From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
Let the work of the church of God be in these hands. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
As we read these inspiring words, we must be careful not to miss the obvious but important point: it is his own hands that Fursa now dedicates. How often we prefer to offer other people’s hands, or the imaginary hands of the church corporate. We hear the call of Christ to serve the needs of others and declare, “Yes, here is something ‘the church’ should be doing.” We condescend to agree with Jesus and say, “If ‘the church’ would do something about this, I would support it.” Thus we let the responsibility for obeying the words of Jesus rest upon the church corporate. So when Jesus tells us to visit those who are sick or in prison; or have to dinner the poor and unwanted and those who cannot return the favor; when his word commands us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and welcome the foreigner and refugee, we say, “Yes and Amen; ‘the church’ should indeed do these things. I would support ‘the church’ if it did.” We might say such a thing, believing that our making the suggestion will count as virtue. We shirk our responsibility, still believing that we are on God’s side.
But such agreement is not true faith. Such faith cannot save you. We are not saved by sharing an opinion as to what might help. James makes this point, in his letter to the churches and he continues by saying, “Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in you saying to them ‘God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!’ if you don’t give them the necessities of life?”
Fursa pledges not his agreement but his hands; not the imaginary hands of the church-corporate but his own flesh-and-blood hands. In this concrete way, Fursa takes personal responsibility for the works demanded by the love of Christ. “Make no mistake,” said the Apostle John, “It is the one who does what is right who is righteous.”
This is why history recalls Fursa not as a suggester of great works, but a doer of them. When Fursa read the Scriptures there was no-one in his mind who needed to obey the things commanded before himself; no-one further up the ladder; no abstract conceptualization of the church corporate. Fursa’s church was a household of people who had learned to hear the words of Christ and the apostles and say: “Here I am. Send me.” Indeed, Fursa’s prayer invites the brothers and sisters of such households of faith to offer their hands daily.
Each morning, through the discipline of this prayer, Fursa stands before God expecting that some new task might be asked of him as he encounters the apostolic Scriptures afresh.
On first hearing, this line of prayer might sound grand and ambitious: “the work of the church of God in my hands.” Now we realize it is really a humble act of self-offering: the promise of daily obedience to the Lord’s teachings. It is with that simplicity of faith that Fursa now calls me meekly to pray aloud with him: “May the work of the church of God be in these hands.”