Killing Rats and the Kingdom of God
Written by Pastor Jim Law
Charles Spurgeon in his autobiography tells a story from his youth years that speaks to the priorities in a believer’s life. On one occasion his grandmother promised him a penny for every hymn of Isaac Watts that he could perfectly repeat to her. Possessing a photographic memory, he began to quickly learn the hymns at such a pace that she reduced the price to a half-penny. However, Spurgeon recalled that even with the reduction in price there was still risk “that she might be ruined by the calls on her purse.”
In time Spurgeon faced a lucrative distraction. His grandfather, finding his home place overrun with rats, promised Spurgeon a shilling a dozen for all the rats that he could kill. With such an offer, his priorities shifted as he gave up hymn-learning for rat-killing. In later years, Spurgeon confessed that memorizing the hymns paid the best, for they fed his young life with God’s truth and in his ministry was able to use them in his sermons.
Thinking through the tyranny of the urgent and the cocophony of demands and appeals for our time and energy, we are faced with similar choices as Spurgeon. In the Christian life, often the issue is not between good and evil, but between better and best, good and excellent. Who can argue that the eradication of rats is not a good thing when they overrun a barn? But when such activity becomes long term and siphons off full energy from what is excellent, namely God’s calling and gifting on your life, it becomes a well-disguised distraction that can be justified with nice sounding excuses.
I sense this was the struggle in Acts 6 over the care of widows. With the explosion of the Jerusalem church following Pentecost, the needs of this young Body were great, and the apostles were battling the issue of calling. They certainly were not communicating that they were above waiting on tables and meeting physical needs, but clearly their calling was “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4)
The Spirit-filled life is a life at the full disposal of God, and just like the response of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, we must enter the fray of human suffering without hesitation. Therefore, spiritual gifts are not to be excuses, but divine enablements to help us take our place in the Body and this world to do the bidding of Christ until He returns.
The evaluation between good and excellent can rarely be made on the fly. Such decisions must be made through regular times of prayer and reflection about the commitments of our lives. The Psalmist’s prayer goes to the heart of the matter, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.”
Wrestling with these decisions requires that we come to terms with the spiritual gifts God has given to us, and a determination to use them for His glory. In this struggle to seek God’s will for my life, I have found a great help in Paul’s prayer for the Phillipians:
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” (1:9-11)
These verses contain the substance of his prayers for a congregation that he loved deeply. He prays that their love would abound more and more. He is not speaking of a syrupy sentiment, but rather of the type of love that we come to know from God Himself.
An abounding love established in real knowledge and discernment gives aid to approving what is excellent in the living of your life. I remember hearing Jim Cymbala once say that when he stood before the judgment seat of Christ that he did not want to hear the One whose eyes are like flames of fire say to him, “Who told you to do that? By what authority did you give your life to that?”
John Piper’s provocative title, “Don’t Waste Your Life”, is a helpful volume on proving what is excellent. Piper writes, “If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on for centuries and into eternity, you don’t have to have a high IQ or EQ; you don’t have to have good looks or riches; you don’t have to come from a fine family or a fine school. You have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.”
May we follow hard after Him who said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God…”, otherwise we might live our days killing rats and thereby missing what is truly excellent.