The men’s group at my church is currently working its way through a series of lessons on Leadership Skills for Men. The opening lesson was a study on “VISION.” Great leaders are supposed to have it. But very few instinctively know how to develop this quality, which is why an abundance of materials ranging from self-help books to an entire genre of podcast is dedicated to vision in leadership.
In this particular lesson from our men’s group, the fresh thought for me was the idea that David, despite being a man after the Lord’s heart (Acts 13:22), never actually received in this lifetime the thing he arguably desired the most – a dwelling place for God. An explanation given for why David would not build a temple for God was that, as a man of war, he had too much blood on his hands (1 Chron. 22:8).
“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind…Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house as the sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.” (1 Chron. 28:9-10)
As I was considering this idea that David, mighty David, giant-slaying, world-beating, empire-expanding, psalm-writing DAVID never actually experienced in his life the thing that he desperately longed for most, it further struck me that the other heroes of faith had a nearly identical experience.
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:12)
Likewise, Abraham was promised a family that would turn into a great nation (and a Savior who would come through that nation). While he was given a son, he never created anything that amounted to a nation, nor experienced blessing all nations, in his lifetime.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2-3)
In summary, the three guys that first come to mind as “successes” amongst God’s people in the Old Testament Scriptures never actually experienced their deepest desire in this lifetime.
David didn’t get the Temple. Moses didn’t get the Promised Land. Abraham didn’t get the Nation.
THAT was a helpful revelation.
I’m sure they must have felt somewhat incomplete, dissatisfied, maybe even a little like failures.
What Does This Mean?
In all honesty, after ten years in public ministry, I’d be lying to you if I told you that I only sometimes feel like I’m spinning my wheels. The reality is that most days are spent feeling like the needle has not moved in any perceptible way. Every pastor gets into ministry wishing he’ll experience something as glamorous as the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. And there are indeed moments. But it always cracks me up that in that Pentecost account, the Apostle Peter defends the disciples’ speaking in tongues by saying, “These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (Acts 2:15) It’s amusing to me because I would very much like to be able to eventually say the same. Instead, I more often find myself concluding, “Nope. This guy asking for a handout is not speaking in tongues. He’s just drunk (or high). And yes, it’s only 9:00am in the morning.”
In this, my 250th post, I feel comfortable declaring that ministry is fairly unglamorous and shockingly non-triumphant in the immediate experience. By design. What’s easy to forget in a cursory reading of the Bible is that the flip of a page often constitutes days, or even years. Those who want Pentecost must realize that the disciples experienced nine rather non-miraculous days from Jesus’ Ascension till the Spirit came down. Why wouldn’t he just come down five minutes after Jesus ascends? Or why does Paul, after Jesus converts him, have to spend three years studying in Arabia (Gal. 1:17-18)? If he has this profound experience and spiritual gifting, why the need for time-consuming education? Again, design. The nature of seed sowing is a “trusting of the process,” a phrase that has popularly reentered the cultural vernacular because it speaks to our intuitive discordance with American instant gratification.
Now, seed sowing is certainly the nature of gospel ministry, but the analogy works across life – at least for anything that means anything. The monotony of feeding or changing a child has almost zero instant payoff. Attending meeting after meeting in pursuit of kicking an addiction carries little glory. Lending an ear to a broken person with the express intent of simply commiserating with them doesn’t make you feel better. Just the opposite. This is all often painful, generally slow, subjectively empty labor. But this simply reaffirms the idea that a kingdom is built one tedious brick at a time.
In a broadband world, the idea of walking by faith and trusting the process is increasingly difficult. Not unlike Abraham, or Moses, or David, a Christian must come to accept that the greatest fruit of their labors will not be realized within this lifetime.
The ultimate example of that, of course, is our Lord himself. Jesus came into the world for the specific purpose of saving us (John 12:47). And yet, since that required his death, then his life’s pursuit, by definition, could not technically take place within his original life on earth. His heart’s deepest desire and his life’s work could only come to fruition after he died.
What this means is that we should fully anticipate that all of the grinding, all of our feelings of failure, and all of the minutiae of our daily attempts at obedience and worship will one day be revealed as essential movements in the construction of an eternal dynasty.
The gospel means that real life always comes on the far side of death. And real success can only come after this apparent ineffectiveness.
The monotony continues to matter. Press on.