Begin with the End in Mind

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I remember a Professor beginning my senior capstone class in college with a simple directive. She started class with the experiential exercise of having us reflect and think about where we see ourselves in 10 years. At the time, I wanted to be a sports journalist covering the local Cleveland sports teams or on ESPN, so I wrote about that and possibly having a family. Thankfully the latter has come true, but the former did not.

The point of an exercise like this goes hand in hand with what is commonly known in business parlance as “beginning with the end in mind”. It is seeing a vision of a preferred future and then asking yourself if your daily life is leading you in that direction. I had to ask myself at that desk if the vision of the future as a sportswriter was what I hoped for in 10 years post-college. This week’s collect causes me to similarly pause as I reflect on the end goal of an apprentice of Jesus- becoming a person of love.

In John 15, Jesus gives a beautiful and new commandment to his original disciples: to love one another in the same way he loved. To be clear he was not speaking of love as our culture does, as primarily a feeling or desire toward another person. He was speaking of what is known in the Greek language as agape, a type of love that is self-sacrificial and more about the orientation of one’s will. Jesus exemplified this type of love for us by humbly submitting himself and his will to the crucifixion.

Why would we want to orient ourselves with this agape type of love? Because it fulfills our deepest desires for a life full of joy (ref. John 15:11). From birth, human beings are hard-wired for relationships until the day we die. Curt Thompson, a Christian Psychiatrist, and expert in Interpersonal Neurobiology writes,

“We all are born into the world looking for someone looking for us, and we remain in this mode of searching for the rest of our lives.”

Jesus certainly knew we are social beings and therefore knew that the best way to live this human life is not for yourself but for the sake of others. But how do we do that? How do we emulate Jesus and follow his new commandment of agape love? Well, Jesus gave us the answer.

We abide.

In fact, in the first 10 verses the word “abide” is used 10 times by Jesus in John 15 to describe how we fulfill or complete his new commandment. I looked it up, and to abide means to “remain”, “dwell”, “be present”, and to “be held or kept.” I like that last one, to “be held or kept” as I picture a young child in the arms of a loving mother or father. This posture Jesus calls us to assume here seems more like an open hand than something I reach out and grasp.

Ancient Christians used the language “Union with God” to describe the telos, the end goal, of the spiritual journey. Today we might use the language of intimacy with Christ. Whatever the language you prefer, this week’s collect prayer asks that we remain in the love and presence of God whose self-descriptors are gentle and humble in Matthew 11, or gracious and compassionate in Exodus 34.

In today’s everyday activities of packing lunches for your children, preparing for an organizational meeting, checking email, chatting with your roommate, having dinner with your family, or commuting to school or work, may you open your hands to participate in the inner life of the Trinity. May you abide and dwell in Christ’s love as you grow to “the practice of the presence of God,” written by Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century dishwasher in a monastery.

May that relational love that God first loved you with (ref. 1 John 4:19) enable you to live with your end in mind so you can do what you cannot do on your own - become a person of agape. And as the collect prayer says, may you “exceed all that we can desire” by abiding in His love.

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