In 1856, Andrew Bonar, brother of the hymnwriter Horatius Bonar and the close friend of Robert Murray McCheyne, became pastor of a new church on Finnieston Street in a needy area of Glasgow. God multiplied his efforts and blessed the work. Before long, what had begun as a small and struggling work had mushroomed to a congregation of more than a thousand members, with a burgeoning Sunday School program and local outreach into the city. When a friend asked one day how things were going, Bonar replied, “Oh, we are looking for great things!” When his friend cautioned him not to expect too much, Bonar replied, “We can never hope for too much!”
Some years earlier, 1836 to be precise, McCheyne had arrived in Dundee, Scotland, to take charge of a church plant effort in the northwest corner of the city. It would not be an easy place for ministry as a great deal of poverty and vice marked and marred daily life there. “A city given to idolatry and hardness of heart,” was the way the youthful preacher McCheyne described Dundee. But then he added, “Perhaps the Lord will make this wilderness of chimney-tops to be as green and beautiful as the garden of the Lord, a field which the Lord hath blessed!”
What I love about those two stories is the positive affirmation and anticipation voiced by these men concerning the Lord’s work, all underwritten by a belief that if God is for them, who can be against them (Rom. 8:31). They did not allow the challenge of circumstances, or the cautionary tales of others, to dampen their confidence and hope in God. When it came to the Lord’s work, they talked things up! They believed they would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13-14). When it comes to the Lord’s work, we need to talk as those who believe God is triumphantly at work (2 Cor. 2:14). The way we talk about God’s work is important, it must be a matter of faith; not frustration, not fear.
In reading Nehemiah Chapter 4, one is struck by a variety of voices, each with their own take on the Lord’s work (Neh. 4:10, 11, 14). As the work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem ground on, everybody seemed to have an opinion as to the odds of success. First, there were those within Judah who said, “We can’t” (Neh. 4:10). Given the tiredness of the workers and the size of the work things seemed increasingly impossible. Second, there were Israel’s enemies who said, “You won’t” (Neh. 4:11). They had opposed Nehemiah’s plans for the welfare of Jerusalem from day one. In Chapter 2:19 they used ridicule, in Chapter 4 they used threats of violence, and in chapter 6 they employed duplicitous friendship. Third, there was Nehemiah, the leader of the work who said, “God will” (Neh. 4:14). Here was a man who believed that the Lord’s work is just that, the Lord’s work. What God had promised God would perform (Neh. 1:8-11; 2:18, 20).
When it comes to the Lord’s work let us ignore the voices of doubt and hate, and instead, speak with the voice of faith. Let us remember that we can never hope for too much, and that wildernesses can become gardens of the Lord.