What do we do when we are wearied?
Fruitfulness in ministry (aka “church growth”) is not the solution to a dying church’s problems, but it is an exchange of one set of challenges for another. We can see this principle illustrated in the very first church, the one that arose in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.
The First Church (as I like to call it) had the extraordinary success of growing by the THOUSANDS in the moments after it began. One of the challenges that arose involved a successful ministry to widows. Like a modern “food pantry,” the First Church was giving away food to the poorest of the poor – widows.
As Acts 6:1-7 tells us, the ministry outgrew the amount of time the apostles could give to it, and there were complaints that it wasn’t being administrated fairly. The Twelve came up with a good solution: they got the First Church members to designate seven men to take care of this ministry. These spiritually mature men were given the heady responsibility of being waiters. The position thus created would come to be called “deacons.”
What is of interest to us today is not the organizational savvy of the Twelve, but the reason they gave for making that change – “[We will] GIVE OUR ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD” (ACS 6:4). Do you follow? They became wearied with the demands of the ministry to widows and its demands on their time. Doing something good had taken priority over their real job. So they delegated the ministry to widows to capable men and got back to what was most important – PRAYER and the WORD.
It’s a good example to follow. When we weary ourselves doing good things, one thing we must do is get back to the basics, the essential acts of the Christian life. Nothing godly happens apart from our daily practice of PRAYER and study of the WORD. It is the source of our strength for life.
REVIEW: Strategies for waging war on weariness from installments 1+2.
- Continue to do good anyway.
- Wait on the Lord.
- Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.
NEW: Two additional strategies.
- Focus on the basics: prayer and the Word.
I refer herein to prayer and the word as the “basics” because they are two essential acts of spiritual discipline. Maturing in Christ requires regular (at least daily) prayer and faithful study of the Bible.
Use prayer to regain strength. (Please read Ephesians 3:14-21.) The use of the word KNEEL right away in v. 14 makes it clear this passage is about prayer. To KNEEL indicates respect and submission to God. All of us would do well to note and follow Paul’s attitude in prayer.
Of particular interest to us is the object of Paul’s prayer: what is asks of God on behalf the Ephesian believers is that HE MAY STRENGTHEN them (16). The means of God’s strengthening is HIS GLORIOUS RICHES…WITH POWER (16) and THROUGH FAITH (17).
– GLORIOUS RICHES = there are no limits to God’s generosity, no end to His provision.
– WITH POWER means we can pray for God to empower us physically, spiritually, or in any other way we need His help.
– THROUGH FAITH reminds us that faith is the condition and the conduit through which God’s strength becomes ours. We must have faith to believe in His provision and to trust in Him.
The place of God’s strengthening is our INNER BEING (16) and our HEARTS (17). Paul wrote elsewhere that even though our outward self is “wasting away,” God renews our INNER BEING on a daily basis (see 2 Corinthians 4:16; Colossians 3:10).
The result of God’s strengthening is SO THAT CHRIST MAY DWELL IN YOUR HEARTS (17). The dwelling of Christ in us is manifest in 6 ways.
– BEING ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE (17). Love is the most worthwhile sign of God in us.
– MAY HAVE ALL POWER (18). God provides ALL the POWER we need to fulfill His will. When we supply our obedience, then we experience God at work.
– TOGETHER WITH ALL GOD’S PEOPLE (18). God’s people experience His power together and celebrate it together, contrary to our individualistic culture and the self-help version of religion we see in too many churches.
– TO GRASP…THE LOVE OF CHRIST (18). GRASP means to “perceive” or “comprehend,” not “clutch” or “hoard.” Love is self-emptying.
– TO KNOW THIS LOVE THAT SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE (19). This sounds self-contradictory; however, the first KNOW is understanding by experience, the second KNOW is understanding by analysis.
– BE FILLED TO THE MEASURE OF ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD (19). The more spiritually mature we become, the more of God we experience.
In case all these promises were not sufficient to encourage us in a wearied state, Paul concludes with a doxology that transcends our limited understanding (20-21).
Use the Word to lead you to renewal. (Please read Psalm 119:25+28). Set aside some time to read the entire chapter: PSS 119 is 167 verses long, the longest single chapter of the Bible. All of it thanks to God for His Law. In chapter that lengthy, you’d assume every aspect of gratitude for the revealed will of God would be covered!
Our attention this morning is limited to vs. 25+28, both of which specifically mention the WORD of God (using it as a synonym for Law) and the property of the WORD to uplift our weary moments.
We see a three-fold pattern in v. 25.
– Confession of weariness: Right away the psalm-writer admits he is having a very weary moment: I AM LAID LOW IN THE DUST. His mortality is clearly in view.
– Prayer for strength: In fact, he is so low the highest good he can picture is survival. He asks only, PRESERVE MY LIFE.
– Acknowledgement of the word of God as a means of his salvation: But he is a man of faith and knows that the only life worth living is ACCORDING TO [God’s] WORD.
Verse 28 repeats the pattern of v. 25.
– Confession of weariness: MY SOUL IS WEARY WITH SORROW. “I have collapsed with intense sorrow.”
– Prayer for strength: STRENGTHEN ME. This is not a prayer for relief from troubles, but for power to stand and survive them.
– Acknowledgement of the word of God as the means of his salvation: ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD. God’s Word reveals how we can be saved and how to live the life of a saved person.
- Rely on the Lord’s strength, not your own (John 15:5-8).
When you read John 15:1-17, you’ll see that Jesus taught about the necessity of our spiritual connection with Him by using the symbol of a grapevine. The BRANCHES of a grapevine cannot produce grapes on its own; it has to draw nourishment from t roots by way of the VINE.
The key word here is REMAIN; it indicates that we continue to rely on the strength the Lord gives us. The Greek word for REMAIN means to “reside” and it refers to where you make your home. It is a picture of an ongoing, life-giving relationship between Jesus Christ and His people.
I don’t think people decide to leave God as much as they forget to trust Him first and foremost when weariness sets in or other problems arise. Our human nature is such that we habitually turn to our own devices first. Rare is the person who prays first or turns to the Bible for direction before looking elsewhere. My concern is that weariness is inevitable when we trust to our own resources, not God’s. We are, after all, finite creatures.
That is why the image of a “withered branch” in v. 6 should disturb us. It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate word picture for a life that is burned out, wearied by the world without relief because the person has not trusted in God. Notice the outcome of withered branches; they are THROWN AWAY and BURNED. The judgment of God is always just; He sees through the pretense of their connection to the vine and knows them to be fruitless. The end of such lives is destruction. The warning is clear: don’t let this happen to you. REMAIN in connection with the life-giving vine.
On the other hand, the image of the fruitful branch should encourage us to live life on God’s terms and in His strength. Three promises:
– First, a promise of powerful prayer in v. 7. For those who REMAIN in Jesus, petitions made in prayer are answered with a “yes.”
– Second, God is glorified by fruitful disciples because they experience things only God could do. Their lives give witness to His power.
- c) Third, as Jesus taught, “good fruit” is the godly outcomes of a life lived in obedience and truth. Producing good fruit vindicates our faith, giving evidence in action that our faith is real. That’s much better than a malingering hypocrisy that continues because words are cheap. Actions are the true overflow of a heart.
In a November 12, 2013 article, Eric McKiddie noted the difference between a “Success Mindset” and a “Fruitfulness Mindset” in church ministry. It can be hard to tell the difference because on the outside, they look similar.
One way to tell your own mindset is to analyze the questions you ask. Here are a few examples:
– Success: “How many people came?”
Fruitfulness: “How many people were converted?”
– Success: “How well did that segment of the worship service go?”
Fruitfulness: “How well did we worship during that segment of the service?”
– Success: “How well did I prepare?”
Fruitfulness: “How well did I pray?”
McKiddie wrote, “The success mindset asks self-centered questions about one’s own work. The fruitfulness mindset asks questions that focus on God’s work in others. The pastor who aims for success gets glory for himself, but the pastor who aims for fruitfulness gives glory to God.
“It’s not only a subtle difference, it’s a ‘settle’ difference. The success mindset settles for external results and personal glory instead of striving for spiritual results and God’s glory.”
Success is something we chase, something we desire and wear ourselves out trying to attain. It also betrays an essentially selfish heart. When we love ourselves first, we think about success a lot.
Let me challenge your thinking. Success is not a biblical way of evaluating your life. Fruitfulness is a biblical way of testing our spiritual maturity in order to draw nearer to God.
This renewal of our thinking is a way to wage war on weariness. Constantly seeking our own way and our achievements is worldly and wearying. Who do you think is going to dust those trophies?
Instead, let us apply ourselves to faithfulness and let God take care of the fruitfulness. Let us follow His lead and accept our place in His plan, whether that’s at the head of the line, in the middle, or at the end. When we obey Him, then we know true rest and are restored from weariness.
PREVIEW: In installment #4 we’ll look at the final three strategies.
- Share your burdens. (GLS 6:2)
- Spend your sorrow on service.
- Invest in wellness.