I have no problem admitting, when Monday rolls around, I am pretty tired. Some Mondays are worse than others, but most of them begin with a fair degree of tiredness. Usually the demands of the week, particularly the concentrated and seemingly relentless demands of Sunday, have hit their zenith (or, nadir, depending on how you view it) and, depending on the particular nature of these things, I feel done in.
It’s at moments like these that the next phone call, request or apparently urgent job that must be done right now, by me and nobody else for some reason, feels like a killer. The first thought running through my mind is rarely gracious. It’s not that I don’t want to help, it’s just I don’t really want to help right now. Otherwise, I already know what the problem is before I’m told and I don’t think I can help.
Even yesterday, after a fairly long day at church – having been there since 9:45am and being the last person out, locking the church, at 3:30pm (standard practice at our place on afternoon service weeks) – I got in the car with my wife and children. The day had been full of requests for various bits of help, some taking up considerable time, all before I was due to get up and preach, while others came along between services, and yet more afterwards. I sat in the car and exhaled deeply, gearing myself up for all the follow up work and admin that I will get onto the moment I arrive home. The letters that needed writing urgently, the visits being requested, the practical help and support being asked of one form or another.
No sooner had I turned the engine on, pleased of the brief respite driving the car home, there was a tap on the car window. I wound down the window. ‘I’m very sorry,’ my friend said, ‘I’ve left my bag in the church.’ Off goes the engine, the children are told to wait a bit longer, and we head back in. Let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things, this is about as minimal as it gets. I was still outside the church, I had a key in my pocket, it took less than a couple of minutes to unlock the doors, go in and get the stuff. But my attitude was anything but gracious.
I don’t think it showed (I hope it didn’t show!) but I know what was in my mind. Here was yet another request I could just do without. All I wanted to do was get home and crack on with the mountain of follow up and other such things that had just arisen from the slew of stuff that had happened that morning. This, on top of all the usual admin one simply has to get on and do after church. Though inconsequential of itself, in the moment, this one tiny request seemed like a straw that broke the camel’s back.
But I had just been leading a service on the glory of God; what is it, why should we serve it and why is that ultimately the best thing we can do with our time? I had preached a sermon earlier about making the pursuit of God’s glory our life’s highest priority. Yet, in that moment, I resented having to get out of my car and open the door for somebody who had left their bag behind. It felt like just one more imposition – in a sea of nothing but impositions and demands – and I just wanted the Lord to give me a break. Haven’t I served your glory enough today Lord?
This point was rammed home to me as I got back to the car – my kids were perfectly content and not being difficult – and my wife just looked at me and said, ‘remember the glory of God.’ As ever, serving God’s glory requires our obedience. The Lord is ultimately glorified as we obey him in all that we do. In this particular instance, Galatians 6:9-10 should have come into play:
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 1So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
I had grown weary. I was done with doing good for the day, not even to but especially to, those who are of the household of faith.
My wife and I frequently remind ourselves of what happened when Jesus fed the 5000. Matthew’s account draws out the key bit:
13 Now when Jesus heard this [that John the Baptist had been beheaded], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.Matthew 14:13-14
This is compounded in John’s account because, following the feeding of the 5000, Jesus withdraws again. The disciples later begin to head back to Capernaum after Jesus has gone. Here is how John picks up the story:
22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.John 6:22-24
What a palaver! Jesus’ friend and cousin had just died. He tried to get away for some time alone and the crowds, seeing him go, run around the lake to meet him on the other side. Then, when he tries again, the same people see he’s gone and start searching for him a second time! But Jesus didn’t tell them to get lost and leave him alone. He had compassion on them. He didn’t weary in doing good – even when, the second time, they were grumbling and complaining at him when they are the ones who sought him out!
It is easy to weary in doing good when people are respectful and grateful for your help and support. It is even easier to weary in doing good when people are pushy and demand your support, as though it is their right. It is easier still to grow weary in doing good when people demand you help them and then, simultaneously, complain when you do. And if there is ever a point at which Hebrew 4:15 seems at play, I believe it is times such as this.
There are those who are drawn to ministries such as ours because there are so many needs to be met. But what do we do when the people we are serving just aren’t that lovely? Many of the issues we face are intractable and there is no obvious, or imminent, solution to them. More to the point, what do we do when we aren’t that lovely? It is easy to end up becoming a de facto chaplain rather than a minister of the gospel and the zeal with which we start serving people can quickly dry up when we don’t feel we are getting what we need from doing it (whatever that may be). As the history of Methodism attests, serving for serving’s sake won’t sustain your church. Eventually that rings hollow and people begin to grow weary in doing good.
For some, there is no service that is ever enough and you are viewed as little more than another service provider, at their beck and call to meet their felt needs. We can’t solve everybody’s problems and we will kill ourselves trying to do so. We can only hold out Christ and pray, if and when the Spirit works, though their situation may not change, their outlook and attitude toward it will.
The truth is that getting a kick out of serving people is not enough to sustain you in the relentless demands of the depths of neediness in communities such as ours. The only way to sustain ourselves is to view Christ as inherently beautiful. It is to recognise that our highest goal is to serve God’s glory and, because it brings glory to him, we press on in the work he calls us to do.
Sometimes, we just need to remember God’s glory. God is glorious and in his glory is our joy. Even if, sometimes, we grow a little weary.