Have you ever witnessed the president of the United States preparing to sign into law a piece of legislation which had been passed by Congress?
The scenario is the same and often goes like this: He is sitting at a desk with many individuals standing behind him watching. On the desk in front of him is a piece of paper, and a plethora of ink pens. The president picks up one of those ink pens and writes something on the piece of paper. It is not his complete signature though. Apparently, it is only one letter of his signature. He then puts that pen to the side and picks up another pen and uses it to inscribe another letter of his name on the signature line of the legislation. Again, he lays that pen aside, next to the first, and picks up a third pen from the as-yet-unused lot. This practice continues until he has completed the signature and, by the way, has used all the pens on the desk in front of him to sign the legislation into law.
Why would the president use so many pens to sign a piece of legislation into law? This tradition has been in place for decades, since President Franklin Roosevelt. He began doing this so that the individuals who were the sponsors for the law or the persons who were the inspiration for the law being enacted would be able to have a souvenir pen actually used by the president to sign their bill into law. After the signing, the pens are each individually placed in a special box engraved with the presidential seal and the name of the president who signed the legislation into law.
The other day I felt like the president using multiple pens to sign his signature. No, it was not some significant or important piece of legislation. In fact, it really had nothing to do with that at all. I was cleaning out my basement. While doing so, I found a box of old pens – maybe 100 or so of them – each bearing the insignia of one of the former churches where I served as pastor. I had held onto these pens thinking that someday they would be useful if and when I had no other pen to use. But, upon rediscovering these old pens I began to wonder if they were any good, if they were still useful. So I took one and began to write with it. I was able to write about five words with this pen and the ink dried up completely. Like the president, I set that pen aside and picked up another one out of the box. That one only worked properly for three words. I laid that one aside and picked up a third. And so it went – through the entire box of pens. Not one of them would write more than a few words before drying out.
I couldn’t help it, but I began to realize that there is a spiritual principle here. For those who claim to follow Christ, He wants us to be used in His work and in His way. He gives us an unending “ink supply,” which meets our needs and ministers to those to whom He calls us to minister. But all too often, we seem content to just sit on the shelf, sometimes for decades, and let others do the work of ministry. Then we wonder why we do not seem to be receiving God’s blessing.
There were two applicants for the same teaching position in the elementary school. One applicant was an experienced teacher who had been teaching for 25 years. The other applicant was a freshly-graduated young lady from the state university with virtually no experience, but a lot of untried and untested knowledge. After a battery of tests and an extensive series of interviews, the superintendent of schools made the decision. He chose the younger woman over the more experienced lady for that open position.
When she heard of the decision, the older, more-experienced applicant stormed into the superintendent’s office and raged: “I cannot believe you did this! The idea … of hiring … this young … this young thing. Sir, I will have you know that I have 25 years experience in teaching. I am more than qualified for this position and you have made a grave mistake.”
The superintendent allowed the woman to rant and rave for a few minutes before he finally tired of her tirade, raised his hand to stop her venting, and said, “Woman, I have only one thing to say to you. You do not have 25 years of experience. Based upon our assessment, I can confidently declare to you that you have one year’s experience multiplied 25 times.”
One of my constant concerns is that followers of Christ many times come to faith in Christ, get going for a while, but then seem to lose their steam and run out of ink (or gas or whatever). Instead of staying fresh in the Lord, they tend to rely on their years of experience to gain God’s blessing. God’s desire is for each of us to be fruitful over the long haul. You’ve heard the expression: “The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint.” God wants us to stay on track for our entire lives.
My friends, if we are not going to run out of ink, we must stay fresh. My desire for my life is the same desire I have for you – that I will not be laid to the side because the ink in my reservoir is dried up and stale. We must read and study the Word of God daily, pray, and consistently find ways to share what God is teaching us. So keep in the Word. Pray. And stay involved in church.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.