For many types of preparation it will be too late when an avalanche of ministry invitations begins to rumble. This could be your last chance.
Elisha spoke about defeating the Syrians and told King Johoash to strike the ground. Johoash grasped his arrows and struck three times. Elisha was furious. ‘You should have done it five or six times! Now you will strike Syria only thrice.’a Johoash imagined he could be slack now and valiant later.
Right now you are concreting the limits of your future ministry. Grasp every opportunity. Hit the ground with your knees. Do all you can before your destiny sets.
For our sins, the Lord has promised forgiveness, but for our procrastination, observed St. Augustine, God has not promised tomorrow. What a tragedy if we frittered away present opportunities and lamented it forever.
Kill time, and eternity bleeds.
The clean-living servant who buried his gift is typical of too many of us. He did not blow his talent on an orgy of self-indulgence. He simply neglected what was loaned to him. (Luke tells us he kept it in his handkerchief, of all places.b) his implied excuse of fear of failure merely incurred the master’s wrath. ‘You wicked, lazy servant!’ he growled, as he cast him into the outer darkness.c Moral: if you hide your gift in a hanky, you’re sure to blow it.
The division of the Bible into verses is perhaps the most significant Bible aid ever devised. Without it, such valuable helps as concordances would be hobbled. For this breakthrough we are indebted to Robert Stephens’ resolve to make full use of his time. He divided the New Testament into verses while riding horseback from Paris to Lyons.188 John Wesley, too, is renowned for the things he accomplished on horseback, riding from one preaching station to another.189 Anyone in their era could harness a horse. What made these men great, was their ability to harness time.
Before reaching the mission field, William Carey and David Livingstone both had jobs that seemed incompatible with study. Nonetheless, they snatched glances at books as they labored. It was twenty seconds here and thirty seconds there,190 but this regular priming of their minds exploded in achievements that rocked the world.
‘I learnt all the Italian verbs,’ wrote Frances Ridley Havergal, ‘while my nieces were washing their hands ... because I could be ready in five minutes less time than they could.’191
I heard of a literary work that owes its existence to a man’s use of the time taken to heat his shaving water each morning. Even the book you are reading has benefited from traffic lights, waiting rooms, meal breaks, traffic jams, disturbed sleeps. If your boss grants you a ten-minute work break a day, he has given you the same amount of time as a week’s vacation each year.
Have you read The Cross and the Switchblade? The whole story – Teen Challenge, the conversion of Nicky Cruz and countless manifestations of God’s power – hinged on David Wilkerson’s decision to sharpen his use of time. He substituted prayer for television-viewing.
‘I can get up at nine and be rested,’ said Jimmy Carter, ‘or I can get up at six and be president.’192
I could cite a thousand examples. Instead, I will distil the truth: show me a great person and I’ll show you someone who treats minutes like diamonds. ‘All my possession,’ cried Queen Elizabeth I as she neared death, ‘for a moment of time.’
No matter how much you underrate it, your life is a banquet set by God in a starving world. Wasting time is slinging onto the dung heap random portions of that life-giving meal. It differs from suicide in that suicide restricts the waste to the final courses.
I wish to induce neither a frenzy of activity, nor guilt about things that of necessity must be left undone. Our gentle Lord looks at the heart. For someone in the midst of a grievous trial, the smallest thing might be a mammoth task. If no one on earth understands, heaven does. Nonetheless, the greater our limitations, the more vital it is that we optimize every opportunity we can scavenge. The person found faithful in little, pledged Christ, will be given much. So we have no excuse for squandering whatever strength we can muster. Even life’s backwaters are too exciting for that.
We opened this chapter, having just completed a thorough exploration of factors that might defer ministry. We were thus ideally placed to discover how to hasten ministry and how to make that ministry as glorious as possible. We will keep these twin goals for the rest of the book, whilst remaining conscious that they are only sub-goals. Our ultimate goal is not to discover methods but actually to enter the fulfillment and achievement we were born for, without needless delay.
We have highlighted the importance of this, the climax of the book, by acknowledging the perils of resorting to wrong methods to speed ‘answers to prayer’. If Satan sets traps on the path it is because the path leads to glory.
Having warned against idleness, I am duty-bound to mention the other danger.
Henry Kirke White was a young man of exceptional promise, preparing at Cambridge, England for full-time service. He seemed poised for greatness when he suddenly died, aged 22. It is thought his fragile health was shattered by excessive study.193
At age forty-three, Peter Marshall, chaplain of the United States Senate, had a heart attack. Though urged to slow down, he didn’t. He died three years later.194
Toward the end of his life, Charles Dickens so pushed himself that it is said ‘he slowly committed suicide’ by overwork.195 May the sting in the word ‘suicide’ prick the arrogance of an over-inflated work-ethic before it claims more victims.
I suspect a full list of Christians hampered by overwork would rival a telephone directory for length. Happily, most stop short of disaster. There is a tragic minority, however, whose zeal dulls them to the Spirit’s pleas to ease up.
On the seventh day, God rested. If it is good enough for him, it is good enough for us. A substantial portion of Scripture is devoted to this subject. It even prescribes that land be rested.a To the impatient, fallow times seem a waste, but the resultant rejuvenation increases productivity.
Two researchers frivolously threw paper darts at each other. The result? A breakthrough in aeronautic design.196 If necessity is the mother of invention, play, insists Dr. Roger von Oech, is its father.197
Because over-work is futile, God gives his beloved sleep.b That’s one interpretation of Psalm 127:2. Another rendering is that God gives to his beloved while they sleep. Either way, I would say feverish activity is for the birds – except that birds are smarter than that. Sleep on it.
God formed Eve while Adam slept. Ever since, wonderful things have happened during sleep. Peter – key figure in one of heaven’s jail-breaks – only fully awoke when it was all over. The bleary-eyed saint would have still been in his night-shirt, had the angel who woke him not reminded him to dress.c Abraham, Abimelech, Jacob, Laban, Joseph, Pharaoh, Solomon, Jeremiah, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Mary, her husband, and the wise men, all received divine revelation while they snored.d
Susie Spurgeon coaxed her distressed husband to bed with the promise to wake him at dawn. Charles had to address a large congregation next day and a sermon refused to form. He awoke even more upset. His wife had let him oversleep and his mind was still a desert. Yet agitation turned to awe when Susie recited the sermon he had muttered in his sleep. It was exactly the sermon he needed.198
The history of Christian music sparkles with instances of people receiving words or music during sleep.a Indeed, that’s the story behind the first English (Anglo-Saxon) hymn.199 The original tune to O little town of Bethlehem also came that way.200
Pilgrim’s Progress owes much to a dream that came to Bunyan while he slept.201
To this, one can add scientific advance. Neils Bohr formulated his atomic model, Otto Loewi devised a significant physiological experiment, and Elias Howe perfected his sewing machine, each as a result of a dream.202
There are times when the most spiritual thing we can do is to belt a ball; times when it is Christ-like to depress a mattress and give a pillow plenty of cheek. Picture Jesus asleep in the stormb and dream your way to success.
Rest is the ingredient every ministry needs. Like polishing a car, too much promotes rust but in measured dollops it makes us shine. Leisure for people of work, and work for people of leisure will increase joy and fruitfulness for all.
The theory is as easy as breathing. Like drawing back a bowstring, inhalation takes effort. Exhalation is letting go. Breathing life into a ministry also requires a continual alternation of effort and relaxation.c Unfortunately, as the world’s laziest workaholic, I can say authoritatively that achieving the right balance can be quite a challenge.
Besides rest, Scripture suggests a positive mental attitude will do more to protect us from illness than most of us realize.d If Scripture had advised ‘have a little whine for your stomach’s sake,’ we’d all be in peak health. Instead, the God of the Bible extols the medicinal value of a merry heart and urges us to rejoice when overwhelmed with trials. ‘He who laughs, lasts ...’203 We are wrong to treat joy as a spiritual luxury. It is a virtue of the highest order, rubbing shoulders with such essentials as love, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and self-control.e
Norman Cousins – the incurable who laughed himself to health by watching comedy movies – cited in his famous book Anatomy of an Illness the brilliant Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s belief that the best medicine for any illness is a sense of humor and the realization that you have a [vital] job to do.204 The bracketed word was added by the not-as-brilliant Grantley Morris, but I’m sure you will appreciate its significance. Dreary, meaningless work is barely enough to inspire a healthy person out of bed!
We want to live forever when refreshed and clearly accomplishing things of obvious importance. Such zest for life, however, is hard to maintain when sidelined for years or after attempting so much that we are near exhaustion. We can end up as vibrant as a dishcloth. The health implications can be critical.
Open your eyes to the reality that no matter what your situation, your life is an exciting challenge to excel. Dare for a place in Heaven’s Book of Records for the person who maintained the highest level of joy in circumstances as bleak or mundane as yours. Pay attention also to good food, exercise and healthy habits.
The crumpled remains of a one-time prophet dragged through the desert. His face was that of a century-old tortoise with a hangover. ‘I’d be better off dead,’ whimpered Elijah. God’s forty-day revitalization program included sleep, food (and fasting), exercise, communion with God, a new challenge, and getting away from it all. It worked.f
Health is crucial for a busy ministry. It is another of heaven’s gifts entrusted to us. Be faithful in this area, and when the time for action is ripe, you can offer the Lord a sound body along with your other responsibly-developed assets.