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Let us Not Become Tired of Doing Good
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:9 KJV)
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Spiritual Depression---Its Causes and Cure” published in 1965.
THE Bible is a Book which has been written in order that God’s people may be helped in this world. That is especially true of the New Testament Epistles, which were all written because of some situation that had arisen in the churches, and the way to understand their message is not to think of a man writing a thesis in his study. On the contrary, the Apostle Paul was an evangelist, a man who travelled about, and he generally wrote because of some trouble that had arisen, and in order to help people to understand the cause of their trouble and the way to overcome it. So he dealt with the possible causes as they arose, and we can be quite certain that there is no cause of spiritual depression today that is not dealt with in the Epistles. The ills of the spiritual life are always the same, they never vary. The appearances differ, the particular guise in which the trouble may appear may vary, but the cause of it all is the devil and he never varies in his ultimate objective.
Here we find another cause of this condition of spiritual depression, and at once it reminds us of something that we have to underline again, as we have done several times before, namely the terrible subtlety of our adversary. We have been looking at the way in which the devil tempts Christian people and makes them miserable by suggesting false teaching. We have observed his very clever way of putting certain things at the centre which should not be there, or of giving us some new kind of religion which is a mixture of various religions. But now we are in quite a different climate altogether. At this point the apostle is not concerned about the danger of our going astray through heresy and error, or by taking up some particular cult and believing it to be the true faith. That is not what he is concerned about here. Here, the devil does something much more subtle, in that there is apparently nothing wrong at all. What happens is that people just become weary and tired, while still going in the right direction. Here we have the case of those who are on the right road and facing the right way. They are moving in the right direction but the trouble is that they are shuffling along with drooping heads and hands and the whole spectacle and picture they present is the very antithesis of what the Christian is meant to be in this life and world.
Now perhaps the best way of looking at this tendency to weariness on our part is to look at it first of all in general. This is what we may call the danger of the middle period. It is something which is true not only in the Christian life as such, it is true of the whole of life. It is the problem of middle life, and, if you like, of middle age. It is something which is evident on all hands, it is something we all have to face sooner or later as we grow older. Great attention is being paid to young people today, and a considerable amount of attention is being paid to old people; but I am perfectly convinced that the most difficult period of all in life is the middle period. There are compensations in youth and there are compensations in old age which seem to be entirely lacking in this middle period. It is something we all have to encounter. As we get older, our resilience and our vigour tend to go and we are aware of a slowing down and a slackening in our powers. This is something with which we are all familiar by hearsay, if not in actual experience. It is true also, is it not, in connection with a man’s work or profession? That is what constitutes a problem to so many people. It means that they have got beyond that stage of developing and building up and have attained to a certain level. For many reasons it is impossible to develop further. There they are on the level, and the difficulty is to keep going on that level while lacking the stimulus that took them there. This has often happened to a man in business, and he may sometimes find it much more difficult to maintain a business than it is to build it up. Everything seems to be with him in a sense when he is building it up, but it is when he arrives at that point and loses certain stimuli, that he finds it extremely difficult to hold the position. I could illustrate this almost endlessly taking it purely from the standpoint of natural life and from our experiences in work and in professions and various other callings. If you read the biographies of the most successful men the world has ever known in any particular branch, you will find that they are all agreed in saying that that level or plateau was the most difficult period in their lives.
Now this is equally true in the religious or the spiritual life. This is the stage which follows the initial experience, that initial experience in which everything was new and surprising and wonderful and clear, the stage in which we were constantly making new discoveries which never seemed to come to an end. But suddenly we are conscious of the fact that they do seem to have come to an end, and now we have become accustomed to the Christian life. No longer are we surprised at things, as we were at the beginning, because we are familiar with them and know about them. So that all that thrill of new discovery which animated us in the early stages suddenly seems to have gone. Nothing seems to be happening, there does not seem to be any change or advance or development. Now this may be true of us individually, it may be true of our work, it may be true of our church, it may be true of a whole collection of people, it may be true of a country, or of society. I am given to understand, and I know it is true, that this particular phenomenon happens to be one of the major problems in connection with foreign mission work, and missionaries who have spent time abroad will know exactly what I mean by the things I am saying. It is something that always tends to happen when we have got over the newness and the thrill and excitement of doing something that we have never done before, and we settle down into our routine, doing the same thing day after day. Then this trial arises, and we are no longer carried over it by that initial momentum which seemed to take us through it all in the early stages at the beginning.
This is the condition with which the apostle deals here. Perhaps, to make it all worse, there may be troubles and difficulties, caused by other people, which may add to our troubles. They may do things they should not do and offend in various ways. As the result of such trials and difficulties and troubles at a time when we ourselves are in this critical period, we become weary in well doing. Thus, frequently, there comes a point at which development and advance seem to have come to an end and we are in some kind of doldrums when it is difficult to know whether the work is moving at all, either backwards or forwards. All seems to be at a standstill and nothing seems to be taking place. Now there is no doubt at all but that some of these Galatian Christians had arrived at that particular point. The position revealed by our analysis in the previous chapter---the false teaching, the heresies and so on, undoubtedly had something to do with this.
We may say then that we are considering people who are not so much tired of the work as tired in it: ‘be not weary in well-doing’. That is the condition. What shall we say about it and what shall we do about it? Let me say at the outset that there is no aspect of this great problem of depression in which negatives are more important than they are on this particular occasion. Whenever we are found in this position of weariness, before we begin to do anything positive, there are certain negatives that are absolutely all-important. The first is this: Whatever you may feel about it do not consider the suggestion that comes to you from all directions---not so much from people, but from within yourself, the voices that seem to be speaking around and about you---do not listen to them when they suggest that you should give up, or give way, or give in. That is a great temptation that comes at this point. You say: ‘I am weary and tired, the thing is too much for me’. And there is nothing to say at that point but this negative---do not listen. You always have to start with these ‘don’ts’ on the very lowest level; and that is the lowest level. You must say to yourself: ‘Whatever happens I am going on’. You do not give in or give way.
But that perhaps is not the greatest temptation. The greatest is the one I am going to put in the form of my second negative injunction. Do not resign yourself to it. While there are people who hand in their resignations and say, ‘I am quitting’, that is not so with the majority. The danger of the majority at this point is just to resign themselves to it and to lose heart and to lose hope. They will go on, but they go on in this hopeless, dragging condition. To put it more particularly, the danger at this point is to say something like this: ‘Well, I have lost that something which I had, and obviously I shall not get it back again. But I am going on, and out of loyalty I will go on, as a sheer duty. I have lost the enjoyment I once had, that is gone and it is undoubtedly gone for ever. I just have to put up with it, I will resign myself to my fate, I won’t be a quitter, I won’t turn my back on it, I will go on, though I go on feeling rather hopeless about it all, just shuffling down the road, not walking with hope as I once did, but keeping on as best I can’. That is the spirit of resignation, stoicism if you like, putting up with it.
Now that is the greatest danger of all; and again, I suggest, it is something which is dangerous not only on the spiritual level, about which we are most concerned, but also on every level in life. We can work like that in our profession, we can live our lives like that, in a sense. We are really saying to ourselves: ‘The golden hours have gone, the great days belong to the past. I may never know that again but I will just keep on’. There is something, of course, which seems wonderful about this, something that seems heroic about it. But you notice that I put it as a negative. Indeed I say that it is a temptation of the devil. If he can get God’s people to lose hope, he will be content indeed. And as I see things today, this is perhaps the greatest danger of all confronting the Christian Church, the danger of doing a thing in a formal spirit and as a matter of duty. Going on, it is true, but wearily trudging along instead of walking as we ought to walk.
That brings me to my third and last negative, and this again you will recognise as a very dangerous thing. This third danger is, that when we thus become weary and tired, we will resort to artificial stimulants. You know the temptation. It has been the ruin of many a man who has built up a profession or a business and then gets into this weary state. He is conscious that he has not the vigour and the vim that he once had, and he does not feel, as the phrase puts it, on top of his job. He does not know what to do about it himself and then somebody suggests to him that what he needs is some kind of a tonic. The whole danger in connection with the drinking of alcohol comes in at that point. Many a man has ended as a drunkard who started by taking a little alcohol to help him to carry on; and people take to drugs and various other things in precisely the same way.
But this has a very important and vital spiritual application. I have seen people in the church dealing with this general spiritual weariness in that very way. They work up some kind of excitement or they adopt new methods. They say that they must rouse themselves out of this, so they put on some new programme. Have you not seen it sometimes in the advertisements outside church buildings? Can you not think of certain churches that are always putting out some fresh announcements or finding some new attraction? Such churches are obviously living on artificial stimulants and it is all being done with this idea in mind. The pastor or some other responsible person has said: ‘We are just in a rut, we are becoming rather dead. What can we do about it? Well, let’s do this, or that. It will provide work and activity, it will be a new interest’. Now that sort of thinking in the spiritual life and in the life of the Church is comparable to one thing only on the natural level, and that is to the man who takes to drink or drugs in order to give himself some excitement or to work himself up. Obviously this is an extremely subtle temptation and a very subtle danger. It seems to be so plausible, it seems to be just the thing we need, and yet, of course, the terrible fallacy behind it all is that, in a scientific sense, what you are really doing is to exhaust yourself still more. The more a man relies upon alcoholic drink or drugs, the more he is draining away his natural energy. Moreover, as he becomes more exhausted, so he will need to have still more drink and still more drugs; and so the process goes on in a cumulative manner. And it is exactly the same in the spiritual realm.
There, then, are three negatives which are of supreme importance. Let us now turn to the positive. We must avoid these dangerous pitfalls, but is there nothing else we can do? Here we are, weary in well doing, but what can we do? The first thing must be self-examination. Start by examining yourself Do not just say that your dreary state cannot be helped. Do not take to the stimulants. Sit down and say to yourself: ‘Well, now, why am I weary, what is the cause of my weariness?’ It is surely an obvious question. You must not treat the condition before you diagnose it; you do not apply the remedy before you know the cause. It is a dangerous thing to rush to treatment before you know the cause; you must diagnose first. You must therefore ask yourself why you are weary, and why you have got into this condition.
There are many possible answers to the question. You may be in that condition simply because you are working too hard physically. You can be tired in the work and not tired of the work. It is possible that a man has been over-working---I do not care in what realm, whether natural or spiritual---and has been over-taxing his energy and his physical resources. If you go on working too hard or under strain you are bound to suffer. And of course if that is the cause of the trouble, the remedy you need is medical treatment. There is a striking example of this in the Old Testament. You remember that when Elijah had that attack of spiritual depression after his heroic effort on Mount Carmel, he sat down under a juniper tree and felt sorry for himself. But the real thing he needed was sleep and food; and God gave him both! He gave him food and rest before He gave him spiritual help.
But let us assume that it is not that. Something else may be the cause of the trouble, and very frequently it is that we may have been living the Christian life, or doing Christian work, by means of carnal energy. We may have been doing it all in our own strength instead of working in the power of the Spirit. We may have been working with mere carnal, human, and perhaps even physical energy. We may have been trying to do God’s work ourselves; and of course if we try to do that there will be only one result, it will ultimately crush us because it is such high work. And so we must examine ourselves and see if there is something wrong with the way in which we are doing this work. It is possible for a man to preach with carnal energy, and if he does, he will soon be suffering from this spiritual exhaustion and depression.
But then a still more important and much more spiritual question arises. I must ask myself why I have been doing this work and what has really been my motive. I have been active and I have enjoyed doing the work, but now I find it has become a burden. And now comes this question. Why have I really been doing it the whole time? It is a terrible question that, because it may be the first time we have ever asked it. We have taken all for granted and assumed that our motive was pure. But we may find that it was not. Some people work for the sake of the thrill and excitement. There is no question about it at all. I have seen people very actively engaged in Christian work because there was a certain amount of excitement in it. There are some people who are not happy unless they are always doing something, and they do not always realize that what they are out for is the thrill and the excitement of the activity. As certainly as we live in that way we will get exhausted, we will become tired, and equally certainly our greatest enemy will come in, and that is self. We have really been doing all that we have been doing, to satisfy self in order to please ourselves, in order to be able to say to ourselves: ‘How wonderful you are and how much you do’. Self says that we are important. We have to admit that it has not all been for the glory of God, but for our own glory. We may say that we do not want the praise and that ‘to God be the glory’, but we like to see results and we like it to appear in the papers and so on---self has come in and self is a terrible master. If we are working to satisfy and please self in any shape or form, the end is always going to be weariness and tiredness. How important it is to ask ourselves about the motive in connection with our work! Lastly, and a very important question this---has this work, I wonder, kept me going? Instead of being God’s work, has it been a sort of mainspring of my life? I am sure there are many persons who know what I mean by that. One of the greatest dangers in the spiritual life is to live on your own activities. In other words, the activity is not in its right place as something which you do, but has become something that keep you going. Some of the greatest tragedies I have seen have been in such men, who did not realize that they had been living for years on the force and strength of their activities. These kept them going, and then when they were taken ill or grew old, and could no longer do what they used to do they became depressed. They did not know what to do with themselves, because they had been living on their own activities. I suppose it is one of the most obvious tendencies in our civilization. It is certainly one of the greatest causes of neurosis at the present time. Unfortunately the world has become so mad that we are kept going by this terrific momentum and rush of life, and instead of our being in control, the thing is controlling us. And ultimately it exhausts us and depresses us.
Here, are some of the main elements in this vital process of self-examination. Let me emphasize the principle. If in any respect in your life at this moment you are weary, I beseech you to stop and ask yourself: ‘Why am I weary, how am I being carried along?’ Examine your whole attitude towards your life and the thing in particular that you are doing, and discover how you feel about the Christian life. Why did you ever come into it, what is it, and so on? Stop, and ask yourself those questions.
But let me put the matter positively. There are certain great principles, according to the teaching of the apostle here, which we must recognize if we are to be cured of this condition. In the first place, there are phases in the Christian life as in the whole of life. The New Testament talks about being babes in Christ, it talks about growing. John writes his first epistle to little children and young men and old men. It is a fact, it is Scriptural. The Christian life is not always exactly the same, there is a beginning and a continuing and there is an end. And, because of these phases there are many variations. Feelings, perhaps, are the most variable. You would expect to have most feeling at the beginning, and this is what usually happens. Very often Christian people become weary because certain feelings have gone. They do not realize that what has happened is that they have grown older. Because they are not as they once were they think that they are all wrong. But as we grow and develop spiritually, changes must take place and all these things obviously make a difference in our experience. Let me put it in the form of an illustration. I happened to see, the other day, a little child, about four years old I should think, coming out of her house with her mother, and I could not help being attracted by the way she came out of that house. She did not walk, she jumped out, she skipped out, she gambolled out like a lamb; but I noticed that the mother walked out. Very Well, let us be sure that we are not failing to realize that there is something like that in the spiritual life. The child is abounding in energy and has not yet learned how to control it. The mother actually had a great deal more energy than the child, although looked at superficially it would seem that she had much less because she walked out quietly. But we know that that is not so. The energy is actually much greater in the adult though it appears to be greater in the child; and it is because they have misunderstood this experience of slowing down, that so many people think they have lost something vital and so become weary and depressed. Let us recognize that there are phases; let us recognize that there are these stages of development in the Christian life. Sometimes the realization of that fact alone will solve the whole problem.
But come to the second principle. ‘Let us not be weary in well doing.’ It is ‘well doing’ remember. Now that is the thing we tend to forget. ‘Ah,’ we say, ‘the same old thing week after week.’ That is our attitude towards our life, and because that is our attitude towards it we become weary. But Paul says, let me remind you, that you are in the Christian life, and the Christian life is a life of well doing. If you regard the Christian life as a dreary task you are insulting God. What is our Christian life? The question is all important and we, too often, answer that it is to avoid the things other people do. That it is to walk this straight and narrow road, it is to say no to this and to engage in that. It is to go to church. It is an awful task, it is a hard life in which we find ourselves! Is not that our attitude far too frequently? And the reply to that is, that we are engaged in ‘well doing’. If you and I come to regard any aspect of this Christian life merely as a task and a duty, and if we have to goad ourselves and to set our teeth in order to get through with it, I say we are insulting God and we have forgotten the very essence of Christianity. The Christian life is not a task. The Christian life alone is worthy of the name life. This alone is righteous and holy and pure and good. It is the kind of life the Son of God Himself lived. It is to be like God Himself in His own holiness. That is why I should live it. I do not just decide to make a great effort to carry on somehow. Not at all, I remind myself that it is a great and good life, it is ‘well doing’. How have I got into this life---this life that I am grumbling and complaining about, and finding hard and difficult? Let me press this question. How did you get into this Christian life? Here we are in the narrow way, how did we come from the broad way? What has made the difference? These are the questions; and there is only one answer. We have come from that to this, because the only begotten Son of God left heaven and came down to earth for our salvation, He divested Himself of all the insignia of His eternal glory and humbled Himself to be born as a babe and to be placed in a manger. He endured the life of this world for thirty-three years: He was spat upon and reviled. He had thorns thrust into His head and was nailed to a cross, to bear the punishment of my sin. That is how I have come from that to this, and if I ever, even for a fraction of a second, question the greatness and the glory and the wonder and the nobility of this walk in which I am engaged, well then I am spitting upon Him. Out upon the suggestion! ‘Be not weary in well doing.’ My friend, if you think of your Christian life in any shape or form with this sense of grudge, or as a wearisome task or duty, I tell you to go back to the beginning of your life, retrace your steps to the wicket gate through which you passed. Look at the world in its evil and sin, look at the hell to which it was leading you, and then look forward and realize that you are set in the midst of the most glorious campaign into which a man could ever enter, and that you are on the noblest road that the world has ever known.
But let me go further. The next principle is that this life of ours on earth is but a preparatory one. ‘Be not weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.’ You are tired and weary and you feel at times it is too much for you? Go back and look at your life and put it into the context of eternity. Stop and ask yourself what it all means. It is nothing but a preparatory school. This life is but the ante-chamber of eternity and all we do in this world is but anticipatory of that. Our greatest joys are but the first fruits and the foretaste of the eternal joy that is coming. How important it is to remind ourselves of that. It is the sheer grind of daily life that gets us down. You may say: ‘Here is another day to get through’, or a preacher may say: ‘Another Sunday, and I have to preach twice today’. What a terrible thing to say. The sheer grind sometimes almost gets us down to that. But the answer is to look at it all and to put it all into its great context and to say: ‘We are going on to eternity and this is but the preparatory school’. What a difference that makes. ‘Keep on,’ says Paul, ‘with your well doing, because of the certainty of the harvest that is coming.’‘Be not weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.’ The moment you realize something of the truth about the harvest you will not faint.
‘The world is too much with us’, that is our trouble. We are too immersed in our problems. We need to look ahead, to anticipate, to look forward to the eternal glories gleaming afar. The Christian life is a tasting of the first-fruits of that great harvest which is to come. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’ ‘Set your affection on things above and not on things on the earth.’ Realize something in mind and heart of the glory of the place to which you are going. That is the antidote, that is the cure. The harvest we shall reap is certain, it is sure. ‘Therefore,’ says Paul to the Corinthians, ‘be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord for as much as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.’ Go on with your task whatever your feelings; keep on with your work. God will give the increase, He will send the rain of His gracious mercies as we need it. There will be an abundant harvest. Look forward to it. ‘Ye shall reap.’
And above all let us consider the Master for Whom we work. Let us remember how He endured and how patient He was. Take that mighty argument in the twelfth of Hebrews again. ‘You have not yet resisted unto blood.’ He did. He came down and endured it all, and how patient He was. How humdrum His life was, most of His time was spent with ordinary petty people who misunderstood Him. But He went steadfastly on and did not complain. How did He do it? ‘For the joy that was set before Him He endured even the cross, despising the shame.’ That is how He did it. It was the joy that was set before Him, He knew about the crowning day that was coming, He saw the harvest that He was going to reap, and, seeing that, He was able not to see these other things but to go through them gloriously and triumphantly. And you and I have the privilege of being like Him. ‘If any man would be My disciple, let him deny himself take up his cross’---that is it---‘and follow Me’. We may even have the honour of suffering for His Name. Paul says a most extraordinary thing in writing to the Colossians (1:24). He says that he is privileged to make up in his own body what remains of the suffering of Christ. What if you and I as Christians are having the same privilege without knowing it? Well, remind yourself of your blessed Master and look to Him and ask Him to forgive you for ever having allowed yourself to be weary. Look at your life again in this way, and as certainly as you do so, you will find that you are filled with a new hope, a new strength, a new power. You will not need your artificial stimulants or anything else, for you will find that you are again thrilled with the privilege and joy of it all, and you will hate yourself for having grumbled and complained, and you will go forward still more gloriously, until eventually you will hear Him saying: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord’, ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’. (190-202)
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