Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Double bubble trouble


Notes to Growing Christians

I was recently privileged to listen to a recording of a famous and much-used preacher, from 50 years ago.

It was at the time of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the sermon I listened to had been preached in England the Sunday after that fateful Friday. It was, as I expected, a faithful and powerful biblical address, with strong reminders of the fragility of human life and the vanity of putting one’s hopes in mere men. This was followed by a stirring call to repent and put one’s trust in the promises of the eternal God, made available to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

From another age

What particularly struck me was that nobody could preach like that today. Of course, the sermon’s script could still be read and understood with great benefit, but the style of communication, its rhetoric and rhythms, belonged to another age – now completely gone. The same was true of the whole service, which was also recorded, led entirely and only by the same minister who preached, prayed and read, with four traditional hymns, to organ accompaniment. It was not so much that the vocabulary was dated, though it inevitably was, but that what I might call the unspoken agreement, or understanding, between the preacher and the obviously large congregation would not have the same currency in today’s context – even among regular church-goers. The way in which the congregation was addressed, the fact that they were prepared to come in their hundreds, weekly, for a 90-minute service, with minimal congregational participation, the sense of social and moral certainty which was threaded through the proceedings, its affirmation of spiritual truth but without much emphasis on analysis or argument – they all took me back to my youth and a renewed awareness of how much things have changed.

Cultural packaging

The temptation of those of us who remember a different style and presentation of even evangelical truth, is to fantasise nostalgically that the ‘pulpit greats’ of the past might be emulated today. But, of course, if they were of today’s generation their approach would be entirely different. Like all good preachers, they were of their time, speaking both from and into their own culture, which was so much more Christian than ours today. I have no doubt that they would be presenting the same biblical message, with its unchanging truth content, but in distinctly contemporary packaging. The challenge for us, however, is how to communicate biblical truth in the changed cultures of the 21st century, without diminution of the biblical context, or accommodation of the message to the prejudices of the listeners. That’s a challenge faced not only by every preacher, but every Sunday school teacher, youth worker, study group leader; indeed every individual believer who is trying to share their faith.

Our culture is inherently suspicious of conviction, or that there could be any sort of certainty, due to its widespread rejection of the concept of absolute truth. It is equally negative about ‘earnestness’, not only because that unsettles the ‘fun ethic’, which dominates popular culture, but also because it so often seems to mask a self-serving motivation. ‘Well, of course, you want me to believe what you believe, because you want to make me a member of your club. Just like every body else, you want a slice of my time and energy and especially my money.’

Our own worlds?

This is the problem the politicians face, having become so disconnected from society as a whole, that they live in a professional bubble-world, with its own values, pecking orders, hierarchy, ambitions, treacheries and deceptions. Planets Westminster and Strasbourg really do seem to be another world to most people.

But are not we in exactly the same dilemma? ‘The church’, or Christianity in general, seems to lack credibility in the modern world, partly at least because we have failed to realise how the world has changed and continues to do so. Too often we still rely on volume and enthusiasm as indicators of sincerity in communicating our faith, but are conspicuously light on evidence, argument and interaction with the questions which the culture is actually asking.

Too often we are so busy telling people what they ought to think and how they ought to respond that we deny others, even our own children, the right and responsibility of learning to think for themselves and so develop their own ultimately water-tight convictions. But is that the way Jesus and the apostles went about it? Or have we been trapped into a Christian bubble, characterised by endless instruction and training sessions, but where we end up talking only to ourselves? Over the next two or three columns, I hope to explore these essential issues in more detail and see what pointers God’s unchanging word can give us for our rapidly changing world.

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Personal contact


Notes to Growing Christians

With the turn of the year, many churches will be concentrating their focus on a ‘Passion for Life’.

This national initiative of local churches to present the gospel within and to our communities will reach its climax at Easter time. Part of its appeal is that individual congregations, partnering wherever possible with other like-minded churches in their neighbourhood, can join together to proclaim the good news through special events as well as their regular church programmes. We can do more together than we could ever do as single units.

Confidence in the unspectacular

But it is as individuals that we serve the Lord, day by day, often in quite isolated contexts. So, perhaps we need to pray that God will help us to recover our confidence that he can use the unspectacular, but faithful, witness of ‘ordinary’ Christians like us to make those vital first connections which open doors for the good news to be heard. We often, rightly, say that our gospel is truth-centred, not need-centred. There can be no accommodation of its unchanging message to the prevailing norms of our secular culture. But the way by which that message is first heard and considered nearly always involves some form of personal contact and some connection with the needs of the person approached.

Of course, these are not necessarily their felt needs. Sometimes the Lord does bring people into our lives who are in the midst of overwhelming difficulties and only too aware that they need help. One thinks of situations like personal or family illness, bereavement, job loss, marriage break-up and so on. These may be times where there is an unusual openness to hearing God speak, though for many it can equally become a time for hardening the heart: ‘Why should God allow this to happen to me?’. But I am thinking of the more everyday situations, where the underlying needs of each human life are very rarely articulated or explored. It was this which Augustine was reflecting in his famous saying: ‘You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’.

Life is like a radio

In a recent debate on addiction, one doctor, with many years experience in the field, drew attention to the evidence that addictions of all types are attractive either because they seem to give meaning to a person’s existence or, at least for a time, they appear to cover up the hole that is at the centre of their life. These may be extreme responses to the central dilemma of human existence, what used to be called the ‘human condition’, but the issues themselves of who we are, why we are here and what is our significance will always be there just beneath the surface in every human being, simply because we are made in the image of God. Every human life is like a radio which the Holy Spirit can switch on, at any moment, to receive a message which has always been on transmission but never actually heard until now.

It is striking how Jesus was able to use this initial contact point, as a way to revealing and dealing with the much deeper, eternal issues. Nicodemus comes by night for a private interview, which he probably thought would take the form of a rabbinic theological dialogue, only to be told: ‘You must be born from above’. The Samaritan woman knows that she needs water to quench her thirst, but is soon directed to the living water, which springs up to eternal life. This is a long way from off-loading a routinely-learned evangelistic ‘package’, which will always tend to generate a mechanistic approach. Rather, Jesus demonstrates a deeply personal concern for the individual and builds a relational approach for his hearer to receive what is, after all, a highly relational gospel.

Restoring the relationship

God is about the business of restoring the relationship between himself and his fallen human creation, which is ultimately the restoration of the image of God within each believer, through the indwelling Spirit. That is personal work. It demands a love which listens and understands, empathises and gently challenges, rather than a steamroller delivery of what can often sound like just another sales pitch. I would never choose to sing ‘I vow to thee my country’ because its first verse promotes the idolatry of nationalism. But its second verse has one line of real insight when it speaks of the heavenly country and the eternal kingdom: ‘And soul by soul and silently its shining bounds increase’. That is always how the kingdom of heaven grows. Personal evangelism is relational evangelism. In time it may feed the larger, corporate events, but the essence of our witness is in making these initial points of connection, as we live our lives lovingly and expectantly, making ourselves prayerfully available for God to use each of us, in the everyday.

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Your holiness matters


Notes to Growing ChristiansPut like that, it may sound rather stark. Our hackles may be raised by the word ‘holiness’, with its unfortunate undertones of sanctimonious piety and being ‘holier than thou’. But try it this way. ‘Being like Jesus is the greatest contribution you can make in your life on planet earth.’ And we could well add that it’s the only investment you can make which has eternal currency.

Grateful Christ-likeness

It matters because it is the deepest and most honest expression of our gratitude to Christ for all the love and grace which he has showered upon us in his atoning death and his life-giving resurrection. If we have any real glimmering of what we have been rescued from and what his glorious purposes for us in eternity truly are, then the supreme way in which we demonstrate our faith is by our obedience, and the greatest way in which to show our gratitude is by a desire to be changed into his likeness. But it also matters because changed lives are the currency of heaven here on earth.
The progress of the gospel, in any culture or community, is usually proportional to the Christ-likeness, or otherwise, of the people who profess to believe it, which helps to explain why the church is so often on the back foot today.

We all long to see God’s kingdom advance, especially in terms of our families and friends coming to know Christ personally and to trust him as their Saviour and Lord. But the message we proclaim is so often contradicted, or even denied, by the lives of those who say they believe it. The staggering reality is that we are witnesses about Christ every day we live, just by virtue of all our human relationships and interaction with others.

Help or hindrance

Do we witness for him, or against him? Every time a Christian flies off the handle at work, or our family life disintegrates into bitterness, accusations and acrimony, or a local church breaks up into hostile factions and disintegrates under the pressure, the watching world is simply confirmed in its cosy dogmatism that ‘religion’ is hypocritical nonsense, or smug self-congratulation. If there is no demonstrable power to deal with the evil of our human hearts in a transforming way, then, as the atheistic philosopher Nietzsche once put it: ‘The Christians will have to look a lot more like Jesus Christ before I become one of them’. Or, in the famous words of William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘The biggest hindrance to the spread of the Christian church is the Christian church’.

Our holiness matters! Just think of the potential of all the negatives of the last few sentences being reversed by a workforce of Jesus ‘look-alikes’ being deployed across our country and its cultures, on a daily basis. And then think about the potential of it starting with me. There is no reason why it should not happen. The moment you came in repentance and faith to the foot of the cross, to receive the forgiveness and new birth which he secured, the Holy Spirit (the other Jesus) came within your human spirit, or psyche, to change you from the inside out. It is the experience of every believer that we have ‘passed from death to life’ (John 5.24). And the life — sphere in which we now live is that of God’s eternal life, the very life of Christ himself, brought to us in all its fullness by the indwelling Spirit. ‘For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8.2, ESV). It has already happened. The dynamic is already within us, ready to be experienced in practice, in increasing measure.

In a book written 50 years ago, entitled The Mystery of Godliness, Ian Thomas, the founder of Capernwray Ministries, expressed it like this: ‘The life that the Lord Jesus Christ lived for you 1,900 years ago — condemns you, but the life that he now lives in you — saves you!’ He goes on to sketch an outline of what that might mean. ‘Your mind placed at his disposal through the indwelling Holy Spirit; your emotions, your will, all that you are and have, make available to the Lord Jesus Christ as a living member of his new corporate body on earth, which is called the church’ (p.109). Over the next few columns we will look at what that means, as we consider the nature and production of this fruit of the Spirit in the reality of our everyday lives.

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Passion for life on a roll


2014_02 Feb CoverExcitement is building as many churches across the nation gear up for A Passion for Life (APFL).

This is a nationwide mission initiative from gospel churches which had its first outing in 2010.

John Stevens, Chair of APFL 2014 and Director of the FIEC, said: ‘We give thanks to the Lord for the way he has equipped, heartened and mobilised us to spread the good news of Jesus in the build up to Easter 2014. Our regional co-ordinators have been building bridges with other churches and encouraging ministers to get behind APFL. They have sought ways in which we can be reaching all peoples with the gospel’.

Brian O’Donoghue, APFL Steering Group member and church manager at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, added: ‘To support our mission partners we have produced a set of resources such as tracts and gospels together with an Easter DVD featuring Rico Tice. We are in the final stages of creating a public facing website which will enable churches involved in APFL to add their contact details and events’.1

Pushing the boundaries

John Stevens told EN, ‘We are encouraging churches to pray and push the boundaries. I am excited to hear how churches are actively looking at how they can connect with groups or communities that have not previously been touched. For example we will be reaching out to people in social housing, the Muslim and Chinese communities as well as Eastern Europeans and international students’.

He went on to explain: ‘For the first time, Wales and Northern Ireland are taking part in A Passion for Life. Blas ar Fyw, Welsh for A Passion for Life, is taking shape, with English- and Welsh-speaking churches planning missions. In Northern Ireland, our regional co-ordinator and teams of other ministers have formed a regular prayer group to pray for partnerships and mission events in Armagh and Coleraine’.

What’s happening?

In Inner London, outreach includes distributing tracts on local housing estates, hosting events in pubs or cafés, and a dinner for City workers. The hope is for these events not to be ‘one-offs’ but rather that they would stimulate everyday personal evangelism.

In the Cotswolds, a group of more than ten churches are organising various events in mid-April. They’ll be joined by guest speakers such as Rico Tice and Professor John Lennox, as well as a group of students from Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. In more urban areas, such as Oxford, Reading and Maidenhead, churches will be hosting a mixture of events which include guest speakers such as Roger Carswell, a performance of the Mark Drama, guest Sunday services, sports quizzes and linking in with Oxfordshire Arts Weeks.

In Birmingham in 2010 a series of large central meetings were held in the Birmingham Town Hall. This year the emphasis is more local, with churches being encouraged to organise their own events or co-operate with nearby churches to do so. These are now being arranged and they include a visit by Henry Olonga, former Zimbabwe cricketer, a ‘Butcher and Beer’ evening, and a range of events specifically related to the Easter occasion. There is one major joint event which will be a Sports Quiz run by Christians in Sport and held at the Edgbaston Golf Club.

In Yorkshire, churches are focussing on relational evangelism rather than the larger events and making strong use of the Uncover material.

Across East Anglia, from Cromer to Woodbridge via Cambridge, St. Neots and Stowmarket, there are churches working with others or on their own to reach out to their communities through A Passion for Life. In Cambridge, events include a sponsored football match at Cambridge United and dinner with ex-pro Linvoy Primus, film-themed events for the Oscars and a ladies ‘Bake Off’.’

In the South West many churches are using the Passion to Witness DVD study series to equip the whole church to reach their friends, including Emmanuel Chippenham, Headley Park, North Bradley, and Freshbrook Swindon.

In Sussex on April 5, the churches have booked a leisure centre in Haywards Heath and arranged for evangelist Adrian Holloway to speak. Adrian was formerly a newspaper journalist with The Times and a BBC radio and TV presenter. There will also be music and testimony from Steph Macleod, who only a few years ago was homeless and living on the streets of Edinburgh.

1 More details about these and other resources can be found on our website www.apassionforlife.org.uk. See also the extract from A Passion for Life, real life stories about faith on page 19. For further information about A Passion for Life, please email info@apassionforlife.org.uk

This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

A Passion to witness (DVD review)


A PASSION TO WITNESS A Passion to witness
Be encouraged and equipped to share the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ
Passion for Life DVD
£20.00 RRP from http://www.10ofthose.com

This nine-part, DVD-based course seeks to help ordinary Christians (and churches) reach out to unsaved people around them. Its aim is to help Christians grow from being people who simply bring friends to events, into personal witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be of benefit to any group of Christians who want to be encouraged and equipped to share their faith.

The major theme is the Lordship of Christ and how that motivates and directs our evangelism in today’s culture. There is biblical exposition of key passages. The DVD clearly explains the gospel (to help us share it confidently). It also stresses the reality of judgment and hell for those who refuse to repent and believe (to encourage us to be urgent in evangelism).

Each of the presentations is given by a different speaker, and normally involves two or three short sections (each about 7-10 minutes) interspersed with questions for group discussion. There are Bible studies as well as stimulating questions to provoke discussion. There is a lot of helpful practical advice for personal witness, which all Christians would benefit from hearing (or being reminded of!).

The nine study titles are: What is the gospel? Why should we share the gospel? Why don’t we share the gospel? How to pray when sharing the gospel How to tell my story. Using the Bible to share the gospel. How should we answer questions? Leading someone to Christ. How to push the boundaries of our church.

The first three studies are foundational, seeking to encourage and enthuse us to share the gospel. The final six have more emphasis on practical ways to equip us to share the gospel. Personally, I found studies 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 the strongest.

The only serious weakness is in study 8. Despite starting well, this study clearly implies that simply praying a ‘sinner’s prayer’ is near-conclusive proof that somebody has been saved. This simplistic approach could cause potentially devastating pastoral problems in the future. Churches may wish to think carefully about how they approach this study. With that one caveat, this DVD is to be recommended as a very useful resource for any church seeking to reach out to lost sinners.

Adam Laughton, Gateway Project, Kent

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

One year to live – the story of Esther Childress


One year to live

In the late summer of 2011 Esther was diagnosed with bone cancer.

She was only 12 years old and had just over one year to live. She died in December 2012. But she died in Christ and ‘her hope in God was incredible’, says her sister Miriam.

As a child of the manse, the daughter of Pastor Gavin Childress and his wife Kathy of Grace Baptist Chapel, Tottenham, in North London, Esther did not take to church to begin with. ‘Before I became a Christian’, Esther said, ‘I came to church because I had to, not because I really wanted to. I’d rather stay at my friend’s house or at home.’

The family had six children, including Esther. But ‘I was slowly moving away from God and my family’, said Esther. ‘I was never at home. I would bunk off school and deceive my parents. It wouldn’t really bother me that I was sinning against God and I was gradually becoming not a very nice person.’

But God…

But, through what happened in August 2011, God stepped into Esther’s life. Esther explained: ‘I remember going to St. Ann’s Hospital for an X-ray. I had been getting bad pain in my right leg and I wasn’t able to sleep. I was sent to North Middlesex Hospital for more scans and, shortly after having a biopsy, I was diagnosed with bone cancer’. This came as a great shock to Esther and everyone around her. It had been thought that the problem was simply down to some severe growing pains.

Over the next year or so Esther had six different types of chemotherapy, two operations to remove tumours, radiotherapy and an operation to give her a metal knee. But none of these treatments worked and the cancer eventually spread to her lungs. ‘It was hard going to hospital and keep hearing bad news’, said Esther.

As this terrible crisis broke upon young Esther, God met with her and she turned to Christ. As she gave her testimony before she was baptised last September, she said: ‘I have never felt angry with God or questioned him about why I am going through all of this. I feel like God is testing my faith and this illness was supposed to, and has, brought me closer to him. Over time, as I have needed God more and more, it’s made me put him at the centre of my life, and has made me into a changed person. I know that I am in God’s hands and I’m ready for whatever or wherever he wants my life to go, however hard it might be.’

Amazing Saviour

This sense of confidence in Christ came to pervade Esther’s life. ‘I have put my trust in God and I know he will do what’s best for me in my life. I have realised that Jesus is my Saviour and I’ve asked him to forgive me for all my sins. It is so amazing that someone can wash away all my sins, so that it’s like I never sinned in the first place.’ She also said: ‘I don’t expect God to heal me. He may have other plans for me. But, whatever happens, it’s amazing to know where I’m going to end up on judgment day. God has given me so many blessings in my 13 years of life. In this last year I went on a Mediterranean cruise, I have been able to spend time in Dorset and I’ve got a dog called Hope.’

Fruits of faith

Through her cancer and her hospital treatment God began to open Esther’s eyes to the needs of other people. Esther explained: ‘Before I got saved I was quite a selfish person. I always did what I wanted to do, even when I hurt someone else’s feelings. It wouldn’t bother me because I was not that person’. But she changed. Faith produced the fruit of love. ‘During this last year I’ve had to put myself in other people’s shoes because I turned into that other person. For example, because of having different operations on my leg, I have had to go around in a wheelchair. People look at you differently. It has made me realise how much other people have to go through in similar situations.’

And Esther’s sensitive thoughts became more than good intentions. They were turned into acts of kindness. It was this aspect of the change in her which particularly struck her sister Miriam, who describes some of the practical projects in which Esther got involved. ‘She raised lots of money for the homeless people of central London by selling Christmas decorations. Despite being in and out of hospital and in severe pain, she went out in the cold last November to distribute sleeping bags and hot food and drink to the homeless. And she wrote a will leaving her savings of about £12,000 to homeless charities, Water Aid and Christian Aid’s mosquito net appeal.’

This practical kindness reminds us of the apostle Paul’s words concerning the nature of genuine Christianity: ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (Galatians 5.6).

Changed for the better

At her baptism Esther summed up her experience like this: ‘It may sound crazy, but, although this illness has brought me a lot of pain and discomfort, and although I can’t do everything I would like to do, in some ways this illness has changed my life for the better. I don’t know what I would be like if I hadn’t got ill. I don’t know that I would have got saved or appreciated life, or realised that every day that I live is a blessing from God. I thank the Lord for making me ill. It made me recognise all these things. It made me accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.’

She concluded: ‘I’m so grateful that God has given me 13 years of life, loving parents who have supported me, friends and family who have continued praying for me and, most importantly, his Son Jesus Christ, who died for me’.

Esther lived to see her 14th birthday on December 3 last year and went to be with the Lord on December 27 at her home in Tottenham.

John Benton

(This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

None of God’s business? The spiritual significance of our daily work


None of Gods business

Can you do a little mental arithmetic? Assuming you live to your early 60s, how many hours will you have spent at work? Now, do a similar exercise. Think about how many hours each week you spend on overtly ‘Christian’ activities, time at church in worship, at Bible study and in prayer groups, time at leadership meetings, teaching kids, or working with youth.

If you were to work 50 hours each week, then you would have spent about 100,000 hours at work by the end of your working life. If you were to spend (say) an average of ten hours a week in ‘Christian ministry’, then, over that same 40-year period, you would have spent 20,000 hours. In summary: 100,000 hours at work; one fifth of that time in so called ‘Christian work’.

Not in vain?

Park those numbers for a moment and consider the words of the apostle Paul: ‘Therefore my dear brothers let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15.58).

What is meant here by ‘the work of the Lord’? What is the ‘labour in the Lord’ that is not ‘in vain’? Does that refer to overtly ‘Christian work’? Many would say yes. Paul means the work of evangelism, discipling and building churches. But, if that were true, then for those of us who have day jobs in the secular world, what about the 100,000 hours we spend at work? Do they represent some sort of spiritual limbo land, just an infill between Sundays, a means of supporting our families, a necessary evil? In terms of value, is it all a second-best use of time for the Christian or, worse still, something ultimately meaningless, of no eternal value, time and effort spent in vain?

The Bible’s answer to those questions is a resounding no! Paul says: ‘Always give yourself to the work of the Lord’. Note the word ‘always’! That includes the 100,000 hours at work, not just the 20,000 hours spent in ‘Christian service’.

Divided loyalties?

But how can I work for the Lord when I am paid to make money for my business, or to serve the good of the public in government? If I need to concentrate 100% on the technical detail of my task, or on the people I am paid to help, then how can I be working for the Lord at the same time?

What meaning does my work have in the context of eternity? The equipment I repair, the report I write, the structures I build, the meetings I attend, what value do they have in God’s eyes?

These issues are not always addressed in our churches. When I first became a Christian, the only sermons I ever heard about work were along the lines of ‘don’t fiddle your expense accounts and tax returns and don’t steal pencils form the office’!

While some churches may not seem to have daily work on their priority list, God certainly does. The Bible makes very clear that our daily work is of great interest to him. It does have eternal significance, and it certainly does not have to be ‘in vain’.

Meaningful activity

So, what transforms our daily work into meaningful spiritual activity? The answer of the Bible is twofold. Firstly, it is because of why we do our work (our motives), and, secondly, how we do our work.

‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving’ (Colossians 3.23,24, NIV).

Notice that three times Paul underlines the same crucial point: ‘working for the Lord’; ‘you will receive an inheritance from him’ (note that our daily work leads to eternal reward); and ‘it is the LORD Christ you are serving’. Notice also the same all- encompassing scope of this command: ‘Whatever you do’; an interesting tie-in with the ‘always’ of 1 Corinthians 15.58.

Implications
This has several implications.

* It means seeing my job as a calling from God, not just a career that meets my personal goals. We are not to waste hours wondering what our calling is. Surely we are to get on with our job and serve the Lord where we are! If he wants us to do something else he will make that very clear in his time. Seeing our work as a calling is transformational.

* It means being accountable to God. I make it my aim to please him. I can’t please everybody, so if I work to please Christ it simplifies life a lot.

* It means we give it our best in terms of ideas, energy, and creativity.

* It means our primary motivation is not to earn money and accumulate wealth, not to promote our own prestige and boost our own ego. Rather, it is to serve God in and through our daily work.

In the same letter, Paul urges us: ‘Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus’ (Colossians 3.17). Notice again the reference to all our activity, the secular and the spiritual.

To do our work ‘in his name’ means being consistent with his character and bringing honour to the Name of Christ. It means we work honestly, faithfully and with integrity; it also means that we aim to build quality relationships.

Working relationships

Most of the sermons, books and articles about work seem to me to be focused on either ethics or evangelism, but I’ve found that building relationships with people is often the biggest test for the Christian. After all, the Bible makes clear (e.g. 1 John) that we are fooling ourselves if we think we can have a good relationship with God when we can’t build relationships with other people.

Relationships at work raise many challenges for us: how we exercise authority; how we respond to authority; how we handle conflict. In these areas our professed faith is tested every day. But, every time we face a work situation where we seek to respond in a way that honours the name of Jesus, then our work is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. In becoming an act of service to the Lord himself, it becomes something of eternal significance, part of our worship of God and not ‘in vain’.

God is at work

But our work is of eternal significance not only because of what we do, why we do it and how we do it — there is a bigger picture — it is of eternal significance because of what God is doing. He is at work also.

He is at work in us. As our commitment to do our work for the Lord is tested, so we learn to rely on God and so we grow. At work we have to deal with long hours, pressure, difficult people, difficult customers, failure when things don’t turn out well. It is in the pressure cooker of work, in the rough and tumble of life, that God moulds us into the people he wants us to be. it is in those 100,000 hours (as well as in the home, of course) that much of God’s work of sanctifying us takes place, a work that is of eternal value.

He may also be at work in the lives of those we work with and that is always exciting to experience. Further, he may choose to work through us in bringing someone to faith or helping them along the road in some way.

When our work is ‘for the Lord’ and when we recognise God at work in and through us, and in the lives of others, then we can be confident that our labour is in fact ‘labour in the Lord’. It has a divine purpose and will have a fruitful outcome. It will not be ‘in vain’.

Graham Hooper is a consultant and former senior executive with a global Infrastructure company. He recently recorded four talks on the theme ‘Tested faith in the workplace’ for the LICC. To listen to these talks, visit http://www.licc.org.uk/resources/2012/07/04/testing-faith-in-the-workplace/

His book Undivided – closing the faith-life gap was published by IVP in April 2013 (http://www.ivpbooks.com)

(This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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