If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future
and knew everything about everything, but didn't love others,
what good would I be?
(1 Corinthians 13:2 NLT)
Several years ago my wife and I visited another couple in New York. The husband was a New York City homicide detective. That weekend, the four of us had dinner at one of their favorite Italian restaurants, just outside the city in New Jersey. It was like a scene from the movie Goodfellas or The Godfather, lots of rich food, chef and maître d’ barking orders and welcoming guests, wine flowing, and lots of olive skinned men in expensive dark suits.
As we were sitting, the maître d’ brought an expensive bottle of wine to our table, and then told our detective friend that it had been sent to us courtesy of Mr. Canarozza’s table (or whatever the very Italian sounding last name, ending in a vowel, of the man sitting at the back table, surrounded by expensive dark suits). Our detective friend told us that the man was an important figure in the mafia, which, quite honestly, put me in a mini-state of panic as my imagination ran wild, and I played out every violent mafia movie scene I had ever watched. Was this a bribe? Was it a pay off? Would our friends and now my wife and I who glance over at the man, end up wearing cement overshoes, and be found at the bottom of the Hudson River? Turns out, it was simply a thank you. Apparently the man’s brother had been accused of murder, and our friend had proved he wasn’t guilty, of “that” murder anyway. I’m pretty sure I made an audible gulp.
Still kind of stunned, and adrenaline pumping, I recall saying something about the excitement of being a New York City homicide detective. Our friend said, actually, most of the time his job was pretty boring. Lots of paperwork, lots of listening to mundane (wiretapped) conversations about nothing, and lots of bad coffee (this was before there was a Starbucks on every corner), sitting in an uncomfortable squad car all night. Essentially he demystified my vision.
I was thinking about that this week, as I spent a good portion of time in prayer and fasting, thanks largely to the encouragement of my church family. I had been transparent with our folks and told them that I actually needed “their” pastoral care. I confessed that my spirit had been dry. I told them I believed God had set some powerful things in motion, and I needed to be equipped to lead our church where God wanted us to go. Their responses humbled me as I received dozens of texts, emails, and even a handwritten card, encouraging me, challenging me and motivating me, often with impeccable timing. It made my busy week of serving, praying and fasting not only joyous, but also relatively easy. There wasn’t anything really mystical, even though they were praying to a supernatural God, and encouraging me in the name of Jesus, our supernatural Redeemer. Just regular folks, good people, who choose to serve an extraordinary Savior. Good folks who made a conscious decision to show love.
In his letter to a church in a province called Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn't love others, what good would I be?” I think sometimes we get caught up in the mysticism of things that Jesus just assumed His followers would do without a lot of fanfare and not always with spectacular results. We read in our Bibles, the power of giving (a little boy’s two fish and five loaves feeds thousands), of praying (lives changed, bodies healed or risen from the dead), and fasting (nations saved, apostles sent), and perhaps we think we should experience that type of awe and wonder when we give, or pray or fast.
When Jesus talks about giving, praying and fasting, he just assumptively says “When,” “When you give,” “When you pray,” and “When you fast.” Perhaps the greatest thing about giving, praying and fasting, is it allows us to demystify the personal relationship we have with Jesus, and simply return a fraction of the perfect sacrificial love He gave us, by sacrificially loving him through our imperfect words and actions – our giving, praying, fasting, serving and sharing the love of Jesus Christ.