“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
One of the most productive things a minister can do is to spend time with a good friend also in the Lord’s work bouncing ideas and stories off each other.
Their wives might not appreciate what they are accomplishing–it looks a lot like fun and if she is the left-brained pragmatic one in the family, she can cite a list of a hundred things her preacher-husband could be doing–but let the ministers insist. And persist.
A pastor friend and I were in my office one morning, bouncing ideas and stories off each other. My favorite thing to do.
We got off talking about the Amazon River. I have no idea how that happened.
That waterway is 90 miles wide at its mouth and its waters flow 200 miles out into the Atlantic. Keep that in mind for what follows.
My friend said, “I tell that to senior adults as a parable of their lives. Even after your life ends, your influence still runs on far out into the future to bless people for years to come.”
I am reminded of the Scripture that says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13).
Their works do follow them.
This may be why Scripture does not teach that judgment for believers occurs immediately after our death: The record is not complete yet. Our works are continuing. Every person we touched, taught, blessed, hurt, hindered, encouraged, damaged, led to Christ or prayed for is still out there living their lives. We share in their lives. Jesus said when we give a cup of water to a prophet, we share in his ministry and thus in his reward (Matthew 10:41-42).
My friend’s story is a great encouragement to us all.
Then it was my turn.
I told him of a European ship headed to South America a century ago that ran out of water. They were quickly into big trouble, as everyone on board was dying of thirst. Spotting a ship on the horizon, they signalled: Help Us. No water. Crew dying.
The other ship responded: Let down your buckets where you are.
The captain of the first ship thought they must have been misunderstood and resent the message.
The second ship signalled: “Underneath your ship is the Amazon.”
Imagine dying of thirst in the middle of the Amazon.
The great educator Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, loved this story and enjoyed telling it. His audiences would be made up mostly of former slaves who needed all the help and encouragement they could find.
Dr. Washington would remind his people “there’s no need to look to Washington, D.C. to solve your problems or go running off to a distant place. Let down your buckets where you are.”
Every pastor encounters people who believe they could make a real difference in the world if they just lived somewhere different. They could serve God if they were married to someone else. They could be a success in business, they could write that book, pastor that church, prosper in life–if only their circumstances were different.
I’ve run into church people who moved to our city of New Orleans and, unable to find a house of worship like the one back home, refused to join any. “I cannot serve the Lord here,” they said. “It’s too worldly.” Or, “too different.”
I’ve actually encountered church members who declared “I could be a witness for the Lord if I lived overseas. But it’s hard witnessing to my friends and neighbors.”
Serve God here. Serve Him now. With what you have.
Let down your bucket. Bloom where you are planted.
If you cannot serve God in New Orleans, you cannot serve Him in Birmingham or Jasper or Haleyville. If you will not go across the street and witness to your neighbor on the street where you live, you would not do it in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, or Tonbridge, Kent, England.
There is no excuse for not obeying the Lord and living the abundant life. It’s foolish to wish for perfect conditions before we can do the right thing.
We live in the middle of the Amazon, for pete’s sake.
One river with a thousand stories, of which this is just two.
Two preachers, both with a deep need for fellowship and a strong craving for someone to listen and react, each one a gift from the Father to the other.
Iron sharpening iron.