“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” — Hebrews 10: 23-25
As a United Methodist, I can tell you that there are no more “Methodist” verses in the Bible than Hebrews 10: 23-25. Hebrews 10: 23-25 also describe a way of being together that is my hope for all churches – rural and otherwise.
My mind was struck by that phrase, “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” “Provoke” is such a wonderful word: it means “to arouse a feeling or action.” It means “to incite,” “to stir up purposefully,” “to provide the needed stimulus for,” “to spur one another on.” To provoke is to inspire; maybe to poke or prod. We think of provoking discussion, provoking laughter, even provoking a fight. (My younger brother used to provoke me a lot in the last sense.) Actually, the word itself comes from the Latin word “provocare,” which contains the same root (vocare) as “vocation” or “calling”: to pro-voke, then, is to call for something, to call something forth from one another.
This is what we do in the church: we “call forth” love and good deeds from one another. By meeting together, encountering one another, sharing truth with another, we serve as “provocateurs”: stirring up love. This is what the early Methodists did in their class meetings, as they confessed, prayed, witnessed, and studied together: they were provoking each other.
I need my brothers and sisters in the church to provoke me. John Ortberg writes in one of his books that every person has a shadow mission: that mode of living that we would default to, that mission in life that we would live for if we were not living for God.
I think my shadow mission, what I would do were there no God in my life, would be to sit on the couch eating donuts and pizza and watching sports all day; or alternatively, to get caught up the worldly rat race of academic and professional achievement.
Thankfully, throughout my life, God has surrounded me with communities of Christians that keep provoking me to love and good deeds instead, that keep provoking me out of that shadow mission and calling for me to live for my real mission in life: to glorify God in service to Christ.
I hope that one of the things that we can do through Thriving Rural Communities is to continue to find ways to provoke one another. Let us consider how we can not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but instead find ways to gather rural church leaders in a way that provokes them, not to fights, not to envy, not to complaining, and not even just to provoke discussion, but to love and good deeds in the name of Christ.
So let us encourage one another, and all the more as we see the Day approaching.
Let's be provocative.