This Inefficiently Effective System

By now, I’ve been called for jury duty perhaps a half dozen times. And every time, I think the same thing: this is an exciting and highly inefficient system.

Take today, for instance. I reported for jury duty in the Jefferson Parish Courthouse along with 99 of my neighbors, none of whom I had ever met, shortly after 8:00 a.m. We were given choice parking in the new multi-level garage, and signs directed us into the brand spanking new courthouse. We entered through the glass doors just behind the magnificent statue of Thomas Jefferson. Inside, several security check-throughs were in place. We emptied our pockets and passed through the detectors as though we were boarding Delta or Continental. Down the hall, we entered the magnificent waiting room–furnished with cushioned chairs and decorated with mosaics on the walls–and checked in at the desk.

At 8:30 we were welcomed and shown a 10 minute video on the history of juries and what might be expected from us. “Down to your left,” said Bert, the assistant parish clerk, “you’ll find free coffee and spring water. Vending machines are there, and plenty of magazines to read. You’ll have a break in the morning and an hour for lunch. The ladies on the desk will validate your parking ticket.”

I’d brought along a book to read and a notebook with which to work on a couple of articles. The large room allowed for people to get up and walk or even sit at tables and visit with one another. Television sets strategically placed beamed Regis and Kelly and later “The Price is Right” to the jurors. After a bit, I got out my pad and walked to the counter and introduced myself to the ladies as the cartoonist.

“Oh, you’re back. I still have the drawings you did of me the other time.” So, again today, I sketched them all–Pam and Lou and Lolita and the others–and a few jurors who saw the action and wanted in on it. And then, about that time….

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your presence today. We will not be needing any juries today. You are dismissed.” It was 10:30 a.m.

They’ll pay us for this, plus a little for mileage. One hundred of us. One hundred potential jurors who did absolutely nothing. Supported by a full array of guards and clerks and officials.

It’s the price our system pays for the kind of justice we believe in. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, pastor, what did you do today?

Many a day, truth be known, the pastor would answer something like this: “I studied until 10 o’clock, visited two patients in the hospital across town and prayed with them. Had a hamburger and read the newspaper. Back in the church office I met with a staff member about next year’s budget. A church member dropped by with a question. I drank coffee with the secretaries on their break and enjoyed their fellowship. Returned a couple of phone calls, nothing urgent. At 4:30 I went home and rested until supper. Stayed home and watched TV with the family that night.”

In other words, not much.

And for this, you ask, we pay him a living wage?

Yep. Because some days it’s like that.

And some days, it’s not. Some days it’s two funerals and a wedding and three urgent counseling appointments crushed in between. Some days it’s preach three times and deal with a committee trying to resolve a staff problem and meet with the staff member and his family to reach a healthy resolution.

Overseas, it’s that way with the missionaries, too. There are days of quietness with little happening, and days when everything happens at once and it seems the calendar is trying to get the year over in record time.

Independent missionaries have a hard time. These faithful servants who have to raise their own support from individuals and churches back home spend much of their time on the mission field writing newsletters and reports to tell their friends in the States what’s going on where they labor, whose lives are being changed, how the people in that city/town/nation are turning to Christ.

Except sometimes the work is slow and the results almost invisible.

Sometimes the Lord’s work moves forward a lot like the judicial system in this country–invisibly, imperceptibly. Unnoticed by all except the Lord Himself who knows the hearts of every person.

We Southern Baptists prefer the system we have in place for supporting our ministers and our missionaries. We pay them salaries. For pastors, it’s the church budget; for missionaries, it’s the Cooperative Program.

Our missionaries and pastors have a steady income. They do not have to impress us with dramatic stories in order to loosen our purse strings so they will have money to buy groceries this month.

We know that the testimonies sometimes are indeed amazing and awe-inspiring. But at other times, there are no stories of miracles and no dramatic conversions.

Sometimes it’s harvest time, sometimes it’s Spring planting time, and sometimes it’s just plain winter. It’s how God has set up this world.

Sometimes God speaks in earthquakes and storms and firestorms, and sometimes in still small whispers. But He is always there and always at work, whether He is seen or not.

Christians demanding dramatic “signs” as proof of God’s presence before we will send our offerings usually end up either disappointed with the Lord’s servants or showering our support upon those charlatans who can always show great numbers and miraculous happenings, whether they actually occurred or not.

Two of the smallest and most overlooked parables from our Lord’s teachings ought to be emblazoned on the heart of every believer.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, and this is smaller than all other seeds….

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13:31-33)

The work of the Lord is often small and frequently hidden until He Himself is ready for great growth and visible results.

“Who has despised the day of small things?” asked the Old Testament prophet Zechariah. (Chapter 4:10 of his book)

Anyone disliking small things, small results, small events, or for that matter, poor turnouts, rare conversions, little gifts and tiny growth, is going to have a real problem in the kingdom of God.

Because the God you and I serve happens to love little things.

A Babe in a manger. A star over Bethlehem. A barn. A teenage Jewish couple. A few unlearned disciples. The widow’s mite. The little boy’s lunch. The offering in your church Sunday. The child who is learning to pray. The teacher who has never taught before but gave it a try. The old man who joined the choir just because he knew he’d never be any younger and he’d always wanted to. The young preacher who delivered his first sermon Sunday and has thought of quitting all week since.

You’re in the right place, Christian. But you must end this disastrous and suicidal tendency to judge by outward appearance. God is the great Power of the universe and can use a stick to part the waters of a sea, a donkey to give His message, or a rock to cry out praise for Jesus.

He can use you and me, too. But only if we are yielded to Him and are small enough.

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