For my old friend, who was once convinced he was a ministry failure:
Please allow me to share some thoughts with you. I have known you for a long time, and though we are not together much these days, I am aware of who God made you to be and what motivates your life.
People like us too often hear the lies of Satan. Whenever I find myself using words like “always” and “never”, I usually discover that somewhere along the way I have started believing a lie.
As you stand today, discouraged by what you see as failure in ministry, do you really think you can so easily analyze the substance of your life, or the measure of your ministry impact?
You and I are a part of a very ancient battle. It is often tiring. Often exhausting.
Normally we can not see how the battle goes, or the part we play. Whenever we begin to think we have gained an important place where we have a commanding perspective of the theater of war, we fool ourselves. We are only viewing a single small battlefield at best. More often, we only see the most minor skirmishes.
We are but the latest in a line of soldiers that stretches from the cross to the horizon.
The weapons we fight with now were proven by others before us. Once your weapons were in the hands of another brother who wielded them until the day his journey ended. On that day, he breathed his last and his weapons fell to the ground. There you found them and picked them up as your own.
We should consider these who have gone before us.
Let us consider Paul.
Stoned and left for dead. Shipwrecked 3 times. Beaten and lashed. Lied about. Undermined by those he loved and tried to help. Hated by those he loved the most. The constant target of Satan.
But he finished the race! He won the prize. He obtained the crown. Do you think he really have known the efficacy of his ministry? Doubtful. As he prepared to depart, his mind was on a few scrolls, a cloak, and the desire to spend some time with old friends. He also did some thinking about those that had hurt and abandoned him. He had no idea the value of his ministry.
Let us consider the twelve. Peter failed repeatedly, denied the Lord, but still recovered to mightily feed Jesus’ sheep. Still he lived to see his homeland destroyed.
Driven from all he knew, he became an alien in a foreign land where he could barely understand the language. He was arrested, tortured, nailed upside down to a cross and gave up his life.
All the others but John suffered similar fates. Few saw their grandchildren. Instead, they died violent deaths in poverty. John lived to die a natural death, but first knew exile, being cast into boiling water and the life of a fugitive. Did John and Peter know the role they played in this army of ours?
I suspect they died wondering.
Let us consider the church fathers. They were men of grace and wisdom, who lived under constant threat of death and dismemberment. They were considered to be the lowest form of human life and discrimination against them was encouraged. Outrageous lies were commonly told and believed about them by their neighbors. It was said they were cannibals. It was said they were atheists. To kill them was to do a service to mankind.
Surely they wondered how God could allow such injustice. How could God allow their children to be raised fatherless? In their indignation they wrote letters answering their accusers. To them these writings were an afterthought, an incidental response in the course of just trying to survive. They had no idea their short writings would survive for millennia, providing generations understanding of basic Christian apologetics and showing us which “books” were really to be part of the Bible. These poor brothers could not see where the battle really was.
Soldiers in our army never do.
Consider our brothers who fought before us. Most never went but a few miles from the place of their birth. Most spent their days simply attempting to survive. Yet in their life’s course, they managed to hand the Gospel down to us, intact, and in its glory. I doubt they felt they had accomplished much.
Consider the missionaries. Hudson Taylor battled lifelong crippling depression. He went through times that he could not get out of bed for days. He had great anxiety that his efforts in China were but a drop in the bucket. He was misunderstood by missions leaders of his day, was considered a rebellious non-conformist and was socially outcast and held in disdain by his own countrymen because he adopted Chinese dress and hairstyles. Did he know his methods would become a model for a generation of missionaries who would plant the seeds that today grow? Nope. His writings indicate he thought he had largely failed.
William Carey is known as “the father of modern missions”, but his deeply troubled wife nearly cost him his ministry. She actually followed him around on the streets of India yelling at people claiming that he had been unfaithful to her. She was emotionally unstable, and probably suffered from severe hormonal or chemical problems. Sadly, some of his own supporters believed the false accusations, costing him much support and causing terrible hardships. He thought of stopping time and again. He labored for years in the darkest of lands, with little fruit he lived to see. Did he know how he would be remembered? Of course not.
A later generation sometimes gets to see, but we never do.
Consider the Pentecostal pioneers. When Frank Bartleman penned his memoir of Azusa Street he claimed that the entire movement had become sidetracked and that Christ would have to wait for another generation to embrace the fullness of spiritual gifts. Imagine! He died never knowing that a few decades after his death, 51% of the Protestant world would trace their roots to those little rag-tag meetings in Los Angeles.
Consider John G. Lake. (One of your favorites.) He wrote in his later years that he only possessed a fraction of the anointing he once had when he was younger. He claims that he went backward in power and gifting! Truthfully, he saw his glory days pass him by, and spent his later years driving around in a car with a sign and a bullhorn, trying to drum up an audience for his meetings. Yet today we know that over half of sub Saharan Africa attends a church connected to Lake’s mere 5 years of African ministry. He never knew what impact his life accomplished.
We never do.
Finally, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3
Consider him. That is how we get up and move on.
Don’t listen to lies. You can accomplish exactly what you are called to accomplish. You may not see the fruit of all your labor. In fact, you probably won’t.
No generation ever earns the right to judge its own fruit while they live. We too shall be judged by those that come after us, once we are seated with a more commanding view of the battle, among the great cloud of witnesses.
For today, just believe, and be faithful.