Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Working Themselves to Death for the Glory of God ...

This issue is something that Greg Haslam referred to at the "Preach the Word" conference on Saturday and it's been playing on my mind ever since. Greg referred to men such as Martin Luther and C H Spurgeon with quite mind-blowing work ethics. How do we match up? I read Dr John Piper's excellent mini-biography of Luther again from his work, "The Legacy of Sovereign Joy". Consider this:

"Walther von Loewenich said in his biography, "Luther was one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christendom ... Between 1510 and 1546 Luther preached approximately 3,000 sermons. Frequently he preached several times a week, often two or more times a day ...

For example, in 1522 he preached 117 sermons in Wittenberg and 137 sermons the next year. In 1528 he preached almost 200 times, and from 1529 we have 121 sermons. So the average in those four years was one sermon every two-and-a-half days. As Fred Meuser says in his book on Luther's preaching, "Never a weekend off—he knows all about that. Never even a weekday off. Never any respite at all from preaching, teaching, private study, production, writing, counseling ...

What he accomplished borders on the superhuman, and of course makes pygmies of us all
... ".

Piper quotes Luther himself:

"Let ministers daily pursue their studies with diligence and constantly busy themselves with them ... Let them steadily keep on reading, teaching, studying, pondering, and meditating. Nor let them cease until they have discovered and are sure that they have taught the devil to death and have become more learned than God himself and all His saints ". And Piper says quite rightly "that means never".

What of C H Spurgeon?

John Piper chose C H Spurgeon as his biography topic at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in 1995 and, concerning Spurgeon's work, Piper said this:

"He preached over 600 times before he was 20 years old. His sermons sold about 20,000 copies a week and were translated into 20 languages. The collected sermons fill 63 volumes equivalent to the 27 volume ninth edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, and "stands" as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity".

He quoted Spurgeon himself who said:

"No one living knows the toil and care I have to bear ... I have to look after the Orphanage, have charge of a church with four thousand members, sometimes there are marriages and burials to be undertaken, there is the weekly sermon to be revised, The Sword and the Trowel to be edited, and besides all that, a weekly average of five hundred letters to be answered. This, however, is only half my duty, for there are innumerable churches established by friends, with the affairs of which I am closely connected, to say nothing of the cases of difficulty which are constantly being referred to me"

Of Spurgeon's working week, Piper said:

"He typically read six substantial books a week and could remember what he read and where to find it. He produced more than 140 books of his own—books like The Treasury of David, which was twenty years in the making, and Morning and Evening, and Commenting on Commentaries, and John Ploughman's Talk, and Our Own Hymnbook ... He often worked 18 hours in a day".

Ah! But says a rational, sensible, mature friend reading this. What glory to God is there if we burn ourselves out by trying to emulate Luther and Spurgeon? Well Spurgeon had an answer to that:

"If by excessive labour, we die before reaching the average age of man, worn out in the Master's service, then glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of Heaven! ... It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed".

Greg Haslam quoted a predecessor of his at Westminster Chapel who said that we should be ASHAMED if we wake up and hear the footsteps of the lost walking to work while we lie in bed. Serious stuff.


jul said...

Hmmm... I agree and disagree at the same time! Didn't even Jesus rest when he was on earth? I think there is room for balance, there will be times of work without a break, and then again, God made us and intended us to rest one day out of 7. There is something about rest that helps us to go deeper with God. I think we react sometimes to a culture of avoiding work and running after as much pleasure and relaxation as possible. As believers, we must be willing to obey God at all times no matter what we had planned. That means sometimes we might have to skip our 'vacation' or day off. We might have to give up something for the body of Christ. We might have to love someone else more than ourselves.

Sheila said...

THANK YOU JUL! *nodding vigorously as I read*

I've been both ends of the spectrum - wife of the pastor, a perfectionist, with a newborn, a toddler, and two kindergardeners I was home educating (ohmyheavens - if you can teach a kid to READ, you can teach anything!)...working myself right into a Dr's office, and having to wear a 24 hr. heart monitor, only to be told, "Mrs. Atchley, your symptoms are stress related. You need rest."

After that, I learned a secret: the Sabbath is a command that is still in force. I am now a Sabbath keeper. I stop to smell the roses, watch the stars come out, and I take walks wantonly.

Mr. Luther was born for such a time as his, and I do believe God gave him grace for his pace. (oh - that's MINE, ya'll. "Grace for Your Pace". You can't have that. ACK!) Were I to come into a season where it became necessary for me to work at that level, the grace would be there.

But I've tried in my own human strength to be super human. It gave me a lot to be proud of in my flesh, until I crashed. And my chidren suffered. And my husband's ministry was hampered temporarily.

I also thank God that, though finances are always an issue, faith is always required - my Timothy is no longer in bi-vocational pergatory. People who wax eloquent on being a "tent making pastor" have not spent much time DOING IT. Something always suffers - ministry included. It is NOT the ideal situation - I'll go to the mattresses on that. Families in ministry everywhere are suffering, because men are being asked to embrace this mirage of tent making ministry - when in some cases their actual calling is that those who preach the gospel should have the guts to LIVE of the gospel. (I realize that some cling to "day jobs" out of a lack of faith)

I thank GOD that the days are past when we never saw Tim, and had no hope of seeing him - when he was up at 5 AM, going to construction sites to work all day in TY-Vek in the hot sun (hazardous waste testing and removal work) only to come home and counsel, pastor, pray, study, AND do carpentry work on the church building we were in. Going to bed at midnight, getting up a few hours later - it aged him. I do not exaggerate one I-ota.

As it is today, is as it should be. The man has time to study and pray and time to mentor other younger men - and sometimes men older than he. He also has time to take me out on hot dates - this evening we have one scheduled, in fact. A nice little Italian place - we have coupons for ten bucks off PER PLATE, plus on Tuesdays, the bottles of wine are HALF PRICE!

I've sought the Lord, and I can say this with total confidence: the Lord smiles when we take time for each other like this. Our marriage is a picture of Christ and His bride - and I'm asked to not mess up God's allegories. So there are times indeed - every day, I believe - when we are asked to go beyond what we think we can accomplish. At the same time, however, obeying the Lord is, in some cases,EASY and a complete joy. (oh, heresy!!)

There are still long seasons when we don't see "dad". He is a busy man - who can and often does do the work of two or three men. But at least now, when he is in a season of seeming 24/7 responsibility, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. We can live our life in *seasons* of "crazy" and "not so crazy" - rather than perpetual insanity with no end in sight.

Remember Mary? The one who chose the better thing, and Jesus would never take it from her? I want that to be me. I'm willing to be in the kitchen metaphorically speaking (and I'm always there anyhow), but I'm sick of cooking lunches Jesus never asked for.

Anonymous said...

I love Charles Spurgeon,
He is so cut and dry, and so full of real passion! His book Lectures to my students is a great book that I have enjoyed. Good practical advice. I love that he was virtually a Holy-Spirit taught man. I heard that he never went to cemetary. Ooops I mean Seminary!

I am a musician and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All my music is free for download. Anyway, I don't mean to be a pest, just thought I'd share.

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