with one another.” In the body of Christ we should expect that we will not all think alike. We will have different convictions about some things and different passions. We don’t need to copy one another. Neither should we reject each other. Instead, we should all be looking to see how Christ will blend us together into something beautiful and harmonious. (No wonder Peter follows up the instruction to us to live in harmony with each other with instructions to be sympathetic toward each other, and to love each other as brothers and sisters, and to be compassionate and humble.)