Monday, November 27, 2006

Spurgeon on Faith and Work - Living an Industrious Life

Long before Tim Keller made it cool to talk about integrating Christian faith and work, Charles Spurgeon preached on the topic from Galatians 2:20. Over time, I plan to post excerpts from his sermon on the topic of faith and work. I think you'll find his comments to be insightful and instructive to us.

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

Before discussing the topic of faith and work, Spurgeon's reminds his listeners that the effect of saving faith does more than secure our eternal destiny - it ought to make a practical difference in the way we live.

"My brethren, true religion has as much to do with this world as with the world to come; it is always urging us onward to the higher and better life; but it does so by processes and precepts which fit us worthily to spend our days while here below."

Spurgeon extends this point with a wonderful phrase -

"Faith is a principle for present use...".

In his sermon, he makes several points about faith and work, starting with this notion, often missed by Christians in the marketplace today - saving faith leads a person to an industrious life. Here's what Spurgeon said about this -

Faith is but an empty show if it produces no result upon the life. If a professor manifests no energy, no industry, no zeal, no perseverance, no endeavour to serve God, there is cause gravely to question whether he is a believer at all. It is a mark of faith that, whenever it comes into the soul, even in its lowest degree, it suggests activity. Look at the prodigal, and note his early desires. The life of grace begins to gleam into his spirit, and its first effect is the confession of sin. He cries, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." But what is the second effect? He desires to be doing something. "Make me as one of thy hired servants." ...One of the signs of the return of his soul's sanity was his willingness to work, although it might be only as a menial servant in his father's house.

Spurgeon's point on this matter is clear - saving faith produces fruitful activity in the life of the believer. It energizes a person and creates the motive for work

" is such a useful thing to men in the labour and travail of this mortal life, because it puts them into motion and supplies them with a motive for work. Faith does not permit men to lie upon the bed of the sluggard, listless, frivolous, idle; but it makes life to appear real and earnest, and so girds the loins for the race. "

Spurgeon references Jesus' example with the following words -

Does faith in the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself for him, suggest to the redeemed man that he should be industrious and active? Assuredly it does; for it sets the divine Saviour before him as an example, and where was there ever one who worked as Jesus did?...His was stern labour and sore travail: the zeal of God's house did eat him up, and the intensity of love consumed him. He worked on until he could say, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." Now, it is no small thing for a man to be roused by such an example, and to be made a partaker of such a spirit.

From my perspective, it's interesting to note how hard work is lost as a Christian virtue today. In our effort to guard against selling out to the world, I wonder if Christian labor hasn't been relegated to the background of Christian living. In general, we no longer view a life of labor as virtuous nor do we intruct our children on how to work hard for the glory of God.

I wonder what Spurgeon would say about that?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Day

Today is Thanksgiving Day and I have much to be thankful for -

I am thankful to God for Kathy. Every day we have together is a gift from God and words do not suffice in expressing my gratitude.

I am thankful for my children - Kirsten, Michael and Stephen. They bring me many more joyful days than I deserve.

I have many more reasons to be thankful but the best reason of all is captured in this passage from Isaiah 12.

You will say in that day:"I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation."

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.

Isaiah 12:1-4

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I Could Have Been a Contender...

There are world championships for soccer, ice skating, gymnastics and even chess – so, why not the universally popular “Rock-Paper-Scissors”?
Apparently, 500 top players from around the world gathered in Toronto this past weekend to compete for $8,840 prize and title of world champion.

The winner was Bob Cooper, a 28 year old sales manager from London, UK.

The tournament had all the attributes of high stakes championship play, including teamwork, trash talking and intimidation.

Players will have to steel themselves against psychological pressure as players typically form teams to rally each other ”The team will surround the arena, provide moral support and usually try to intimidate the opponent," said Graham Walker…co-author of "The Official Rock Paper Scissors Guide”

Sadly, ESPN chose not to carry the event...but you can read about it in this news account and also at the World RPS site.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Growing in the Grace of Encouragement

These days I’m thinking about encouragement. Not because I’m a particularly encouraging individual but precisely because I’m not. Sadly, I tend to be critical, self righteous and ungrateful – often with those closest to me.

Yet, I’m being drawn to grow in encouragement. I know of the power of encouragement because I have felt its effects. I know how a word of encouragement can carry me through tough times. I’ve felt renewed strength from someone thanking me for my relatively minor contribution. I’ve benefited from a reminder of a biblical truth applied to my circumstance.

So, I'd like to grow in this grace of encouragement – to be applied at home, at work, at church and in my community.

Here’s what I’m realizing as I’m pondering this area in my life –

Genuine encouragement isn’t just a technique, a set of platitudes or even a mindset – it’s a grace from God. It’s not easy being an encouraging person if you’re not encouraged in your heart. Our encouragement is rooted in God and ultimately comes from Him.

Here’s how Paul prayed for the Thessalonians –

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thess 2:16)

We should be purposeful about growing in encouragement but we should begin by looking to God who by His grace, gave us eternal encouragement and hope. If I reduce encouragement primarily to a set of techniques, I’ve clearly missed the mark.

Also, encouragement isn’t just about making others feel better about themselves. True encouragement infuses hope and strength. In the above passage, Paul’s prayer for encouragement was to result in strengthened believers.

That said, here are simple steps I’m pursuing to be more encouraging.

1. Slowing down to take an interest in those around me. I’m often so single minded and goal oriented that I fail to notice people around me, much less take an interest in them. Yet, when someone extends the genuine courtesy of inquiring about how my family is doing, I deeply appreciate the care. Especially at work, we are reminding people that they are more than the sum of their production. Our interest expresses our belief that they are created in the image of God

2. Saying thanks. Taking the time to say thanks for small gestures of work or effort is important. It expresses to the individual that their contribution, though small is not insignificant. It reaffirms that their efforts did not go unnoticed by you, nor by their Creator.

3. Be gracious to others when they fail. We all make mistakes but it is one of the blind spots in my life that I am more aware of the mistakes of others than I am of my own. May I learn to extend the grace, I’ve received from God and others.

4. Be generous to others when they don’t expect it. What an opportunity to reflect God who overwhelms us with His generosity. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32. Enough said on this point.

5. Remind others of God’s truth. Nothing is more encouraging than unfailing truth. In the toughest of times, our pithy sayings and axioms may fall short but God’s word will never fail us. I want to learn to incorporate this at home, at church but also at work.

6. Communicate observed evidences of grace. Even when we think there is little to encourage in others, it may simply mean that we're not looking in the right way. We need God's help to see the evidences of His grace at work in their lives. It may be observing how someone demonstrates patience in a difficult situation. It may involve the use of a particular gift or skill.

Needless to say, there are more ways to be encouraging but I’m just starting this journey…

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Stewarding Ambition with Faithfulness

In our prior discussions on how a Christian should responsibly steward his/her ambition, we touched on why we might consider dreams and ambitions as gifts to be embraced rather than burdens to be shunned. The first post also addressed the importance of right motivations in stewarding our ambitions. The second post in this series noted why trusting God for our ambition is crucial.

In this third and last post of the Stewarding Our Ambition series, I'd like to highlight the need to pursue our ambitions with faithfulness toward God.

A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.
Proverbs 28:20

When it comes to stewarding ambition, faithfulness means being willing to prepare and apply yourself to accomplish your goals. To some, it may appear unspiritual to work heartily towards our ambition but such initiative when properly motivated is actually a result of God's work in our hearts. Here's what 19th century pastor, C.H. Spurgeon has to say about how faith inclines a man to an industrious life:

He who does nothing believes nothing-that is to say, in reality and in truth. Faith is but an empty show if it produces no result upon the life. If a professor manifests no energy, no industry, no zeal, no perseverance, no endeavour to serve God, there is cause gravely to question whether he is a believer at all. It is a mark of faith that, whenever it comes into the soul, even in its lowest degree, it suggests activity... Faith does not permit men to lie upon the bed of the sluggard, listless, frivolous, idle; but it makes life to appear real and earnest, and so girds the loins for the race.

For instance, if you believe that God would have you launch a new business, then preparing yourself towards this goal actually honors God. This preparation may take the form of education or developing experience but such initiative speaks to how you value and handle with care, the dreams God places upon your heart. To not show any initiative to prepare only speaks of unbelief or presumption on our part. It may indicate that you've treated with contempt the impressions or dreams God has given to you. Or it may reveal a presumptious hyper spirituality that devalues hard work but still expects God to bless our laziness.

Stewarding with faithfulness also means being faithful to apply God's truth without compromise. If accomplishing our ambition means cutting ethical corners, the Christian must resist with vehemence any temptation to compromise. We cannot marginalize the gospel in any aspect of our daily lives, least of all in the pursuit of ambition.

It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth.
3 John 1:3

Ultimately, we steward our dreams and ambitions with faithfulness because we want to be found faithful before our King on the last day. On that day, what will matter most, is not the substance of our dreams but whether we exercised faithfulness over the gifts God has given to us. Like the servant in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, we should long to hear the words of commendation "well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your master". This means treating all of our lives, especially our goals and ambitions with a sober faithfulness. We dare not live otherwise.