This is a busy study week for me. In the Lord’s providence I’ll be preaching three very different messages over the next few days, so I’m studying lots in preparation.
Tonight as I finished working my way through another commentary and compiling notes I had a funny thought:
Even on the most productive of days, a pastor often has nothing tangible to show for all his labour.
I worked hard today. I laboured to stay on task, I made my way through a lot of material, and I think I understand the word of God better. I think I’m better prepared to teach God’s people what they need to hear from God.
But there’s nothing yet tangible to show for it. Nothing in the world (apart from a few files on my computer) are any different now, despite a full day of work.
By Whose Standard?
Honestly, that can be a little discouraging. By way of comparison, I could spend 30 minutes pushing a lawn mower and it looks like I’ve done something productive. But now I spend an entire day at a desk, working hard, and it doesn’t look like I did a thing.
Viewed from that perspective it’s easy to see why so many pastors can tends towards pragmatism and programs rather than the private work of prayer and preparation for preaching. The ministry of the word and prayer takes us out of the spotlight, out of the public view, and if someone asks us to justify our salary for our day, we can’t point them to something and say, ‘Here is the result of a day of labour.’
If we’re controlled people’s approval or visible results, we’ll walk by the rule of results rather than the calling of God.
Why We Call It Faith
I guess that’s the danger in judging by sight rather than faith. The labour I put in today will (hopefully) yield results on Sunday morning when I open up these chapters of Genesis for God’s people. That future-oriented perspective toward the work I do now is what gives me hope at the end of a day like today.
And we have to call it faith. There’s a very real sense in which all this work could be for naught. There is genuine risk here. Because really, in this line of work, it doesn’t ultimately depend on my labour, and it doesn’t even depend on the people showing up and listening. The true, tangible results of faithful study, prayer, and preaching, will only come as lives are changed over a period of years. Pastors are called to work now, without seeing the results, but always believing that the results will come, by God’s grace, in God’s time.
Working now for something we can’t effect with results that are only visible at some undetermined point in the future? You’ve got to either be crazy or full of faith.
It sure makes me glad that this is the way God has worked this way in the past (Acts 6.7) and says he will continue to work this way in the future (Rom 10.13-15). At the end of a day like today, I have joy and peace, despite producing nothing tangible, because my labour was in faith that God will work through what I’ve done.
And I believe that faith is exactly what he desires from his servants.