Ever jump the gun? When I officiated at junior high and high school track meets years ago, I saw runners do it now and then. An overzealous boy would leap from the starting blocks prematurely, before the gun sounded, before the clock started. Often, his precipitate action was contagious, influencing other boys to rise from the blocks too soon. It was a false start; the race had to be restarted.
Ever go offside? I occasionally did when I played football as a teenager. Overanxious to gain the competitive edge on the boy facing me, I would cross the line of scrimmage before the center snapped the ball, placing it into play. When the referee caught me, the entire team had to pay the penalty of lost yardage.
Jumping the gun and going offside are sure signs that one lacks self-control. They indicate a person who cannot subjugate his or her zeal to the "rules of the game." A person guilty of these infractions misdirects effort, wasting valuable resources of time and energy.
In our Christian walk, jumping the gun and being offside both translate into the same thing: doing the wrong work! Instead of directing our energies into the Work God has ordained for us, we seek to do another work. Perhaps it is a work that God has already finished. Perhaps it is a work that God does not want started yet. Whatever the case, we end up doing our work rather than God's work. We squander our energies and time. Ultimately, we are sure to pay a penalty.
Find an Israelite—and there were probably many—who tried to cross the Red Sea before God parted it, and you will find someone who jumped the gun. Yes, crossing the sea was a work God wanted the Children of Israel to perform, but on His schedule! The overanxious Israelite you found at least got wet. Even worse, he may have drowned!
Preparing for Work
Far from idle, the runner crouching in the starting blocks has a work to do. So does the football player tensing at the line of scrimmage. That work, however, is not to perform the main event but to prepare for it. The wise runner best uses his time at the blocks to clear his mind of distracting thoughts, to remind himself of the stride he must assume, to rehearse what his coach advised about pacing himself advantageously. Likewise, the wise football player uses the moments before the center snaps the ball to review the planned play, or if he is playing defense, to study the configuration of players on the other team to try to determine their strategy. Never, never should this preparatory activity include thoughts of past victories, past glories. Wise preparation is always forward-looking.
Olympic trainers have become aware in recent years of the vital role mental preparation plays in an athlete's subsequent performance. Successful gymnasts and divers learn to pause before the event to rehearse mentally the moves they have so often physically practiced. Mental preparation is important because it allows the contestant to focus, without distractions, on what he or she must do to win.
King David, a "man after God's own heart," steadfastly refused to jump the gun, opting instead to prepare for a great work God would later carry out. David came to realize that he dwelt "in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under tent curtains" (I Chronicles 17:1). David was undoubtedly well-intentioned in his desire to build a Temple for God. God appreciated his concern, but told him He had ordained his son Solomon to build the Temple (II Chronicles 6:8-9). God rejected David as its builder because he had been a man of war and had shed blood (I Chronicles 28:3).
God appointed Solomon to carry out His work for that time: the construction of the Temple. David obediently deferred to God's judgment. The building of the Temple would wait an entire generation.
But, God gave David an important role to play in the building of the Temple. David was to prepare for its construction. So, he conscripted foreigners to serve as stone-masons; he accumulated nails in quantity; he gathered bronze "in abundance beyond measure"; he stored cedar trees, probably for curing. More important, he prepared Solomon for the task which lay ahead, charging him to build a house "exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all countries" (I Chronicles 22:2-6).
David's work was to prepare. And prepare he did! Not thinking it below his station to prepare for a work God would perform in a later generation, he gathered and accumulated and stored. Undoubtedly, the Temple was a better building because David so conscientiously carried out his responsibilities.
Of course, our responsibility today is not just mental preparation, as in the case of a diligent athlete. Nor is it physical preparation, as in David's case, cited above. All the same, our responsibility is much like David's in that we are gatherers. Our duty is to gather: to gather faith, patience, wisdom; to gather God's Holy Spirit. How much do we need? Well, Christ tells us that a "night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). In His Parable of the Ten Virgins, He says that the Bridegroom came at midnight (Matthew 25:6). Midnight is well into the night. The wise virgins were those who had enough oil—representing God's Spirit—to last the night. Indeed, we ought to gather God's Spirit like David gathered bronze, "in abundance beyond measure."
Our work today is to prepare ourselves for a future "main event" far more glorious, more magnificent, more challenging than the work of building the Temple. Our "main event" is to rule with Christ forever, to labor with Him in the restoration of God's government on this planet and to . . . well . . . only God knows what work lies ahead of us in the eons after the White Throne period. Our task now is to gather character—God's character—so that we can participate in the great events soon to take place.
One last stop at the football analogy. God is our quarterback. He calls the plays; He determines on what number the ball will be snapped. We do not know what that number is. It is our duty to be diligent players, waiting, ready, prepared to jump into action when He places the ball into play.
ON YOUR MARKS! God called us to the starting line years ago and has kept us from drifting away.
GET SET! Today, God commands that we prepare ourselves for what is to come.
GO! It will not be long before God fires the starting gun—blows the trumpet initiating a glorious main event.
Will we be ready? Let's be about our Father's business by preparing ourselves today for an eternity of service to our great God tomorrow.