The Apostle James reminds us that faith without works is dead, and in so doing we are enjoined to show our faith by our actions. But is it always right to act? Are there times when it is wiser – and indeed far more challenging to our faith – to hold back, wait and prayerfully trust that God has an even greater plan that he is in the process of unveiling? It is a conundrum I am sure many of us know only too well, and one that appears particularly poignant for those within the House of Bishops – and dare I say even for the occasional Archbishop. When is it right to act and when is it right to just wait, reflect and seemingly “do nothing”? When should we use the power that is vested in us, and when should we cast a seemingly ‘blind eye’?
As Vanstone so eloquently sets out in his magisterial work, The Stature of Waiting, the triumph of the cross is Christ’s willingness to enter into his own period of Passion, where he willingly lets himself be ‘handed over’ by Judas into the final chapter of his life. This – the culmination of his time on earth, where he has already told his disciples he has ‘completed all that his Father has commanded him to do’ – is where he passively allows himself to be subjected to all that ‘the world’ can possibly choose to throw at him. And through it all – he loves. Unconditionally, unboundedly and unceasingly. Why? So that the Son of Man is glorified – and very visibly so, as testified by the soldiers watching him! Who would have believed it – the most powerful man that has ever lived hanging ‘helplessly’ on a tree. Passion, passivity and pain. So then, when should we ourselves choose to act and when should we just learn to ‘be’?
The answer is naturally completely dependent on circumstance. I would offer, however, that there are certain characteristics that will always be present in helping us discern the most appropriate pathway to take. The first is of without doubt – which is the most loving course of action to take? The second – which route requires the most courage? The third, which is the path that leads more people to the foot of the Cross? For people paralysed by fear (one understandable form of inaction) – know that Christ will stand with you as you do or say all that you know is sitting in your heart to do or say. This is particularly true for all those who are still seeking the courage to embrace the truth of who they are. Please know the truth will always set you free, and God will always honour you in this. That said, for people keen to make a stand – who feel led to act, no matter what the cost… can I gently ask – are you sure that this is honestly what God has called you to do?
Are you sure he has told you to act on this particular issue, at this particular time and in this particular way? Difficult questions – which require a level of honesty that not all will be comfortable with. The critical factor, it would seem to me, is that we learn to discern God’s voice above all others – and that we only do what we feel he has specifically called us to do. One thing is clear through it all though … a broken and contrite heart God will never despise, whilst he resists the proud he gives grace to the humble. It all therefore depends so much on the spirit in which we come before him and seek to listen to his will. The next few years will be filled with challenging situations when many will be baying for action, particularly from those in leadership. This will not always be the wisest thing to do. The great challenge will therefore be to discern what God is calling us to do – or not do!
Published in Church of England Newspaper.