by Syd Hielema
Team Leader, Faith Formation Ministries
From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, the Scriptures describe our God as one who makes and keeps commitments. God declares promises and then fulfills them. God is committed to the goodness of his creation and the flourishing of man and woman created in his image. God is committed to overturning the brokenness of the fall by crushing the serpent’s head. And God is committed to establishing the new creation:
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever (Rev. 22: 3-5).
The Lord’s commitment to his creation and his people is expressed hundreds of times, often in richly moving and tender ways:
But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa, 43:1-3a).
Both personally and communally, we are shaped by our Lord’s committedness: God’s faithfulness holds the universe in place, confers a new identity upon us, shapes us into the body of Christ, invites us into his work of reconciling all things to himself, and guides us day by day on the road of faithful following. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1b-2)
The commitment to be uncommitted
A missionary friend told me this story: One day, while he and his family were on home leave in North America, his wife went grocery shopping. She turned her cart into a long aisle that contained nothing but breakfast cereals—dozens and dozens of varieties. She stopped, paralyzed, and began to weep right there in the aisle. The extravagance of choice broke her down.
Exercising limitless personal choice that allows us maximum personal autonomy and freedom is one of the chief spiritual disciplines of our age. It especially works its power on teens and young adults, because their identities are more amorphous as they live into their adult selves.
Sociologists tell us that many in this age range live by FOMO (fear of missing out). To make a commitment is to say yes to one path and no to all other paths. But what if something wonderful is waiting for me on a path I just said no to? In this way FOMO advises me to avoid all commitments and keep my options open—or, more accurately, to commit to being uncommitted. (If this sounds like picking on one age group, I should note that many church leaders observe weakened commitment to congregational life in all age groups.)
This spirit has also complicated the place of baptism, marriage, public profession of faith, and other significant milestones in the life of the church. Because this spirit continually whispers in our heart that we must live by limitless personal choice, it’s easy for us to forget that we are a body whose very being is embedded in commitments.
Strengthening our commitment practices, including the practice of profession of faith, calls us to name the idolatries that tempt us and intentionally embody a different way of being.
Living out our commitments
Every now and then my wife or I will do a task that normally the other person does, and the other will say, “Hey, you don’t need to do that; that’s my job!”
And the reply will be, “No, it’s OK, I’ll do it, it’s in the vows.” And we will both laugh.
We will laugh, but it’s a tender, grateful laugh. We made vows to each other almost forty years ago, but we are conscious of living out of those vows every day.
We are all living out vows of some kind every moment of every single day. “And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Our foundational commitment to Jesus is further focused and clarified by our commitments within families, to friends, to our community, to our nation, organizations we belong to, and more. My early morning run flows from my commitment to the body the Lord entrusted me with and from the commitment that I would be faithful to my wife until death do us part (she will say, “aren’t you going to run? I want to grow old with you.”) I read the news because I am committed to discerning the state of our society and “seeking the shalom and prosperity of the place” where the Lord has led me (Jeremiah 29:7).
Idolatries by their nature cause blindness, and the idolatry of personal choice blinds us to the reality and power of the commitments that have shaped us and that guide our every moment.
As a result, we are called to strip away this blindness by recognizing our commitments as we live them out and verbally reaffirming them regularly.
Recognition and reaffirmation
The twin disciplines of recognition and reaffirmation look like this:
- We recognize our commitment to the Lord and his body by participating in corporate worship, and we reaffirm it through the words of many worship songs and prayers.
- We recognize our commitment to the multigenerational church as we participate in activities that involve all ages, and we reaffirm it as we respond to the congregational vow at every baptism.
- We recognize our commitments to family and friends, and we reaffirm this through spoken words or written cards at birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, and other special milestones.
- We recognize our commitment to seeking the shalom of our communities by engaging in acts of justice and mercy, and we reaffirm this whenever we have an opportunity, because we are “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks to give the reason for the hope that (we) have . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Communities that adopt the rhythm of these disciplines of recognition and reaffirmation—practised with gentleness and respect—build capacity to become stronger places of grace whose oxygen undermines FOMO. Imagine what might happen if your church dedicated one month to the following disciplines:
- planning songs, prayers, Scriptures, and sermons that celebrate God’s great faithfulness to us
- songs and readings through which we reaffirm our commitments to God and the world in his name
- moments in worship followed by conversations throughout the week that honor significant life and faith milestones, including retirements, griefs and other losses, and major life transitions, each one surrounded and strengthened by commitments
- regular testimonies and other ways of sharing faith stories that honor God’s faithfulness to us and our commitments to him and one another.
This kind of focus on commitment might provide sturdier encouragement to believers to take the step of publicly professing their faith and affirming their baptism before their brothers and sisters in Christ.