Slow But Productive Work

Have you ever thought about how long it takes to accomplish what you spend your days doing?  I met with a media PR person and an architect the other day.  He’s in a supervisory role at work and he is new to parenting.  His wife, new to parenting as well, works to promote the events of a film center in Chicago.   Both of them spend a lot of time with their son and in their jobs.

And it occurs to me that people like my meeting friends–including me–have work we’re doing that takes a while to complete.  Does that make sense?  Whether planning for an event, reviewing building plans, or mentoring a staff person, these things take more than one moment.  They take a series of moments, meetings, and interactions.  It’s slow work.

Writing, teaching, ministry, cleaning, fathering–these are all slow jobs.  And slow work takes time to complete and time to appreciate.

I read this in an email newsletter from Preaching Today, and it feels right for preachers and appropriate for people doing other slow work too:

Last week I talked to a pastor who nearly quit during his fifth year at Church ABC. He wanted to quit, the church wanted him to quit, but for some reason he hung in there. Now he’s in his 18th year at the same church and his preaching ministry has finally hit a sweet spot.

My point is not that you should always stick it out. My point is that deep, effective, Spirit-anointed preaching is slow work. It takes time to build trust. It takes time to hone your craft. It takes time to study a biblical text. It takes time to know your people and your cultural context. So, preacher, I urge you to accept this slow work of God. Don’t be in a hurry to change the world with one amazing sermon or one flashy sermon series. Learn the art of slow preaching, long-haul preaching, week after week preaching. It will bear more fruit than you could ever imagine.

I hope you get a glimpse that your work, whatever it is, is fruitful.  Not pointless but productive.  And I hope you do it as well as you can.

The Supreme Public Event #2

For these dark Lenten days, a few words from Rev. Gardner C. Taylor’s sermon, “Gethsemane: The Place of Victory.”

We greatly need somebody to whom we can reach out in the hope that there will be acceptance and perhaps understanding.  If Jesus with all of his strength needed that, then we do too.  “Our lives through various scenes are drawn.”  There are dark nights of the soul, times of testing and loneliness.  We need someone to whom we can turn and hope for a little encouragement and a little cheering along the weary way.

Jesus exposed his heart to his disciple and revealed his lonely need.  Dr. Alexander Maclaren expressed the opinion that the Lord may have been the loneliest man who ever lived and loved people.  He tried so hard; they understood so little.  There was this need in him of some soul to stand close.  If that be in you, do not call it foolishness; your Lord needed that.  It was said of his very selection of these men that he chose them “that they should be with him.”  The dear Lord had so few, really.  Does he not still have so few?  One looks out upon any congregation of people and wonders how many are really with the Lord?  Does there blaze within you or me the desire to be well-pleasing to him, to hold up his arm, so to speak, in this world which hates him and always has hated him, in this world so prone to scorn his way?  Will you hear the Lord of your life and mine saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: Tarry ye here, stay with me and watch with me”?  Tarry and watch with me (Matthew 26:38).

Do you not understand that?  Have you never been to that place?  It is the place where we seem to have done all that we can and then find that it is not enough.  It is the place where we have spent ourselves and apparently in vain.  If only someone would just come up to us then and put out a hand or say a kind word.  “Watch with me, stand with me, sit with me a moment,” we want to say.  Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and the Dying and one of the world’s outstanding authorities on dealing with dying people, says that people who are critically sick and who are facing death may just need someone to enter their room as a human being, not claiming to have the answers.  Such a person, says Dr. Kubler-Ross, may need more than anything someone who will simply ask if there is anything the critically sick person wants done.  In other words, our greatest need in extremity is to have someone to be with us, whether or not there is anything that can be done for us.

The Supreme Public Event #1

For these dark Lenten days, a few words from Rev. Gardner C. Taylor’s sermon, “Gethsemane: The Place of Victory.”

Calvary is looked upon as the place of our Lord’s great victory, the overcoming point in the struggle for God’s supremacy and human redemption and deliverance in the earth.  Calvary, said the old preachers, was the place where God in Christ took on himself our sins before a sorrowing heaven and a sinning earth.  Calvary represents the central event in our Christian gospel, the focus of all divine history as far as the sons of men can see.  There the Lord Christ lured the powers of hell into a fatal misstep and an overreaching of their evil designs and ways.  Calvary is the supreme public event in the divine purpose.

I am suggesting this morning that that great pubic victory, that unspeakably enormous event which we call Calvary, has its source immediately in a private and solitary act in a garden called Gethsemane, where the seed, the essence of the public victory was won in a lonely, secret struggle in prayer.  The supper we now call the Lord’s Supper is just past.  That will be the last tender, serene occasion in our Lord’s life until the glories of resurrection morning.  As the disciples and their Master file out of the upper room, the last golden rays of pleasant sunshine depart from the skies of our Lord’s soul.  All beyond that is composed of gathering, deepening, threatening clouds and darkening skies, except perhaps for a bright moment in Gethsemane where Jesus prayed for strength and resolve and final commitment to the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow, which lay before him unto death.  In Gethsemane that prayer was answered, and the Savior moved on his appointed way.

As they leave the upper room we follow the little band, already looked upon as outlaws, as they walk slowly through the streets of Jerusalem.  Now the disciples pass likely out of the fountain gate in the east wall of the city of Jerusalem, and then across Kedron Brook they make their way.  Once among the gnarled olive trees of Gethsemane garden, the Master stops a moment and then bids three of his followers, those closest to him, the inner circle, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, to go on a little farther into the garden.  I seem to hear in the Master’s next words a strangely tender, pathetic, almost pleading note.  He unburdens his soul a little to them.  How slow many of us are to reach out to others for fear that they will not understand or accept or appreciate our need.  How the Master must have felt that if any of these twelve, no, now reduced by one, these eleven, could sympathize with the great secret spiritual issues which confronted him, surely these three would understand.  He said to them, opening the hurt and anguish he felt in these hours, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”