The Christmas and New Year holidays have passed, again. The decorations are mostly put away. The gifts have been placed into use, or into storage, or quietly returned. The various stresses of the season now finally seem to be subsiding, only to be replaced with something new – the stresses of returning to our regular routines.
One of the Christmas messages I heard last month focused on the shepherds. Before telling the story of how the angels came to announce Jesus’ birth, and how the shepherds left immediately for Bethlehem, the pastor went into some detail on how miserable the life of a shepherd was during that day. Their work was hard, and long, and dirty. They were poor. They had no status in society, no education, no real prospects. They were not only physically unclean, they were also considered spiritually unclean, at least by religious people. They had little hope.
As the pastor spoke, I began to think about how hard and thankless and frustrating work can be, and the drudgery of life’s routines. None of us have it as rough as first century shepherds. But I started thinking about the stacks of papers I had brought home from the office, and had not yet touched. I thought about my job’s most challenging problems, projects, and people, all of which would be waiting for me after the holidays.
Yes, leaving my own field of work for a break had actually sounded pretty good to me just prior to Christmas. The question was, where would I find my enthusiasm for returning to that field? Where do any of us find new hope and purpose for our work at the start of a new year, or a new week, or a new day?
We find it the same place the shepherds did. We find it in the presence of our King. We intentionally pull away from our work, both its importance and fulfillment, and also its occasional drudgery and hopelessness. And we worship. We run to Jesus, and we realize again that He is our hope, that He is our strength, that He is our reason for living and that He gives purpose to our work.
Whatever our life’s work may be, if we do it merely for a paycheck, or for status or success, or to try and give our lives meaning, we will constantly feel like hopeless shepherds. But look at how these shepherds returned to their fields after worshiping the Christ child! They were enthusiastic, they had hope, and they were eager to tell everyone about the Immanuel who had come and made all the difference in their lives.
Especially if you are a pastor or busy church leader, you may have allowed the holidays to come and go this year without pulling away for some genuine, personal, renewing worship time. If so, let me urge you to do that before returning to your ministry field’s routines for 2014. Gaze at Christ as if for the first time, and remind yourself what your life, and His, and your work, and His, are really all about.
In fact, throughout the year, let’s let the shepherds remind us that we can always return to the fields of our work and our ministries different, with renewed strength and purpose, after experiencing true, heartfelt worship. It’s true once in a lifetime, when we meet Christ. It’s true once a year, when we pull away for the holidays and then start a new year. It’s true every week, when we remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. It can even be true every day that we go to work, if we return to that same old field with a fresh view of the King.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.