Taking God's Work Seriously
Item 1: I continue to hear reports of preachers caught reading their sermons verbatim from outlines published online, even using the original preacher’s illustrations as if they were their own experiences. That, friends, is more than plagiarism; it is outright lying, not to mention unmitigated laziness.
Item 2: I also hear of brethren attending particular churches primarily because they don’t have a Sunday p.m. service. Giving God two additional hours (including travel time in comfortable cars) is apparently too burdensome. Doing the math, if we factor in one hour for round trip travel and 4.5 hours for class and worship time, a Christian who assembles three times per week at Centreville spends about eight hours in that endeavor. Subtracting 50 hours for work/travel and 50 hours for sleep, that leaves 68 hours of personal time. Eight hours out of 68 is about 12%. Is that such an infringement that we have to opt out for … what? TV? Sports? Concerts? Yardwork?
Item 3: An elder laments a preacher search because of the dearth of qualified, knowledgeable, articulate men who have devoted themselves to evangelistic work (see paragraph 1). Though we have no formal ties with other churches, we can clearly see trends of illness affecting the Lord’s body.
These and other anecdotes make me wonder how serious Christians are about their faith. And a follow up: I wonder how self-deceived we may be thinking that we are truly devoted to God when in reality we act out of convenience, habit, duty or some other compulsion. In ancient Israel, as the people began to drift from God, they retained the rituals of worship but their hearts were empty. Some said, “When will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade our wheat?” (Am 8:5).
God had harsh words for such begrudging and insincere worship: “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs. For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments” (Am 5:21-23).
Life has many competing interests that stake a claim on our scarce and precious time. While to some degree vacations, family visits, occasional ailments, etc. are legitimate, if we assemble with the saints 1/3 of the scheduled meetings or even less, something is wrong. No, faithfulness is not determined by mathematical formulas. It is determined by a much higher standard than that – real, sacrificial, grateful service to God that prioritizes Him, His word, His people and His work.
But how do I assess the genuineness of my faith? Ask yourself …
1. Do I ever serve God when it is truly difficult, inconvenient or uncomfortable to do so? It is easy to confuse discomfort with inability, and it is also easy to think that God accepts our excuses. What we consider hardships pale in comparison to Christians in other parts of the world or in previous ages. For example, I’ve heard brethren in states where traffic is light and commutes are short argue the “hardship” of assembling twice on Sunday. You know, hardships like the kids need a nap, the dog needs to be walked, my workday starts tomorrow, etc. I wonder what Stephen or James or Antipas or Paul or Peter – martyrs all – would say to that?
2. Do I control my schedule so that spiritual priorities take precedence? Given that most confess our forgetfulness, it is all the more imperative to have a calendar – desk, phone, daily planner, whatever – to keep our obligations, opportunities and appointments in order. If we default to impulse, we will find that there isn’t enough time in the day to do the really important things. And we will keep saying, “I forgot” or “I just didn’t get to it” or “I’m soooo busy.” Jesus strongly condemned sins of omission (cf. Mt 25:41-46).
3. Do I ever volunteer for anything? (Ac 4:34-37) One of the ways we fool ourselves is to sit back and say, “Well, if I’m ever asked to do something, I’m willing.” But is this the way we run the rest of our lives? Do we wait for an invitation to mow the grass? To change the oil in the car? To buy groceries? If so, our lives are likely in disarray. Life requires proactive effort, meeting needs without being asked. It is called maturity. Lack of enthusiastic service may be why some are rarely asked to do anything. People tend to rely on those who have shown themselves eager and capable to be involved. Taking initiative is empowering. Invite someone over or out to eat, offer to help someone who is struggling. Even if your overture does not pan out, just asking will inspire and encourage.
4. Do I pray for spiritual opportunities and outcomes? To pray for something means we must first be mindful of it. In your private prayers, do you address the work of the elders and deacons (Heb 13:17), the peace and stability of the congregation (Ph 2:1-4), the struggles and setbacks of fellow brethren (2 Cor 11:29)? Do you pray for the lost and to be an open door of opportunity for them (Col 4:3)? Do you ask for personal growth so as to be a knowledgeable, contributing, dependable part of the Centreville family (Jn 15:2, 4-5, 6, 8)? Do you pray for neighboring congregations (2 Cor 11:28; Col 2:1-2)? Or do your prayers focus on your own job/income, home, family, health, investments, anxieties, etc.?
5. Do I seek out people to speak to – visitors, shy members, the burdened, the frequently absent, those outside our comfort zone? One of the biggest excuses for apathy is shyness: “I’m just an introvert”; “I’m not confident enough to talk to people”; “I’m afraid I won’t know what to say”; “I’m so self-conscious.” While people do have their natural inclinations, it is also important to manage or minimize those inclinations so that we are useful to the Lord. When we truly understand what is at stake, when we think of what the Lord and others endured on our behalf, the excuses, hang-ups and self-centeredness just don’t cut it. If we are doing much less than we are capable of, do we think our rationalizations will sway the Lord in the day of judgment?
Dangerous times for Christians are in the second and third generations of belief. First generation believers tend to stay faithful longer because their salvation is still fresh and real. Are you spiritually lethargic? Uninspired? Distracted? Downright apathetic? If so, perhaps it’s time for a spiritual makeover. What can we do to help you move ahead?