“Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Seventh-day Adventists are very conscious of living at the end of time.
Time is Running Out
How will the work be finished?
By Lowell C. Cooper
“Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Seventh-day Adventists are very conscious of living at the end of time. On the brink of eternity, we are absorbed with the shortness of time. Our speech and other communications are shaped by the conviction that the second coming of Jesus is imminent, and we have much work yet to do. How can we possibly get it all done?
End-of-time Thinking Galvanizes Focus
A woman in her mid-30s arrived at the airport departure gate for her flight. She had come early and thus had time to relax and read her book. Several moments passed. Suddenly she leaped to her feet and exclaimed, “I left my phone in the car!”
She glanced at her watch, threw her book and jacket on the chair, cried, “I’ll be back,” and headed down the corridor. Through the corridor, past security and check-in counters, out the door, across the road, and down the walk to the parking lot. At last she reached her car, grabbed the phone, slammed the door, and began the return journey.
Gasping for breath, she arrived at the security line, the place where one experiences eternity in the present. Finally through security, she summoned her last energies and leaned in to a frantic dash for the boarding gate. Other passengers had already boarded. The agent stood ready to close the door and caught sight of this desperate person coming down the corridor. Without breaking stride, the passenger arrived at the boarding gate, grabbed her coat, presented her boarding pass, and headed on to the plane. She made it just in time—clutching her phone, purse, and jacket—but she had forgotten her book on the chair. Living under a sense of urgency had so concentrated her attention on one thing that she overlooked another.
How Does One Live in the “Last Days”?
What should be prioritized on a person’s or the church’s agenda at the end of time? How does a church live under the pressure of end-time thinking?
The Gospel of John records a conversation between Jesus and His disciples when one might say Jesus was living in the “end of time.” Chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel present a fascinating summary of this last meeting before the crucifixion of Jesus. He ate a meal with the disciples, washed their feet, spoke about His betrayal, reaffirmed that He had chosen them, gave a new commandment, described the work of the Holy Spirit, and used the vine and branches as a symbol of the relation between Him and His disciples.
These words of Jesus were spoken to His disciples. However, down through history those who view themselves as His disciples have heard these words as though they were being addressed directly to themselves.
I have often wondered why Jesus didn’t have much to say about finishing the work. One might have expected that His last discourse with those who would carry on His mission in this world would be about strategy and tasks. Why didn’t He talk about theological truth, organizational structure, strategic initiatives, and succession planning? With just a word or two He could have resolved doctrinal questions that have created havoc among His followers for centuries. A paragraph or so about church structure and leadership would have been enormously helpful; perhaps an insight about the use of technology and social media. And how, with such a burgeoning world population, are His disciples then and now to reach all nations, cities, and people?
The Primacy of Relationships
At this, His last opportunity to outline a strategic plan for mission, Jesus spends His time on relationships more so than on tasks. Many of us are task-oriented. We want a program, clear instructions, a time line, and specific performance targets. Instead Jesus says, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
A somewhat similar situation is recorded in the Old Testament. At the command of God, Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, through the sea, into the wilderness. Then He is summoned to meet with God on Mount Sinai. What Moses needs is an organizational chart and a strategic plan, a blueprint of how to get this undisciplined mob of slaves moving across the wilderness and into the Promised Land. He spends 40 days there on the mountain, enough time surely to get the priorities, technicalities, structures, and strategies sorted out. But instead He comes back to the people with a code of conduct and a diagram for a worship place.
God doesn’t seem to be in much haste about getting to the Promised Land. His first priority is to create from this motley assortment of tribes a community that embodies the character of God Himself. He wants them to know Him and become like Him.
The invitation to God’s people is to become a new kind of human community, not merely to accomplish some task. He seeks to create a people who will reflect His own character, people who “proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9; see also Matt. 5:16).
How Will the Work Get Finished?
During the early days of our service in India, the ministerial director convened a meeting of department leaders and pastors in the local field. At the end of a long day of presentations on various topics he suddenly announced that there would be a quiz. We were all rather surprised and not a little embarrassed, for we had not paid strict attention throughout the day.
The ministerial director went to the chalkboard and simply drew a few blanks and wrote a few words that looked like this:
He asked us to fill in the blanks so that the completed sentence could serve as a reliable compass for our ministry. We were silent for some time. Slowly, tentatively, a few suggestions emerged.
Ministers will do the work if church members will furnish the means.
Lay members will do the work if pastors will furnish the training.
The church will do the work if the conference will furnish the plans.
We were serious about our suggestions. But after each proposal the ministerial director shook his head with obvious disappointment. “You are not getting it!” he declared. Some tense moments of silence passed. Finally he returned to the chalkboard, filled in the blanks and wrote the reference.
“God will do the work if we will furnish Him the instruments.”*
We were all in a teachable frame at that instant. Those last few minutes of a long day’s meeting have been etched indelibly on my mind. Effectiveness in ministry, in witnessing, is rooted in relationship more than in method or technique. I must not let the pressure of “finishing the work” divert my attention from the Lord of the work, the source of spiritual power for both my life and my work.
*?Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 9, p. 107.
Lowell C. Cooper has served 16 years as a general vice president for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.