Monday, 20 February 2017

An Army on its knees

I'm sure you've heard it said an Army marches on its stomach but this Army marches on its knees...

Since it's beginning, The Salvation Army has been walking a tightrope between Faith and Action...a fall to either side would destroy the very fabric of what the Army is, and was raised up to be. It's Mission has always been a double edged sword...'Hand to man' of course but never neglecting the 'Heart to God'.

I guess some would argue that there is no conflict between these two ideals...that service and action come out of a deep faith and eternal responsibility. Of course I agree with this, but, is it ever possible to really focus on these two things with equal determination and dedication? Christ Himself stated that we cannot serve two masters in Matthew 6:24.

If we're not careful, we can become so wrapped up in meeting physical needs that we become little more than yet another charitable organisation.  'Fine', some people might say, 'what does it matter why the Salvation Army does what it does?' 

It matters because the things we do have eternal consequences, and it matters because we are not just a charitable organisation; we are a religious order with a divine commission. I know that some people's only experience of the Salvation Army may be 'secular employees' that may or may not have a faith; perhaps this is the problem, The Army has in some ways become two separate organisations: secular and religious. Although of course, at it's heart the Army still remains a religious organisation.

We have to watch the dangers of becoming better known for charitable acts than faith, where faith is seen as separate or even secondary. Perhaps in today's world this is unavoidable; the need for regulation and accountability in charities means that professional employees and methods are needed particularly in an organisation the size of the Salvation Army. Yes it's acceptable that employees can be religious but it almost seems like society 'tolerates' the religious side of the Army because of the benefits of what we do. Our priorities have perhaps become unbalanced, maybe we have become to big or unmanageable? I don't know what the answer is, but it is vital we remember who we are and where we came from.

The opposite side of the problem is when faith without action takes over. When we focus on the 'religious side' of the Army and neglect our mission to 'Serve Suffering Humanity'. This has become a problem with the wider Church, or at least the reputation of the wider Church; that sitting and singing songs is all we are good for; that we do not care about the world outside our walls and that we only exist to make everyone follow our rules while excluding everyone who resists or doesn't fit in.

In between these two issues lies one of my favourite words: 'Balance'.
Balance between who we are and what we do, balance between serving our fellow man physically and spiritually and doing all this while nourishing our own spiritual lives and walk with Christ.

My own Corps is not always great at hitting the balance. We are a very busy Corps, and lots of people spend lots of time doing lots of things. We need (and I personally need) to occasionally refocus to look past the busyness and constantly ground ourselves. Just a brief example from my Corps of one way we try to do that is the way in which musical practice's are organised; specifically from my experience as a songster I have found that it is vital to balance practice time to ensure we are the best we can be, as well as devotional time which provides focus and inspiration.

I love this quote from William Booth about this idea of balance:

"Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again; until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other."

The idea of Faith and action being indistinguishable from action is brilliant, and I think this is what we should be aiming for; a strong, grounded, disciplined faith that naturally spreads out into the world as action. But strong, grounded, disciplined faith does not happen overnight, it requires constant work, study and above all prayer. Which of course William Booth also has a lot to say about:

"You must pray with all your might. That does not mean saying your prayers, or sitting gazing about in church or chapel with eyes wide open while someone else says them for you. It means fervent, effectual, untiring wrestling with God. This kind of prayer be sure the devil and the world and your own indolent, unbelieving nature will oppose. They will pour water on this flame."

This then is the final thought to leave today's post on:
Look for the balance, work for the balance. Do not become so busy you lose focus on why you are doing what you're doing. We need to remember the two part Mission of the Salvation Army and every Christian.... 'Heart to God, Hand to Man'. Both are vital and together they make an unstoppable force for good. We must be relevant, meeting modern needs with expertise and professionalism but first and foremost we are a religious movement commissioned, Inspired and equipped by God...but we have to stay connected with the source of our strength and keep our hearts focused on Christ. The more we do, the more we move out of our own strength, and the more we must rely on Christ.

Perhaps this should be a reminder to the Church, and all of us:

"Half an hour's meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed." - St Francis De Sales

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