The Tragedy of Substituting Work for Worship

Satan called a worldwide convention. In the opening address to his evil spirits he said, “We can’t keep true Christians from going to church. We can’t keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth. We can’t even keep them from having conservative values. But we can do something else. We can keep them from forming an intimate, abiding experience with Christ. If they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken. So let them go to church, read their Bibles, and have their conservative lifestyles, but steal their time so they do not have time to have intimate fellowship with Christ…” If they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken. So let them go to church, read their Bibles, and have their conservative lifestyles, but steal their time so they do not have time for fellowship with Christ. This is what I want you to do: keep them busy in the non-essentials of life and invent innumerable schemes to occupy their minds.”

In the Song of Solomon 1:6, the writer laments, “they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard have I not kept.”

Charles Spurgeon commenting on the text said,

Think of our neglect of our God, and see whether it is not true that we have treated him very ill. We have been in the shop, we have been on the exchange, we have been at the markets, we have been in the fields, we have been in the public libraries, we have been in the lecture-room, we have been in the forum of debate; but our own closets and studies, our walk with God, and our fellowship with Jesus, we have far too much neglected. 

Similarly, believers in our day have become so consumed with the cares of this life that they have been drawn away from daily time with God.  While preoccupied with their agendas they are being swept along by a tide of relentless distractions that affords no escape from the tyranny of the urgent.

In his devotional commentary, Union and Communion, Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, also commenting on the text, warned of the danger of allowing the pressing demands of this life to draw us away from Christ:

Our attention is here drawn to a danger which is preeminently one of this day: the intense activity of our times may lead to zeal in service, to the neglect of personal communion. Such neglect will not only lessen the value of the service, but tend to incapacitate us for the higher service. Let us never forget that what we are is more important than what we do, and that all fruit when not abiding in Christ must be fruit of the flesh and not the Spirit. As wounds when healed often leave a scar, so the sin of the neglected communion may be forgiven and yet the effect remain permanently.

The story is told about a spring whose waters had certain medicinal properties so that those who drank from it were helped in the cases of various infirmities. In the course of time, homes sprung up around the spring. Later, a hotel was built, then stores of all kinds. Eventually, a town grew into a city! Years passed. Then there came a day when visiting tourists would ask, “By the way, where the spring from which this grew?” Dwellers of the city would rub their hands in embarrassment and say, “I’m sorry that I cannot tell you, but, somehow, in the midst of all our progress and improvement we lost the spring and no one knows where it is.”

The narrative begs the question, “have we lost the Spring from Whom our progress has come?” As ministers, is it possible that we have been so consumed in the relentless demands of ministerial life that we have neglected communion with Jesus? Vance Havner warned, “There is nothing that crowds out the quiet hour any more than the very work that draws its strength from the quiet hour.”

I am convinced that it would do many present day believers well to stop and evaluate if they are too busy for God. No child of God can weather the storms of this present age without withdrawing daily from its noise and distractions to get his heart happy in God.

It is best to understand that no matter how spiritually fit we may feel we were in our walk with God yesterday, it is never adequate to fortify the inner man of the believer against the weaknesses of the flesh and ploys of the devil today. As George Mueller put it, “Let none expect to gain mastery over his inward corruption in any degree, without going in his weakness again and again to the Lord for strength. Nor will prayer with others or conversing with the brethren make up for secret prayer.”

In a world of anxious care may we make it our supreme priority each day to meet with God before we meet others. For we must understand that if our communion with Christ is neglected we will be a drag on the work of God and others around us. Oswald Chambers’ admonition is timeless, “Worshiping God is the great essential of fitness. If you have not been worshiping … when you get into work you will not only be useless yourself, but a tremendous hindrance to those who are associated with you.”