Last month I headed over to Empire Cleaners with a well-travelled suit. Empire is a small shop with one employee who takes your clothes and hands you a receipt. When I got to the door, I paused for a few seconds to watch what was happening inside.

The lady who usually looks quite bored waiting for the next customer was wearing thick rubber gloves and using a stiff brush to scrub the collar of a shirt. There was a stack of shirts beside her and a spray bottle she used to soak each collar.

What got my attention was her effort. She was really going after the ring around the collar with her brush. She stirred up the memory of how my granddad used to encourage my brothers and me with, “Put some elbow grease into it, boys!” She had the elbow grease flowing that afternoon.

Confession: I had assumed that when someone took a shirt to be laundered there was some magic solution—something I can’t buy at Target—that they dip the shirt into and voila no more ring around the collar.

The truth is the dirt is banished from a collar by the great effort of a small woman wearing heavy rubber gloves.

The memory of her effort has stuck with me.

This was the week that 15 Northminster leaders and staff retreated to Richmond Hill to be instructed how to tune into God through the practice of centering prayer.

Our theme verse was Ephesians 5:14, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on/through you.” We learned that the verb translated “rise from the dead” is literally “stand up.”

On that retreat we experienced how being awake, alert and standing up in the presence of God through prayer takes some effort on our part. Not manual labor, but working to resist being distracted.

While we were at Richmond Hill we also experimented with transforming our meetings into a kind of worshipful work, and, once again, the take away was that not sleepwalking through a meeting takes effort. Not elbow grease, but focus, kindness and restraint.

The importance of effort keeps coming up in my life.

Being in the presence of God through prayer, meeting with other church leaders in a meaningful way, banishing ring around the collar, all take some effort on our part.

Different kinds of effort, but effort nonetheless.

As George Buttrick used to tell his classroom of would-be preachers, “The Lord Christ has us at hard labor.” There was a twinkle in his eye as he spoke.

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3 Responses to Effort

  1. Jo says:

    Thank you for this reminder of the importance of resisting distraction during our quiet time with God. I admit this is a challenge for me. Soooo many things enter my mind during the time that should belong to God only.

    Love your stopping to appreciate the woman’s effort with your shirt. Also love your phrase here about a different kind of effort: “Not elbow grease, but focus, kindness and restraint.”

  2. sammywilliams says:

    Thanks, Jo. That I wrote a phase that an exceptional writer loves makes my day!!

  3. Jo says:

    Oh, you 🙂 Your writing/phrasing strikes me all the time!

    Here are two things you’ve said during sermons that I’ve printed out and taped to my desk, so I see them every day:

    “God wants you to love him passionately, with all your heart and soul, because he is passionately in love with you.”

    This was from one of your sermons on hope. I thought it was GORGEOUSLY worded:

    “In one second, the sun produces more power than has been used in all of human history. And that’s just one sun out of thousands of suns stretched farther than telescopes can see. God created them all. That’s how much power he has. God has enough power for whatever you’re going through.”

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