[From ws9/16 p. 3 October 24-30]
“Do not let your hands drop down.”—Zep 3:16
Our study this week begins with this personal account:
A SISTER who is a regular pioneer and is married to an elder, says: “Despite maintaining a good spiritual routine, I have struggled with anxiety for many years. It robs me of sleep, impacts my health, affects the way I treat others, and sometimes makes me want to give up and crawl into a hole.” – par. 1
Having been both a regular and special pioneer as well as an elder myself, I would assume that her “good spiritual routine” involved regular activity in the field service to meet her monthly quota of hours, reading the daily text, studying the publications in preparation for meetings and assemblies, going to all the meetings, and regular prayer to Jehovah God.
The Organization teaches that a “good spiritual routine” involves the following:
We are also made stronger by divine education at our Christian meetings, assemblies, conventions, and in our theocratic schools. That training can help us to have the proper motivation, to set spiritual goals, and to fulfill our many Christian responsibilities. (Ps. 119:32) Do you eagerly seek to gain strength from that type of education? – par. 11
We do not expect Jehovah to perform miracles for us. Rather, we should do our part. That includes our reading God’s Word daily, preparing for and attending the meetings weekly, feeding our mind and heart through personal study and family worship, and always relying on Jehovah in prayer. – par. 12
All of this sounds positive, a good method for maintaining one’s spirituality. There is nothing wrong with prayer along with regular personal Bible study. Associating with fellow Christians is a Bible mandate. Setting spiritual goals is fine as long as they are realistic and in line with God’s will. The question is, who decides what is what in all this? A regular reader of The Watchtower will understand that the goals and responsibilities spoken of are defined by the Organization. The content of the meetings is regulated by the Organization’s leadership. The exhortation to engage in regular Bible study is under the proviso that one does so using only the Organization’s literature.
Is this good or bad? Is it in line with divine instruction or not? We are taught to judge not by what men say, but by the results their teaching produces.
“Likewise every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit. . .” (Mt 7:17)
Paragraph 2 intimates that the anxiety which our sister was feeling came from external pressures such as ‘the death of a loved one, a serious illness, hard economic times, or facing opposition as a witness.’ The article does not explain the cause of this sister’s anxiety, but this is the thrust of the article. Under the subtitle, “The Hand of Jehovah Is Not Too Short to Save”, we are given three examples from Hebrew times (nothing from Christian times) in which the Israelites were attacked by external forces and saved by God’s hand. (See paragraphs 5 thru 9) Are such examples really germane to the worldwide needs of the millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses striving to meet the goals and responsibilities of the Organization? Is the cause of anxiety among Witnesses, attacks from modern-day Amalekites, Ethiopians, or opposing nations?
Speaking from both personal experience and my firsthand observations as an elder of forty years, I can attest to the fact that much of the anxiety Witnesses feel stems from the very “spiritual routine” that is supposed to be their source of strength. The load that is imposed upon zealous and well-meaning brothers and sisters as they strive to meet their pre-set “spiritual goals” and “fulfill their many Christian responsibilities” often results in an oppressive burden. Failure to meet these man-imposed obligations results in feelings of guilt which strip away the joy that one should feel in rendering God sacred service.
The Pharisees were known for loading down people with unnecessary and unscriptural burdens.
“They bind up heavy loads and put them on the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Mt 23:4)
On the other hand, Jesus promised that his load would be easily bearable for all, not just those boasting an unusually strong vitality.
“Take my yoke upon YOU and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and YOU will find refreshment for YOUR souls. 30 For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.”” (Mt 11:29, 30)
“Mild-tempered and lowly in heart”. Now that’s the kind of shepherd—that’s the kind of leader—we can all get behind. Carrying his load is a refreshment for our soul.
I recall the feeling we would get as elders following the semi-annual circuit overseer’s visit. The “loving reminders” of the organization would often leave us discouraged, with the sensation we were just not doing enough. Shepherding was needed and we all saw that as a vital part of our work as overseers of the flock, yet it was often the thing most neglected. There was a time, many decades back, that an elder was allowed to count time spent shepherding toward the field service time he had to report. Back then we had hard quotas. If memory serves, every publisher was expected to spend 12 hours a month in the preaching work, place 12 or more magazines, report 6 or more Back Calls (now “Return Visits”) and conduct 1 Bible study. Those quotas were officially dropped in the 70s, only to be replaced by a de facto standard. Elders are now expected to report field service in excess of the congregation average. So really, nothing has changed. In fact, things have gotten worse because there are far more requirements imposed on the elders nowadays as regards to caring for organizational administrative responsibilities.
I remember hearing Bethelites express how busy they were. How little time they had. It made me laugh. They would get up in the morning to a prepared breakfast. Then they would walk to work. They would have a full hour lunch break, again eating food prepared for them by someone else. Then they would walk home to living quarters that had been cleaned for them by staff. Their clothes would be washed for them, and their suits and shirts pressed in the laundry. If their cars needed repair, the onsite shop took care of that as well. They even had their own convenience store on site.[i]
The average non-Bethelite elder spends 8 to 9 hours at work and another hour or three of stressful driving to and from his job. Most have wives who work because there’s no way to make ends meet nowadays for most families unless they have two incomes. With the time left over, they must care for the needs of their children, do the shopping, fix things around the house, do laundry, cook all the meals, make sure the car is in good working order, and attend to the myriad and one other tasks that are a part of life in this system of things. On top of all that, with what energy remains, they are expected to attend and prepare for five meetings a week (held in two groupings) often conducting parts. They must also maintain a higher than average level of hours in the preaching work or they will be removed from their position of oversight. There are always elders meetings to attend, campaigns to organize, circuit assemblies and regional conventions to support in any number of ways. They are given many organizational administrative obligations to deal with including reading society correspondence and following that direction. Of course, there are also judicial matters which come up. Usually, if any time remains for shepherding, the elder is too exhausted to make use of it.
Is it any wonder that anxiety and stress are a common problems in the Organization?
Why would a sincere Christian accept such burdens? The answer is found in the article:
We will discuss three outstanding Bible examples that show Jehovah’s desire and ability to strengthen his people to do his will despite seemingly overwhelming difficulties. – par. 5
What sincere and honest-hearted Christian doesn’t want to do God’s will? However, the premise that causes all the stress is the understanding that doing everything the Governing Body instructs them to do is equivalent to doing the will of Jehovah. It is not only the elders that suffer under this burden. Pioneers labor to keep up with the number of hours proscribed by the Governing Body as a way to show God that they are doing his will and pleasing him. Why would they think that such pre-set standards imposed by men are really from God?
It is due to statements such as the following:
Think, too, about the spiritual food based on the Bible that we receive each month. The words of Zechariah 8:9, 13 (read) were spoken while the temple in Jerusalem was being rebuilt, and those words are very fitting for us. – par. 10
Our spiritual food provided through the publications is equated with the words of the prophet Zechariah spoken while the temple was being rebuilt? The reader is instructed to read and meditate on Zechariah 8:9
““This is what Jehovah of armies says, ‘Let your hands be strong, you who now hear these words from the mouth of the prophets, the same words that were spoken on the day the foundation of the house of Jehovah of armies was laid for the temple to be built.” (Zec 8:9)
So while all the “spiritual goals” and “Christian responsibilities” imposed by the Organization are not found in the Bible, we can think of them as coming from the mouth of the modern-day prophets just as happened in Zechariah’s time. What Zechariah spoke then was from the mouth of God. Likewise, “the spiritual food based on the Bible that we receive each month” is also from the mouth of God.
Of course, Zechariah was God’s prophet. He never had to change something he said, claiming that he got it wrong. He never had to reverse or abandon a policy by excusing his mistake as the result of human imperfection and claim that the light had now gotten brighter for him and he was seeing things more clearly. When he said that something was the word of God, it was, because he was an inspired prophet of the Almighty.
A True Spiritual Routine
A good spiritual routine should include prayer. Paul told us to “pray incessantly”. But in the context of that counsel, he also told us to “always be rejoicing”. Let these words guide you to maintaining a good spiritual routine:
“Always be rejoicing. 17 Pray constantly. 18 Give thanks for everything. This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the fire of the spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine. 22 Abstain from every form of wickedness.” (1Th 5:16-22)
Perhaps “routine” is not the best word to describe this. Our spirituality should be as much a part of us as our breathing and the beating of our heart.
What about Bible study? Should we engage in it regularly? Of course. By prayer, we speak to our Father, and by reading his word, he responds to us. Thus, His spirit guides us into all the truth. (John 16:13) Do not let the teachings of men get in the way of that. When you speak to your human father, does a third party get between to explain what your father is saying? This is not to say that we can’t learn from others who have done research, but take all that is said and examine it as Paul tells us to do above: “Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.”
Holding fast to what is fine implies that we discard what is not fine.
We must not be fooled by a form of Godly devotion that appears acceptable, but which is based on the erroneous teachings of men.
The Jews of Jesus day considered themselves to be the chosen ones of God and in fact they were, but they were about to become the rejected ones of God. Their piety was based on a false understanding of their position before God; an understanding that they got from their religious leaders.
“This is why I speak to them by the use of illustrations, because, looking, they look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, neither do they get the sense of it; 14 and toward them the prophecy of Isaiah is having fulfillment, which says, ‘By hearing, YOU will hear but by no means get the sense of it; and, looking, YOU will look but by no means see. 15 For the heart of this people has grown unreceptive, and with their ears they have heard without response, and they have shut their eyes; that they might never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and get the sense of it with their hearts and turn back, and I heal them.’ 16 “However, happy are YOUR eyes because they behold, and YOUR ears because they hear. 17 For I truly say to YOU, Many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things YOU are beholding and did not see them, and to hear the things YOU are hearing and did not hear them. 18 “YOU, then, listen to the illustration of the man that sowed. 19 Where anyone hears the word of the kingdom but does not get the sense of it, the wicked one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart; this is the one sown alongside the road.” (Mt 13:13-19)
Have you heard the true “word of the Kingdom” and gotten the sense of it? The message of the good news of the Kingdom that Jesus taught was that all those putting faith in his name would get the authority to become children of God. (John 1:12; Romans 8:12-17) This is the message that we should preach. This is not the message that the Organization pushes 8 million Witnesses to preach. There message is that the most we can hope for is to be God’s friends and live as sinners for a thousand years, only then achieving perfection.
Ironically, this Watchtower teaches that Satan is trying to keep Witnesses from preaching this message.
We can be sure that the Devil will never let his hands drop down in his efforts to stop our Christian activities. He uses lies and threats from governments, religious leaders, and apostates. What is his goal? It is to cause our hands to slacken in the work of preaching the Kingdom good news. – par. 10
Are so-called apostates persecuting Witnesses or is the reverse true? Those of us who frequent this site wish only to share the marvelous hope with others that God is calling us to be his adopted children. (1Th 2:11-12; 1Pe 1:14-15; Ga 4:4-5) Yet, we cannot do this freely, but we must work as if under ban. We will be persecuted for speaking the truth. To preach to our many friends and family members in the JW community we must apply the counsel of Jesus so as to carry out our covert preaching in an effective manner. (Mt 10:16; Mt 7:6; Mt 10:32-39) Still, at times we get found out and threatened with expulsion.
As with many of the articles we review, it does have an application, but not as the writer intended.
SIDE NOTE: Here we have yet another article in which Jehovah is referred to (29 times) to the complete exclusion of our Lord Jesus, who is the one our Father Jehovah has charged with supporting us. (Mt 28:20; 2Co 12:8-10; Eph 6:10; 1Ti 1:12)
[i] Recent cost savings cutbacks have eliminated much of the ancillary support structure Bethelites have enjoyed for the past 100 years.