The Urgency of Our Task

“Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever” (Zechariah 1:5)? Do we hear these words of the prophet Zechariah? While in their context these words are meant to call to mind the need to return to the Lord, they also point to the time which is always flying away. The previous generations once lived and worked and loved just as we do, but now they have gone. Our way is also short, but we are always on the brink of eternity.

But Zechariah’s words are especially important for those the Lord has called to proclaim His Word. It is one thing to call to mind that we are mortal, and that cannot be stressed enough. The men called to serve as the messengers of the living God, however, must remember that the time spent in His service is shorter still.

Pastors are, after all, jars of clay bearing the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:7). They are not from everlasting to everlasting. We have been given a charge and appointed a time to fulfill it. Will this sermon be our last? “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16). The prophets, do they live forever?

These words are meant to remind us that we too will pass away, but they should also spur us to action. It does no good to turn back when handed the plow (Luke 9:62). Our time may indeed be short, but that should remind us of the urgency of our task. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

Even if the field is rocky and the plow is in less than perfect condition, a pastor is sent to do what his Lord would have him do. Would you run away like Jonah, complaining of the Lord’s mercy (Jonah 4)? Would you point out your inadequacy like Jeremiah, being but a youth (Jeremiah 1:6)? Would you demand that the Lord send someone else like Moses, who could not speak well (Exodus 4:10)? The Lord has given you a charge and sent you to carry out His will. It is not yours to hesitate (1 Kings 20:35-36; Jeremiah 48:10). Who indeed is sufficent for these things? In ourselves, we are nothing, but in Christ, we have been set for this great task. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:16-17).

But our fathers and the men who served in the same field as we call to us as well to fulfill the ministry which has been given to us by the mercy of God. They knew hardships and toil, great joys and great sorrows, just as we do. They are the forgotten shepherds of the living God, who eagerly ran the race set before them. They planted churches, serving dozens of congregations and preaching stations, often at the same time. They travelled long miles in the days before roads. They braved bad weather and endangered their health to bring the Word to people far off. They rode on horseback or on the trains or through dirt roads that turned to mud in the rain. Their task was long and hard and is now largely forgotten among men, nameless men who will not grace the pages of history books. But their deeds have not been forgotten by their Lord whom they served, and He will give to them a crown which will never fade.

So take heart, sons of the prophets. Your time is short and your calling is urgent. But the Lord who is faithful has called you, and He will sustain you for the work. “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).