Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Spiritual Formation Institute
Just Do It
Dr Alex Tang
I have always been fascinated by the Desert Fathers and Mothers who lived from
the early to the mid-fourth century.
These men and women left behind everything they had to live in the hostile
deserts of Egypt and later Syria and Palestine. The desert is a deadly
unforgiving environment. In the daytime the sun bakes the land mercilessly and
the nights are freezing cold. Yet these people left behind comfortable, secure
lives and loved ones to live out their lives alone in the desert. They moved
there to fight the demons in the desert and the demons within themselves. Like
Jesus’ temptations were in the desert, these elders seek the purifying furnace
of the desert to encounter God. Though we are separated by 1,500 years,
cultural, social and linguistic differences, yet the teachings and sayings of
these elders have much to teach us.
A brother said to Abba Poemen: “If I give my brother
a little bread or something else, what happens when the demons spoil these gifts
by telling me that it was only done in order to please people?” The old man said
to him: “Even if it is done to please people, we are still obliged to offer what
we can.” He told him the following parable.
“Two farmers lived in the same town. One of them sowed and reaped only a small
and poor crop, while the other did not even trouble to sow and reaped absolutely
nothing. If a famine comes upon them, which of the two will find something to
live on?” The brother replied: “The one who reaped the small poor crop.” The old
man said to him: “So it is with us: we sow a little poor grain, so that we will
not die of hunger.”
Abba Poemen gave us two important lessons on serving or ministry. First is that,
no matter what we do, it will always come out of impure motives because of our
fallen nature. There is no such thing as pure altruism. Everything we do will be
tainted by our sinful nature. Somehow pride, desire for power, glory and
affirmation will dog our every action. Does this mean we do not do anything?
Abba Poemen said even if our motives are impure, we still need to serve others.
This reminded me of the disciples who complained to Jesus that some people are
baptizing people in His Name. Jesus’ answer is illuminating - so what, they are
also doing God’s work! (paraphrased Mk 9:38-39)
The second lesson is that we have to sow even if the harvest will be meager. In
the parable, Abba Poemen did not elaborate on the soil condition in the town.
The soil must have been so infertile that the second farmer did not even bother
to sow. Yet the elder said, “So it is with us: we sow a little poor grain, so
that we will not die of hunger.” There are times when our service seems to be on
such hard ground. For all that we put into our labours, the outcome is so
discouraging. We became discouraged because we do not see the fruits of our
efforts. Those whom we serve do not appreciate us. Our loved ones misunderstood
our calling. We burn ourselves up in an effort to generate “results”. As we look
at our own service or ministry situations, we may be tempted to give up like the
second farmer. Jeremiah, often known as the “weeping prophet” never did see the
fruits of his labour. In spite of his preaching his people refused to repent and
he saw the destruction of his beloved country. Yet Jeremiah persisted until the
end. Explorer and missionary, Dr. David Livingston made one convert in all his
years of hard work in darkest Africa. Yet his explorations opened the way for
others to follow and in the years after his death saw the opening of Africa to
see the Light.
Abba Poemen’s message is simple: just serve the Lord as faithfully as you can.
Sometimes we can be so hung up on the whys and wherefores that we lost sight of
our calling. We are called to be faithful servants.
Soli Deo Gloria
|9 January 2007|