February 20, 2017 • Life for Leaders
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem. Of course I visited the Temple Mount, where once stood the stunning temple of the God of Israel. Today, the Temple is no longer. The Romans destroyed it in the first century A.D. The giant stones, from which the ancient Temple and its Western Wall were built, were thrown down from the top of the mount. It was sobering to visit this site and to see some of those stones, still lying randomly on the ground alongside part of the ancient wall. (The strangest aspect of my visit to this site, however, was running into the American radio personality Glenn Beck there. I took a candid photo of him and made one of his large bodyguards very unhappy. So I won’t share this photo because I don’t want to deal with the bodyguard again. But I will show a picture of the ancient wall of the mount and some of the giant stones that were once cast down.)
The passage above from Mark is the beginning of chapter 13, a chapter sometimes called “The Little Apocalypse.” It bears this name because it is Jesus’s own revelation of what will happen in the future to Jerusalem and the people of God. Right at the start, in verse 2, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple that happened in A.D. 70, when the Romans overcame Jewish opposition and sacked Jerusalem.
What I want to share about this text is my response to it more than its original meaning, however. When I read Mark 13:1-2, I felt a pit in my stomach. Something about Jesus’s words struck a chord within me. As I reflected, I realized that I was reminded of experiences from my own professional life.
Over the years, in four distinct jobs, I have had the privilege of building many things. Some of these involved literal buildings (such as the sanctuary of Irvine Presbyterian Church). Mostly, however, I built new programs for ministry in the churches I served in California, in the foundation where I worked in Texas, and now at the De Pree Center of Fuller Seminary. At times, I felt proud of what I, with God’s help and that of many colleagues, had built. I might well have said to Jesus, “Look, Teacher! What massive ministries! What magnificent tools for your kingdom work!”
Some of what I helped to build is still thriving today. But, honestly, many of the things I felt the most pride about are no longer in existence. In some cases, “not one stone was left on another; every one was thrown down.” As someone who strives to build things that have lasting value, this dismantling of my work has often been discouraging to me. I wonder if I could have done a better job building in the first place, or if I should have built something altogether different.
Mostly, however, I don’t second-guess myself. Rather, I let the end of things that mattered so much to me be a reminder of my limitations, the transitory nature of my work, and even my mortality. Yet, this does not lead me to stop building things for the Lord, to the best of my ability. Rather, I feel set free to focus in the present, to delight in what God is doing now, and not feel as if I am responsible to construct something that will last forever, as if I could do this.
Moreover, I’m reminded that the programs I built were not themselves the true measure of my work. Rather, it was what happened through these programs that mattered and, in many cases, still does matter. I think, for example, of a Wednesday evening educational program I built while an associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. It was dismantled years ago. Yet, some of the relationships I made through that program are still active, sweeter today than they were years ago. And, every now and then, someone will still tell me how much that program made a difference in their discipleship, a difference that is still real today.
You and I cannot guarantee the permanence of the work of our lives, but, if we offer that work to the Lord, he will use it for his purposes and be glorified through the gift of our work. In the end, this matters most of all.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever had the experience of seeing something you built dismantled? Perhaps at work, or in a former home, or in some other setting?
When you think of your work as not usually leading to permanent results, how do you feel?
What are you investing your life in that matters for eternity?
Gracious God, when I think of the “stones” of my work that have been “thrown down,” part of me feels sad. Part of me feels like a failure. But, by your grace, part of me feels free to trust you with all of this. And that includes my work today. I hope what I do makes a real difference. I hope what I am building will last, at least for a good long while. But I cannot guarantee this. What I can do, however, is work today for your glory. I can offer my work to you as worship. I can trust you with the results, seeking to be faithful, not to preserve what I lack the power to preserve.
O Lord, may my work this day honor you and be useful to you. May you receive all the glory! Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Work as Prayerful Activity, Mark 6
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.