So in this disorienting middle (actually closer to the end) passage of my life, I’m managing a small department at a supermarket.
God’s use of the last couple of years is coming into focus, or focuses because there are multiple insights, changes and blessings He’s illuminating.
One thing of which I’ve had to repent was some arrogance over achievements in almost 30 years of pastoral ministry. On paper, there was some good stuff. Every church I served grew, bucking denominational and other trends in most cases. I provided leadership on a couple of major capital campaigns, resulting in construction of… oh, enough. See what I’m doing here?
It was easy to rest on my laurels, which were a considerable pile. It was tempting to look away from the simple preaching and teaching of the Word of God and exalt “techniques” of Boomer generation church growth.
So now I’m in a role where I’m not the “expert” or sitting in the Captain Kirk chair. It is a better position to be at Jesus’ feet, learning something. Here’s what I mean…
July started out with rampaging success as my little department posted big numbers. But the last weeks of the month leveled off, then went into a statistical roller coaster with some really low weekday sales alternating with strong weekends.
As inventory time approached, one of the other department managers wondered if I was ordering too much stuff to sell. Haven’t you heard about the Dog Days of August? People are on vacation and sales go way down.
Well, no, I didn’t know that. Life in retail is all on-the-job training. Nobody tells you much of anything in advance; you just go along and learn by doing, and lots of doing it the wrong way before you get it right.
Yes, I’m ordering lots of stuff. The store managers keep telling me that my department has to Keep the shelves full. Nobody buys empty shelf space. Stay on your people to keep the shelves full.
So we’re keeping the shelves full – people are commenting on how well we’re doing that. But now we’ve hit these dog days I didn’t know about and the stuff just sits on the shelf and in the back room.
Lesson(s): There are things beyond my control. I can work hard and apply all the techniques but there comes a point where the final result is out of my hands. I don’t control the public’s vacation and shopping schedules. I can do the best work I can (as I should) but that’s only one factor in outcomes.
Jesus was blunt, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44 ESV), not, If your effort and techniques improve, they’ll all come.
My churches grew and flourished because Christ built his church and let me be a part of what His Father was doing. Yes, hard work was necessary to good results, as even a great exponent of grace like St. Paul notes, but our work is not the story when all is said and done,
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (I Corinthians 15:10 ESV)
Sometimes our hard work is in sync with some great result that Christ is accomplishing sooner rather than later. But sometimes our efforts – our brilliantly planned and executed efforts – have meager outcomes. Happened to Paul in Athens, when he preached a technically masterful, culturally engaged and sensitive sermon to reach the people, only to be laughed off by some, given a “get back to us later” by most, and attracting so few new followers that Luke could remember them by name when writing The Acts of the Apostles,
When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (17:32-34 NRSV)
My discipleship is getting back to worshiping God as God, not as a projection of my desired outcomes, and to practicing life habits that are guided by His Word rather than my goals and lurking status needs.
I’ll give the last word to Paul, who learned to do dog days, too,
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT)
Go in peace, and pray for me, a sinner.