It started as I was picking up toys from a visit by our precious grandchildren. Strewn about the living room, into the kitchen and out the back door was a dizzying array of colorful plastic pieces of everything from ‘Cootie’ to ‘Madeline’s Christmas Book and Doll Set’. This scene had played out before – every time those five bundles of energy had ‘left the building’.
As I finished putting everything in its place (piled up in an old laundry basket), my comfortable lounge chair beckoned me to come over and enjoy its soothing leather and expertly padded appointments. As my body relented to its comforts, my heart was overwhelmed by God’s blessings. It just doesn’t get any better than seeing your grandchildren learn together the joys of life – playing, sharing, fighting, and discovering the world God has made. Surely “children’s children are a crown to the aged” (Proverbs 17:6).
And it dawned on me that cleaning up after them is a true blessing. The chaos they sometimes leave in their wake is a sign of life. Before they arrived in our family, the living room and back yard always stayed neat and orderly. Yet the treasure of having them running and bouncing around under their own power makes even the idea of a clean sliding patio window boring. Far better to see those little handprints plastered all over the glass. Some days I don’t even wash them off!
Good ministry is all about life, too. While it’s easy to complain about those sheep God gave us to look after, if we took time to notice the up side of working with people, we’d be less prone to get irritated at the messes they leave around. Here are a few signs of life that can elicit our feelings of frustration. I’m challenging all of us to consider them as a blessing instead of a curse.
• Disorder – We’ve already seen this as a sign that little people are in the house. But this is a daily experience for anyone in pastoral service. When life is present, anything can happen. Some time back one of my students emailed me to say he couldn’t make it to class one week. It seems someone had double booked a room for a graduation party. He’d have to move his event one day forward – and he had a whole five days to pull it off. Sound familiar?
As one of my friends once put it, ‘control is an illusion’. I think he’s onto something. In my days in the pastorate that lesson went down hard for me. I’m sure the apostle Paul must have growled at times as he saw his church plants coming apart at the seams. In fact, we wouldn’t have much of a New Testament had he not been inspired to address the ‘disorder’ with a positive sense that the church was a living organism needing his attentive and purposeful love.
Maybe you’re struggling today because of some messiness in your ministry. You could curse the clutter, or thank the Good Shepherd that there is enough life in the fellowship that people’s minds and actions are bumping into one another. Give me an untidy living room anytime, if it means my family is in the house.
• Fatigue – Working with people is exhausting. If you didn’t know this before you entered ministry, you do now. I’m reminded of the time Jesus asked the disciples to find food for the crowd near the Sea of Galilee. In Mark 6 we learn that after a long day the disciples thought it would be a good idea to send them home. They were tired and ready to call it day. But Jesus “felt compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 34). And he began to teach them well into the evening. He saw this as a great opportunity to show the Father’s power and love. Providing hope and refreshment to weary people was his idea of a great evening.
Frankly, I would have been right there with the disciples. But I’m learning that when I am at the end of my reserves, the Lord is preparing me to be an instrument of his mercy and grace. And I think the Lord is challenging us to look at our tiredness as a reward that we have been doing good work for a loving Savior. Falling into bed after such labor is sweet, indeed.
• Depletion – While we’re on the subject of food, perhaps you’ve discovered that going to the grocery store is less thrilling than it used to be – if it ever was. Prices are going up; yet consumption is not slowing down to make up the difference. If you have a growing family this is painfully obvious. Our daughters both have very active children, and they are beginning to discover what my mom used to call ‘the hollow leg’. My brothers, sister and I ate enough food during our teen years to feed a small army.
But mom never complained. Watching us eat gave her great pleasure. She loved to see her kids enjoy the fruit of her labors and the bounty of the land we farmed. You may notice that your ministries consume a lot of money, time, energy, and yes, even food. One of our alumni friends pastored a church where the annual budget for donuts alone was $30,000. Sounds like a lot – until you realize the impact of these sugary treats. People were learning to stay and fellowship, share in one another’s lives, and enjoy the benefit of growing deeper in the Lord together.
Perhaps your facilities are showing signs of wear and tear. You would paint and remodel, but you’ve spent all your money on donuts :-). I say far better your place look a bit ragged from over-use than from the ravaging effects of neglect and decay. Some years ago I visited our family farm in Iowa. Dad had long ago passed on and the place was not being used. As I walked through those dilapidated buildings, memories of the hard work and great times we had years before came flooding back. I’d rather see a building worn out because of constant activity than one that is falling down upon itself out of lack of use.
The next time you unlock the squeaky old door that leads to your office, or get into that bucket of bolts that passes for an automobile, be thankful there is enough life going on around you to use up all that stuff.
Disorder, fatigue and depletion. We can see them as burdens to endure as we serve our Master, or we can view them as signs of life, encouraging us to keep on living for Jesus, the author of life itself. Think about these things, and rejoice in the life you see all around you. __Mick__