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Put in the work and you’ll be surprised by the outcome

By DAVID WHITLOCK

Life Matters

I kept looking over the names listed on the sign-up sheet for our Wednesday night church meal, scratching my head at the apparent mystery: why had at least twice as many people made reservations than normally do?

Sure, it was the first meal after the summer break, during which we suspend the mid-week church meal. And I knew it was an excellent menu: tossed salad, barbeque ribs, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables and dessert (I was ready to chow down every time I read what we were having). But still, I couldn’t figure out why so many people were coming. I even noticed the name of a family, dear friends of mine, who were bringing their mother, a long-time church member, who had recently moved to Louisville after her husband died.

Later, after the meal, I learned the cooks had been cooking up more than just food. And all the while they were secretly snickering at my curiosity.

The night of the meal, I led a prayer of blessing before we ate, and immediately after my “amen,” I heard a friend shout, “You and Lori get in line first.”

“Now, that’s out of the ordinary,” I thought, for Lori and I normally lag toward to end of the line, by our own intention.

“You and Lori are our guests of honor,” my friend announced.

Seeing my obvious confusion, she attempted an explanation.

“It’s your anniversary!”

Instead of enlightening me, she had befuddled me all the more, for Lori and I had celebrated our anniversary back in June.

“Your 16th year anniversary as our Pastor!” she shouted, enunciating her words, as if I had difficulty with my hearing. Then, her announcement was followed by laughter and hand clapping from everyone in line.

It seemed I was the only one surprised. I later learned even Lori had been in on the covert operation.

What followed was an evening of affirmation, as person after person took time to thank me for my ministry. They even included my favorite dessert: chocolate, flowing from a chocolate fountain, plus, a chocolate cake decorated with the words, “We love you, Dr. David.”

One of the children read, to the applause of all, her own personal words of appreciation for me, her pastor. And one of the youth grinned at me, pointing to the “OU Sooners,” ball cap, he had worn in my honor.

They melted my heart that night.

Years ago, when I was in my first full-time pastorate, I read Dr. W.A. Criswell’s book, Guidebook for Pastors. He listed under “Don’ts” for the Pastor, coming in as number 11: “Don’t expect a thank-you.” I’ve remembered that advice, and whenever I’ve been tempted to think, “Oh my, I didn’t want to believe it, but it’s the truth: ‘no good deed goes unpunished,’” I’ve remembered

Criswell’s words instead, and believing most people are good even if they are sometimes forgetful, I’ve kept on moving forward, one step at a time.

When Marcus Dods was a young preacher — he would later go on to be an influential pastor and author of many fine books — he wrote in his diary: “No day passes without strong temptation to give up the work.”

I suspect Dods’ words resonate not just with preachers but teachers, administrators, military personnel, factory employees, and parents – or anyone struggling during certain seasons of life — seasons when that “rough patch” seems to unfurl into the far distant horizon, like an endless highway through the Nevada desert.

During those times, we do well to keep on keeping on, in the sure and certain hope of a better tomorrow.

And then, when it happens, we can rejoice in those oases, those special moments when people arrive in our lives at just the right time, throwing encouragement on us like the trainer splashing fresh water on the face of the beleaguered prize fighter, reviving his resolve, invigorating his soul, reminding the flagging boxer to hold his head high, straighten his back, stand tall, and step back into the ring, gloves up again, ready for the fight, for unseen forces, always there albeit unbeknownst to him, have come to his aid, in that very moment – when he least expected it.

And so it is with us, if we keep on praying and don’t give up (Luke 18:1).

And so, alas, why then should we ever be quite so surprised?