I want to be honest with those whom I am privileged to serve as their pastor - I mailed it in this past Sunday.
I continually get to experience the grace of God (His love for me made active through a undeserved gifts) - and last week was no different. I had some wonderful times of fellowship with folks in the church and Katie and I were led one sweet night last week to stop our busy-ness and spend an evening giving thanks and praise to Jesus. But basking in the glow and a spirit of contentment, I mentally/spiritually felt myself begin to mail it in as it pertains to Sunday worship. Joshua 9 contains such a straightforward and practical message about seeking the Lord in prayer when making important commitments - I felt I had a pretty good handle on the passage (pride!) and decided I'd focus on enjoying my kids and the beautiful back half of the week/weekend (the best time of year weather-wise in Cayman has begun - breezy & cool). So while I worked on the sermon, put together an order of worship, and coordinated with other key Sunday Worship co-laborers, I sort of just trusted the Scripture passage and my heart to get in the right place in the nick of time. But upon arrival Sunday morning, I felt distanced from others and everything going on -- this distance continued during and after the service as well. So, first of all, I'm sorry dear brothers and sisters of the Sunrise Family. I did not serve you well. I also don't mind saying: If Sunday's message encouraged, convicted, or produced fruit through you, then it is entirely by the grace of God!! Praise be to Him!
I don't know if you've experienced a similar phenomenon - your heart begins to distance itself ("prone to wander, Lord I feel it" as the great hymn says) from what God has called you to do and how he has called you to work - as an employee, as a husband/wife, as a mom/dad, as a member of a community, as a volunteer. I have too. And I've had better moments, where God helped me to stop mailing it in before it started.
Here are three strategies I've found helpful for putting a stop to a mail-it-in moment:
(1) Pray for those whom you serve and those with whom you work.
I don't know the nature of your particular line of work or vocational calling. Some of you serve others fairly directly in your work- nurse, teacher, HR, sales, pastor, etc. But for those of you whose work affects other companies with a very slow trickle down effect to real people, even still you recognize your work affects more directly those with whom you work - your example of working hard and working hard so they never feel they have to pick up your slack.
One of the ways to stop a mail-it-in moment in your work is to care so deeply about persons involved to the point that you would desire and believe your work would provide significant benefit and/or growth in their lives.
How do you care more about persons you serve or with whom you work? It's not a matter of thinking of other people more. According to a report published by the U.S. National Scientific Foundation, our brains produce somewhere between 12,000-50,000 thoughts per day. Of these thoughts, 10-25% are directly fixed upon other persons. This means that at least 1200 thoughts you have per day are about other people. And yet you don't necessarily walk away from a thought caring about that person more. The thought just passes by.
The apostle Paul gave us a great example of how to care about such persons more - taking an otherwise passing thought and praying it. For Paul, prayer would lead to love and love would lead to prayer - a cycle of praying passing thoughts about others whose GDP is love. Listen to how Paul's prayer for the people of the church in Philippi lead to love and then love leads to prayer:
[Notice a thought...a 'remembrance' leads to prayer] I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from this day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Here comes love!!] It is right for me to feel this way about you all because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. [love that now leads to prayer] And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more...(Philippians 1:3-9).
It's easier to persevere in the work your doing when your love increases for those who stand to potentially benefit from the work.
(2) Make sure you enlist others to be prayerfully invested in your work.
When I pray for something for someone, I am invested. I wish to know what happened. What did God do? How did something I got to be a part of turn out?
You might not believe it, but a simple weekly request of your Community Group or a group of close friends to pray for you will help them become more invested in your work - even if you have, in your opinion, the most boring job in the world (#3: Construction Flag-Traffic Person; #2: Exit Sign Designer; #1: Pillow filler).
And when you know others are praying, it gives you more confidence that God is at work in your work. He is helping you, using you, and doing things in and around you which you previously never even thought or conceived of.
In the above passage from Philippians 1, notice Paul had enlisted the Philippians who were "all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel." Paul's life work was a defense and confirmation of the gospel. The Philippians were prayerfully invested. As were the Ephesians, whom Paul also enlisted: "Pray also for me, that words may be given me so that I might fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might declare it fearlessly as I should" (Ephesians 6:18-19).
I have enlisted a few key individuals, who showed interest in praying that God's Spirit would powerfully use my preaching, the worship, greeter teams, audio-visual volunteers, children's ministry workers to greatly glorify Himself on Sunday Morning. They have now begun to gather about 30 minutes before the service to labor in prayer. I have a higher level of confidence knowing that my persevering in my work will be worth it - it is going to be used by God as it prayed for by friends!!
(3) Work hard and expect second-hand results
Christ's hard, literally excruciating work on the cross for us produces in us a surety about our spiritual status before Him (we are in the Family!!), which in turn produces great contentment and deep joy. Yet He asks us to respond to His work with work of our own. This response, thus, does not include: "Let go and let God." This was my mistake last week - I understood God's work for me but misunderstood what was the proper response. I let go and let God -- and so let my work go.
The Bible says I ought to work hard on my growth as a Christian (Philippians 2:12), to work hard at the mission God has assigned me (Colossians 1:28-29a), and work hard at my job (1 Corinthians 15:10c). So I should expect to work.
But as I work, something funny sometimes happens: I trust that my hard work ought to produce results. Such that, if those I serve or with whom I work don't immediately respond to my work, I am prone to become insecure some times, depressed at other times, and embittered at still other times. Such that I am tempted to mail-it-in next time around.
Our Father knows the human heart, however. So He reminds us of something else - there is Someone else working with and through us. So the Apostle Paul completes all the above thoughts about hard work:
- It's "God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13)
- I struggle to live out the mission God has assigned me "with all his energy that he powerfully works within me" (Colossians 1:29b).
- When working hard at my job, I'm reminded with Paul: "It was not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10d).
In each case, the Lord is faithful to show up in my hard work - to give me strength to do the work and the grace to produce results that possess a certain authority and finality. I'm reminded of Joshua, who in between inconvenient, mundane obedience (circumcision and observing Passover - Joshua 5) and daunting but thrilling obedience (marching around a city while singing with friends while they waited for the miracle of crumbling walls - Joshua 6), has the pre-incarnate Christ visit him in the form of a Warrior, sword in hand. Help with the very task with which he needed help and results. Jesus present to initiate, then join, then win the fight! Jesus produces second-hand results as Joshua works hard. Jesus is the second (and most important) hand.
A slightly more modern person who exemplifies this tension of hard work and second-hand results is George Mueller. Mueller preached in a local church every week for over six decades in 18th century Bristol, England. But he most is famous for his tireless work with orphans. Through Mueller's work and influence, the care of orphans in England skyrocketed from 3000 to over 100,000 by the end of his life. Mueller famously said about work: "Work with all your might, but trust not the least to your work."
In other words, don't expect your work will secure for you anything or yield results in-and-of-itself. Unless the grace of God goes with you, does the work, and produces the results, it will be in vain. And Mueller lived out this saying. He never (never!) solicited charitable funds for his orphans. He simply prayed and relied totally on the grace of God - monies would show up, often anonymously, at his doorstep and often just as the last shilling had been spent. He didn't trust His own efforts but for God to work.
You do your part, trust Jesus do His. We are freed to persevere well in our work when we can trust God to take care of giving us the strength to do it and producing the results to win the day! If people don't respond to your work, well, that's His problem.