God's Work

Ever feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders? Like you are struggling just to tread water? Like despite all your greatest planning and efforts, you just can’t get ahead?
I’ve been feeling this way lately as we are planning to hopefully launch a new work of the Gospel in a new city, and reading Ecclesiastes has been a big help. In the first three chapters, Solomon claims that all of our labor is futile, yet we refuse to believe it. The root of our frustration is that we have too inflated a view of our personal importance or the importance of what we are doing. I’m not saying that we have egos as monstrous as certain celebrities we see in the news all the time, just that we can take anything we are doing and make it seem like all of human history is riding on it.

This can come out in subtle ways. When a child loses a screw to the chair we are assembling or throws their cereal on the floor, we lose our cool. When we are working on a big project for a long time, perhaps even on a deadline, we start getting short with people. We’re happy to have them help, until they get in the way or somehow hinder the project. Our frustration and impatience reveals that we have an inflated view of the importance of finishing the house remodel, the landscaping, the budget proposal, or even dinner.
It gets even worse when you genuinely believe the project to be “God’s work.” We can easily push aside people who are standing in the way or bark orders at those standing around doing little or nothing. This is a divine project of eternal value. Why won’t people just get on board? It isn’t long before we hijack his project and wrap our identity around it. Or put another way, we infuse our own project with divine significance without realizing it and then make others guilty for not supporting us. I see this temptation already creeping into my life as I get excited and think about the upcoming work in Portland.

But these projects are not excluded from Solomon’s warning. The Lord can tear down and rebuild what he wants. Solomon’s temple was leveled and his people exiled. Herod’s temple was leveled and Jerusalem evacuated again. Churches go belly up. Their buildings are transformed into yoga studios, hip restaurants or bars, breweries or night clubs. The works of man are a delusion.
This can feel soul crushing, but it is actually a great relief. Only God has the final word. Not us. So, the pressure is off. we don’t have to get it perfect. We don’t have to impress people. Our identity doesn’t have to ride on the completion or failure of any of our projects. We can leave it in the hands of God. We can relax and trust him with the outcome of our life.

God’s work will last. Not only do we have an inflated view of ourselves and our work, but a deflated view of God and his work. Where all of our projects decay over time, the work of the Lord endures forever. Sure, churches die, meaning church buildings pass away, and communities no longer gather in the same location. But the church also lives on. It is more like a redistribution than a death. The members of his body join him in glory along with the saints who have gone before, or simply to join a new community of saints here on earth. His work that lasts is building his people into his family and that doesn’t die.

That doesn’t make the pain of separation go away when we part from those we love. It hurts all the more precisely because we belong to one another. But we are able to endure it because we will enjoy the eternal fellowship of God’s work, meaning his family, long after the toil that went into it has faded into the recesses of our memory.
So this is my charge to you Heartland Church–do not settle for anything less than the Lord’s best for you. And his best is that you labor for the food that lasts, that you engage in work that endures, and that is the work that Jesus is doing through the Holy Spirit in building up his church. It deflates our ego, gives us a right sense of his gravitas, and rightly orders our affections so that we can see that the sacrifices are worth it. Let someone else have the lifestyle upgrades and take Jesus instead. He’s the best upgrade you’ll ever have. Forget about getting ahead, child of God. That may be why you feel like you are drowning. Instead of kicking real hard for a long time, try laying back and relaxing.

Grace & Peace
Josh Wilder