This morning as we were driving to church a scruffy well-tanned homeless man with tattered blue jeans and a dirty shirt, walked up the median near the interstate on-ramp with the standard cardboard sign with a black magic marker message. “Homeless. Hungry. Anything helps.” We’ve seen this particular man before be-bopping up the median with a smile, holding a peace sign, as he trod the concrete path hoping to entertain for a buck. I even looked around the car and we did not have any food to give so I sat there in the guilt that I usually feel for not being prepared to give a water bottle and a tract. Today was different, the man realized the light was about to turn green and headed back toward his starting point but as he walked his shoulders drooped and he let the sign drop. The cardboard floated into the lane and lay there in a defeated white flag “I surrender,” sort of way. He grabbed a large broken-in duffle bag and hoisted it upon his tired shoulders giving up in defeat but determined to move on.
In ministry, we can be going through the motions and attempting to shimmy up a response from the crowd and after our efforts give little in return, walk away with shoulders drooped, letting our resolve drift to the ground like the tattered cardboard. “I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore,” you may say ready to pack your bags determined to move on.
We’ve been taught since elementary school that formulas equal results. We can trust math formulas to always equal the same amounts each time and gain security for learning more difficult mathematical concepts because each principle can be used and built upon. God’s work is not always the same formula every time. One year a particular method may work to build and reach people, while other years the same formula, if you will, just painfully flops like an untrained swimmer at the diving board. I keep finding myself as a relatively new pastor’s wife in a slowly growing church plant still anxious — if we do this, and tweak this, and rearrange the nursery just right then it will equal what people want and they’ll come and stay. The variables are so different each time and with each person or group that it can be quickly disappointing when ta-dah, “I did the formula!” and you can hear the crickets chirping because it is not working.
The still small voice of God whispers, “It’s not on you, it’s my job. I build and add to the church.”
“Okay, okay. I know… but what should I do in the meantime?” I reply.
“Pray.” He says.
“I can do that. I feel that’s the only recourse I have left anyway.” I say with a sigh.
“Be faithful.” He urges.
“That is difficult. It seems like it would be easier to go somewhere to be used where we’ll see quicker results,” my shoulders are slumped in defeat.
“Did I tell you to move? Did I call you elsewhere to do my work?” He says with raised eyebrows.
“No Lord, this is the place you called us,” I shake my head in acknowledgement of His past calling to our location.
“Then stay put. Don’t run away from the place I’ve called you just because it’s difficult. It will be more difficult if you leave my will,” He warns.
“That sounds a lot like the story of Elimelech and Naomi. I don’t think I want to leave and return to you with heartbreaks and a bitter spirit.” I back off my runaway thinking.
“Exactly. I will provide everything you need here. Remember, all people have difficulties and trials in life. When you leave my will you add to the sorrows of the regularly planned trials by multiplying them.” His hand comes around my back and pats me on the shoulder.
“I see your point.” I look over in my own white flag “I surrender,” kind of way.
“It’s my work through you, not yours to bear the burden alone. My yoke is easy and the burden is light. If the yoke is hard and the burden is heavy, something… ahem, you… are not trusting me and depending on me to do the work.” He confronts gently but firmly.
“You’re right. Help me, Lord! Guide me to do your work your way. Help me to cast all these cares upon you in exchange for your ways.” I am humbled by His gentleness and resolved to be open-minded about His approach.
“I’m listening, tell me all about it. Then we’ll work on the rest,” He comforts again.
I’m not sure if your heart has those kinds of conversations with God like mine does. Then flashes of scripture are brought to the front of my mind. I Corinthians 3 stands out…
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
God will reward us according to our labour, but the key is we have to do the work with Him. We have a personal rule for our children out in public: Stay beside or behind. This allows me to lead the children if they were to run ahead and not be aware of a danger, for example, a car driving quickly in a parking lot. My warnings to stop may be unheeded if they are out of my voice range or running unaware in their own world. If they are beside or behind me I can look at them, grab their hand, or hold them back at the curb. It also trains for followship, learning to follow someone is important and valuable to learn wisdom. Rather than impulsive excursions of their own whim outside of the protection of their God-given authority they learn to listen and see dangers as we are closer together.
God likes us to walk beside Him in fellowship and behind Him in followship. That’s how I imagine Adam and Eve walking with God in the Garden of Eden, together side-by-side in joyful conversation. When we run ahead of God’s timing and timetable we can set ourselves up for heart dangers of unrealistic expectations from God that are never realized. He was planning us to follow Him elsewhere but we were not close enough to know or behind Him to see where He was going.
The final thoughts I have for those like me are this: If you’re ahead of God and straining to drag Him everywhere you want to go in the timetable you have formulated and it’s not working, then, why not try to work as a labourer with Him? Allow Him to give the increase in His time. His timing is everything. His increase is greater. His yoke lighter. His burden appropriate to the task He is really wanting us to accomplish. May you give Him your dedicated followship and unnecessary burdens and see what He can do with you and through you.