Don’t Track Your Success

TBT with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics
Editors’ note: 

TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life. Taken and adapted from Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Copyright © 1965 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Used by permission of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2140 Oak Industrial Drive N.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49505. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is a collection of 21 sermons that address the lack of joy in the life of a Christian. One sermon considers the parable “Laborers in the Vineyard” (Matt. 20:1-16), in which all workers are paid the same compensation despite working different amounts of time. In this excerpt, Lloyd-Jones addresses a common problem for many of us at work—the desire to track our success. He even confesses personal struggle in his work.

Do not keep a record or an account of your work. Give up being bookkeepers. In the Christian life, we must desire nothing but his glory, nothing but to please him. So do not keep your eye on the clock, but keep it on him and his work. Do not keep on recording your work and labor and the extension of his kingdom. Keep your attention on that and on nothing else.

Have no concern as to how many hours you have given to the work, nor how much you have done. In effect, leave the bookkeeping to him and to his grace. Let him keep the accounts. Listen to him saying it himself: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3). That is the way you are to work in his kingdom, you are to work in such a way that your left hand does not know what your right hand is doing. For this reason: “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).

There is no need to waste time keeping the accounts; he is keeping them. And what wonderful accounts they are. May I say it with reverence, there is nothing I know of that is so romantic as God’s method of accountancy. Be prepared for surprises in this kingdom. You never know what is going to happen. The last shall be first. What a complete reversal of our materialistic outlook, the last first, the first last, everything upside down. The whole world is turned upside down by grace. It is not of man, it is of God; it is the kingdom of God.

Personal Confession

Let me make a personal confession. This kind of thing has often happened to me in my ministry. Sometimes God has been gracious on a Sunday, and I have been conscious of exceptional liberty, and I have been foolish enough to listen to the Devil when he says: “Now, then, you wait until next Sunday, it is going to be marvelous, there will be even larger congregations.” And I go into the pulpit the next Sunday, and I see a smaller congregation.

But then on another occasion I stand in this pulpit laboring, as it were left to myself, preaching badly and utterly weak, and the Devil has come and said: “There will be nobody there at all next Sunday.” But, thank God, I have found on the following Sunday a larger congregation.

That is God’s method of accountancy. You never know. I enter the pulpit in weakness, and I end with power. I enter with self-confidence, and I am made to feel a fool. It is God’s accountancy. He knows us so much better than we know ourselves. He is always giving us surprises. You never know what he is going to do. His bookkeeping is the most romantic thing I know of in the world.

God’s Accountancy

Our Lord spoke of it again in Matthew 25. You remember his description of the people who will come at the end of the world expecting a reward but to whom he will give nothing, and then the others to whom he will say: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you” (Matt. 25:34).

And they will say, “We have done nothing. When have we seen you naked, when have we seen you hungry or thirsty and given you drink?” (Matt. 25:37-40). And he will say, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). What a surprise that will be. This life is full of romance. Our ledgers are out of date; they are of no value. We are in the kingdom of God, and it is God’s accountancy. It is all of grace.

Rejoice that It Is All Grace

And we should not only recognize that it is all of grace, but also rejoice in the fact that it is so. That was the tragedy of [the laborers in the vineyard in Matt. 20:1-16]. They see a penny given to those who only work for one hour, and instead of rejoicing at the sight of it, they begin to murmur and complain, to feel that it is unjust and that they are not being dealt with fairly.

The secret of a happy Christian life is to realize that it is all of grace and to rejoice in that fact. “So you also,” says our Lord in another place, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). That is his view, that is his teaching, and that is the secret of it all.

Was not that his own way? It was, according to Paul, who says: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:4-5). You see what that means. He did not look at himself, he did not consider himself and his own interests only; he made himself of no reputation, he laid aside the insignia of his eternal glory. He did not regard his equality with God something to hold on to and say: “Come what may I will not let it go.”

Not at all, he laid it aside, he humbled himself, he forgot himself, and he went through and endured and did all he did, looking only to the glory of God. Nothing else mattered to him but that the Father should be glorified and that men and women should come to the Father.

That is the secret. Not watching the clock, not assessing the amount of work, not keeping a record in the book, but forgetting everything except the glory of God, the privilege of being called to work for him at all, the privilege of being a Christian, remembering only the grace that has ever looked upon us and removed us from darkness to light.

It is grace at the beginning, grace at the end. So that when you and I come to lie upon our deathbeds, the one thing that should comfort and help and strengthen us there is the thing that helped us at the beginning. Not what we have been, not what we have done, but the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. The Christian life starts with grace, it must continue with grace, it ends with grace. Grace, wondrous grace. “By the grace of God I am what I am.” “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”