Paul, writing to the believers in Galatia, says in Galatians 4:19, “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,” In Romans 7:3-4 Paul says, “So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another–to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.” (emphasis added).
It’s interesting how sexual and intimate Paul can be in his language. In other places he said that he considered himself a nursing mother to the new baby believers. Marriage, sex, labor pains, fruit. Fellow believers, especially you pastors out there, have you ever thought about it like that? The “labor in birth” dynamic hit home for me this past week, and indeed these past several years. I’ve always conceptually understood it, but never really experienced it. At least I never connected the dots. (I can be a little slow sometimes.)
I’ve been in bad moods before. I’ve been generally depressed or down before. We all have. But this past week, and the weeks before that for that matter, I’ve had unusually intense “grumpies”. They have been increasing in their intensity. It’s no fun for anyone. The Lord must have spoken to me this morning because the thought came out of nowhere (or so it felt). “These are labor pains.” The last few days have been particularly intense. One moment I’m ticked at God, life, everything. I want to quit. God is stupid. I want everyone and everything to just go away. The next moment I love everyone, God is so awesome and merciful, and I’m ready to stick it out and go one step further. Jess was in labor for about 29 hours with Jonah. Labor involves contractions. Waves of pain and waves of rest. It gets pretty intense toward the end (I had the fingernail scars in my hand to prove it for a while!). That’s what my own God-oriented mood swings have felt like, and it’s all centered around the idea of our church growing.
I so want to bear fruit to God. I feel sort of ashamed to admit this but, as far as I know, I’ve never led anyone to the Lord. No one has ever come forward after a teaching. I’ve never prayed with anyone who has made a decision to surrender their lives to Jesus for the first time. While I have been used to encourage believers, grow believers up, even rededicate believers to the Lord, so far as I know I’ve never born fresh fruit to God. And it just eats at me sometimes. I know, I know, some water, some sew, some reap. The context of those statements has to do with missionaries and teachers. The pastor, as I understand it, is supposed to do all three as he leads the church.
I find myself pastoring a church of about 50 people in a town of 35,000+ people (Forest Grove and Cornelius) on the suburban edge of a metro area of millions. Drugs are rampant like everywhere else. Families are broken like everywhere else. People need Jesus like everywhere else. Yet we aren’t reaching them (cue depression). Sunday comes, we sing, I teach, Sunday goes. Don’t get me wrong. People are growing, people are changing, and I thank God for that. I love our people. I’m so very thankful for our people and their faithfulness to the Lord. But there’s no new (fresh) fruit. My hope of hopes is that the church is pregnant, that the quality growth we are seeing internally will one day translate outward into new lives. It’s like a pregnant lady towards the end who feels like “I just want this thing out of me!” That’s what I feel like. I just want our church to pop!
The key to giving birth, the trigger if you will, is intensity in the contractions. Pastor Jim Cymbala once described a particular prayer meeting at The Brooklyn Tabernacle for his wayward daughter as a labor room. It was intense. It wasn’t emotionally manipulative, it wasn’t fake, it was sincere crying out to God both with volume and with tears for a lost sheep. I’ve been reading a book called The Kneeling Christian. (I’ve been reading it for years.) Chapter 7 is titled, Must I Agonize? Consider these excerpts.
Prayer is measured, not by time, but by intensity. Earnest souls who read of men like “Praying” Hyde are today anxiously asking, “Am I expected to pray like that?” They hear of others who sometimes remain on their knees before God all day or all night, refusing food and scorning sleep while they pray and pray and pray. They naturally wonder. “Are we to do the same? Must all of us follow their examples?” We must remember that those men of prayer did not pray by time. They continued so long in prayer because they could not stop praying.
Child of God, our heavenly Father knows all about it [how busy our lives are]. He is not a taskmaster. He is our Father. If you have no time for prayer or no chance of secret prayer, just tell Him all about it, and you will discover that you are praying!
But are there not endless opportunities during every day of “lifting up holy hands” – or at least holy hearts – in prayer to our Father? Do we seize the opportunity, as we open our eyes upon each new day, of praising and blessing our Redeemer? Every day is an Easter day to the Christian. We can pray as we dress. Without a reminder we shall often forget. In the corner of your looking-glass [mirror], stick a piece of paper bearing the words, “Pray without ceasing.” Try it. We can pray as we go from one duty to another. We can often pray at our work. The washing and the writing, the mending and the minding, the cooking and the cleaning will be done all the better for it.
There is so much more to this chapter. The question we must ask with regard to intensity is this; how badly do we want it? How badly do we want to be fruitful? How badly do we want to be an influence for Jesus in this community? It’s going to take intimacy with the Lord. It’s going to take endurance as we experience labor pains. It’s going to take intensity in prayer. Paul said that the end, the goal of those labor pains was “Christ is formed in you.” Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what we are all after? Push on in prayer with intensity and urgency. Push on in your priorities. When a woman is in labor there is nothing else as important at that moment. Push on in your crying out to the Lord for this new life to come forth. The alternative is, well, there is no alternative.