Grave engravings

I heard of a pastor who was appointed to lead a church. As he stood to preach for the first time he noticed the following engraved into the pulpit: "Sir, we would see Jesus."

The quote comes from John 12:21 and refers to an occasion when some Greeks, in Jerusalem for the Passover, approached Philip and ask to meet with Jesus.

For the pastor, the engraving served as a grave reminder every time he stood to open God's Word and preach. His task was not to impress people with his knowledge and ability. It was simply to reveal Jesus to them through what He said.

What would you like to see engraved on your office desk in 2019? What sign would you like to see hanging in the youth hall every time you enter to run a programme? What "grave engraving" do you need to read and reread in 2019?

Like me, you may cop some trouble if you take to your desk with a pen knife, but here is the "engraving" I have pinned on the pinboard in front of my desk.

"I can do nothing by myself. I do only what I see the Father doing."

These words are a paraphrase of those spoken by Jesus in John 5:19 when the religious leaders were out to kill him for breaking the Sabbath. While it's unlikely that I'll face any opposition this year on a par with what Jesus faced (!), the words are relevant to me nonetheless.

The first part of the engraving is humbling. It drives me to prayer and it stops me relying on self-confidence and experience. Any task, no matter how routine it may feel, requires me to first come before Him and confess that without Him, what I'm doing will bear no fruit.

The second half of the engraving keeps me focussed. One thing I've learnt in ministry is that God is the Leader and I'm just the follower. My role is to watch for evidence of Him at work and they put all my energy into following Him.

Ministry is one of those tasks that feels like it's never really "done". There are always more programmes to plan, more messages to prepare and more young people to meet with. Only doing the things I see the Father doing teaches me to say "no" and stops me wasting my time and effort on worthless pursuits.

Of course, this is much easier said than done! Yet I'm always struck by the fact that Jesus was able to say "No", to the crowds who clamoured for miracles and depart to be alone with His Father, not because he was uncaring but because the Father was directing Him (Luke 4:40-43; 5:15-16; 9:18).

If Jesus could say "no" at times like this and then near the end of His ministry was able to say "I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." (John 17:4), then I too must limit myself to what I see the Father doing, knowing that if I don't then I'm doing something without Him.

And I can do nothing by myself...