It’s my (not unkindly meant) guess that tomorrow’s slew of sermons across North America and probably other parts of the world are, in the main, fairly predictable: having grown up as a pastor’s kid, a pastor’s grandkid, pastors’ niece, now pastor’s daughter-in-law, and having preached three years myself, along with having a great number of valued friends in ministry – well, sometimes one can feel along with the famed biblical text that there is nothing new under the sun.
Not that the Word of God doesn’t hold an inspired moment of revelation and transformation for us every time its opened: it does, by the grace of the Triune God, whether or not we feel it or realize it. And by God’s grace, you or I could hear the same sermon every Sunday for a year and grow remarkably through it.
Pastors, parishioners, hear this truth: the Word of God has beauty, truth that is worth hearing, observing, listening to, reading, singing, painting, proclaiming, on its own merit. You don’t have to dress it in a fancy hat, set fireworks off over it or make it go viral. You do have to submit to its terrible, beautiful power: but that’s a very different thing than feeling like Sunday worship is the time of the week you have to market Christianity.
It is in the hard road of following Jesus Christ himself that the Spirit of God sweeps across lands and populations. Actual, painful, weighty life change as we, like Bunyan’s pilgrims, climb, is used by the Spirit in a haunting way – the way that costs.
And so we come to one of the most underrated prayers for the New Year, quietly tucked in a humble corner of the New Testament. “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart,” wrote the Apostle Paul in a letter to the Galatians.
Let us not grow weary while doing good.
That’s the big New Year fear, isn’t it? That we’ll grow weary of carrying out our resolutions. That we’ll grow weary of driving to the gym in cold wind. That we’ll grow weary of eating lettuce instead of crispy golden potato wedges. That we’ll grow weary of monitoring our spending, going on another blind date, volunteering at the dingy soup kitchen.
Or worse, we think – that we’ll grow weary of extra Bible reading. That we’ll grow weary of an early alarm allowing us 15 extra minutes for prayer. That we’ll grow weary of helping with Vacation Bible School. That we’ll grow weary of singing hymns in a cramped nursing home activity room smelling of stale urine. That we’ll grow weary of bearing with our obnoxious neighbor who we secretly hope never visits our church – our church: our safe haven, our refuge, interrupted by the person we avoid.
Let us not grow weary while doing good.
G.K. Chesterton captured this with stark but hopeful clarity:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Let us not grow weary of doing good: no running down the clock here. Lord, let us not grow weary of doing good this year. Our world groans and lurches. We read how we can feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of suffering, but God calls us to serve one more anyway. In the middle of shootings and terror, Ebola and malaria, cancer and autism, addiction and infertility, let us not grow weary of doing good. In the midst of cruelty and hurt, loss and abuse, panic and depression, anger and pride, let us not grow weary of doing good.
Mother Teresa described it this way:
What we need is to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. What are these drops of oil in our lamps? They are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being silent, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. Do not look for Jesus away from yourselves. He is not out there; He is in you. Keep your lamp burning, and you will recognize Him.
These words of Jesus, “Even as I have loved you that you also love one another,” should be not only a light to us, but they should also be a flame consuming the selfishness that prevents the growth of holiness. Jesus “loved us to the end,” to the very limit of love: the cross. This love must come from within, from our union with Christ. Loving must be as normal to us as living and breathing, day after day until our death.
When we handle the sick and the needy we touch the suffering body of Christ and this touch will make us heroic; it will make us forget the repugnance and the natural tendencies in us. We need the eyes of deep faith to see Christ in the broken body and dirty clothes under which the most beautiful one among the sons of men hides. We shall need the hands of Christ to touch these bodies wounded by pain and suffering. Intense love does not measure-it just gives.
What indicators in your life light up when you’re getting weary? Do you binge-watch television, finish off the pint of ice cream, overexercise compulsively, shout at loved ones, drink a shot or three of whiskey, gossip on the phone, click on the site you avoid, miss the appointment with the friend who knows you so well?
This year, catch yourself when you’re starting to get weary. Ask why. Look around at your life. Friend, it does not all rest on your shoulders; if it feels like it does, something is awry. But next December, if you’re able to look back and point to moments when you persisted in doing good, persisted in hope, persisted in humor, persisted in grace, persisted in humility – then it will have been a good year.
Let us not grow weary of doing good…Father, Son, Holy Spirit, may it be so.