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Discipleship Is Like Starting in the Mailroom

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Norman Nagel compared living the Christian life to a business owner sending his son to work for the company:

“Occasionally we hear about the owner of a big business who puts his son to work in his own factory. There the son has to work with the rest of the employees. His back aches and his hands blister, but his father knows he will be a better man for the firm if he has been through all this before he inherits the business. Similarly, God puts us through some hard training here. At times our hearts ache and our hands blister, but God knows we will be better for His kingdom” (Nagel, Selected Sermons, p. 27).

What an easy-to-understand picture of one of the primary purposes of discipleship. In fact, I might agree with that illustration more than Nagel!

If we’re called to work in this world in light of becoming “better for His kingdom,” it makes a big difference what kind of kingdom we’re expecting to inherit. If we’re expecting a disembodied Neoplatonic state of bliss, it’s hard to see the point of all the blistered hands and aching backs. On the other hand, if the kingdom is real—an Eden 2.0—where resurrected people will live and work and create culture, then it makes sense that the work we do now can prepare us for the work we’ll have to do there.

Nagel’s illustration is especially instructive in light of the teaching that only faithful believers will have the privilege of ruling with Christ in His kingdom (Luke 19:11-27; 2 Tim 2:12). According to Jesus, some of us really will inherit the “business”! That means what we do in the mailroom really can qualify us for the boardroom. Or…it may disqualify us! Our salvation is secure, but rewards like ruling with Christ are not (1 Cor 3:11-15).

After exploring the father’s perspective, Nagel then turns to the son:

“That is one side of it; the other is the attitude of the son while he is working in the factory. He doesn’t see his work as so much pointless drudgery only for the sake of the pay on Friday. He sees his work in relation to his father and his future. He knows he is coming into the business, and therefore there is no need for him to make a big noise among the employees to asset his position and rank. He is confident of that and gets on with the work” (p. 27).

Knowing he will inherit the business gives the son a bigger perspective on his daily work. I can imagine that young man starting off working in the mailroom. He may not like it. But he knows he won’t stay there forever. It’s just for a short time before he moves on to something else—maybe to deliveries or the factory line. Afterwards, he moves up to sales. Then, lower management. Then, upper management. He becomes a vice president. And finally, the company becomes his. All the way, the hope of eventually inheriting the company sustains him through the drudgery. It gives that work a newfound purpose.

What God has for you right now may seem like drudgery. Dishes. Laundry. Bills. Ungrateful children, unpleasant bosses, and working a job you hate for decades without being able to do the things that bring you the most joy. The drudgery may seem endless, but it’s actually temporary. Even if you’re in the mailroom for eighty or ninety years, that time is nothing compared to serving Christ for eternity!

As Earl Radmacher used to say, “This life is training time for reigning time!”

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.

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