I Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
One Sunday morning a couple of months ago I had a short list of errands to do on my way to church. Immediately following church, my family and I were leaving to go out of town for the week. I woke up early (as we often do on days we are going to travel, having slept fitfully thinking of the trip), got ready, got out the door as fast as possible — double checking to make sure nothing was forgotten, that I would not lose precious minutes going back to retrieve an item left behind. You can imagine the feeling I had when I started the car and heard a terrible rattling sound that had not been there the night before. “Oh Lord,” I prayed, “please just let me get these few things done before the car breaks down and I’ll deal with repairing it when we get home next week!”
As I drove (rattling continuing, but in my hopeful imagination not getting worse) I wondered how something could have gone so wrong with the car. It sounded like it was a step away from the junkyard! But we had just had the car in the shop recently for regular maintenance and nothing was found wrong. How could something have gone so awry so quickly?
I finished my errands and got to church safely. A man well-versed in cars told me it was simply a lost screw on the underneath of the car that produced the metallic rattling — a repair would be quick and easy. In fact, I had been correct to trust in the regular maintenance we had been putting into the car — nothing was terribly wrong. Building a foundation of regular care for the car paid off.
We practice the discipline of routine maintenance on our cars, our houses, our bodies. We exercise discipline in our finances. All of these we do so that when the unexpected thing comes, after getting over initial worry, we can remember that we are likely well-prepared and have a strong and sound foundation of good preparation on which to rely.
The same is true in our lives of faith. Regular maintenance, or religious discipline, gives us the good preparation for the unexpected life situation. John Wesley, the father of the Methodist tradition, gave this particular gift to the Church universal — that of creating a schedule, a routine, a discipline — in fact, a “method” for living our lives of faith. He organized the faithful in groups and gave them a guide for caring for one another spiritually. They met weekly and held each other accountable in love for living out the practice of Christian life in a methodical way. With the blessing of the Holy Spirit, this was not a rigid, inflexible practice, but a life-giving and life-changing one, and his movement caught on like wildfire, resulting in the modern-day churches like the United Methodist Church.
And so the scripture above. How are you in your regular practice of prayer? How often do you attend worship? Read scripture? Do acts of kindness? Wesley and the generations of disciples after him are testaments to the powerful effect that taking this regular discipline of faith has in the lives of individuals, and therefore communities. So as you do that routine work in the other areas of life, take seriously the need for the same in your life of faith. When the time of “rattling” comes, you will have a firm foundation to hold you through.
The Rev. Rachel M. Fisher is pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in North Reading.