October 1, 2013

Neither sleet, nor snow, nor mosquitoes . . .

Artist Paul Braid said he had learned an important lesson about going outside to paint. “If I let the weather keep me inside, very soon I will stop going out at all.”

The speaker at last weekend’s writer’s conference suggested something similar. “If you let rejection and setbacks hold you back, soon you will never write another word.”

The writer of Ecclesiastes offers the same wisdom . . . 

He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (Ecclesiastes 11:4–6)

Translation: if I wait for perfect conditions before I do anything, soon I will be unable to act at all. All work, effort, even obedience to God will come to a halt. Nothing will be accomplished because perfect conditions do not exist. Besides, I haven’t a clue how God might use even the smallest offerings . . . 

The conference speaker told several stories about God’s surprises with his work. He had been helped by a theologian and wanted to thank him by writing a story for him. He went for a walk with his dogs, sat down on a bench in the woods, and wrote a short story. He sent it to the man, then he forgot about it.

Months later, the theologian contacted him, praising the story and asking if he could have it printed in his college publication. The writer said yes, and it was so well received that he was asked to submit something for every issue, four times a year. He did and later, a large publisher in California called him. They had seen the articles and wondered if he would be interested in helping them with a Bible translation . . .  and the process of one thing leading to another as God used a short story written on a park bench to prosper his career in completely unexpected ways.

I’d taken lessons from artist Paul Braid in the 70’s. He died in 1999, but I’ve never forgotten how he stuck to his own advice. Nothing stopped him. He painted outdoors at times when the temperature was so cold that his oils were too stiff to manipulate, forcing him to paint from the warmer interior of his idling car. His example speaks to me often whenever I balk at doing the tasks God places in front of me.

I might balk in procrastination because of uncertainty about next step or my ability to take it. That requires prayer, but most of the time I just don’t feel like doing the next item on the chore list. I’m lazy, bored, or unmotivated. But God says to tackle all projects with zeal. He offers several motivations. . . 

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol (the grave), to which you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

Life is short and my time here will run out. I often say I will not live long enough to do all that I want to do. But there is another sense to being zealous and it is not about me . . .  

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. (Romans 12:11)
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men . . .  (Colossians 3:23)

As a Christian, I am not serving myself. Because I am following Jesus Christ and His leading, He expects me to serve Him the same way I’m to love Him — with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. That includes everything from cleaning the bathroom to writing an article, painting a landscape, and speaking to others about Him. He promises me that if I give Him my best, good will come of it.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

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