Love, Discipleship and Shield Practice

“I’m not in the mood.”

There are several people I know who frequently complain that whenever they manage to find the time to read their Bible, they are typically exhausted and not much in the mood for coaxing their brains to do even a little bit of heavy lifting.

Since I myself am one of those frequent complainers, I get that. For many spiritual reasons – none of which I plan to cover here – the Bible is indeed challenging reading. Better by far to flop back in the La-Z-Boy with the latest edition of Entertainment Weekly and hope that we are in the mood to be challenged by God’s Word “sometime soon, probably tomorrow.”

And thus our days go by, one after the next.

Gurney Halleck

Gurney Halleck

There is a memorable scene in director David Lynch’s 1984 movie Dune that manages to be simultaneously scary and hilarious at the same time. Near the beginning of the story, we find the prince of House Atreides, Paul, relaxing after a workout, trading quips with his friends and clearly ready to unwind for a bit. However, the backdrop for the entire story is a political landscape rife with terror plots and assassination attempts. Paul’s bodyguard and trainer, Gurney Halleck, decides to leverage the young prince’s foolishness at letting his guard down, even among close friends:

Gurney Halleck: “Shield practice!”

Prince Paul Atreides: “Gurney, we had practice this morning…I’m not in the mood.”

Halleck: “Not in the mood? Mood’s a thing for cattle and loveplay, not fighting!”

Atreides: “I’m sorry, Gurney.”

Halleck: “Not sorry enough.” (Lunges at the prince with dagger drawn; intense fighting/training begins.)

Though the film was a box-office bomb, I have always found the “cattle and loveplay” line an amusing reminder to myself whenever I sink into the quagmire of paying far too much attention to the way I feel and far too little attention to the people, places and things in my life that require tending, stewardship and love. It might not be much of a stretch to say that what I most needed to know about the biblical definition of love I learned from Gurney Halleck; in many ways, often similar to warfare, the call to Christian love can be thrust upon us at the most inconvenient of times; we are expected to respond in faith whether we “feel like it” or not.

Like most other Americans, I grew up in a culture that consistently paired the word “love” with a default meaning of “romantic and/or sexual feeling;” red hearts, greeting cards, flowers, candlelight and so forth. The net effect of accepting the cultural definition for this much-abused word was to confuse the hell out of me when I first heard the call of Jesus to, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Because my culture so tightly bound the word “love” to something that consumed my emotions – and carried a sexual connotation to boot – this command of Christ seemed not only impossible but in fact quite undesirable; there are people in this world that are impossible to love, if we take “love” to mean a swelling feeling of warmth and affection for another.

Paul Atreides

Paul Atreides

One of the more liberating aspects of the Christian gospel is the call to “love…without necessarily liking.” When I was finally able to set aside the flowery notions and faux, sticky sentiment that our culture insists is the primary meaning of love, and instead accept the Christian call to love as a choice – not a feeling – I found myself far better prepared to open up to others and offer them the very thing that Jesus commanded.

But what I never expected – and had I been told, would never have believed – is that by enacting “raw obedience” to Christ’s command to love, He would actually change the desires of my heart and bring about the very thing I lacked. There have been numerous times when I entered into “commanded love” – such as giving someone a lift to the opposite side of town, offering to help with a move, taking a phone call at an hour when I’d rather not – and to my great surprise found myself drawn into an authentic, caring relationship. It doesn’t happen all at once, certainly, and sometimes you can serve someone else for years and still find it tough to love them with your emotions, but I am convinced beyond doubt that nothing, absolutely nothing, will change your heart toward someone faster than both a willingness to serve and the gut-level discipline to carry it out, even (or maybe especially) when you really would rather not.

In his book “I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah,” author and evangelist Ravi Zacharias confesses that he was dumbfounded by his older brother’s determination to love and marry a woman he had never actually met. Responding to Ravi’s concerns that this might be a bad idea, the older brother looked him square in the eye and said, “Write this down, and don’t ever forget it: Love is as much a question of the will as it is of the emotion. And if you will to love somebody, you can.” Reflecting on that incident from the late 1960s, and the fact that his older brother yet remains married to his bride, Zacharias goes on to say:

Chivalry in love has nothing to do with the sweetness of the appearance. It has everything to do with the tenderness of a heart determined to serve. That is the first hard lesson to learn. You do not act under the impetus of charm but out of a commitment to make someone’s life the joy you want it to be. In the early days of marriage, joy precedes the act. Tragically, as the years go by joy can be severed from the act until finally, the act itself is no more. This ought not to be. Over time it is the companionship that brings joy, and service is the natural outworking of the joy of commitment. Failure to act kills it.

The Duke, The Guardian and The Prince

The Duke, The Guardian and The Prince

Despite its miserable box-office performance and the fact that many fans of the Frank Herbert novels revile Lynch’s version of Dune, I have always thought that the film provides a truly biblical portrait of what The Good Father ought to look like. Duke Leto gives his much-loved son Paul a protector and tutor who is not above giving him a good scar now and then to reinforce the importance of the lesson. In selecting Gurney Halleck, the Duke is confident that his son will be trained to respond when duty calls and to place considerably less and less attention on how he feels at the time. Perhaps Paul will suffer a painful wound now and then, but they will only reinforce those attributes he will need someday to rule alongside the king.

Romans 15:1-5 (ESV)
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus…

“You can’t just live your life the way you want to. You have to be aware of how it affects other people. Mature people limit their freedom for the benefit of others.”
Rick Warren, commenting on Romans 15.

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