Marking Time

Sometimes I feel like I’m just marking time. Do you ever? Soldiers do it purposefully, marching in-place. But that’s not what I’m experiencing. Others suspend progress, waiting in readiness. Nope, that’s not it. I find that I’m operating in an apathetic and ineffective manner. A wise, if disillusioned, king once said:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with [all] your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in [the grave], to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 9:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Solomon’s disillusionment jumps out at us, yet his admonition to do whatever your hand finds to do with all your might still stands. However, maybe we should reconsider; is his insistence on our approaching death cynicism or is it realism?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave an impassioned sermon on this verse. Spurgeon first tackles the question of why we, who profess Christ as Lord, remain here on earth at all:

…Why is the army of the living God still on the battle field? One charge might give them the victory. Why are God’s ships still at sea? One breath of his wind might waft them to the haven.

…The answer is; they are here that they may glorify God, and that they may bring others to know his love. We are not here in vain, dear brethren. We are here on earth like sowers scattering good seed; like ploughmen ploughing up the fallow ground. We are here as heralds, telling to sinners around

“What a dear Savior we have found,”

and heralding the coming of our Master. We are here as the salt to preserve a world, which else would become putrid and destroyed. We are here as the very pillars of this world’s happiness: for when God shall take away his saints, the universal moral fabric “shall tumble to its fall; and great shall be the crash, when the righteous shall be removed, and the foundations shall be shaken.”

He then observes we have a definite purpose:

Taking it as granted that the people of God are here to do something to bless their fellow-men, our text comes in very pertinently as the rule of our life. May God help us to practice it by giving us much of his powerful Spirit. “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might.”

This is what thou art here for. Thou art here for a certain purpose. That purpose will soon be ended, and whether it be accomplished or unaccomplished, there shall never be a second opportunity for attempting it, “for there is no work, nor device nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, wither hither thou go.”

Since we are here for a purpose, he dissects the implications. First, do what is near at hand:

…Here we will observe, first, that this refers us to the works that are near at hand. You are not called upon today, the most of you, to do works which your eye sees far away in [India] or China. The most of you are called especially to do the work which is near at hand. People are always desiring to be doing something miles off; if they could but be somewhere else what wonders they would accomplish!

Then, do that which is possible:

…Again, “whatsoever thy hand finds to do,” refers to works that are possible. There are many things which our heart finds to do that we never shall do. It is well [that] it is in our heart; God accepts the will for the deed.

But if we would be eminently useful, we must not be content with forming schemes in our heart, and talking of them with our lips. We must [create] tangible schemes that we can really manage, ideas that we can really carry out; and, [in that way,] we shall fulfill the exhortation of Solomon, “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it.”

And don’t shirk doing that which others consider menial:

…We all have a preference to do those duties which we regard as being honorable, as coming strictly within the range of our own office, those which probably will be rewarded with the praise of men.

But if there is any duty that shall never be heard of till the day of judgment, if there is any work that never shall be seen until the blaze of the last day shall manifest it to a blind world, then we generally [slight] such a duty and seek another.

Oh, if [we] did but understand the true majesty of humility, and how great a thing it is for a Christian to do little things, to bow himself and to stoop, we should rather envy the meanest of the flock than the greatest, and each of us try to wash the saint’s feet and perform the most menial service for the Master…

Spurgeon then turns to our methods, how we are to do it. First, do not procrastinate:

Put it not off one hour. Do it! Procrastinate not a day. “Procrastination is the thief of time.” Let him not steal thy time. Do it, at once. Serve thy God now; for now is all the time thou canst reckon on.

Then, do it with all your might:

…But where is the might of a Christian? Let us not forget that the might of a Christian is not in himself, for he is perfect in his weakness. His might lies in the Lord of Hosts. It will be well for us if all we attempt to do is done in God’s strength, or else it will not be done with might: it will be feebly and badly done.

Whenever we attempt to [offer the Gospel] in the winning of souls, let us first begin with prayer. Let us seek his help. Let us go on with prayer mixed with faith; and when we have concluded the work, let us commend it again to God with renewed faith and fresh prayer. What we do thus will be well done, and will not fail in its effect.

But what we do merely with creature-strength, with the mere influence of carnal zeal, will come to nothing at all. “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do,” do it with that real might which God hath promised them that ask it, with that real wisdom which he gives liberally, which he bestows on all who seek it meekly and reverently at his feet.

His third consideration is on why we should do it with all our might:

…[Because] death is near and when death comes there will be an end to all our serving God on earth, an end to our preaching, an end to our praying, an end to our doing [anything] for God’s glory among the perishing souls of men. If we all lived in the light of our funerals how well should we live.

…If we build not now, the fabric can never be built. If now we spin not, the garment will never be woven. Work while you live, and live while you work; and God grant to each of us that we may discharge in this life all the desires of our hearts, in magnifying God and bringing sinners to the cross.

Lastly, Spurgeon closes with a reflection on his own work and ours:

…Though from this day forward I should preach every hour in the day, though I could spend myself and be spent; though night should know no rest and day should never cease from toil, and year should succeed to year till this hair was hoary and this frame exhausted, when I come to render up my account He might say, “Well done.”

But I should not feel it was so, but should rather say, “I am still an unprofitable servant; I have not done that which it was even my bare duty to do much less have I done all to show the love I owe.” Now will you think what you have done, dear brother and sister, and surely your account must fall short equally with mine.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, for he that believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believes not shall be damned.”

At this time of year, having just lost a dear friend too early, I purpose to do those possible things near at hand with no consideration for recognition. And I purpose to do them without delay, in His strength, and to His glory.

And you?

Future of Forestry – Silent Night (LIVE – San Diego), YouTube, Published Dec. 20, 2016, Future of Forestry

I’m Better Than You?

I’m Better Than You? I know I shouldn’t, but I feel hostile toward someone who indicates, through words or deeds, that they think they’re better than me. Perhaps they’ve denigrated my beliefs, or my world view, or maybe, my God. How dare they do that, I think. They’ll be sorry. God will get them. And I’m not going to warn or pray for them, either.

In his essay, ‘Can We be Good Without God,’ Glenn Tinder describes the setting in which we find ourselves:

The life of every society is a harsh process of mutual appraisal. People are ceaselessly judged and ranked, and they in turn ceaselessly judge and rank others. This is partly a necessity of social and political order… It is partly also a struggle for self-esteem; we judge ourselves for the most part as others judge us. Hence outer and inner pressures alike impel us to enter the struggle.

The process is harsh because all of us are vulnerable… The process is harsh also because it is unjust… Few are rated exactly, or even approximately, as they deserve.

In his book, Revolt Against the Masses, Fred Siegel warns that Nietzsche called for a new aristocracy; an elite to run the world, as H. G. Wells put it. Siegel shows convincingly that this spirit has been at work in the US political system since before World War One.  The C-SPAN talk, in its entirety, is found here.

In the midst of this and other movements, I worry we’ll give our democracy away to totalitarianism.

But Tinder reminds us that something different, sacrificial love, or agape, undergirds our Western moral system:

Agape is the core of Christian morality. Moreover, as we shall see, it is a source of political standards that are widely accepted and even widely, if imperfectly, realized…

Agape means refusing to take part in this process [of mutual appraisal]. It lifts the one who is loved above the level of reality on which a human being can be equated with a set of observable characteristics. The agape of God, according to Christian faith, does this with redemptive power; God ‘crucifies’ the observable, and always deficient, individual, and “raises up” that individual to new life. The agape of human beings bestows new life in turn by accepting the work of God.

So we have agape set against ruthless, condemning judgment. Note that condemning judgment is generally censured whereas discerning judgment is imperative if often lacking. The individual who is exalted by God is simultaneously fallen and at war with God. He or she must discern their entrenched faults to repent of them.

Returning to the initial theme of this essay, when I feel this way, I remember these truths:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:14-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:43-45

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? …But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27

“[Peter to the elders] Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3

“[Paul to the Corinthians] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 1 Cor. 4:11-13

“[Paul to the Philippians] Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Phil. 3:17

“…[Make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [to God]…for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…” 1 Tim. 2:1-4

“Let us not grow weary of doing good…” Gal. 6:9-10

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Rom. 16:20 …by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev. 12:11

This last one takes me aback, but it is as true as the others.

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642)

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642), painted circa 1636, public domain-US

After this life is over, the only thing I want to hear from my Lord is: “well done good and faithful servant…” knowing that, after doing all, I’ve done only what I was supposed to do. And I want that for you too. But that’s ultimately a transaction between you and Him.

This is my hope for you.