9.03.2006

Agape, Affection, Prayer, and Intuition

John Huffman preached on the 13th chapter of I Corinthians this weekend, as part of a series preaching through that whole book. We have heard the passage so many times -- and heard so much teaching on it -- that bringing anything new to it is quite a task. But he is a preacher by birth, talent, and experience, and I enjoyed him as always.

I don't know that I got anything new in terms of information or interpretation, but I do think we need to keep hearing that message over and over -- and he did that well. "All the good we do -- all the religious stuff we do -- is worth nothing if it is not done out of agape." And he followed it with the appropriate pastoral prayer for his own growth in this, and for all of us to grow in this.

I have been thinking about the power of the Spirit, and how much that power is tied to real affection, to prayer, and to intuition -- and about how much the power of the Spirit is agape. We tend to think of it as miracles, or as great preaching, or as some sort of spiritual ethos around a person . . . but it really does just boil down to the ability to see each person as God sees them - - with that kind of insight and affection and judgment and forgiveness and hope for the future.

And anyone who authentically has those eyes for the person in front of them cannot not convey real love and acceptance and hope and wisdom. And that is the source of real power relationally, and the motivation for our appropriate use of whichever of the spiritual gifts with which we each find ourselves gifted as we just live in that agape.

Most preachers talking about agape -- self-sacrificial love -- make it sound as though it is primarily an act of the will, and that a feeling of affection is optional, and not even really a benefit to the either the lover or the beloved, perhaps. But it isn't so. God created our emotions, and has His own, too -- or so our Bible tells us. And -- while our emotions are not to control us in the sense of us allowing them to drag us around life to our regret or against God's purposes or to the harm of others -- in fact our emotions are given to us by God in order to provide the energy to do all that He commands us to do, and part of our worship is to manage our emotions so that they do give us that energy for worship and obedience.

It is a fallacy of our therapeutic culture to believe that emotions are a sign of pathology and are best dispensed with. They are intended to give us life! "Faith, hope, and love" are not just cognitive! How do we do that? How do we manage our emotions so that they lead us with energy toward the will of God, instead of leading us away from His agenda and toward a downward spiral of sin and death?

Well, we live in relationship to Jesus and we bring an honest account of our emotions to Him in prayer, and we are honest about our emotions in appropriate ways in our other relationships, and we carry on a dialogue with God and with others about what we feel and what is true and about what perhaps our emotions tell us about what may be broken and needs to be fixed. And we feel our emotions. And we ask God to work through them where that is His purpose and to change them where that is His purpose. And we trust that, over time, that is exactly what He will do as we persist in that stance and in prayer.

But back to agape and prayer and affection and intuition . . . if I am in regular honest prayer for you for God to destroy the stuff in your life that's in His way and to do everything He wants to be doing in you and to do everything He wants to be doing through you for His best purposes to be accomplished, I cannot end up not feeling real affection for you, and I cannot end up not knowing a lot about who you are and how God is working in your life. My actual knowledge of you will be the beneficiary of a real interest in your life and the ways God is answering my prayer as I absorb the bits of information I get from you and others about your world. And my intuition about you will also be heightened by the Spirit's action in that regard.

So the prime source of agape is the Spirit's work in my life and His agape toward me . . . and that agape expresses itself first in intercessory prayer for others, which will bear the fruit of actions of real agape and emotions of affection and of a heightened knowledge of you and your life . . . which will circle back on itself to more of the same.

And that agape is not only our central ethic. It is the prime expression of real spiritual power. It is the mark of our community. And it is the power that changes us.

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