The Work under Our Work

Sometimes working for a church scares me.

I will always be inadequate at serving such a large and diverse group of people, there are some things I’m just not good at, opportunities that I miss, and my own sin gets in the way, distorting my desire to do good.

Last week I had a conversation at church with someone I’d not met before, my intention was to confidently welcome them, but I walked away feeling like a failure. I hadn’t said things I should, I didn’t come across as I wanted too, and I felt stupid and discouraged.

But I remembered a quote I’d seen and mentioned to a friend earlier that day, and it gave me the perspective I needed in the moment: “You’ll never take pleasure in your work until you realize that the ‘work under your work’ has all been done by Jesus Christ.” Tim KellerGod-At-Work-

This is something I’ve continued to think about this week, as several of my ‘best laid plans’ have fallen apart, and I’ve grappled with rising stress (and potentially spiritual opposition too). I think that this simple fact is vital for a Christian to remember, whatever kind of work you do, and whether it’s going badly or really well.

The Vital Work Is Done

The important things can’t be threatened because Christ’s salvation work on the cross is complete. Our identity as loved, forgiven, children of God is established. He is at work to bring everything under the Lordship of Jesus Christ forever!

Look at how the Apostle Paul sums things up in the verses below:

 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:4-10

 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Paul makes the link for us – we live our lives now in the light of all that has already been done for us, and what God continues to do on our behalf.


His work goes before our work
His work directs our work
His work enables our work.
His work under-girds our work
His work completes our work.

So we rely on God’s work for us because: Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Psalm 127:1    

10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:10-11

A Lightened Burden
We all experience failure, disappointment, and times of worry about our work or responsibilities. But because of this knowledge we can go about our work and service with humble confidence, joy, peace, purpose, and resolve.
When things crumble, we don’t have to!

The pressure dissipates when we recall that Jesus has already done all that is needed, he wants us to remain in his presence with a yoke and burden that are easy and light (because he shoulders the weight!): ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-29


When we’re not up to the task we can go on, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Praise Him

Nim

P.S If you want to think more about this topic, John Piper writes about why it’s a great thing that God works for us here.

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Measuring my Usefulness

How do you measure your “usefulness” as a Christian – the effectiveness of the ways in which you currently seek to serve God whether in a secular job or some kind of “ministry” role?

You might be thinking “Should I measure it?” Yet I think we all take stock occasionally, and take our encouragement or discouragement from how we perceive things to be going.

Maybe you work hard at your job, but in spiritual terms you’re just not sure where it all fits in. Are you really fulfilling your God-given purpose?

It’s a helpful question to ask – We are servants of a Master, so we should think about whether we are serving him well! There’s a problem here though.

We are not in possession of the big picture!DNY59_iStock_000009472405Medium-as-Smart-Object-1-610x286

Our mandate is to faithfully carry out his plans, not assess the fruitfulness of his instructions or measure their perceived effects.

But the world we live in encourages us to do just this: targets, strategies, goals, schedules, reviews and numbers.

“How’s the work going Nim?” “How many people are attending?” “Is the group growing?” “Got any success stories?”

And I’m personally guilty of just the same – “good numbers today” “look at all those appointments in my diary” “three ‘gospel opportunities’ this week!”

I equate a hectic week with a successful one, busy bible studies with blessing, I hunt for anything I can hold up as a measure of gospel success and fruitful ministry.

(I was really no different when I had a secular job – it just felt easier to measure my “usefulness” by the number of hours I worked, my “personal development reviews”, and leaving at the end of the day with tasks finished!)

Working for a church has shown me what a fallacy these kinds of measurements can be, when we use them to make conclusions about what God is achieving through us and in us – whatever our setting.

I’m not saying that we should never look at the things we do critically – it can be helpful to prayerfully think about the work we do, and seek to improve and serve effectively!

But it’s a pretty big leap to think that I can rightly perceive all that God is doing by surveying my daily tasks!

I recently read a book by Elisabeth Elliot, a writer and missionary to Ecuador. It’s a novel based on her own missionary experience, it relates the trials, challenges and unexpected disappointments that accompany the missionary work of her character Margaret Sparhawk. When a sudden and senseless tragedy puts an end to the promising work that Margaret has been ‘doing for God’, she voices many questions and doubts; rejecting simplistic answers. It’s a book that challenged many of my perceptions about serving God, and has started me questioning my own ways of evaluating my work.

Towards the end of the book Margaret says:

“I find I can no longer arrange my life in an orderly succession of projects with realizable goals and demonstrable effects. I cannot designate this activity as “useful” and that one as “useless”, for often the categories are reversed and even more often I am at a loss to apply either label, for the work, in the end, as well as the labelling is God’s.”

No Graven Image, Elisabeth Elliot

That last line really helped me – the work…as well as the labelling is God’s. It’s ok – he assigns the value – I just need to be faithful and follow.

Jesus himself said “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me” (John 4:34). Can I truly say this? Or must I add “as long as I can perceive its usefulness” “If others can see the success of my ministry” “so that I can feel good about myself.”

These seem like stupid and selfish requests when exposed to the light of day! But they are the additions that my heart often whispers as I set about my work.

We need the eyes of faith to keep working hard and serving faithfully when we don’t know what God is doing particularly when our work seems hard, mundane, or unimportant.

What is God teaching me?

This is not a done and dusted – so glad I learnt that lesson – now I can move on – type of blog post! I’m still grappling with this, struggling to surrender the planning and ‘measuring’ of my usefulness to him, for his glory.

But here are some of the verses that are guiding my thinking:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful….Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me….This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples…. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.

John 15 Our fruitfulness is God’s concern – he chose us and appointed us in his service, to bear fruit for his glory not our own. But we can only bear fruit if we remain in him!

Galatians 2:20 …The life I live I the body I live by faith in the son of God who loves me and gave himself for me.

In Galatians 2 Paul is reminding the church that they are not justified by the laws that they keep and the things that they do. They live by daily faith in Jesus Christ who loved them enough to die for them – the same goes for you and I.

 

Maybe you have a take on this or a verse that speaks into it? Let me know!

Nim