The question seemed simple enough.
“How much time, per week, do you spend preparing for your sermons?”
I was at a conference for pastors. Most of us were relatively new to the trade. The experts on the stage tried to outdo one another when they gave their answers. It was like I was at a taping of The Price Is Right.
First Expert: “I typically spend 50 hours a week preparing. Also, you should know that I have every sermon from now until June 5, 2015 fully prepared and ready to go.”
Second Expert: “I spend 51 hours a week and, the night before I preach, I shave my head in mourning over my sin.”
Third Expert: “One dollar! One dollar, Bob! Or Drew. Whatever. One dollar!”
I think about those answers every week when I finish preparing for my sermon. Did I spend enough time? Have I done enough?
There’s a real danger here. While it is certainly good, even necessary, to be prepared, if I’m not careful I can convince myself that my standing before God is based on how many hours I put in on my sermon.
This isn’t just a pastor problem.
All of us are prone to think that we need to be doing more in order for Jesus to really like us. Even more common, and dangerous, is the tendency to think that other people need to be doing more in order for Jesus to like them as much as he likes us.
I know working moms who love Jesus, love their husbands and love their kids but who have been verbally beaten down by other Christians because they work outside of the home and do not have enough children.
“I just don’t know how she could do that to her kid. And why did they only have one? Don’t they know that they’re not replacing themselves?”
I know other moms who have been ridiculed for having too many kids and not having a “real job.”
“It’s just too bad that she doesn’t bring anything to the table. And have they figured out what causes having all of those babies?”
Things get even worse when it comes to educational choices.
“I can’t believe that their kids _____________________ (insert: “are homeschooled”, “go to that weird, expensive private school” or “go to one of those godless public schools”). Thank you, Lord that I am not like those parents. Our kids are educated _______________________ (insert: “at home where they belong”, “in the finest Christian school” or “in the public school where they act like missionaries”).
There are plenty of pastors who are treated as second or third class citizens in the kingdom because their church hasn’t reached the baptism quota. Whatever that is.
“So how many did you baptize last year. Six?! Maybe sometime you can tell me what it’s like to hate lost people so much.”
The Pharisees didn’t die off with the completion of the Bible. They carry different names now but they are still a thriving movement. They still love to emphasize the particulars where Jesus only spoke generally (Matthew 23:23). And they still obsess over outward appearances while neglecting the heart (Matthew 23:25-28).
Jesus gives a good word to beaten down moms, discouraged pastors and anyone else who just doesn’t feel good enough. In the gospel, he is affirming our worst fears. We really aren’t good enough. And, to top it all off, there’s no amount of baptisms we can perform, babies we can have or schools we can pick to make us good enough.
But Jesus is good enough.
And he wants you to stop working so hard to please others.
He wants you to rest in him.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
Through faith and repentance in Christ, when God looks at you he doesn’t see a working mom who “neglects her kids”, a stay at home mom who “sits around all day not doing anything,” a pastor who didn’t baptize enough people or one whose church is “too big.”
Through faith and repentance in Christ, when God looks at you he sees the perfect righteousness of his Son (2 Corinthians 5:21).
And that’s good enough.