Which comes first?

Adam Harbinson

Adam Harbinson

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There’s a wonderful story told about a little family who lived in rural Ulster in the 1950s.

Dad was a handyman travelling the countryside in an old van, mending anything that was broken. Mum looked after the home and a smallholding with a menagerie of animals and a vegetable patch.

Nine-year-old Anna was their only child, and every day as tea time approached she would sit with her nose pressed against the window, waiting for Dad to come home from his work. And truth be told, he was as excited as she was.

Each day, when she heard the little van coming up the lane she would fling open the door and run down the garden path to meet him. He would sweep her up in his big arms and they would sit together on the sofa, swapping stories of their day.

Then one day she wasn’t there to meet him: no hugs and kisses, no sitting together in front of the roaring log fire, happily chatting together. No, she locked herself in her bedroom, busily working at some secret project, emerging from her seclusion only long enough to wolf down her food and then to disappear upstairs again. Day after day for what seemed an eternity there were no excited screeches as she ran to meet him.

He was heartbroken. What could he have done or said to destroy the intimacy of their special relationship?

Little Anna had learned in school how to embroider and she was polishing her new-found skills, but Dad no longer looked forward to coming home, and as he trudged heavy-hearted towards the front door one dark, winter evening he could see her shadow on the window blind in her bedroom.

He felt he could no longer contain his grief, but then things changed. As he pulled the front door closed behind him, he could hear her tumbling down the stairs, racing along the hallway and flinging herself into his arms. He had been so dejected that he’d forgotten it was his birthday. But Anna hadn’t forgotten. She had been labouring, night after night for weeks, creating a beautiful tapestry as a present for him.

Of course he was delighted she had invested hours of her time and skills creating something that he would treasure for the rest of his life, but given the choice, would he have preferred her working alone in the solitude of her room, or sharing quality time with his precious daughter?

A recent study in America conducted by the baptistboard.com suggests that the average Christian spends one minute a day in prayer, and for the average pastor it’s five minutes.

It gets worse. There are two aspects to prayer: intercession, or praying for people or things; and secondly that most important of all, like little Anna sitting beside her dad, just getting to know him. How much time does the average Christian spend developing their relationship with the one they claim to follow? And how much time does the average pastor spend in the same pursuit? In other words, isn’t there a tendency to spend more time with the work of the Lord than with the Lord of the work? It’s a deeply worrying truth, but one that is easy to reverse. Try it, the results could be stupendous.