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Patient Labor

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4:1–2

I don’t have any dance moves. You should know that by now. Instead I garden. It’s not a very admirable or showy kind of labor. You plant seeds, you water, and you hope things come up. However, pastoring should be more like gardening and less like dancing. First, pastors should be motivated by the second coming instead of current applause. I had read a list of things a month or so ago: Christians in general are to be motivated by the end, the final judgment, and the appearing of his kingdom. More often than not we are at least allured by more present motivations and rewards. Maybe you work hard so you get a bonus check, or maybe you work on your marriage so that you aren’t fighting all the time. Or maybe you run your marathon so you can eat an ice cream cone at the finish line (I’ve not run a marathon, so I’m not sure what you do at the end). One of our biggest problems culturally in our world is our immediate perspective. We don’t actually plan for the future, or the horizon. We mostly just work hard to be happy today. It’s pure paganism really, since pagans deny an afterlife, they’re going to live for today.

But a Christian and a Christian pastor here in 2 Timothy labor for a reward that is distant, one that we won’t fully realize in our lifetimes. This is a hard saying, Jesus. I want my cake and I want to eat it too. I want a full-on glorious life now and in the age to come. Now these two things aren’t mutually exclusive. God may grant you a nice enough life, or you may experience much suffering. In each, God has his end in view: eternal glory. Whatever we think of this life, it pales in comparison to the life to come. All that we need to know is that eternal life with Christ is a worthwhile reward for any suffering or trials we might experience.

And for a pastor as he ministers in the local church, he’s not looking for the approval of the congregation but the Lord of all. This doesn’t then mean that the pastors should be indifferent to people. Instead, the pastors ought to labor no matter the outcome of their ministry. It’s quite interesting because some people seem to imply that if a pastor aims his ministry squarely on the bread and butter ministry of the word, then the church will slowly but surely grow. But in fact, the truth is that God’s word isn’t going to go out and not do anything. God’s word is going to do it’s work but it might look erratic and uneven and sometimes normal and sometimes not normal. I know one of my first experiences of this was seeing that God’s word proclaimed and my attempt at simple basic ministry meant that sin was no longer hidden. What? That’s not an easy burden to bear, and yet it is a grace of God for sin to be broken open so that he can bring healing. And I suppose we could continue on. Once Toby mentioned something I said in my public interview that stuck with him as a question mark and then he understood as he saw me do what I said, ‘What are you going to do when this happens? And what about this? And what about this other thing?’ I must have said, ‘Well, what I can do is minister the word and look to apply the gospel of Christ to this.’ You know we all have high falutin’ ways of fixing problems, but we forget the regular means of God working in the world and through his church. It’s by God’s word through his Spirit, enlivening souls.

I suppose that this is all to say what I say a lot: we’re called to be patient in our labor like a person who gardens. And we work with hope because our reward is guaranteed. There will be a harvest of righteousness. It’s just not necessarily going to be what we expect. I’m pretty sure I have a weed in my pole bean plot, but I’m going to leave the weed there probably for a week or two more since you never know, maybe it is actually one of my beans. Either way, I’ve got to be patient, and honestly I can only do so much. The biggest thing to do now is wait. And I think that is true with any ministry whether of the church or of any of us as an individual: we labor, pray, and wait. Paul as he’s writing this letter probably spent days, months, maybe a year waiting in prison without much company besides the guards. He’d done his work, and he was doing some last things here and there like writing this second letter to Timothy. But in his poverty and suffering in prison, he’s got a contented satisfaction that he will receive his reward. May this be our attitude as we continue to labor.

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