Thank God For "Tent-Making" Preachers
Imagine for a moment Paul, the inspired apostle sitting in a small shop; in one hand a needle and thread, and in the other, some sort of rough-looking fabric, made from a skin of an animal. As he begins to weave two pieces of the fabric together, one of Paul's co-workers says to him, "Hey Paul, are you going to the party tomorrow night?"—"Paul," another says, "Oh, he doesn't party, he is a preacher. Right, Paul?"
A little while later, someone comes into the shop. This time the question is different. "Paul, you think you are so smart; I heard that you said that you and your little group were going to be the only ones who could go to Heaven—is that what you said?" A young man, no more than 21 years old comes in, and immediately begins to tell a joke. Well, you know what kind of joke it is... but then he sees Paul, and for a moment he stops. Then in a low voice, trying not to be heard by the apostle, he finishes the dirty little joke.
Upon leaving the shop, he says, "OK, I will see you all at the party tomorrow night." Then the youngster makes some quip about “Mr. Holier Than Thou" (Paul) not being able to attend. It is not a pretty picture, is it? Here is a man of God, in his avocation, his hobby, being attacked because of his vocation, his job.
What is the point? Well, simply this: This type of thing goes on every day, all over America and all around the world. In fact, chances are that you know someone who this happens to. You have seen him. He is not the preacher that goes into his church office at eight, sits behind his Bible, and studies for 3 or 4 hours. No, not this man; he is not the preacher who studies for a couple of hours in his private office, and then dons his tie and overcoat to go visit sister so-and-so at the hospital.
This is not the man who wakes up at seven, has a cup of coffee, sits down with the morning paper for a half hour to read before he goes into the church office. He is not afforded a secretary at the building to meet him, and to say to him, "Hello sir, brother so-and-so called, and I took a message. Also, little Johnny drew you a picture—isn't he sweet?" No, not this man.
Oh, it is not that he wouldn't like to have these things, but he knows that the congregation for which he works cannot afford these luxuries. And to be honest, he doesn't have the time for the morning paper.
He wakes up at 5 AM, not to read the paper, but because he knows that if he doesn't wake up early to study, he may not have a chance the rest of the day. He sits down for an hour, reading quietly, studying, concentrating on the words of the Bible, making little notes, and writing down certain things on his notepad.
By six, his wife is awake, trying to get the children up for school. Now she is beckoning for him to come and help her wake the children. At 6:45, after everyone is dressed, and while mom is preparing breakfast for the children, he goes and jumps into the now cold shower. At 7:15 he leaves home, in order to make it to his hobby by 8:00.
He works at his day job. He grunts and sweats. He breaks his back and hurts his arm. His boss loves him, because he works so diligently, unlike the rest of the employees, who just barely get by. So when more work comes, it is this man who is asked to do it, because the boss knows that if he asks him, he will find a way somehow in his busy day to get it done.
His co-workers like him, but more in the way you might like a warm bowl of soup. You know, if there is nothing else, you'll eat it up, and it sure is nice to have around when it is cold outside. They like to have him around when there is not some kind of sinful act in which they wish to partake. And it is certain that when the rest of the world is cold, and bitter toward them, they know that he will be there to comfort them in their time of need.
He works with the same people every day; he has tried, and continues still to try to reach out to them and bring them to Christ. He works with them, he sweats with them, he gets down and "digs in the trenches" with them, and yet he doesn't truly feel like he belongs—he is not one of them. For even while they work, his mind is elsewhere. His mind is on sister so-and-so, who is having surgery at 3:00, and he wishes he could be there with her and the family.
At 5:00 or 6:00, depending when the work is done, his co-workers will head to the bar for the game and some "good times.” But not this man. No, when he gets off of his avocation, he begins his vocation—his job, his real work. He checks his watch. No, he doesn't have time to go home and get cleaned up, and put on a suit and tie. So he goes straight to the hospital to visit sister so-and-so. As he enters the hospital, he makes an immediate right into the bathroom.
He washes his hands, throws water on his face, and lathers up really well, so that the good sister and their family will not smell that smell—the one that comes after a hard day of labor. When he arrives, he looks around, and sure enough, there is the Baptist preacher in his suit and tie; the family invited the Methodist preacher too, and he is, of course, dressed to a T. But not this man—he is still in his jeans and workshirt he tries to fit in and do what he can to help out in the current situation.
After comforting the family and leading a prayer in the hospital room, he finally gets to go home and relax. Only, when he gets home, his wife has a few things that she is physically unable to do and asks him if he will do them while she finishes supper. The children are shouting, the wife is on the phone (sister so-and-so just had to call to find out why the towels in the baptistery were folded with 2 folds rather than 3, and the church towels are always supposed to be folded in the proper fashion), and now he has to finish his "honey do" jobs.
Supper is now on the table, and this man, calmly, quietly, says "Let us pray."
It is the one moment he has waited for practically all day. With head bowed, holding hands with his wife and his children, he thanks God for the many bountiful blessings that He has bestowed. He never forgets to thank God for the meal, and the clothing, for the sacrifice of Jesus and for the job that he has that allows him not only to provide for his family, but affords him the chance to do what he loves to do more than anything in the world: to preach the glorious Gospel of Christ.
After supper is over, he looks over his children's homework; he makes sure they are doing OK. He talks with his children, trying to see how they are coming along. He probes ever so gently about their classes, their friends, and he tells them the importance of doing a good job, and working hard every day, and how Christians are to behave themselves all the time.
He spends a little time talking with his wife, listening to all the bad things that happened to her today. Then he rejoices with her at all the good news that she has to share. She asks a few questions about some things that the ladies said in ladies' class, and ever so briefly they study again God’s Word to find out if what was said was the Truth.
The children have finished their homework. And it is almost time for bed. As they shower and brush their teeth, put on their pajamas, and get ready for bed, it is now time for this man, God's servant, to do the Lord’s work. He knows that he only has about 30 minutes before it is time to read the children a story from the Good Book before his children drift off to dreamland.
So, he gets out his Bible and his notepad. He sits down at his computer, and he begins to type this week's bulletin. He writes about sister so-and-so's surgery and he tells of the week's events. And as he begins to write an article about encouragement, he is interrupted—not in a bad way, but sure enough, it is time for him to tell those wonderful and true stories in the Bible to young precious minds, so dear to his heart.
After watching as his children sleep, he is reminded why he does many of the things that he does. He goes back to work on the bulletin, he sees that the time is quickly slipping by. It is now almost 10:00 PM and he wonders where the day has gone. He goes back and he writes half of the bulletin article, but his eyes are too weary. His day has been long, and so he goes to bed.
As he slips into bed, trying not to wake his wonderful wife, he remembers that there was one thing that he did not finish, and it was oh, so important to her. So, he drags his tired body out of the bed, he puts his long pants back on, and he goes out to finish his work.
While he is outside finishing up his "honey do" list, he notices his neighbor sitting on the porch crying. He first thinks it is none of his business and that he will just go back in and get some sleep, but as he stands looking, he realizes that he must do something. So, he approaches his neighbor. He is told of how his neighbor's mother had just passed away- and how they had not reconciled before her death, and now they will never see their loved one again. He stays up with the neighbor, perhaps an hour or more, giving comfort, advice, and mostly just lending an ear, and a shoulder to cry on.
He goes back inside. The time is approaching 12:30 or even 1:00, the bulletin article is not complete, his wife is fast asleep, his children are dreaming peacefully—and he knows he has to start all over again, in just a few short hours.
Why does he do it?
Because he knows the awesome responsibility that a preacher has to his brethren, to his family, to the world, and to his Father.
So, friends, brothers, you know who this man is. He stands before you week after week. He comes to visit at the hospital. He's the preacher who doesn't dress like a preacher when he visits, the one that the Baptist and Methodist preachers just jeered at as he walked out of the hospital room.
That's the guy. And when you see him, thank him for his sacrifice. Because it is time we stand up and thank our "tent-making" preachers for their place in our lives, for their place in their secular jobs, for their place in our congregations, and for their place as the head of their homes, and may we never forget to give them thanks for all that they mean to the kingdom of God.
No, he may never be asked to be on the great "lectureship circuit." He may never write articles and books that will be published and sold in faithful bookshops. He may never receive one bit of notoriety for the effort that he puts forth, to save his family, his co-workers, his community and his congregation. But God knows what he is doing, and the Judge of all the world will do that which is right, and when his time on this earth is done, only God will know what this man's sacrifice has meant and how his light did shine in the midst of this cruel and wicked world.
And I know one thing for sure: for as long as God continues to bless me with life, I shall never forget the faithfulness of my father, for this story is just a day in the life—one day, one simple little day—one of countless thousands, that he went through, in order to raise his family, love his wife, reach his community, and please his Lord.
Thank you dad, and thank you to the countless men just like you!