The temptation to “go from house to house”

June 15, 2017

My friend Leslie got ordained last night. I met her on my first day of class at Emory in 2004. She often elbowed me awake in John Hayes’s 8:00 a.m. OT class.

Last night at Annual Conference, our bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson, preached a message to our conference’s newly ordained, commissioned, and licensed pastors and deacons. Her text was Luke 10:1-12, where Jesus commissions 72 disciples to proclaim the gospel and heal the sick in the towns around Galilee. The bishop related Jesus’ instructions to these disciples to our role as clergy.

Prior to her sermon, I’d never thought about the meaning of verse 7: “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.”

Do not go from house to house.

In other words, Jesus says, when the disciples come into a town, and someone offers them a place stay, they should avoid the temptation to seek more comfortable, more spacious lodging in someone else’s home, even if it’s offered to them. Stay where you are and be content, Jesus says. Don’t look for something better.

It’s easy to see how this applies to us United Methodist pastors, who are itinerant. Each year the bishop either reappoints us to our present church or sends us to a new church (or churches). In theory, we go where we’re sent; it isn’t up to us. Whether we “like” our appointment is beside the point.

The danger, the bishop said, is restlessness: we clergy will be so anxious for our next appointment that we’ll fail to appreciate, enjoy, or learn from our present one. This restlessness becomes worse, of course, when we look over our shoulders at our clergy colleagues and compare ourselves to them and their appointments. “How do I rate? Am I falling behind? Am I moving ahead?”

As a naturally ambitious person, I can relate—and maybe you can, too. My temptation to compare myself to others has brought me nothing but misery.

Besides, we should avoid “going from house to house” for a deeper reason: Ultimately we’re appointed not by any bishop or district superintendent; we’re appointed by God.

In fact, wherever you are, whoever you are, you are there because God wants you to be there. You have an appointment. 

But what if you say, “I don’t like where God has appointed me”? Or, as the Talking Heads sang:

You may ask yourself, “Where is that large automobile?”
And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful house”
And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful wife”

Okay… As pastor and theologian Paul Zahl says: Blame God. He can take it.

But as you do so, remember this: We are “slaves of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Our life doesn’t belong to us. Our personal happiness isn’t the point of life. We are owned by the One who paid for us by the precious blood of his beloved Son. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, we live for one reason only: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Wherever God has appointed us, he has done so for his glory. The question all of us must ask is this: “Is living for God’s glory enough for me?”

4 Responses to “The temptation to “go from house to house””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Good points! I certainly have to rely on this doctrine presently, as I am working a lot on cases that pay little! Would much rather be a renowned/well-compensated Christian author! 🙂

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    Be careful about wishing your life away. It’s a natural phenomenon that we always want to see what’s over the next hill. I did it in the business world. Now, in my 70’s, I look back and realize that I was usually right where I was supposed to be and that I was growing where I was planted. Moving too quickly often led to stress and frustration. Now I would give anything to have some of those times back for just a little while.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Indeed. So much of my unhappiness in life—day by day, moment by moment—comes from things not going the way I planned. But why should it bother me? I’m not in charge.


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