Be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Ancient monks, dedicated to prayer, adopted the slogan ora et labora: pray and work. They prayed while they worked. Prayer was their work.
It’s still a good slogan: ora et labora. I like it. That’s the way I roll. But maybe we could tweak it for our rumble strip of a modern moment. Labora can also mean something like “struggle.” So: Pray and struggle.
That seems about like how things usually go. We find ourselves in impossible situations, clamped down, viced shut, out of the frying pan and back against the wall. That’s where we have to pray and struggle our way through. It’s Serenity-Prayer-X, maybe not quite accept the things we cannot change, so much as struggle–and with serenity and strength and a spin or two of God’s grace.
Because there’s this place where human struggle and God’s power intersect, two sets of footprints in the sand that become one alongside the drag marks of a rough hewn cross. Situations are not one or the other: our part or God’s. They’re both at once, struggle and prayer, some spiritual quantum mechanics that allows for two states simultaneously. We pray. And we struggle. At the same time.Thus the apostle Paul and his call to be “steadfast” and “immovable.” We’re immovable in prayer, immovable in our commitment to Christ. We hold fast to an immovable faith in immovable situations.
Because what is an immovable situation, really? So many impossible situations turn out to have doors in and hatches out, sluices of possibility. And even when we aren’t strong enough to take hold of a person, place, or thing and give it a positive tilt, God is. God changes situations. Or changes people. Or changes us.
Transformation of the self so often seems like a consolation prize, small comfort when the doctor breaks the news that some clot of malignancy has drawn the shades on a loved one’s future. But all things really do work for the good of those who love God, even if all things do not necessarily go our way. In impossible situations, we’re called to be immovable in our confidence that God is at work around and within us.
And we’re immovable in our confidence that God won’t abandon us. God is called Father because he loves us as a father, nurtures us as a parent. There will be manna or quail or springs or somesuch goodness in whatever gritty deserts we find ourselves wandering.
I spoke to a rural pastor whose people face ever-increasing farm input costs for seemingly ever-diminishing returns. “God won’t just leave us here to starve,” he told them. We’re resourceful. We’ve faced this before. It’s bad, but it’s not the 80s farm crisis, and we survived that.
Ora et labora. Pray and struggle. By the inscrutable ways of Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, our inward struggle ribbons out into life and points toward something like hope.