Labourers for Life
By Mike Johnson, first published in Compass, Winter 2020 edition.
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20: 24
The apostle Paul was hastening to make his way to Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost. As he went, he kept hearing in every city the message from the Holy Spirit that he was heading toward difficult days including imprisonment. Obviously, his beloved disciples in these places were concerned. Perhaps he should reconsider this trip. But Paul was an ambassador of Jesus Christ and from this identity came these striking words from Acts 20:24 to the elders of the Ephesian community who had come to meet him in Miletus. In this declaration of Paul’s goal in life we see some of the steel fibers that give longevity to the service of a labourer of Jesus Christ.
[Paul’s] calling was bigger than his life.
Firstly, his calling was bigger than his life. There are some things worth dying for! And there are some things that are worse than death. For Paul, to finish the race and complete the task that his Lord and Master had given him was worth dying for. To not finish well was worse than death.
Secondly, he was clear on the task. He had been ordered to testify to the good news of God’s grace and nothing – including imprisonment, suffering, torture – would divert him from finishing this task.
If we are to be labourers for a lifetime we best have embedded deep in our souls similar attitudes to those of the great Missionary apostle. Anything less may end up sidelining us into some safe harbour where we fritter away our lives in temporal worldly goals and activities.
But if our goal is to be consistent and persevering in labouring for a lifetime, we need to have realistic expectations in the different stages of life. As a university student my capacity for meeting with individuals for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship was fairly high (though it took considerable commitment to maintain priorities in order to do well in my studies). Later in my first job I had much less time to engage in discipling people, but I always made choices to be involved with at least a few.
We need to have realistic expectations in the different stages of life.
When Fran and I were married, my expectations as a labourer once again needed to be revised. Then again once the children came along. I needed to answer the question of how to work out a schedule where other people would fit into family routines. Thankfully, I married another labourer! We had the same heart in these matters and though we needed to work through how to do it in the various seasons of our marriage, our aim has always been to partner together in this wonderful task the Lord has given us. This has been important. Our attitude toward and our view of the task has been ‘our ministry’, not Mike’s here and Fran’s over there. Even though we meet separately with some people we debrief and pray for these people together.
Additionally, our home has been our ministry centre and the hub for partnering together. So in our marriage, when we would consider a new home, a primary consideration was how it would work for hospitality, evangelism and group discipling.
Our home is our ministry centre, the hub for partnering together.
Later, when I assumed roles where travel was a significant part, as often as possible Fran would join me because we always found that the impact of a trip relationally was far greater when she was involved. Even more so when visiting former graduates from student ministry days. These were long term relationships and we had ministered to them together. So when we would see them again, even though years may have gone by, the ability for them to open up and share their hearts and family needs often amazed us. We realise that for people to keep in the battle for the long haul, they need relational connections with some friends, who are labourers, who will be there for them through the rigours of life.
So, it is not surprising that upon the conclusion of Paul’s visit to the Ephesian elders in Miletus – men he had discipled and spent much time with in previous days – we read:
“And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again.” Acts 20:36-38