Recently, the school where I work was in urgent need of someone to help with an important assignment: our football team needed someone to assist with the chain crew. I immediately and selflessly volunteered to help.
Those of you who know what the words “chain crew” mean can appreciate the sacrifice, work, and energy this job involves. For those of you who don’t, (soccer players) the chain crew is the group of guys who stand on the sidelines at a football game and hold the orange placards with the big round zeros on them to indicate where the first down marker is. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, (admit it, you were a nerd in high school) ask some of your more athletic friends to explain it to you once they get done laughing.
Anyway, working the chain crew was a glorious sacrifice that afforded me the chance to see the games up close. It was additionally exciting to play a decisive role in determining which team ultimately won and lost a game. (I did this by lifting the chain off the ground and tripping the opposing teams players every time they ran on or off the field.) It was a lot of fun and really gave my life purpose during those long weeks of fall before the winter Bingo season really heated up.
But none of this is important. The point I’m actually trying to make concerns the lesson I learned during the quarterfinals game our team played at the Missouri State Football Championships.
It was rainy, very wet, and cold. I was, of course, working the chain crew. After several ugly drives and a botched goal kick, the game was 7-13, the other team’s lead, by halftime. Meanwhile, it continued to rain, soaking everyone to the bone and turning the field into a pigsty of mud and muck.
During the second half the field was so muddy and wet that kids would slide 10 feet or more after they were tackled. It was great to watch, but the team desperately needed to score a touchdown to win the game. Then, with only 2 minutes remaining in the game, we completed a pass to the 2-yard line! We only had to move the ball 2 yards to win the game! To make a long story short, we blew it and actually lost 27 yards before the clock ran out. We went home late that night feeling dejected. It was heartbreaking to lose that game when we were so close to victory.
Ironically life, especially in the ministry, is often like that game. We strive, strain, and struggle and still come up 2 yards short of the goal. Not only that, but it often appears that all our work is for nothing when we see the bored and indifferent faces of our young people as they listen to and learn about God’s word. Ever ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? It doesn’t seem to make any difference to anyone!” If so then you are in good company:
Noah was the only righteous man on Earth. Moses was on Mt. Sinai in the presence of God and came down into a hopeless mass of idolaters. Samuel was called to preach to people led astray by the corrupt priesthood of Eli’s sons. Elijah had to flee for his life from Jezebel who wanted to kill him for his faith. And don’t forget Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Jesus. (Like you could forget about Jesus!) Like the children, youth, and adults of today, God’s people have shown again and again that they are desperately in need of a devoted shepherd who will faithfully lead them back to the good pasture.
It’s easy to get discouraged; God’s prophets were often discouraged and Jesus was even exasperated at times. But never forget that the work of conversion and sanctification belongs to the Holy Spirit and to not us. We are called to faithfully plant the seed of God’s word and to water it; not to make it grow. If we place the burden of growth upon our own backs, not only will we be disappointed but we risk becoming idolaters ourselves by taking on God’s work as our own.