When God set Adam in the garden he gave him something important to do. Adam’s task was to work the land. I don’t know what that word “work” does to you. But in this context it does not imply a heavy burden. Adam’s task was not to toil but to till. The Greek word in the Septuagint, from memory, is ergezasthai. It implies something to pursue, something to achieve; a task to accomplish. It is a good thing.
Jesus echoes the goodness of it in John 4 when he tells his friends that it is food and drink to him to do what the Father sent him to do and to do it till it’s done. Our Father desires that same sense of purposefulness for us too. In Ephesians 2 the Apostle Paul writes that each one of us in Christ is God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, for good works which God has prepared in advance for us to walk in.
What sort of accomplishments do we think the Lord has in mind? Because we don’t want to be ineffective or unproductive in the tasks assigned to us.
Bob Jones passed away in 2014. (Not Bob Jones of Bob Jones University. The other guy. The prophetic guy!) But he had a brush with death in 1973. He suffered a heart attack and his heart was stopped a full three minutes. In that time Bob had an encounter with Jesus in Glory. And the voice of Jesus asked him a question.
The question did not address his prophetic ministry, his preaching or service of the churches. The inquiry was not about organisational matters or anything along those lines. Jesus asked, “Bob, did you learn to love?”
I assume Bob’s answer must have been “No. Not yet.” Because the Lord gave Bob another 41 years to get on task, before taking him home – on February 14th 2014. Valentine’s day!
II Peter 1 speaks an amazing word to keep us on track, to keep us from falling, to ensure a rich welcome for us into heavenly places, and to keep us from being “ineffective” or “unproductive”. More than that, II Peter tells us that this approach will lead us to participating in the Divine Nature – which is love and which is light! Here’s the passage:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, understanding; and to understanding, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, friendship; and to friendship, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Whereas whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (II Peter 1:3-11)
What if our “something-to-pursue” is to participate in the nature of God?
What if being effective and productive is rooted not in worlds of activity, or strategy or organisation – but in clothing ourselves in qualities of being – goodness, understanding, self-control, perseverance, godliness, friendship and love?
(Patrick, laughing – by Charlie Mackesy)
If we make those our questions then we will measure ourselves differently. Those questions change how we view the tasks entrusted to us, the goals we set and the challenges we face. We will assess all our work and our ministry quite differently.
Looking back over 32 years in ministry, to this point, if I ask myself, “Where did we see the greatest numerical growth, the greatest organisational expansion, the most plants and the greatest success?” I would give you one answer.
If I ask myself “Where was I the most patient, the most self-controlled; where I did I show the greatest love and understanding?” then I would give you a quite different answer.
We tend to ask the first kind of question – the one we can measure in more concrete terms.
But when we ask ourselves the great question of Theophan the Recluse, “Am I doing God’s will better than before?” we would be more on task to concern ourselves with the qualities of being on which, according to II Peter, our productivity and effectiveness depend.
When Jesus asks me, “Paul did you learn X???” my hope is that I will have lived a life “on task”!!