Psalm 28:7-8 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” The first phrase of verse 7 especially encourages me. “The Lord is my strength.” How true that is! Continue reading Editorial: “The Lord Is My Strength” (November/December, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor
The Parable of the Sower stands as the quintessential parable of our Lord. It has been recorded in each of the first three Gospel accounts (Mt. 13:3-9; Mk. 4:2-9; Lk. 8:4-8). It is one of only two parables for which the Lord provided an interpretation. The other is the Parable of the Tares. The Parable of the Sower, which is sometimes called the Parable of the Soils, was given an interpretation to serve as a guide to understanding the other parables; Jesus said, “Know ye not this parable? And how then will ye know all parables?” (Mk. 4:13).
While the primary force of this parable is to emphasize that the results of preaching the Gospel depend upon the hearts of the hearers, lessons abound in this rich passage. We want to examine ten of these lessons, especially as they pertain to personal evangelism. Let us begin with examining the responsibilities of the evangelist and the hearer.
As the sower sowed, the evangelist is responsible for sowing the Word (2 Ti. 4:2), and as the ground received the seed, the hearer is to receive the Word (Ac. 2:41). The evangelist is not responsible for the results. It is God who provides the increase (1 Co. 3:6). If we preach the Truth clearly, then we do our part. If none visibly respond to the Lord’s invitation or a personal Bible study ends without a baptism, that does not mean we have failed. God’s Truth has been declared, and that is all God requires of us. There is always a response when the Gospel is preached, and God’s preaching never returns void, accomplishing exactly what God pleases (Is. 55:11).
Additionally, the hearer has a responsibility to obey the Truth. Jesus often refrained as He did at the end of the Sower, “Who hath an ears to hear, let him hear” (Mt. 13:9). In other words, if one has the capacity to understand and obey the Gospel, he has a responsibility to submit to the Gospel. The evangelist is not obligated for the hearer’s obligation to obey but only to speak and encourage the obedience of the Truth.
Second, we see that the sower went out to sow (Mt. 13:3). The evangelist must go (Mk. 16:15). If he never went out to sow, he would not be much of a sower. Likewise, an evangelist is not an evangelist, a good-news teller, if he does not go and evangelize. A farmer cannot produce a crop staying inside the comforts of home; he must get out in the elements. Likewise, we cannot convert the world from our couch or behind our computers.
Third, the sower sowed the Word (Mk. 4:14). Luke called it the “word of God” (Lk. 8:11), while Matthew “the word of the kingdom” (Mt. 13:19). God requires that we plant His Word into the hearts and minds of the lost. Only the Gospel is God’s power to salvation (Ro. 1:16). Only the Gospel can answer the world’s greatest problem, sin. Only the Gospel can produce the kingdom of God, the Lord’s church. Therefore, let us dispense with testimonials and storytelling, and preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth.
Fourth, the sower is broadcasting seed. There are different ways to broadcast seed. You could use a large spreader, an handheld spreader, or your own hands. In the same way, there are different ways to broadcast the Word of God, such as radio and TV programs, weekly worship services, tracts, and newsletters sent to the community. The public preaching of God’s Word is a tremendous weapon in our arsenal (Ti. 1:3).
We may not think of the weekly sermons and Bible classes as personal evangelism, but they certainly can be if members are actively inviting people to worship with us. Unbelievers visited Corinth’s worship services, and the preaching needed to be understandable, so they could believe (1 Co. 14:16, 23-25). Individuals who visit our worship services, especially more than once, are our best contacts. Hearing the Gospel preached sometimes has a softening effect on the hearer. He may not respond immediately, but he may be ripe for a personal study that will eventually lead to a conversion.
Fifth, we should remember that soil does not always remain the same. Once fertile soil can become wayside. Wayside soil can become fertile. Fertile soil can be covered in thorns. Jeremiah wrote, “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Je. 23:29). Hosea also recognized this point when he urged his audience, “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground: For it is time to seek the Lord, Till he come and rain righteousness upon you. Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; Ye have eaten the fruit of lies: Because thou didst trust in thy way, In the multitude of thy mighty men” (Ho. 10:12–13).
Hard hearts can soften, and soft hearts can harden. When we preach to someone and their heart is hardened against the Truth, that is not necessarily the final chapter. They may respond in time. So, we sow seeds, and we may reap sheaves years later. Many of us could name individuals who heard the Gospel, rejected it, and years later obeyed it.
Sixth, the wayside heart failed to grow and produce fruit because Satan snatched the seed away from this heart. However, Matthew’s account includes an additional detail. He states that this individual “understandeth it not” (Mt. 13:19). People do not understand the Gospel for a number of reasons.
Some simply do not want to understand. They have seen enough to understand that obeying the Gospel means they must submit their wills (which may include continuing a wicked lifestyle or desiring to remain in a false religious group) to the will of Christ, and this is totally unacceptable for these individuals. If one is able to engage one like this in a study, this person may try to quibble with the personal evangelist over the significance of baptism or instrumental music. On the other hand, he may just listen quietly to the instruction not asking many questions, while anxiously awaiting the evangelist’s departure or his departure. Both situations can be equally frustrating as they both produce the same results: nothing.
Other accountable persons do not understand the “word of the kingdom” because sadly they cannot understand it. Some have waited too late, being in such a physical condition that prevents their acceptance of the Gospel. This person could be on his deathbed or an individual who has suffered some tragedy that hinders him from obeying. Others have so damaged their minds through drug use that their capacities to comprehend the simple facts and commands of the Gospel is totally lacking. Frankly, their minds have literally been blown-away. Not all drug abusers will be in that situation, but some do irreparable harm to their minds. While all cases of non-conversion are sad, these cases are especially sad. The personal evangelist will find himself thinking, “If only I could have had the opportunity before such and such took place.”
Seventh, others do not understand the Gospel because of the presentation of the Gospel has been unclear. While the personal evangelist is not responsible for the bedrock underneath the soil nor the thorns choking the Gospel nor the birds waiting to snatch the Gospel, he is responsible for presenting the Gospel clearly. Our teaching must be done logically. Sermons must be clear, orderly, and applicable expositions of Scripture and not muddled, disjointed irrelevant opinions. When we our having personal Bible studies, we need a system.
Many methods for teaching the lost have been produced by faithful brethren over the years. Find one that works for you. You may need to find a few. Sometimes a video series works well, but for others working through a worksheet would be better. Fishermen use the lure that is catching fish, and personal evangelists need to use the method that will catch men. Whenever one does not use a method, there is a tendency to go everywhere preaching and arguing the Word with the prospect. This accomplishes very little. Leave questions for after the study. Many times a prospect’s question will be answered as the study progresses.
Eighth, both the stony and thorny ground received the seed, but these could not ultimately handle outside forces. When we have the privilege of assisting someone in his obedience to Christ, we need to be ready to help this new convert deal with the trials and temptations that will come his way. Hopefully, we have helped this individual count the cost prior to his baptism. Afterwards, we cannot leave this babe in Christ to figure things out on his own. Paul wrote that we fulfill the law of Christ when we share one another’s heavy burdens (Ga. 6:2).
While becoming a Christian is not a heavy burden (Mt. 11:28-30), dealing with ongoing consequences from one’s old life and the reaction of friends and family to one’s new life in Christ can be. We need to assist the young Christian by helping them become better acquainted with others in the congregation. Perhaps some in the congregation have dealt with similar issues when they became Christians and can be a source of great encouragement.
Ninth, when we study with an individual, we may see the potential dangers that lie ahead if this individual becomes a Christian. We may see the thorns already creeping in to choke the Word. If that is the case, try to help the individual see what obstacles he will need to face. The thorns are the “cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in” (Mk. 4:19). These items may not necessarily be sinful but have been given the wrong emphasis. It may be a work situation, where they have a choice about working overtime during services to make a little extra income. Some get involved in sports leagues and civic clubs that have events during assembly times. These are some of the things that we need to help prospects see so they can continue after their conversions to be fruitful.
Finally, we are looking for the honest and good hearts (Lk. 8:15). My father, Ben Vick, Jr., when teaching on this passage will often point out that before a heart can be made good it must first be honest. It can be difficult at time to know if a person is honest. Unlike Christ, we do not know the thoughts of those with whom we study (Jn. 2:25). However, sometimes in the course of a study their honesty or dishonesty will be made known. When we learn of someone’s lack of honesty, we should move to more fertile soil.
What valuable lessons pertaining to evangelism can be found in the Parable of the Sower, but let us, as we go forth sowing the Word, not forget the primary lesson, which is that the reception of the Gospel depends upon the heart in which it is sown. Remembering this lesson will help us do as the honest and good heart does, bringing forth fruit with patience (Lk. 8:15).
Donnie preaches for the Edgewood Church of Christ in Greenville, SC.
Of all the vocations I have had in my lifetime, none have been as worthwhile nor as fulfilling as preaching the Word of God. I have been in “full time” work (which simply means you have no other means of earning a living) as well as “bi-vocational” work (which means you make your living some other way. In either case, I considered myself a full-time preacher.
As fulfilling as it has been, it has not come without difficulties. Paul once wrote about his own hardships: “…in journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Co. 11:26). While I will not put myself on the same level with Paul, I do believe young preachers and prospective preachers need to prepare themselves for the ill treatment they may receive. I was reared in a large church that was at peace. Our preachers did not receive harsh words, nor were they fired because somebody got angry with them. I just naturally believed everything would be wonderful when I began to preach. I would preach, everybody would shake my hand and tell me I did a wonderful job and they would all do just as the Scriptures I preached told them to do. Well, things just did not go that way.
I do not intend to make this a pity party for me. God has always been there for me and I have become stronger and I believe a better presenter over the years because of it all. I do want to perhaps say a few words that will help some of you who are just starting out or are considering preaching. It is a difficult field and you will need to love it to continue in it. Some of this will be negative but I hope to present it in a way that will allow you to see how to avoid some common mistakes and will allow you to have many productive years in His service.
As the preacher, you will live in a fish bowl, or a glass house if you prefer. Everything you do will be open for all to see and for all to criticize. You will have your critics. Your car may be no dirtier than any other member’s, but yours will be pointed out because you are the preacher. You may preach a wonderful sermon that has everyone spellbound, and someone will point out that there was a wrinkle in your shirt. You will preach too long, you will be too loud, you will use too many illustrations, you will put in so many scriptures that you lose people, or your hair will not be combed correctly.
My point is that you will need to know how to respond to all of this nonsense, which most of the time it will be. The most advice you will get about how you should preach and what your job as a preacher is or should be will come from those who have never written or presented a sermon in their lives and have no intention of ever doing so…yet they are the experts. You could decide you will not be pushed around and give it all back to them as they give it to you, but I suggest you buy shares of stock in U-Haul if you’re going to handle it this way because you will be moving a lot!
Rather, you must develop a thick skin if you do not already possess it. It seems some Christians enjoy saying or doing things just to hurt the preacher. You will prove yourself to be an unloving person who has no business in the pulpit if you talk to them the same way they talk to you. “Well, Mac,” you may be asking, “just what are we to do exactly?”
First, consider the source. When somebody is unfair to you, they may well be trying to compensate for some shortcoming in their life. When I was an air conditioning technician, one fellow at our company seemed to feel that the only way he could move up was by tearing everybody else down. You will find church members who are the same. Some things you just have to learn to let roll off of you like water. Many times it is in your best interest just to let it ride. Eventually the truth will come to light.
Secondly, conduct yourself with dignity and professionalism. By not getting down to someone else’s level, you will show people the best response to unfair criticism or ridiculous charges. Mudslinging always gets you just as dirty as it does the other person. Just do your job. If you are doing what you should, the garbage they throw will not stick on you. I am not saying you cannot and should not ever verbally defend yourself. There may come times when that is necessary. Just step back, evaluate the circumstances and do not charge in while you are angry. Remember these words: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Pr. 15:1).
Thirdly, and this is very important, realize that some will not conduct themselves in a Christ-like way just because they may call themselves a Christian. Some may “talk the talk” but walk a totally different walk. It has always escaped my capacity to understand what it is about being a church “boss” or “bully” that is so appealing. What is just as much beyond my ability to comprehend is why the rest of the congregation will bow down to them. You may very well find yourself in a situation where you are facing such a person and also find you have no support. All the “friends” you have made may tell you they do not feel the way this person does but you will find their support is only in private. After all, you can always move; they have to live there. Never mind that you already moved your family miles away from their home and will have to uproot them again. You will come to find out that some so-called Christians are selfish and will do what they think is best for them, which usually is not what the Bible says.
“Wow, Mac. You have almost talked me out of preaching.” That is not my purpose. If, however, you are looking for an easy job with lots of money and benefits, I hope I do discourage you because you need to do something else. Preaching is not nothing more than sitting behind a desk working on a computer, nor is it running around with other preachers all of the time and only working on Sundays and Wednesday nights. I was told that a preacher who preceded me would not many other things not even related to his job during the week and on Saturday nights he would pull two sermons off of the Internet. He will never grow like that. Most importantly, he will never please God like that.
I have only scratched the surface of the potential problems which preachers may face. You may be asking why anybody would want to preach with all of this going on. Believe it or not, these are the very reasons we need men to preach. Do you remember these words from Paul? “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Ti. 4:1-5).
Paul was well aware of what Timothy would face (and by extension we as well), but he also knew the souls of man were at stake. We must preach and stick with it because the world is dying without Christ. Many churches are dying because they have turned from Christ and are following their own paths. Somebody must tell them.
Young preacher — whether you be young in age, faith or time in the business — be prepared for many trials. Satan will not pass you by because you are a preacher. Temptations and trials will affect you just like they do everybody else. Yet, you will find there is no greater work in the world you could be doing.
I don’t want to leave anybody with negative perspectives about preaching. I believe it is the greatest thing a man can do. You please God by doing so. Consider more words from Paul: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Co. 1:21). Souls cannot be saved without the message of the cross and will not hear the Word without a preacher. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have no believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Ro. 10:14)
You also will meet many of the finest people in the world. There are those who will stand with you as long as you preach the truth no matter what. They will be there to catch you when you stumble and be a shoulder for you when things seem to be too hard to continue. You will perform weddings for their children, visit them in the hospital and perform funeral sermons for their loved ones. You will build friendships that will last for a lifetime. I wouldn’t miss that for all of the money in the world.
Finally, you will grow spiritually. If I were not preaching, I doubt I would be where I am as a Christian. You grow because you teach others and go through trials with them and for them. This puts you closer to Christ and better able to show the world that Satan will not win.
Don’t be discouraged by anything I wrote. Expect the best and be prepared for the worst. Always remember God is in control and we have already won. We just need to hang on and help others to do the same that we may win the prize. “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Co. 15:57).
Mac Ballard presently preaches for the Centertown Church of Christ in McMinnville, TN. He is married to Diane Ballard and they have four children, eight grandchildren and one on the way.
Editor’s Note: When thinking of who best to write an article about making elders stronger, I went to one of the most sound and stable elderships I know in the body of Christ. They graciously agreed to write this article collectively, but requested to remain anonymous. I thank them for their thoughts expressed here and for the great work they do as shepherds of the flock.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Ro. 5:1-2, NKJV).
Christians, elders and even an entire eldership can sometimes lose perspective during our Christian walk. The struggle to remain balanced is tested for every person, but sometimes has heightened challenges for elders who are called to stand for truth, enforce God’s discipline, help individuals on a variety of other fronts often unknown to others and plan budgets, annual calendars, and Bible classes…sometimes within the same month.
Elderships therefore need reminders to ground themselves while calling to remembrance the fundamentals of the blessings of God. We can do this by regularly examining ourselves with what God desires for us first as Christians, and then as the best elderships we can be. Let us consider together some basic building blocks and apply them to the role we have as elderships.
If Paul was chief among sinners (1 Ti. 1:15), where does that leave each of us? Haven’t we all been justified by faith? We can thank the Lord’s wisdom in prescribing the Lord’s Supper for the opportunity to reflect on just this (1 Co. 11:28). The result is the humility which lays the foundation for all who seek God. If we don’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Ro. 12:3), we will find it much less difficult to esteem others more highly than ourselves.
Consider how this will impact our view of the flock which serves with us. Certainly we will be more skilled at noticing all the parts of the body which contribute to the flock’s successes. Skills and talents of deacons, teachers, encouragers, preachers, song leaders, hard workers and the kindhearted are precious. Just as Elijah discovered as he withdrew into a cave (1 Ki. 19), we may need to “rediscover” the faithful brothers and sisters surrounding us. We can avoid the caves of loneliness, bitterness, and pessimism by not only recognizing our faithful family, but by rightfully esteeming them.
As an eldership, we must never lose the humility we found when facing the cross. In nature we can see things which are callused over time by circumstances endured. We too can become callused from hard work and hard stances. How easy is it for us to now move with compassion? Do we earnestly love the brethren as well as the lost? Do we feel for them as Christ felt for the lost, the sick, the challenged or those that had no direction? We must be careful not to allow the things we must do as elders to abridge our compassion for the saints, nor dull our focus on seeking and saving the lost.
Christ had no place to sleep and was just as hungry as those whom He fed (Mt. 8:20). He was God in the flesh but was still rejected by those whom he came to serve and save (Jn. 1:9-14). Yet those circumstances never thwarted the compassion our Lord had for others. Through the life Jesus lived He claims the role of the perfect mediator because He has felt our trials (He. 4:15-16). We too can seek to use our circumstances to soften rather than harden us. Likewise, we must share the joy, peace and justification we have found in the grace of God. Just like Christ, this requires us to see the condition of others as they are rather than through eyes which are dimly lit.
An eldership, like any Christian, must remember to ground itself in the role of a suffering servant. Paul reminded his Philippian brethren that it had been granted to them to not only be believers, but also sufferers for Christ (Ph. 1:29). Expect ridicule, unthankful attitudes, contempt from friends and even from those upon whom you rely. Bear all things and bear one another. Know that valuable time will be spent away from family while you handle the Lord’s work. Endure by recalling that we willingly crucified ourselves so Christ will live in us and be glorified by the lives we now live. Remember that God’s grace is more than sufficient for our needs. Oh, how blessed we are to suffer for the name of Christ!
Think on spiritual things, elders. From time to time we must think about how large to make the building, choose between new songs books or new carpet, consider nursery items to procure, figure out how to array security equipment or even organize the meeting notes and record keepings. All these things may have to be done, but keep them in perspective. Remember that Martha was anxious and troubled about many things, but it was Mary that chose the good portion (Lk. 10:38-42). We might have to do this kind of work, but we must not allow it to distract from our more important duties. When urgent worldy matters demand our attention, ensure that we set a firm time to address the good portion. Utilize God’s organizational skills and delegate to fellow servants (cf. Ac. 6:1-6). At the end of the day, we are all sojourners in a strange land trying to get home while delivering unto the Lord those whom He has entrusted to our care.
There are times to gird up our loins and quit ourselves like men (1 Co. 16:13). In other words, get ready for what’s coming and be courageous. Strife within the church, helping couples work through marriage and divorce issues or even what to do in light of recent government activities can sometimes make us weak-kneed. That is exactly the time for courageous leadership. Who knows if God has put us here for such a time as this? (Est. 4:14) Trust in Him. Stay true to His Word and we will never go wrong because His foolishness is far greater than any man-made wisdom (1 Co. 1:25). As David did in the face of the giant, we must rely on His strength and not ours. We can look back within our own past and recall the lions and bears we have overcome, reminding us of the Lord’s presence, strength and wisdom. Even when we feel powerless or out of control, we must remember the Lord’s strength is shown through our weaknesses.
In all things, whether they be like those listed above or in other considerations, we must remain positive. Without question, that can be hard to do. Like Elijah or John the Baptizer, we too can find ourselves in doubt and fear. When we fall to negativity, that is just our lack of faith. The Lord has provided numerous reminders that He is victorious. That is why we “stand” in His grace (Ro. 5:2).
Keep in mind the words of Paul as he looked forward to the prize (Ph. 3:14). We too can remain faithful unto death by understanding the battle is not that daunting compared with the spoils which belong to the victors (Re. 2:10). Keep heaven and our presence with Christ in the forefront of longings and optimism will abound.
Optimism and a positive outlook are contagious. We all want to be positive, but sometimes life has a way to beat us down. Stand in God’s grace by putting our trust in God and finding comfort in the knowledge that Christ is preparing a place for us.
Finally, Christians — and even more so, elderships — must be thankful for God’s blessings. How can we rejoice in the hope of His glory and not in turn be thankful? Be thankful for the world the Lord has made. Enjoy the beauty of it and the joys it can bring. Be thankful for His church, which from the beginning was the manifestation of His infinite wisdom, and has been purchased by the priceless Savior’s blood. Be thankful for His Word which enlightens our very steps and guides us in a blessed life. Be thankful for Christ, our Creator and Sustainer. Be thankful for those around us who support us and provide strengths we may not possess, including our fellow elders, those in the church, and those at home. Be thankful to serve in the role in which the Lord has blessed us to serve. All roles come with challenges, but these challenges only help us better serve God. It is through this fire that our gold can be purified. “O give thanks to the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever” (Ps. 118:29, KJV).
Individually and as an eldership, we can focus on maintaining balance while pursuing our responsibilities. Christian building blocks will help elders and elderships weather the storms they face. Reminding ourselves of the graces in which we stand, and how we cam to now stand in them, can benefit us greatly.
Have you ever wondered, “What does the church…collectively, congregationally, from the elders, deacons, and preachers to each and every member…need to do in order to become stronger and better in the sight of God in the present day?” It’s worth at least pondering but, in fact, it’s actually worth deep and extensive study and prayer. The key to the question is the phrase “in the sight of God” (Ac. 4:19). Relatively, what else really matters (Ec. 12:13)?
So how would you answer? Here are some possibilities. “We should all pray more, especially for wisdom (1 Th. 5:17; Ja. 1:5).” “We must focus more on evangelism and then encourage the faithful to stay faithful (Mk. 16:15; 1 Th. 5:11).” “We’ve got to start taking a firmer stand for what is right and against what is wrong (1 Pe. 3:14; Ps. 94:16; Mt. 12:30).”
These are great answers and a good start because any right answer must be rooted in scripture (Ps. 119:172). If “in the sight of God” is the key to the question, then we must consider what He has said. I’ve listened to a sermon tape of brother Mel Futrell (currently preaching at the Shades Mountain congregation just south of Birmingham) titled “Intelligent Christianity” where he lists several scriptures from both testaments where God’s people are encouraged, and encouraging others, to reason with God and His Word (Is. 1:18; Ac. 19:9). Time after time, God’s people are asked (Is. 42:23), required (Dt. 28:1-2), and even warned (Ps. 50:7) by God and His speakers to pay attention to what has been communicated.
Therefore, my answer to this question is to study…more diligently (2 Ti. 2:15). As a whole, the church needs to study more in order to become stronger and better in the sight of God in the present day. If we can’t answer our question without going to God’s Word, then the answer must include going to God’s Word…more. Additionally (and I may stand to be corrected on this), I believe God’s people are generally more ignorant of the Bible presently than in decades past. I believe New Testament Christians of the last century, regardless of age, had more Bible knowledge than their current counterparts. Perhaps that’s a generality and my opinion, but I do believe it’s accurate.
What if this question was asked with a hint of discouragement? In so many words, “What can we do? What can I do? I’m just one person.” What humanity has always needed to do in any day is to “hear the Word of the Lord” (Ez. 37:1-14, especially v. 4).
The New Testament refers to God’s people in this age as “Christians” and “the church,” but God, through inspiration in His New Testament, principally uses “disciples” to refer to His people. Disciple means “learner, student, or pupil” and is not a title; it is a noun referring to the endeavor to accomplish the action of learning. This can seem to suggest God cares more about what I’m doing than what I call myself. He wants me to be a learner (Jn. 5:45), and I can’t learn from Him or about His Son without studying what He has said (Jn. 5:39-40).
Certainly there are caveats. Knowledge is useless without understanding how to apply it and moving forward to its actual utilization in our lives (Mt. 15:16-20; Ja. 2:22-25). All of this begins with a healthy respect and reverence for the power and majesty of God (Pr. 1:7; 9:10). If we study more and learn anything about what God expects but don’t respect God enough to obey, we have nothing for which to hope (Pr. 24:13-14).
First, we should be studying more in private. Everywhere we go, in every situation, we should always have God’s Word in the forefront of our mind (Dt. 6:8-9). How and when? By trusting, leaning on, and acknowledging Him with all our heart and in all our ways (Pr. 3:5-6). Exposing ourselves to scripture day and night brings blessings and prevents sin and error (Ps. 1:1-2; 119:11, 104; 1 Ti. 4:16). Conversely, a lack of spiritual knowledge brings error and destruction, perhaps for generations (Mt. 22:29; Ho. 4:6). David Langley, the pulpit minister here at Seneca, recently made this statement with reference to Hebrews 5:11-14 and private Bible study: “If you plan to get all of your spiritual nourishment in one worship hour per week, you will be a spiritual infant your whole life.”
God has always expected His people to read and hear His teachings (Ex. 24:7; Re. 1:3). On at least six distinct occasions, Jesus asked, “Have you not read…?”, implying that they personally should have read, understood, and remembered what God recorded for them. Jesus also once asked, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Lk. 10:26) Even our little children and those considered to be “babes in Christ” (1 Co. 3:1) know Jesus defended Himself against Satan with “It is written…” (Mt. 4:1-11). We all need to study more in private.
Second, we should be studying more in public. Even Jesus read and studied publicly (Lk 4:16; 2:46-47). Today we are perhaps afforded more public opportunities to study God’s Word together as His people than ever before. Simultaneously, others around the world are afforded no opportunity and may face death if discovered. Unfortunately, knowledge of this very fact has seemingly little impact on many of our own siblings in Christ. Why is Bible class attendance low compared to worship? Why are many convicted enough to “warm the pew” during worship but not enough to arrive earlier or participate in (or at least listen to) public discussion or even read a verse aloud? Publicly studying God’s Word goes back millennia (Ne. 8:1-8; 1 Ti. 4:13).
We learn from God’s Word but we also learn from each other, both men and women (2 Ti. 2:2; Ti. 2:3-5). Not only do we have the responsibility to learn together (Pr. 27:17), but we also have the responsibility to teach (He. 5:12). We can achieve this just by making wise comments in a class setting. We all need to study more publicly. Perhaps it’s even time for you to be a teacher.
Third, we should be studying more with prosterity. God’s people have been given commands (Dt. 6:6-7), examples (2 Ti. 1:5), and necessary inferences (1 Ti. 5:8) concerning our responsibility to train up the next generation. Have you heard, “The church is only one generation away from apostasy?” (Ju. 2:7-14) Did you know we’re just as responsible for teaching our children as we are for learning (Dt. 11:18-21)? Fathers, are you read to teach your children on the day they ask, “What do these things mean to you?” (1 Pe. 3:15; Ep. 6:4; Jos. 4:1-7) We have a blatant responsibility to teach the next generation (Ps. 78:1-4). Read Deuteronomy 4:9-10. Can human words make the example more clear? Teach the coming generation.
Let’s return to the above topic of Bible class. It’s safe to assume every parent wants what’s best for their children. We want them to have good schooling, decent clothes, straight teeth and the like, and we’ll do whatever it takes in most cases to make those things a reality. I submit that if any parent wants what’s best for their child, they will make it so that child WILL be in Bible class. You’ve got the Best People (God’s people) studying the Best Book (God’s book) on the Best Day of the Week (the Lord’s Day) with the Best Aim (learning more about God and how to be pleasing to Him). Folks, it really doesn’t get any better. We all need to pass on what we’ve learned from God’s Word by studying with posterity.
In closing, consider this. Remember the caveats? Studying God’s Word for strictly academic purposes without making everyday application forfeits the only real benefit (Lk. 6:46-49). Most of us may have memorized 2 Timothy 3:16-17. God-breathed scripture will teach you what’s right, reprove you for what you’re doing which is not right, correct you on how to get right, and train you on how to stay right. However, for scripture to fulfill its purpose (Is. 55:11), you and I must be willing to be taught, reproved, corrected and trained. We must want it.
Personal freedom is a God-given right (Jos. 24:14-15). Almost all of our circumstances are dictated to us, by us, through the choices we make. By and large, each of us in this country and in our current day and time can be as healthy or unhealthy, educated or ignorant, successful or unsuccessful, spiritual or hedonistic, as we choose to be. We weigh the options, make the choice, and deal with the consequences (Dt. 11:26-28).
Ask yourself this. What choices do I make? When I have some free time, do I read my Bible in private study or choose to do something else? Do I attend Bible classes for public study or choose just the worship service? When a teachable moment arises, do I study with posterity by rising to the occasion to fulfill my duty to train the next generation…or is there an awkward silence followed by a change of subject?
I refer you to the question asked at the beginning of this piece: “What does the church…collectively, congregationally, from the elders, deacons, and preachers to each and every member…need to do in order to become stronger and better in the sight of God in the present day?” The key is the phrase “in the sight of God” (Ac. 4:19). Nothing else really matters (Ec. 12:13). We must be prepared to answer to Him (Ec. 12:14). We will give an account about how we’ve applied or not applied His commands and teachings to our lives. Be diligent to present yourselves approved (2 Ti. 2:15).
Robert worships at the Seneca Church of Christ in Seneca, SC, with his wife, Heather, and their daughter, Savannah.
Making tents consumes time. The apostle Paul, amidst the sharing of the most important message mankind has ever heard or ever will hear, made tents (Ac. 18:3). As time has gone by, it appears to me the number of tent making preachers is increasing. Of course, the reference here is to the practice of additional work and responsibility beyond that of sharing the gospel. Most preachers want to fill their lives with nothing but the gospel; yet, a plethora of life’s obstacles often get in the way.
This desire is not exclusive to preachers. Christians as a whole envision a life where they are one, large, harmonious, ever increasing family of believers who are bringing the lost to Christ in droves. The reality is different. After an 8 to 13 hour day of work, running errands, hauling kids around, home repairs, grocery shopping, laundry, meal preparation, etc., the first thing on the mind is a moment of relaxation or hours of sleep. It seems impossible to focus long enough to keep the family from struggling let alone find the time to fit in God, Christian brothers and sisters, and the rest of the world. Who even has a moment read a brotherhood article? Desperation, resignation, and guilt seem to be riding hand in hand as the days grow shorter. You want change, but how?
Jesus once spoke to his disciples about the response of normal folks to the spreading of the Word of the Kingdom. He compared it to an individual spreading seed. The seed fell in many places and one of those places was among the thorns. Here is what Jesus said in regard to that: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Mt. 13:22) This is how many of us often feel. We hear the Word, believe it, and want to act on it. Yet, all the activities of the world seem to choke us out. Perhaps as Felix we are always looking for that right opportunity or convenient time (Ac. 24:25), but it never seems to come. It is as if we are the puppy that runs round and round and never catches his tail.
Knowing your unique situation is impossible for me. My sympathies go out to you. The words above describe my life in many ways. Though I may not have the perfect solution to your life dilemmas, perhaps the suggestions I am about to share will enable you and ultimately those around you to draw closer to spiritual peace. The dilemma really breaks itself down to two components: when and how.
When? Finding time is critical. You could work faster to buy more time but as a practical matter that isn’t going to last. The truth is you will just spend the same amount of time working, only at an increased speed, and end up even more tired in the end. The ultimate solution is prioritization, organization, and realization.
When a person looks at their day and sees they do not have time for everything, prioritization is a must. Something has to go. Most evenings last summer, I spent the day thinking that when my wife arrived home from work we would go kayaking. We ended up going kayaking only two or three times. Predominantly, we simply had to cut it out of the schedule. It was not high on the priority list.
Here are some common things you might have on your list that could perhaps be cut out or shortened: internet time (including smart phone, tablet, and texting), television time, and phone time. What did we do before the days of electronics? How did people function? We carry our electronic devices everywhere we go. Put them down and step away. If you ever had time to research the biggest time wasters in the life of man, you would find much of it has to do with electronics.
Understand also that not everything is really that important. Martha missed the important things while Mary did not (Lk. 10:38-42). Can you find more time if you choose to put aside listening to talk radio, not read that secular magazine or book, dust or vacuum a little less often, or make a simple meal instead of “something special”? Ask yourself: Is spending time on this item really all that critical at the moment?
Concerning organization, remember that the more organized a person is, the more time they have. Do you spend all day Saturday working on laundry? Consider doing a load a day instead. Are you running back and forth to town to run errands? Plan out your day to where you can combine tasks and make one trip instead of three. Are you checking Facebook all day long? Cat videos, selfies, and one-line quotes may be funny, but they are time stealers. Get organized! Confine your Snapchat, Instagram, e-mail, and sports updates to once in the morning and once at night.
Do you spend a lot of time in the car each day? Are you using this time for something other than daydreaming? You can! Organize this time to do something helpful or productive! When you make meals, do you cook enough to cover future meals…or do you have to start from scratch every time? Save time with organization! Do your tasks require concentration? One of the biggest mistakes I make is trying to study when everyone is running around the house. Organize that schedule! Choosing the right hours for the right tasks is critical. Organizing your day will buy you time.
In the topic of finding time, what on earth is “realization”? In this case, realization is short for realizing you cannot do everything by yourself. Ask for help. Solomon established that we do better with help (Ec. 4:9-12). Family, friends, and even hired help can buy us a little more time each day. I am naturally an introvert. I like to do things by myself without others around. However, this isn’t beneficial to my spirituality or my proper use of time.
Don’t let pride get in the way either. It’s okay to admit we cannot do it all. Again, ask for help! You may just find that accomplishing a task side by side with someone will have the side effect of developing closeness too! More on that in a moment.
Prioritization, organization, realization. Simple solutions for finding time. The more time you have at your disposal, the more you can focus on drawing close to God and others. Now I want to provide some direction as to how we draw close to others with the time that we have.
How? My father or mother once told me, “If you want to have a friend, you must be a friend.” From this simple piece of advice, I suggest three points for drawing closer to others: seek others out, communicate with them, and serve their needs. These points apply not just to earthly relationships, but to spiritual ones also.
If your objective is to draw closer to others, whether they be brothers or sisters in Christ or those who do not yet know Christ, then you most often must take the time to seek them out first. Jesus Himself came seeking (Lk. 19:10). If there is anything I have learned in this world, it is that we all have issues. Insecurities, selfishness, and feeling like we have no time are problems with which most people struggle. Consequently, folks just don’t dive right into getting to know you. Frequently, you have to take the first step, and then another, and then another toward reaching out to someone. Relationships aren’t “I did this, now it’s your turn.” If either you or your spouse didn’t make the first move, it is likely you wouldn’t be married. A Christian gentleman once expressed to me that the building where we assembled to worship had a sign on it letting people know where we were, so it was up to them to show up. Sadly, there are a lot of near-empty buildings where people aren’t seeking and are just waiting for someone to show up. Get out there! Go Ye! If they are busy working, help them out! Spending the time will create bonds whether in work, play, conversation, or study.
“Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse YOUR hands, YE sinners; and purify YOUR hearts, YE double-minded” (Ja. 4:8). Yes, the ball is in your court when wanting to get closer to God. We cannot see God, but He has promised we will find Him if we seek Him (Mt. 7:7). Man has what we need before us to get to know God (2 Ti. 2:15; 3:16-17; 2 Pe. 1:1-3). It takes effort and even change on our part to truly draw close to Him. Perhaps the time we save by prioritization, organization, and realization can be filled with coming to know Him. Perhaps that commute can be spent listening to His Word. Perhaps the little things can be put aside to sit at His feet. He is not so far we cannot find if we seek (Ac. 17:26-28).
Communication is difficult. My daughter is like me in a lot of ways. She is introverted, which means she would rather you did the talking so she can listen. Over the years, I have learned how to start, maintain, and yes, at times dominate a conversation. Yet, my daughter is at that point in her life when communication is very hard. What do you say beyond “Hello”? This will be expanded upon in a moment when discussing serving others, but for now consider what you have to communicate.
You have information that will change another person’s life eternally. You have something important to say. Second, you have family, you have been places, you have seen things, you have experiences, you have commonalities with others which you can share. Once you let others know you are just a normal friendly person, you are likely to get communication in return. It’s that conversation which enables a closer relationship.
Communication is also important if you want to draw closer to God. Prayer is something we must not overlook in our life (1 Th. 5:17). God wants to hear our cries for help, our concerns, and our thanksgiving. Could that quiet time right in the morning when we get up, or perhaps before we go to bed, be shared with Him? He has shared His mind in scripture. He has expressed His love toward us. Can we communicate that in return?
All good relationships require both sides be willing to serve the other. It took my wife and me years to realize that happiness in marriage wasn’t about having our own needs met, but being able to meet the needs of our partner. Jesus Himself provided the biggest example of love and closeness by sacrifice. It is the Golden Rule! Love others as thyself! (Mt. 22:39) Service and kindness to others is what Jesus communicated to His disciples when He washed their feet (Jn. 13).
When we communicate with others, the conversation isn’t just about us. The conversation involves us serving the needs of the other person by enabling them to share aspects of their lives. It means us listening so we can hear about their hopes, concerns, and encouragements. Quite frequently, there is nothing someone likes to do more than talk about themselves! Yet, that too can be therapeutic. Such interactions draw us closer. The simplest of conversations can build into much deeper matters.
How do we show love for our Savior? We serve! We keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15). His ways are higher and deeper than our ways, so we serve to draw closer so that we can be more like Him. The more we know Him and act like Him, the stronger that bond becomes. The apostle Paul described his own actions as a servant of others: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more” (1 Co. 9:19). As mentioned previously, when we spend time with others we build bonds. Everyone on earth needs help in some way. Service can be provided to young or old, in big and little ways. As you serve others, you will find opportunities to better serve God by glorifying Him through good works.
Our life and time are not our own. They are gifts given by God. We can show ourselves to be good stewards of what God has given us, or we can simply ignore what has been given (Mt. 25:14-30). God desires we use our time wisely (Ep. 5:15-17). This means we must prioritize, organize, and realize. When we do this, we will find time to further devote to getting closer to God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and those of this world.
Yes, this requires effort on our part. We must seek the closeness of others. We must communicate with others. We must engage ourselves in the service of others. These suggestions for redeeming the time and making the most of it are simply stated. Putting them into action requires concentrated effort. We don’t need to worry, for we can do this when our service is focused upon Christ (Ph. 4:13). I pray we all may achieve the closeness we are seeking.
Travis has been a minister in the Lord’s church for over 15 years. He attends and teaches at the Eastside Church of Christ in Mt. Vernon, OH. He is the creator of churchofchristarticles.com.