A siren wailed outside a little boy’s house. Unfamiliar with the sound, he asked his mother what it was. She explained that it was meant to alert people of a dangerous storm. She said that if people did not take cover, they might die as a result of the tornado. The boy replied, “Mommy, why is that a bad thing? If we die, don’t we meet Jesus?”
Little children don’t always understand what it means to die. But Paul, who had a lifetime of experience, wrote something similar: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil. 1:23). The apostle was under house arrest at the time, but his statement wasn’t fueled by despair. He was rejoicing because his suffering was causing the gospel to spread (vv. 12-14).
So why would Paul be torn between a desire for life and death? Because to go on living would mean “fruitful labor.” But if he died he knew he would enjoy a special kind of closeness with Christ. To be absent from our bodies is to be home with the Lord (2 Cor. 4:6-8).
People who believe in the saving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection will be with Him forever. It’s been said, “All’s well that ends in heaven.” Whether we live or die, we win. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
It was high noon. Jesus, foot-weary from His long journey, was resting beside Jacob’s well. His disciples had gone into the city of Sychar to buy bread. A woman came out of the city to draw water . . . and found her Messiah. The account tells us that she quickly went into the city and invited others to come hear “a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29).
The disciples came back bringing bread. When they urged Jesus to eat, He said to them, “My food . . . is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (v. 34).
Now I ask you: What work had Jesus been doing? He’d been resting and waiting by the well.
I find great encouragement in this story for I am living with physical limitations. This passage tells me that I do not have to scurry about—worrying myself about doing the will of my Father and getting His work done. In this season of life, I can rest and wait for Him to bring His work to me.
Similarly, your tiny apartment, your work cubicle, your prison cell, or your hospital bed can become a “Jacob’s well,” a place to rest and to wait for your Father to bring His work to you. I wonder who He’ll bring to you today?
Under Nehemiah’s supervision, the Israelite workers were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. When they were nearly half finished, however, they learned that their enemies were plotting to attack Jerusalem. This news demoralized the already exhausted workers.
Nehemiah had to do something. First, he prayed and posted numerous guards in strategic places. Then, he armed his workers. “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked” (Neh. 4:17-18).
We who are building God’s kingdom need to arm ourselves against the attack of our spiritual enemy, Satan. Our protection is the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. Memorizing Scripture and meditating on it enables us to “take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11). If we think that working for God doesn’t matter, we should turn to the promise that what we do for Jesus will last for eternity (1 Cor. 3:11-15). If we fear we’ve sinned too greatly for God to use us, we must remember we’ve been forgiven by the power of Jesus’ blood (Matt. 26:28). And if we’re worried we might fail if we try to serve God, we can recall that Jesus said we will bear fruit if we abide in Him (John 15:5).
God’s Word is our divine defense!
In 1878, when Scotsman Alexander Mackay arrived in what is now Uganda to serve as a missionary, he first set up a blacksmith forge among a tribe ruled by King Mutesa. Villagers gathered around this stranger who worked with his hands, puzzled because everyone “knew” that work was for women. At that time, men in Uganda never worked with their hands. They raided other villages to capture slaves, selling them to outsiders. Yet here was this foreign man at work forging farming tools.
Mackay’s work ethic and life resulted in relationships with the villagers and gained him an audience with the king. Mackay challenged King Mutesa to end the slave trade, and he did.
In Scripture, we read of Bezalel and Oholiab, who were chosen and gifted by God to work with their hands designing the tent of meeting and all its furnishings for worship (Ex. 31:1-11). Like Mackay, they honored and served God with their talent and labor.
We tend to categorize our work as either church work or secular. In truth, there is no distinction. God designs each of us in ways that make our contributions to the kingdom unique and meaningful. Even when we have little choice in where or how we work, God calls us to know Him more fully—and He will show us how to serve Him—right now.
The high school I attended required 4 years of Latin instruction. I appreciate the value of that discipline now, but back then it was a grind.
Our teacher believed in drill and repetition. “Repetitio est mater studiorum,” she intoned over us several times a day, which simply means, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” “Repetitio est absurdum,” we muttered under our breath. “Repetition is absurd.”
I realize now that most of life is simply that: repetition—a round of dull, uninspiring, lackluster things we must do again and again. “Repetition is both as ordinary and necessary as bread,” said Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. But he went on to say, “It is the bread that satisfies with benediction.”
It’s a matter of taking up each duty, no matter how mundane, humble, or trivial, and asking God to bless it and put it to His intended purposes. In that way we take the drudgeries of life and turn them into holy work, filled with unseen, eternal consequence.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a [pitchfork] in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should.”
If whatever we do is done for Christ, we’ll be amazed at the joy and meaning we’ll find in even the most ordinary tasks.
Where I live, this is the time of year when plants defy death by remaining underground until it is safe to come out again. Before the snow comes and the ground freezes, they let go of their beautiful blooms and retreat to a place where they can rest and save energy for the next growing season. Contrary to the way it looks, they are not dead; they are dormant. When the snow melts and the ground thaws, they will again lift their heads toward heaven, greeting their Creator with brilliant colors and sweet fragrances.
The seasons of life require that we sometimes enter a period of dormancy. We are not dead, but we may feel we’ve become invisible. During such times we may feel useless, and we may wonder whether God will ever use us again. But periods like this are for our protection and preparation. When the time is right and the conditions are safe, God will call us once again to service and worship.
Moses experienced a period of time like this. After killing an Egyptian who harmed a fellow Hebrew, Moses had to flee for his life to the distant land of the Midianites (Ex. 2:11-22). There, God protected him and prepared him for the biggest assignment of his life (3:10).
So be encouraged. We are never invisible to God.
Pablo Casals was considered to be the preeminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century. When he was still playing his cello in the middle of his tenth decade of life, a young reporter asked, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice 6 hours a day?”
During the Easter season, my wife and I attended a church service where the participants sought to model the events that Jesus and His disciples experienced on the night before He was crucified. As part of the service, the church staff members washed the feet of some of the church volunteers. As I watched, I wondered which was more humbling in our day—to wash another person’s feet or to have someone else wash yours. Both those who were serving and those being served were presenting distinct pictures of humility.
Recently I asked my older sister, Mary Ann, if she remembered when our family moved into the house where we lived for many years. She replied, “You were about 9 months old, and I remember that Mother and Daddy stayed up all night packing boxes and listening to the radio. It was June 6, 1944, and they were listening to live coverage of the Normandy Invasion.”