- busy - super busy. More than busy - also stressed ... so re-centering
time! This is a chapter in which my ramblings are long overdue ... :-)
JUST DO IT
Chapter 28 of
Alex Tang's Spiritual Formation on the Run
First the chapter, then my ramblings ...
I have always been
fascinated by the Desert Fathers and Mothers
who lived in the
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 day, the sun bakes the land
mercilessly while the nights are freezing cold. Yet these people left behind
comfortable, secure lives and loved ones to live alone in the desert. They
moved there to fight the demons in the desert, and the demons within
themselves. Like Jesus' temptation in the desert, these elders sought the
purifying furnace of the desert to encounter God. Though we are separated by
1500 years, cultural, social and linguistic differences, 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 the
"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 take the trouble to sow and, as a result,
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 has given
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 and a 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 reminds me of the disciples who complained to Jesus that
some people were baptising people in His Name. Jesus' answer is illuminating
- so what, they are also doing God's work! (paraphrased Mark 9:38-39)
The second lesson is
that we have to sow even if the harvest will be meagre. 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 fall
on such hard ground. For all that we put into our labours, the outcome is so
discouraging. We became frustrated because we do not see the fruit of our
labour. Those whom we serve do not appreciate us. Our loved ones
misunderstand our calling. We burn ourselves out in an effort to generate
"results." As we look at our own service or ministry situations, we maybe
tempted to give up like the second farmer. Jeremiah, often known as the
"weeping prophet;' never did see the fruit 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 Livingstone made one convert in all his years of hard
work in darkest Africa. Yet his explorations opened the way for others to
follow, and the years after his death saw the opening of Africa to see the
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 lose sight of our calling. We
are called to be faithful servants.
WARNING! The following ramblings meanders even more than usual ...
I think one of the problems I have (that many will identify with) is
that it is hard for me to say NO. I tend to say YES quite readily, and
then much farther down the road (from hindsight) I wonder if it would
have been wiser to have said NO.
What's good is that I have generally figured out the areas where I will
almost always say YES to. So at least since I know, I can be more aware
- theoretically that is. But maddeningly this is not necessarily the
case! Perhaps it is not the wisest thing to do to share what they are!
LOL But perhaps just two as some elaboration is needed for this post
to make sense.... The first is opportunities that will open doors for
kingdom related work. And the second is when good friends ask for help.
So now you know two, so please don't abuse this knowledge! :-) The
trouble is of course that even those two general areas cover a vast
variety of situations and really, it is hard to say NO in these two
An additional problem I have with saying YES is that the more I do, the
harder I work and more involved I become, the more the chances of
becoming over worked, stressed out, distracted and / or misunderstood.
Yes, even in what would seem clearly to be doing positive things and
God's work. My list of "good things" I have done and am doing (or trying
to do) that is causing me stress gets longer each year. :-(
My problem is compounded further in that it is frustrating for me that
often for all my best intentions, there are some situations where my
motives are questioned (rather unfairly). Just makes me want to give up.
Sound advice that many will give is to ignore your critics ...
Easier said than done as my God given temperament is such that I have a
tendency to OVER-REFLECT. criticisms stay in my system for a long time.
What is good is that if properly considered, analysed and prayed over,
there will always be opportunities for improvement and spiritual growth.
What is bad is ... hmmm do i even need to spell this out? :-)
I would have preferred a chapter titled. JUST DON'T DO IT! A chapter
that will give me more reasons to pack up my bags and join a monastery
or something like that! Problem is, of course, joining a monastery will
present a different set of challenges where the basic issues of life
will present themselves in a new form.
I have a love hate relationship with the phrase "JUST DO IT". :-) Not
because I have anything against Nike, but it reminds me of the title of
one of my own sermons that will not let me go - a sermon on the Good
Samaritan. And of course after months of abiding this chapter, it keeps
coming back to my mind (oh foolish me to keep a file on this topic on my
desktop as a reminder that it is a project that is still pending :-))
Then of course I had to preach a sermon last week on The Lost Sheep and
Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10) ... and guess what my next sermon is on? The
Prodigal Son *sigh* :-)
Okay, what has helped me.
First is that
no matter what we do, it will always come out of impure motives because
of our fallen nature. Somehow,
pride and a desire for power, glory and affirmation will dog our every
That is liberating (though it sounds strange) - and I am currently
listening (and re-listening) in my car the Pastor to Pastor CDs on
Personal Holiness.... (oh the irony). I struggle so much with the
reasons why I serve. Why I say YES. I want my service, my relationships
to be pure and unconditional. Yet I don't want to fall into the trap of
substituting works and service for grace. It is liberating because I
think I finally get it (hope there is no relapse! :-)).
It's okay to want to set an example for others. It's not necessarily
pride - though a bit of pride is in a way involved.
It's okay to blog about my life and joys and successes, and to preach
using positive personal lessons I am learning .Yes, there is the danger
of becoming puffed up but it is also truth in real life. It's okay for
me to be tired and discouraged and even a bit grumpy (occasionally).
It's part of being a flawed human, and it's okay as long as I also
repent and learn and grow to be a better person in Christ.
It's okay for me to grab hold of the many opportunities that have the
potential to further the kingdom of God. Yes, even positions that put me
into positions of greater authority than I am fully comfortable with. It
is a good thing to be willing to serve in such positions when one enters
with a deep awareness and fear the temptation of power and glory.
lesson is that we have to sow even if the harvest will be meagre.
It can be discouraging to plod on and not receive encouragement. It is
worse when the silence is only broken by criticism and negativity. But
the harvest imagery is so precious. Galatians 6:9-10 has been in my
mind a lot the last few years. Let
us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a
harvest if we do not give up. Therefore,
as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to
those who belong to the family of believers.
BTW, there is a connection between Galatians 6:9-10 and the areas in
which I tend to say YES ...
After nearly 20 years in full time vocational ministry, I look back and
see many failed projects, but just as many successful ones. Not
necessarily successful in terms of the original goals but definitely
successful in terms of relationships built. These may have been by
products but I see these now as the most significant.
I need to keep this in mind in the many current projects / activities I
have said YES to. I need to remember my calling and focus is built
around Christ and to be people oriented.
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 lose
sight of our calling. We are called to be faithful servants.