Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat-
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
This morning I spent time, as I often do, reading from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotions. I am always enriched by his insights into God’s Word. His message was from Ecclesiastes 9:10 (or ix. 10, as they wrote it in his day), “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” I was moved by his words:
Whatever you do for Christ throw your whole soul into it. Do not give Christ a little slurred labour, done as a matter of course now and then; but when you do serve Him, do it with heart, and soul, and strength.
Amen! This is how we should serve.This applies to all who serve the Lord, to the pastor and church staff, to deacons, to teachers and committee leaders, to Christian parents who seek to raise their children for Christ.
I am very encouraged by the standard of excellence we have in our church. Our people care about what they do for Christ. Things are not done carelessly but sincerely and earnestly. That is how we should preach and teach. Every day I spend time alone in God’s Word and every week for the last 25+ years I have carefully prepared my sermons. I can honestly say that for those years I have not gotten into the pulpit even one time unprepared, and that would amount to almost 2,000 sermons. But my confidence is not in my preparation but in the power of God and in the authority of His Word – and this is how we should all think. Again as Spurgeon wrote:
But where is the might of a Christian? It is not in himself, for he is perfect weakness. His might lieth with the Lord of Hosts. Then let us seek His help; let us proceed with prayer and faith, and when we have done what our “hand findeth to do,” let us wait upon the Lord for his blessing. What we do thus will be well done, and will not fail in its effect.
Yet, I have found that a danger exists for most of us, at least I am sure it does for me, and I am reasonably sure it is present in many others, in that I can become focused on detailia, side-tracked from the things that interest most people to the things that only interest a few. I have found in my studies and preparation that I need constantly to be reminded of the view of the common man, of the average Christian. In sermon preparation and personal studies we can all let our interests drill our mindset so far down into a certain subject that we lose sight of the horizon, of the broader view, of the larger picture. So I must work hard at not working hard in such a limited way.
Having been a recreational golfer for most of my life, and having had a few lessons, I am aware of the common advice the professional instructor will give players. Most of us tend to grip the club too hard, but we find that this does not improve the swing, because in the process of gripping the club with our hands, the very act re-orders our shoulder muscles. So they will teach players, before you swing relax your grip just a bit, to a 4 on a 1 to 10 scale, and you will hit the ball better.
There is some wisdom in that for other matters as well. The quality of our work in any field is not improved upon because we devote more time and energy to it. To step away from the work for a minute or an hour, or even a day or longer, to think about other things, to look at what we have done from different perspectives – all of these things add to the quality of the work as well as concentration. I have found in sermon preparation that it is important to stop and think about what I have planned to say, to pray through the sermon, to consider the way the passage of Scripture will impact others, and especially to continually ask what was God’s original intention of the passage anyway.
The Psalm 127 passage above reminds us of our position in this world. The Lord must build the house or we labor in vain – this is true for all things but it has a special application for ministry. We pastors and we Christians think that we are doing something important – and we should have these thoughts, especially if we are working for God. What could be more important than proclaiming the eternal message of God’s Word to people? What could be more important in this world than ministering to the immortal soul of another human being? I can think of nothing that compares in importance to the work of a pastor or to the work and witness of the church. This is the greatest and grandest thing anyone can give himself to do.
Yet the work is not fundamentally ours. It belongs to God and He is the power behind it. We should take the gospel seriously, but we should not take ourselves as seriously. God grants sleep to those He loves. Once when our wonderful daughter was a teenager she was very committed for Christ and was at a point where she agonized over many spiritual things. She was struggling, as we all do in those years, with finding a balance between the seriousness of Christian witness, and the daily experience of the joy and peace of God. So I asked her once, “Do you want people to become Christians so they can be as miserable as you?’ She laughed an got the point – as I mentioned, she is a wonderful person, wise beyond her years.
So the pastor, as any Christian, works for the Lord, and he should work hard for the Lord, but he should also make it his ideal that the Lord will work in him and through him. He need not merely preach about peace, but he should find the peace he proclaims to others in Christ. He not only rejoices in the privilege of being used of God, but he must learn to relax in the Lord as well and carry the burden lightly – and this is exactly what Christ said His burden was – light and easy. And we will all find, I believe, that the less we place our confidence in ourselves and the more we place our confidence in God and in His Word, the more effective we will be in our service.
Enough of my musings about my work today. May God bless you this season of Thanksgiving (if you are an American) and of the beginning of the celebration of the birth of Christ. May God give you great joy in your heart and great peace in your soul, and may His love for this world give you motivation and vision as well.