There is a verse in the sixth chapter of Proverbs that says: “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” It is a word about doing the hard work required in order to achieve the results that are desired. Nature is filled with such illustrations. The biblical writer chose hard-working ants who do what is required in summer to prepare what will be needed when winter comes. He just as easily could have chosen an example of worker bees making honey or squirrels gathering nuts for cold weather or any of hundreds of other examples.
Usually the things we desire most, or the things others desire from us, do not just magically happen. Investments are required before we can hope for returns.
In my own work as a minister here at Marble, I preach two sermons every week (Sunday morning and Worship Without Walls). Two weeks per month I preach three sermons a week because I do Wednesday Evening Worship (WeWo) twice a month. Someone asked me recently, “After all these years, it probably doesn’t take you long to write sermon, does it?” I wish that were true, but for me every sermon takes about twelve-to-fifteen hours to research, write, re-write, and learn (some of them require even more time than that). So, on the weeks I do WeWo, that means I’m doing thirty-six to forty-five hours of sermon prep before I do anything else (meetings, blogs, pastoral care, conversations with staff, anything). I mentioned in a sermon a woman who stood in the narthex at the close of a Worship service and said to me, "That was a really good sermon this morning." Trying to be both humble and honest, I replied, "Thank you, but God did it." She answered, "It wasn't that good!" In moments like those, what can you do but laugh (because the truth is, she was right)? But, can you imagine how bland or boring or powerless or pointless my sermons would be if I spent no time preparing them, if I just entered the pulpit and talked off the top of my head? I owe my church better than that. I owe God better than that. So, before I stand in the pulpit, I sit in the study and work and research and pray and wait as creatively as know how, because that is an indispensable part of what is required of a preacher.
Whatever your work may be (in an office, in the store or shop, in an institutional setting, on an industrial production line, on stage or behind the scenes, in the home, etc.), the results of your labors will usually match the level of your devotion to prep work, to all the sometimes difficult and seemingly menial efforts that go into creating the end result which is desired. But all that tough work, all that too often unnoticed and too often underappreciated work, is sacred. It reveals our commitment to the quality of the final product and our love for the persons who will benefit. There is beauty in working the garden before the harvest is reaped.
“Go to the ant... consider her ways, and be wise... She prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”