. . . And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
(Ezra 3:11b–13 ESV)
. . . the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping . . .
As I read these verses yesterday, I realized, once again, the selfishness that had crept within my soul and held me back from the freedom Christ has given me. I look at my life as the most blessed of all men, to be a pastor and seminarian at the same time—and yet I often feel it to be a burden. I know you do as well, dear seminary student, pastor, lay-leader, and fellow heir of the faith found in Jesus Christ alone.
I became burdened as I realized that I spend my moments between the elder and the youth in these verses. I spend days grateful for the family God has given me, the blessings of our life, a warm house, food to eat and ministry to keep my hands occupied and my heart full.
I spend moments as the elder, weeping over what others have had in ministry and life. Looking at those who speak more eloquently, read more fluently, and enunciate more proficiently than I ever will and wonder what God could do with me. In that same blasphemous breath, I wonder why not me. Why am I not the more fruitful speaker, the more powerful proclaimer, the more artistic shaper of words to form a convicting message, to bring others to repentance? (I hope you see the bad theology in those thoughts.)
So I resolve to read more books, study more blogs, practice more in front of a mirror, dig deeper into the graves of the dead, try to breathe the life of Spurgeon, Ryle, Moody & Watson into my bones and the echoes of their voices into my cracked lips.
All the while, I forget that God has laid a foundation before me. God has done what I could never do in justifying me through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (Rom. 4:25). I forget that I am empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak God’s Word to lost and dying men. I forget that my job is not to be as beautiful, more beautiful, less beautiful, more pious, more read, or more anything, but to become less and less as I learn to make Christ more and more in my life (John 3:25–30) . . .
It is with this conviction and reality that I enter the new year. Understanding that God is God and I am His child by His grace in need of His forgiveness for my selfishness every day (II Cor. 5:21).
I started 2012 with a Spurgeon-like resolve to read one book per week. In 2013, I start the year with the conviction to read one book, more beneficially, more fruitfully, and more prayerfully than I ever have before. That is the lexicon of life, the dictionary of direction, the manifestation of the oracles of God before my eyes for this time, His Living Word, that lies before me every day on my desk.
I pray that I will learn to lean and rely more upon Him and less upon me in 2013.
More of God’s strength, less of mine, more of God’s love, less of my bitterness and fear, more of God’s peace, less of my constant running after myself, more trust in God, and less of an illusion of authority over my own life . . .
More of God’s Word in my heart, my mouth, my mind, my desires, and less of my thoughts, my words, my decisions in the ministry God has given and laid before me.
Please join with me. Join me in seeking the righteousness that comes from God (Phil. 3:9), rather than from ourselves (Isa. 64:6). No more looking to the past or to the popular or asking, “why not me?” Join me in understanding that our cornerstone is seated at the right hand of God in heaven, and we are part of His Family (Eph. 2:11–22).
Join me in laying ourselves and our selfishness aside in 2013 to begin to have a grateful heart for the work God has laid before us. There is much work to do, far too much for each of us individually and too much for anyone to do anything without the strength from God within (Phil. 4:13) . . .
The context of Philippians 4:13 gives us a picture of the elders from Ezra in the midst of knowing what could be and yet rejoicing as the youth. Paul is writing from a prison, waiting to see if he would die for this faith (Phil. 1:21), and yet he uses the word rejoice more than anywhere else in the New Testament (proportionately).
What a great picture for pastors, students, lay-leaders, young wives and mothers who support and love these men, and young husbands who support their wives. We may not have the temple before us, but we have the Holy Spirit within us. No matter what you face in 2013, let’s follow Paul’s example in rejoicing in the Lord for all He has done, is doing, and will do within and through our hands. Amen!