"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 NRSV
provoke (v.) - Latin provocare "call forth, challenge", from pro "forth" + vocare "to call"
My brothers and I know exactly how to provoke a reaction from each other. My mom called it "pushing each other's buttons".
We mostly used this superpower for evil, finding ways to encourage a negative response. Even now that we are all pushing 50 years old, we still find ways to "push each other's buttons". As I have aged and become a parent myself, I have seen this trait in my own children, as well as pretty much all of the families I know. We have such power over our relationships. Though it is easy to elicit a negative response with teasing or poking, it never ends well. My brothers and I either ended up mad, in trouble, or usually both. It always came to a head when we had spent too much time with each other, like in the hot mid to late summer days when summer boredom started creeping in.
"...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..."
Hebrews 10 reminds us of the good that happens when we use the superpower of provoking for good instead of evil. Consider this; what would our relationships, our church, and our world look like if the world pushed each other's buttons for good instead of evil? What if our Facebook posts, our tweets, our advertising, and our friendships "provoked one another to love and good deeds"?
I think all of us know the potential impact of a good deed. I think we also know that we are far from perfect, but that is what makes this extraordinary. Even though we are imperfect humans who make mistakes, we are still encouraged into our call. We are provoked by a loving a gracious God amidst disagreement and frustration to be helpful and loving. Called to be God's hands in the world. My brothers and I who teased and poked and pushed each other's buttons have grown up to be: an award winning kindergarten teacher and musician; a skilled electrician, coach, and grandfather who is helping to raise the new child of his step-daughter; a Lutheran camp director; and a creative and beloved elementary school principal. We have provoked each other into different calls despite the button-pushing that continues still to this day. This happens because it is easier for us to provoke the good in people when we are connected to each other. When we focus on what we love, the hate and disagreement that divides us begins to lose power over us. We may or may not change minds, but we definitely change relationships. Who can you sit down with this week? Who is that someone who you have been provoking, or who has been provoking you? Whose buttons are you pushing?
As I write this, I watched my 7 year old son Isak, walk from the kitchen to the table for a snack, and sneakily reach up and lock the door of the porch. He knew full well that his 11 year old sister Ella, who was on the porch reading, would get upset that she was locked out. (Deep sigh.) I am sure that my mother planned this lesson for me in some long ago hot boring summer day.
My brothers and I provoke each other now as we encourage music and sports in our children's lives. We celebrate things like new bee hives and old stories. We try and spend our time lifting up what we love about our family and have been trying to limit the teasing and poking. We are successful, sometimes. Here is my hope and prayer in the middle of the coming summer months; that we do not neglect to meet together, that we encourage one another, and let us consider how to "push each other's buttons" to love and do good deeds.
Joel Abenth, Executive Director
Voyageurs Lutheran Ministry