Not The Failure You Thought

Help When You Feel You’ve Failed

By Grantley Morris

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Recovery from Failure

 

 

 

Help When You Feel You’ve Failed

If failure has piled upon failure until you feel utterly useless, I not only can identify with you, I have discovered that we are in exalted company. The following is some of the encouragement I have gleaned from my favorite book, Waiting for Your Ministry (also available in audio form). I spent over ten years writing it while trying to craw out of the cesspit of utter despair. I so often quote from this book that you might have already discovered some quotes elsewhere but unless you have read the entire book, some of the following will be new to you and if you are discouraged, I’m convinced you need to read it. You will find compassion, humor, entertainment, insight, but above all, encouragement and a way forward.

Reeling in Shame

When his wife was pregnant with their only child, the world renowned Eighteenth Centruy Evangelist, George Whitefield knew he had heard from God: it would be a boy and this son would become a great evangelist. Newspapers grabbed the story and mocked. Whitefield was unmoved. The whole world could laugh; time would vindicate him. Finally the baby was born. A boy. It died.

Doug Hunt, chief pilot for Wycliffe Bible Translators – dead. Dr. Darlene Bee, brilliant linguist and Bible translator – dead. In all, seven mangled corpses lay strew amongst the aircraft wreckage. All because a missionary-mechanic neglected to tighten a nut.

‘The funeral was a ghastly ordeal,’ confessed the shattered mechanic. ‘The sight of those caskets lined up . . .  hit me like a blow to the stomach. I wanted nothing but to get out of there . . . . How could I face my friends? How could I face myself?’

Anyone who can keep going after that is not a negligent mechanic. He’s a spiritual giant.

‘Except for God’s grace,’ he later wrote, ‘I’d be somewhere cowering in a corner in guilt-ridden despair – the eighth fatality of that Aztec crash.

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From Crushing Defeat to Eternal Fame

We find him lurking in the shadows of Scripture. He was a breath of fresh air in a whirlwind. John Mark was bad news. In the human race he led the field from go to woe. He has often been identified with Christianity’s first streaker – the man who blurred through Gethsemane’s garden with the raw grace of a plucked chicken, leaving behind his clothes and his Savior. (Mark 14:51-52) More humiliations were to follow.

His unflattering nickname, stub-fingered, suggests he was physically impaired. To this he added a handicap of his own making: he was branded a deserter – a second time.

When the pressure mounts, the last thing you need is for a trusted companion to abandon you. That’s what Mark did to Paul and Barnabas.

His desertion seems to have deeply hurt Paul. The apostle was adamant that hanging out with this dodo was a no-no. Barnabas, who always stood up for the under-dog, (Acts 4:36; 9:26-28; 11:22-25) defended his cousin Mark. The result was a rift between old friends; the shattering of a great missionary team. (Acts 15:37-39) We never hear of Barnabas again.

One look at ‘stump-finger’s’ yellow face and you knew this jinx had had mistake and eggs for breakfast again. Whenever this egg-head cracked, everyone got egg on their face. Just what the church needs! He must have felt as blue as a browned off white man seeing red because he’s accused of being yellow.

Mark could have drowned in self-pity. He could have resented Paul. He could have turned back to Judaism. Instead, he redoubled his efforts, eventually being recognized even by Paul as having an outstanding ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24) Peter also spoke affectionately of him. (1 Peter 5:13) As writer of possibly the earliest gospel and a primary source of Matthew and Luke, Mark’s contribution even to today’s church is beyond measure. This planet is a better place today because nineteen centuries ago a ‘no-hoper’ called stub-fingered decided to tough it out.

Knowing our weaknesses, our loving Father has preserved many such stories for us to gain strength.

‘Then will I teach transgressors your ways,’ crooned David. When? After a calamitous moral fall. (Psalm 51:title, 3-5, 12-13)

‘Simon . . .  feed my sheep.’ (John 21:17) When? After denying his Savior.

‘He slew at his death more than he slew in his life.’ (Judges 16:30, paraphrase) When? After Samson’s greatest humiliation.

Samson and David each knew the horror of spiritual failure. On the crest of their vocation, they plunged to abominable depths. Their lapses were inexcusable. Their ministries were desecrated. Yet they refused to dwell in defeat. They were failures for a moment, but they were overcomers forever. Grasping God’s hand of forgiveness, they clambered to new heights for the exaltation of the One who washed them clean.

Oppression crushed Simon the rock into sand. On the brink of ministry, after years of grooming, he blew it. He lied. He invoked a curse on himself. He disowned his Lord. (Matthew 26:74) Yet though it rocked Simon, this one-time rock didn’t peter. Empowered by his Savior, he again turned to stone.

Though the righteous – that’s you and me in Christ Jesus – fall seven times, they rise again. That’s a promise. (Proverbs 24:16, see also Psalm 37:23-24)

      It was just a hair-cut
      For the plaything of Delilah;
      And just a prayer-cut
      For Peter the denier.
      Strong they dozed
      But weak arose,
      And knew it not.

      Men destroyed by fatal cuts;
      Left to wallow in their ruts;
      Left with blame
      And haunting shame,
      In sin to rot.

      A seed so small and barely sown
      Meant to die, but how it’s grown!
      Things so small
      Grow so tall,
      But marvel not.

      If sin can grow,
      So can prayer;
      If prayers will flow,
      So will hair.
      With faith restored
      Hope will soar,
      And blunders blot.

      His repentance real,
      The victim of Delilah,
      Had victories still.
      And the spineless Christ-denier
      Shed his shame
      And became
      The church’s rock.

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Hot Gossip

Who would have guessed that a religion stressing lofty morals would cram into its holiest book the slimy details of King ‘Peeping Tom’ David, ‘lover-boy’ Solomon, fish-breath Jonah, sleazy Jacob, and two-faced Judah, (Genesis 38:11-26) to mention just a few of the seething swarm of con-men, backstabbers, rapists, murderers and whores that fill the Word of God?

Few Christian biographies are as fiercely honest as Scripture. If there were more books that gently peel the plastic off famous Christians, it would be easier for us to realize that we belong in the big league. For instance, John Wesley’s godly parents had a marriage so stormy it still puts the wind up people. His own string of abortive romances continued until finally he married, at age forty-seven. ‘The marriage started poorly and went downhill from there,’ wrote Petersen. ‘Perennial mutual resentment’ was how another writer described the union that spluttered and flared for twenty torturous years until ending in permanent separation.

Dwight Moody’s Christian graces have rightly been extolled, but have you heard of his temper? In public he once pushed someone with such violence that the man was sent reeling down the stairs. ‘This meeting is killed,’ gasped a friend of Moody, ‘The large number who have seen the whole thing will hardly be in a condition to be influenced by anything more Mr. Moody may say tonight.’

Martin Luther wrote things about Jews that, to say the least, are highly regrettable. And many of our early Protestant heroes in Europe, Britain and America, favored killing their theological opponents at the stake or gallows.

It takes a special life to win the devotion of natives the way David Livingstone did. Stanley glued himself to Livingstone day and night, week after week, and the experience melted his hard journalist’s heart. Four months of intense scrutiny led him to praise Livingstone’s piety, gentleness and zeal. ‘I never found a fault in him,’ he marveled. Yet though we could dwell long on the virtues that gilded Livingstone’s soul, slag touched the gold. It is said that throughout his life serious personality defects dogged his service.

John Sung has been called rude, stubborn, a poor family man, and China’s greatest evangelist.

Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision had one driving passion: ‘Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.’ An experienced biographer and researcher lauded him, declaring that ‘few people in history’ have ‘demonstrated greater compassion for suffering humanity than Bob Pierce.’ Yet just sentences later we read that ‘the love that he gave so freely’ to others ‘was given so sparingly to the ones who needed it most – his wife and his daughters.’

If you knew C. T. Studd personally you would probably be offended by his authoritarianism, his sledge-hammer bluntness, his harsh ultimatums. Like his own mission committee, you might worry about his use of morphine and want to suppress his book Don’t Care a Damn. In common with those who knew and loved him most – even close family members – you may feel compelled to withdraw from this great missionary.

We cannot idolize our heroes without falling into heresy, such as the satanic lie that being used by God is a reward for living an exemplary life. Service – like salvation, holiness and every other spiritual gift – is always an undeserved gift received by childlike faith. (Galatians 3:2-5) God broke into Paul’s life and assigned to him his enormous ministry, not after he had proved himself, but when the man was fuming with murderous rage against Christ; while he was still – as he later confessed – the ‘chief’ of sinners, torturing Christians in the hope of making them blaspheme. (Acts 26:9-11,15-18; 22:4-8,10,14-16) Though it was years before he was released into its fullness, the timing of that original call is both illuminating and liberating. May the implications ricochet within our heads until our dying day.

Yes, our character flaws grieve and defame the Holy One. Yes, we must move heaven and earth to root out our shame. And yes, as impossible as it sounds, God’s holy power can trickle through flawed, sin-stained channels to a thirsty world.

God does not use synthetic saints petrified in stained glass or mummified in strained biographies. If the paper people squashed between book covers or exhibited in special Sunday services seem real to you, you’ll love the Easter Bunny. If you were thinking of cornering the market on your brand of inadequacy, forget it; heaven’s databanks bulge with the triumphs of people with quirks like yours. Heaven’s heroes are people with pimples and stringy hair; people with wrinkles and pug noses. If you’d like to see a real saint-in-training, a cheeky Master’s apprentice poised to gelignite Hell’s gates, someone on the brink of eternal acclaim, go to your mirror.

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God’s Measure of Success

Alexander Maclaren was usually jittery before a sermon and afterwards crushed by the knowledge he had made a hash of it. People rank him with the greatest preachers earth has heard.

Most of us are convinced our ministry attempts languish far below the feats of fellow Christians. We peer over our shabby efforts to the sparkling success of others and almost quit. We are barraged with deadly fallacies about what constitutes effective service. My aim in an earlier chapter was to alert you to the dangers of narrow thinking and to arm you for this war in which we are taunted to surrender. My plan now is to hone those weapons and begin using them so that together we may engage this insidious foe.

Let’s look to Jesus for light to repel these dark forces of discouragement.

Never in human history has facing an average congregation been so daunting. For a wide range of ministries it’s a harrowing fact that your audience has seen/heard/read the world’s best. If you are a musician, for instance, you know the moment your listeners slip inside their homes, or even their cars, they have instant access to recorded music of the highest caliber.

But the Lord will honor your courage. As you humble yourself, for God’s sake exposing your limitations to the world, the King of glory will be proud to call you his child.

Your loving Father is far more moved by your attitude than your eloquence. One feeble, broken sentence empowered by the Spirit of God can accomplish more than the greatest talent earth has seen. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

From the age of four, I loved helping grandpa lay cement paths. Almost anyone could do a better job than a little child, but that was irrelevant. I was irreplaceable. I had a special place in grandpa’s heart.

And you have a special place in God’s heart. Physically, the Lord is totally self-sufficient. He needs us no more than a handyman needs the services of a four-year-old. But the Father’s joy could never be complete without your contribution.

A handicapped person might need your help, and despise you because of it. How much better it is to be wanted, than needed!

Has ever a father’s heart swelled with loving pride at a child’s pathetic attempt to help him? Then how much more will the boundless love of your Father in heaven be stirred by your attempts – even your weakest attempts – to honor him with your service.

To strangers, your ministry may just be one of thousands. But not to someone who loves you. And you mean most to the One who willed you into existence, fashioned you, redeemed you, and longs to fulfill your every need. Expect a personal invitation to a royal command performance in the presence of his Majesty, the King of kings.

Is it hard to believe the exalted Lord would like the sound of your voice or the work of your hands? Remember who created that voice and those hands. Beware: denigrating our gift comes close to denigrating the Giver. There’s a point where humility degenerates into an insult to One who made you and empowers you. I’ve fallen over the edge too often.

You have advantages over all mass ministries. No book, record, or television program can tailor its message to the specific needs of an individual. In our cold world, personal attention is more important than ever. It is better to transform an individual, than tickle the ears of millions. The person receiving all the accolades could merely be entertaining, achieving for the Kingdom far, far less than that house-bound, godly mother.

We are not responsible for the paucity of our talents. We are accountable, however, for the level of faithfulness with which we honor God with whatever we have. Could we have used our supposedly meager talent in a way that would have given God greater honor? That’s the burning issue, not whether we are as talented as Fred Nerk.

In the parable of the talents, it was the servant given the least who buried his gift. (Matthew 25:14-18) Don’t imagine the master said, ‘That’s okay, son. I didn’t give you much anyhow. I know you’re incapable of anything. Come, enter into the joy of your lord.’

For me, a single sentence is a man-crushing python – a writhing anaconda to be wrestled into submission only through a virtual life-and-death struggle. It is not uncommon for me to spend an hour formulating one sentence. The reward for such care? A tangle of half-strangled sentences squirming for more attention. On rare moments my word-groping lurches beyond snail-pace to a teeth-rattling tortoise-trot. Moments later I hit the dust again, compelled to retrace my route on hands and knees, scouring the text for hours like a near-sighted Mr. Magoo, convinced I must have missed something in my inordinate haste.

Words! There’s never one around when you need it. I try on a dozen for size, and even the best hangs off the cuff, is unfashionable and forever needs ironing. At school my English grades were so poor that I dropped the subject the first opportunity I had. There must be thousands of Christians who could have written this book with greater ease.

But they didn’t.

‘You have a very readable style and some of your expressions and word usages are brilliant,’ wrote a magazine editor about an early draft of this book. I cherish that quote, but could any average person pour such torrents of prayer and effort and submission to God, year after year, into a project and the result be anything less than brilliant?

A boy had such intellectual limitations that his parents feared he was subnormal. He later remarked that being a slow learner lengthened his thinking time and caused him to focus on simple things. His perseverance paid off. He was Albert Einstein.

You will achieve as much as megastars who have twice your ability if you have twice their diligence. More importantly, your greater faithfulness will bring more glory to the Lord. It will thrill him. And your ministry in the world to come will far exceed the future ministry of a lax megastar.

The most significant work is not the one displaying the highest skill, but the one most used of God. The Lord is not seeking people who astound audiences with their talent. He wants ministries who will leave people exclaiming, ‘That had to be God!’ Our inadequacies are often the perfect backdrop for displaying God’s splendor. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Our lack of ability will never thwart God – only our failure to draw upon his abilities. So if you feel too inadequate to minister effectively without miraculous intervention, I envy you. God’s strength is made perfect in such weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) You sound desperate enough to keep pounding heaven’s door until you receive an exceptional blessing. (Genesis 32:24-28; Matthew 15:21-28; Luke 5:18-26; 11:5-13; 18:1-7; John 16:24) And that blessing will overflow to those you touch.

I often mourn the flaws in my writings, but the grey is tinged with gold. The hope of improvement dies only when we think our labors are satisfactory. Provided we don’t bow to discouragement, the more failings we see in our efforts, the higher our motivation to improve and the brighter our future.

That sickening awareness of inadequacy can be turned around; hastening, rather than hindering, our future ministry.

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Sweet Smell of Defeat

The secret of achieving something of heaven-shaking significance is to by-pass our limitations and tap directly into the power of the One who holds the stars. We’re in union with the Creator of sapphires and seraphim, molecules and galaxies. In him is all power, all wisdom, all love. Why, then, do we act like those who have no God? Empowered by him, our accomplishments should excel anything godless humanity could contemplate. Yet the more content we are to draw solely upon human resources, the more ‘God’s work’ is riddled with human frailty.

Love and good intentions are never enough. It was love for Jesus that caused Peter to blurt out words that had such the opposite effect to Peter’s wishes that Jesus retorted, ‘Get behind me Satan.’ (Mark 9:31-33) Job’s counselors seemed to have been motivated by deep concern for Job and genuine love for God when they unwittingly became Job’s tormenters and sinned against the God they thought they were defending. (Job 2:11-13; 4:17; 5:8-16; 8:3,20-22; 42:7-8)

We could be like little children redecorating the house for Daddy without waiting for instructions or help. Daddy might not even want the television painted. Sadly, our loving, enthusiastic efforts could prove worse than nothing. Oh, we may think we have done a marvelous job – until we meet Father face to face.

A disastrous failure could therefore be a great blessing. There is nothing like it for excising the tendency to draw upon human, rather than divine resources. If allowed to spread, that cancer would destroy an otherwise healthy ministry.

Any hurt that causes me to cling more firmly to Christ is a hurt for which I will be forever thankful. Any ‘defeat’ that has this result is a victory. What seems an obstacle to service ends up an essential stepping stone. Brought to God, a string of failures becomes a rainbow, at the end of which lies golden success. (Psalm 37:23-24; Proverbs 24:16; Micah 7:8; Romans 8:28)

If the following lines mirror your feelings, you’re headed for glory.

      I need the Lord, my Maker,
      As rivers need to flow;
      As flowers need the sunlight;
      And seedlings need to grow;
      As marksmen need a target,
      And arrows need a bow.
      I’ve feigned my independence,
      But failed to improvise.
      I need the One I’m made for,
      As eagles need the skies.
      You’re my breath and my light,
      My food and my wine.
      I’m the brush, you’re the artist,
      I’m the string and you’re the harpist.
      Tune me for your glory.

      I need the Lord, my Maker,
      As falcons need to see;
      As the clay needs a sculptor,
      And a lock needs a key.
      As a ship needs a rudder;
      And coral needs the sea.
      I’m done with empty living;
      Success that’s make-believe.
      I need the One I’m made for,
      As creatures need to breathe.
      You’re my strength and my hope,
      My peace and my shield.
      I’m the hands, you’re the healer,
      I’m the sword and you’re the victor.
      Wield me for your glory.

      I need the Lord, my Maker,
      As an arm needs a hand;
      As a babe needs its mother;
      And a dove needs to land;
      As a car needs a driver
      And a glove needs a hand.
      I’m tired of ‘great achievements’,
      Of life that’s just a game.
      I need the One I’m made for,
      As deserts need the rain.
      You’re my life and my joy,
      My truth and my guide.
      I’m the song, you’re the Singer,
      I’m a well and you’re the water.
      Fill me for your glory.

Blessed are they who know their labors have failed, for they shall learn to serve God his way. But woe to them who vainly imagine God approves of their labors. They have their reward already.

False confidence leads to chaos. (Compare Proverbs 3:5,7; 28:26)

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Don’t Panic – God At Work

Having surmounted enormous obstacles and years of preparation, Adoniram Judson arrived on the mission field. Seven hard years followed. All he had to show for it was one convert. It was about time he moved on to something more beneficial – peddling hair curlers at a Bald is Beautiful convention, developing waterproof pianos for people who sing in the shower, fitting parachutes to birds that are afraid of heights – anything but trying to win souls in Burma.

One day a man came to his house looking for work and instead found Jesus, his Savior. Another pin prick. But this one burst the balloon. The new convert became a powerful evangelist. Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands turned to the Lord. Within a century, over a quarter of a million Christians directly or indirectly owed their spiritual lives to Adoniram Judson.

But that’s eternity’s view. Years after that key conversion, Adoniram’s life still seemed a waste. He was thrown into a death prison and chained to a granite block. Every night guards, ex-criminals themselves, hoisted his ankle fetters high above his head so that only his head and shoulders touched the ground. As he lay in appalling filth, almost every thought produced a new reason for despair. There were then only eighteen converts. Surely most, perhaps all, would fall away or be killed under the new outbreak of persecution. Years of struggle had produced a lone manuscript of a Burmese New Testament and his wife had smuggled it into prison. Any moment it could be discovered and destroyed. His relations with fellow missionaries had been marred by hurtful clashes. He had buried his only child. His own life hung by a thread. He feared for his darling, pregnant wife.

‘I came to bring life,’ he moaned, ‘and have brought nothing but death.’

After a year and a half of cruelty he was finally released. A brief reunion with his precious wife ended with him having to wrench himself from her to assist in political negotiations. Weeks turned to months. Before he could return to his wife, she was dead. Months later, death tore from him his only remaining child, the baby he had battled so hard to save. After two more years of mental deterioration, still numb with guilt over being absent when his wife most needed him, he dug a grave and lingered by it for days on end, his mind churning with morbid thoughts. ‘God is to me the Great Unknown,’ he concluded. ‘I believe in him, but I find him not.’

The mighty Lord hauled him up. He became one of the most admired missionaries of all time.

Sadly, not everyone slogs through the tough ground-breaking years. David Flood’s solitary convert was just a child. When David’s wife died, discouragement won. Leaving his baby daughter, Aggie, with a missionary couple, young David left Africa – and the Lord. After the collapse of his second marriage he took in a mistress. Alcohol, poverty, illness and degradation tightened their deadly strangle-hold.

As his abandoned daughter grew, married and served the Lord, she often thought of the father she had never known. He was 77 when Aggie finally stood at his grimy bedside, ignored the stench, and hugged him. Her love and Christ’s power brought David back to the One who had moved him to ‘waste’ his life in Africa. Aggie also brought startling news. That little convert he had left in Africa had built on the foundation David and his wife had laid and the entire tribe of 600 people had come to Christ.

It’s not only missionaries who are allowed to have lean years.

      Hounded by defeat,
      Immersed in gloom.
      Confounded by a curse,
      Scorned and spurned.
      Haunted by despair,
      Mocked by words of doom.
      My eyes may fill with tears,
      But not with dread or fear.

      This grub, wings will sprout.
      This down-trodden worm will soar;
      Transformed by redemptive power,
      Set free by the Lord of all.
      No one sees it yet:
      The secret’s heaven-kept.
      They mock and jeer
      They do not know;
      Success is slow, but it is sure;
      Though it tarry, it will come.
      All Father touches turns to gold.
      It matters not what others say,
      The winning’s done;
      Like Father, like son!

      Founded on his Word;
      Embalmed by love.
      Surrounded by his arms;
      Washed and warmed.
      Granted all I need,
      Buoyed by thoughts above:
      From fear I find release,
      Becalmed by heaven’s peace.

The shadow of his affliction fell across his life like a black and bottomless chasm. Reeling under hellish torment, bereft of all his children, cruelly stripped of his reputation, all of his possessions gone, Job coveted death. As far as the eye could see, there was nothing ahead but pain, accusations and despair. Job had nothing to live for. (Job 3:1-26; 6:9, 11) Or so everyone thought.

Before him lay joy and honor, a long and fruitful life, double his past prosperity and the fathering of a superb new family. (Job 42:11-17; compare Job 1:2-3) Job had everything to live for.

Like vine branches, we are not continually laden with fruit. That would be unnatural. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) For a significant portion of its life, a grapevine is nothing but a dry, twisted stick; fruitless, useless for shade, worthless as timber; to all appearances fit only to be ripped from the ground and reduced to ashes. Yet those barren times are as vital in the life of the vine, as the seasons of fruit.

If spring could tip-toe past nature without stirring it from its winter slumber; if the sun could slip through the sky without dispelling the night; if rain could fall to the ground without bringing life to the desert – only then should you fear dry times, dark times, lean times. Though you feel as useless as a fur coat in a heat-wave, the time will come when your warmth is treasured. For everything there is a season.

We could stock a library with stories of spectacularly unsuccessful men and women who eventually sparked massive moves of God. Many closed their eyes in death without seeing the fruit their labors finally produced.

No matter what we think of his views, it is staggering to realize that Søren Kierkegaard’s writings slept for almost a century after his death until translated into English and suddenly stunning the world. And consider the Jim Elliots of this world whose apparently untimely deaths have inspired countless thousands to take up the baton and run in their stead. Though they died seemingly at the very outset of their life’s work, the final result was beyond what a dozen lifetimes could achieve. Still more tantalizing are heaven’s best-kept secrets – triumphs by people we have never heard of, or achievements our slow minds cannot adequately appreciate.

Nonetheless, God established the pattern millenniums ago: Sarah knew nothing but barrenness for ninety distressing years, yet became the ancestress of multiplied millions.

Clearly, the crucial issue is not what God has so far accomplished in our lives. God took twice as long preparing Moses as he did in using him. (Deuteronomy 2:7; 34:7) Joshua’s experience was similar. (Numbers 14:30, 34; Joshua 1:1-2; 24:29) For the Messiah – and perhaps his Baptist forerunner – it was about thirty years’ preparation for three years ministry. In fact, much of Christ’s ministry was packed into the last few days. (E.g., John 12:1 ff; Mark 11:1 ff) Samson accomplished more in his last seconds than in all the rest of his life. (Judges 16:30)

Wine has a longer shelf life than prune juice.

Even for the Christian, life can seem a sadistic joke. In reality, our circumstances are determined by infinite love met by infinite wisdom empowered by infinite might. (Lose sight of that and life’s a muesli bar – all mixed up and nutty.)

We need not flinch from hardship. In a mollusk’s slimy gut a speck becomes a pearl. In the bowels of the earth oppressive conditions turn blobs into diamonds.

Moreover, at this very moment, the Lord could be replaying in someone’s mind heaven’s recording of a conversation you had with that person years ago. You’ve forgotten the incident, but God is still using it. What you thought were normal words were Spirit-powered. You don’t feel the warm glow that would be yours if you knew those words were still echoing through the chambers of someone’s mind, but face it: results mean more to you than elusive feelings.

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Success Heaven Style

    There was an old man in a dither;
    All that he sowed seemed to wither.
    Yet a voice from above
    Said in words full of love,
    ‘Of you I’m so proud, come up hither.’

    (Well, what else rhymes with ‘wither?’)

There is unrivalled fulfillment inherent in serving the Lord in the exact capacity he has chosen for us. And the Evil Genius knows it. We have a formidable arsenal with which to smash the power of demonic brain-washing. Many of our weapons are variants of one irrefutable truth: as we cannot say an ear is superior to a mouth or an eye, so it is folly to regard one calling as superior to another. We are all essential parts of the incorruptible body of the risen Lord.

Every ministry is beautiful, precious, vital. Too often, however, we are blinded by what we see.

Most Old Testament prophets looked like failures. If they weren’t experts at handling rejection, it wasn’t through lack of practice. (Hebrews 11:36-38) They were as much fun as bathroom scales at a banquet. Their message would curdle the milk of human kindness. In just two minutes their hearers’ faces would take on the appearance of used chewing gum. Jeremiah was branded a traitor. (Jeremiah 38:4-5) Elijah was a fugitive. (1 Kings 18:10; 19:2-3) Many were ridiculed. Few managed to slow the moral landslide. (Isaiah 6:9-13) Some may not have understood their own prophecies. (Daniel 8:26; 12:8-9; 1 Peter 1:10-12; compare John 11:51) But their heavenly assignment touched none of these things. They were simply God’s mouth-pieces. Results were not their responsibility. (E.g., Jeremiah 1:7-9, 19; Ezekiel 2:3-7; 33:7-9; Isaiah 6:9-13)

‘For twenty-three years,’ moaned Jeremiah, ‘I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened.’ The heart-piercing thing is that at this point Jeremiah had about as many years of rejection ahead of him as the twenty-three years of ostracism he had already endured. (Jeremiah 25:1-3; 1:2-3) (There’s something to be said for having a short ministry.)

Yet though they rasped a message as comforting as burrs in bed-linen, these prophets were the talk of the nation. As welcome as slugs in cabbage soup, but their names were on everyone’s lips. They were Israel’s most wanted – special guests at rock concerts; proudly hung in public exhibitions; sawn in half by popular demand; that sort of thing. Centuries later, Paul so excelled that everyone thought of him as the man to beat. Some left no stone unturned in their eagerness to leave a lasting impression. A few even took the time to rock him to sleep. (Acts 14:19-20) It’s hard not to be envious, isn’t it?

Such vocations, by their very nature, grab the headlines. They get the bouquets and the bricks through the window. Other ministries send tremors through the spirit-world without attracting human attention.

Of necessity, singers perform in public; sound mixers and prayer fighters serve off-stage. Everyone sees your eyebrow. No one sees your liver. But which is more important?

Your average evangelist steals glory for soul-winning from those who prayed, witnessed and worked the miracle of enticing non-Christians to a Christian meeting. Many of the evangelist’s ‘converts’ either found Christ before he arrived or through counseling after he left. Though few preachers are deliberate glory thieves, there will be many reversals in the next life.

We are pressured to evaluate a ministry by how much it reaps. But this is an invalid measure. It often reflects merely the nature, not the success, of one’s service. ‘One sows, another reaps,’ taught Jesus. (John 4:37 – note also verse 38; 1 Corinthians 3:5-10) If you are called to sow, then to reap is to abdicate your responsibility. You might impress a few people, but not the One who counts.

If neither ‘reaping’ nor public acclaim indicates success, neither does the amount of time devoted to spiritual work. If the great apostle Paul supported himself by working as a tent-maker, it is clear that part-time service is by no means intrinsically inferior to full-time service. And we know that in just three days our crucified King accomplished more than the combined efforts of the entire human race from Adam until now.

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The Measure of a Ministry

After only thirteen years of preaching, Frederick W. Robertson (1816-1853) died, convinced he was a failure. Today, his sermons still in print and his influence incalculable, he is known as the ‘preacher’s preacher.’ Warren Wiersbe suggests that Robertson’s feeling of failure was intensified by his military background that enticed him to expect more definitive victories than preaching usually allows.

We view Jonah’s ministry as exceptionally successful. Single-handedly, he saved the entire populace of magnificent Nineveh. You’d expect him to be as excited as a centipede at a shoe sale, yet his face was a good imitation of half a squeezed grapefruit. (Jonah 4:1-3) His whole message had been, ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’ (Jonah 3:4) Forty days later, Nineveh was celebrating and Jonah was suicidal. The envy of evangelists, perhaps, but as a prophet this man was a write-off.

‘Success’ hinges entirely on the measure used. Genuine success – the synthetic varieties don’t last – is achieving what God expects of us. Only God can measure it. Don’t gauge hurdlers by how high they jump, or pole-vaulters by how fast they run. Judge archers by their accuracy but don’t apply this measure to javelin throwers. If that seems obvious it’s because sport lacks the mystery of real life. In the game of life, spectators speculate, the Judge judges.

Eleven thousand teachers competed with Christa McAuliffe and lost. The winner of a seat on space shuttle Challenger was the envy of millions – until the shuttle disintegrated. Eleven thousand losers suddenly became winners.

In the twinkling of an eye, the first shall be last. (1 Corinthians 15:52; Matthew 20:16; Luke 16:15) Until that wondrous moment, don’t assume you’re a loser.

Many of us are far more successful than we imagine; perhaps more than our humility could handle. It is tragic to find in the body of Christ an ear accused of failure because it cannot see, or an eye that thinks it’s let the body down because it cannot smell.

What the world thinks, what other Christians think, what you think, is irrelevant. Nothing matters except God’s approval. It is the sole measure of a ministry.

For the person who understands God’s ways, brokenness holds no terror. Being reduced to insignificance in our own eyes is a sure way of wooing divine attention. ‘You may easily be too big for God to use,’ remarked Dwight Moody, ‘but you can never be too small.’ Peter Sumner has distilled an amazing truth from the way Christ fed the multitudes: whatever God breaks, he blesses; whatever he blesses, he uses; whatever he uses, he multiplies. (Matthew 14:17-20; 15:34-37) For Sumner, this is truth pounded out on the steel anvil of life. He was permanently blinded in a freak accident while giving up his vacation to help renovate a building for Christian use. From this broken life grew the Christian Foundation for the Blind.

Don’t be too hasty is despising what you imagine to be your flaws and weaknesses.

The Mocker glares at you. ‘Cracked pot!’ he snarls. You shrink inside, unable to hear the adoration of people in the age to come. ‘Exquisite vessel, perfectly formed to touch our lives!’ they cry to you. ‘Through that crack God’s oil flowed out to us.’

We seem the object of ridicule, yet we’re the focus of infinite love. We’re fruit growing sweeter, wine gaining value; not milk going sour. We’re not cardboard caving, colors fading, under the weight of time; we’re concrete drying stronger, trees growing higher, dawn glowing brighter.

If your life is on ‘hold’, the hands holding you bear love-prints and they’re nestling you close to the Father’s heart.

Glorious things are ahead.

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‘Wasted’ Years

If we knew God’s evaluation of our labors, much frustration would evaporate.

Remember Father Abraham. Able to see just one layer of God’s artistry, he thought having physical descendants would be his greatest achievement. On that basis, waiting made little sense. As we saw earlier, however, his main ministry lay in having spiritual descendants – saints inspired by the faith he displayed during the delay. (Romans 4:12-13,16-24; 9:6-8; Galatians 3:6-9,14; Hebrews 11:11-12) Instead of deferring ministry, his childlessness enabled him to exercise his highest calling – inspiring faith. What to Abraham seemed wasted years were among his most productive.

When Daniel’s three friends were pushed into the furnace, it looked like the end of ministry hopes. Instead, it became their finest hour. (Daniel 3:1-30)

Paul’s epistles seem a desperate reaction to the annoyance of distance or prison keeping him from his ‘real’ mission. (Romans 1:10-13; 15:22-23; Philippians 4:1a; 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18; 3:10) He might have felt as frustrated as an injured sportsman reduced to urging his team from the sidelines. Yet it is this ‘side-line’ ministry, rather than his ‘real’ one, that has snowballed down the hills of time. According to Andrew Bonar, we have gained more from Paul’s imprisonment than from his visit to the third heaven.

From the time he was licensed to preach, Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) served for nine years in a church so tiny that it could not have held more than 250 people. ‘I see exceedingly small fruit of my ministry,’ he lamented, ‘I would be glad of one soul . . . ’ Then church leaders silenced him. Stripped of his church and forbidden to preach, he penned some private letters. He had no idea that after his death his mail would be read by countless thousands, powerfully touching generations of Christians.

Though the pool of examples seems bottomless, to dip further is superfluous. ‘In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.’ (2 Corinthians 13:1; Deuteronomy 19:15) The case is proved: we may be mightily used of God when least aware of it. What seems an infuriating hindrance to service could actually be eliciting vital ministry.

See Jesus naked on the cross, scorned by demons, soldiers and Jews. To even his supporters his failure was undeniable. Thousands were ashamed of him. We, too, may be pounded within and without by accusations that we are weak, ineffectual, useless.

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Brilliant Disaster

My invitations to speak are as common as leap years. I even pounced on the chance to speak at my father’s funeral.

I had on paper words with the power to comfort and challenge, and the Lord enabled me to deliver them without embarrassment. God’s so gracious. From an eternal viewpoint, however, saving face was inconsequential. Ultimately, nothing mattered, as long as Spirit-charged words entered needy hearts. It could easily have happened this way:

I arrive at the pulpit only to discover I have the wrong folder. In naked horror I bolt up the aisle to drive home to my notes, then remember my keys. I sheepishly return, groping over stunned mourners in a blind hunt. Keys in hand, I storm out again and drive off with blunder and lightning, side-swiping the hearse on the way.

Finally clutching my proper notes, I flee my mangled car and burst through the church, knocking a vase of flowers. In cold obedience to Murphy’s Law, the vase nosedives, drenching the coffin and drowning my trousers. I stagger to the pulpit, terrorized by mind-freezing humiliation. Convulsed by a giddy whirl of sobs and stutters, I crash over words, slipping and slurring through a minefield of bloopers, until I close; an hysterical disaster.

Yet if those mashed, soggy words still fulfilled their intended mission, my blubbering disgrace would have been a howling success from eternity’s view.

I could have wanted to slither under the nearest rock. Heaven could have wanted to give a standing ovation.

We have no right to imagine we have failed unless heaven expressly reveals it to us.

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Precisioned Blunders

John Pemberton formulated a potion to ‘whiten teeth, cleanse the mouth, harden and beautify the gums, and relieve mental and physical exhaustion.’ He named his chemical concoction Coca-Cola.

Locust plagues were receiving media attention in Australia when Peter McFarlane hatched a practical joke. He fooled the press into thinking he planned to export candied locusts as a gourmet food. Newspapers around the world picked up the story and McFarlane was inundated with inquiries. (Multitudes of non-Westerners share John the Baptist’s appreciation of these tasty critters.) It was hilarious – until the joke took a U-turn. As expressions of interest mounted, candied locusts began to look too commercially attractive to pass up. The last I heard, he was planning serious production trials.

Then there’s Christopher Colombus’s trip to Asia. To America’s delight, that, too, went strangely haywire.

If people following their own impulses sometimes achieve things delightfully different to their intentions, who knows what wonders await Spirit-led individuals? (Note Proverbs 20:24)

Though many of us seem blown off-course by fickle winds, these perplexing diversions could be divinely-tuned course adjustments. Often the frustration is because we are heading for a vocation quite different – and ultimately more rewarding – to the one we imagine.

You might, for example, be hoping to win hundreds to Christ and succeed only in raising up another evangelist. He may win countless thousands and they in turn win still more. You could go to the grave thinking you have failed, oblivious that heaven credits a million souls to your name.

In fact, your greatest contribution might flow from your greatest weakness. If you find my book useful, it’s because I have felt useless. It’s the spear through my heart that binds me to the pain in yours. It’s years plagued with questions that have unearthed answers. Had something dulled my pain, you would not be reading this book.

John Bunyan’s spiritual torment was horrific. With a severity that few of us could even conceive, year after year he was repeatedly overwhelmed by sin, hopelessness and the seemingly certain prospect of an eternity in Hell. Then followed long years of harsh imprisonment, intensified even when not in prison by the very real threat of execution or deportation. No wonder Pilgrim’s Progress is such an outstandingly powerful book. Much of it was virtually autobiographical.

Great men like Whitefield and the Wesleys suffered enormously in their struggle to find salvation. Whitefield’s spiritual need was so all-consuming that his fastings almost killed him. John and Charles were inconsolable until at long last they found salvation. Spurgeon suffered so greatly in his quest for salvation that he wrote, ‘I had rather pass through seven years of the most launching sickness, than I would ever again pass the through terrible discovery of the evil of sin. Not surprisingly, their subsequent ministries eclipsed that of almost all Christians who have been spared such anguish of soul.

Mark Virkler’s torment was his inability to hear God’s voice. In vain he sought the help of those who regularly heard from God. They could not even understand his problem. For them, it’s as easy as prayer. Year after year, Mark wrestled in the agony of silence. Why would a Father who longs to communicate with his treasured children, allow him to suffer so cruelly? Because, unlike those for whom hearing comes easily, Mark now has answers which have swept thousands to ‘the other side of silence’.

Traumas qualify us for ministry like nothing else can.

After losing his sight, Dr. William Moon prayed a prayer that was powerfully answered: ‘Lord, help me use this talent of blindness in your service . . . ’

Barbara Johnson has touched incalculable numbers of people for the glory of Christ, because of the numbing horror of being robbed of two sons through death, losing a third to a gay lifestyle, and her husband being critically injured.

Who would have heard of Corrie ten Boom or Richard Wurmbrand if they had not suffered in prison camps?

Rather than test your patience by citing hundreds more examples, let me conclude by stating the obvious: for vast numbers of Christians, the spiritual impact of their lives seems directly proportional to their past agony. Situations they would have most wanted to avoid – times when death seemed preferable – empowered their lives like no other experience.

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When Everything Fizzles

‘You’re a real spiritual dynamo,’ said the devil.

‘Well thank you!’ I gushed, surprised to find the enemy in such a good mood. ‘A dynamo, eh?’

‘Yeah, I get a charge out of seeing you go around in circles!’

If I say so myself, my plans are executed brilliantly – by unseen assassins. Just when life seems all peaches and cream, I have to go on a low cholesterol diet.

‘It is always darkest just before the day dawneth.’ A book of quotations ascribes those words to Thomas Fuller, but it didn’t say what planet he lived on. You need only see a Warner Brothers cartoon to know it’s always darkest just before a large falling object flattens you.

The occasional disaster aside, things go almost perfectly. I almost marry. I almost get a better job. I almost catch my notes before they fall into the shredder. My car almost starts.

I tried my hand at rowing on a sea inlet in Kangaroo Island. I rowed furiously and got nowhere. I couldn’t figure it out. I later learnt that the tide is particularly strong in that area. (At another place my father had a similar rowing experience. He found pulling up the anchor helped considerably.) Years later I received a word from the Lord. I had been rowing against the tide, it said, but the tide would turn. Me? Rowing against the tide? Everything I do works like a charm – hangs around my neck and achieves nothing. My idea of a record year is being needled as I go around in circles. Murphy’s laws are parts of my autobiography that slipped out before I could copyright them. Why does my bread always fall butter-side down? Why are the lights always red? Oh, no! My pen’s run dry. (Really!)

Now, where was I? O yes – why does everything go wrong for me? Why do my hopes die with their legs in the air? Why would people rather read a soap wrapper than something I’ve written? I begin to wax eloquent and the wax sets. I try to witness and my mind goes blank. I try to sleep and my mind fills up. It’s a miracle. I know when the rapture will occur – ten minutes after I make the final payment on a prepaid funeral. Just call me the Aluminum Kid – foiled again. I have more problems than a chiropractor with a waiting-room full of giraffes. Another day another bother.

I wasn’t aware of doing anything wrong. In fact, I was told the tide would change, not that I would change. Why would God allow these frustrations?

All I know is that rowing against the tide builds muscles and stamina. Imagine how I’ll power through the waves when the tide turns.

George Muller seems to have suffered from tide problems, too. Though he enjoyed God’s miraculous provision daily for more than sixty years, the life of faith never grew easy for him. Even in his later years when he gained international fame, he still had to pray in every penny, often having to economize and wait virtually to the death knock before it arrived. The Lord so believed in Muller and so cared for his continued spiritual development that he kept the tests coming for sixty years until finally granting him a financially easier life when Muller entered his late eighties.

I started writing this book using the services of a typist. This was a wonderful answer to prayer. Not only was Lorraine willing to type without charge, she had a computer ideally suited to my needs. (The way I write – faster than a speeding eraser; more change than a thousand piggy banks; able to spell a single word in a hundred ways – a computer is essential.)

Weighed down by past failures, I had little faith to pay a typist big money for work that might end up with my dust-covered previous efforts. For the same reason, I was loath to buy my own equipment and I was convinced I’d type like a one-armed sloth with arthritis.

Suddenly, Lorraine was unable to complete the work. Another ministry attempt bites the dust. No! Surely the Lord provided her! What’s going on?

The typing already done enabled others to view samples of my work. Their response nerved me to buy a computer and learn new ways to lose data. My writing soared. Never again would I want to be dependent upon a typist, no matter how willing, available and skilled. What seemed an inexplicable obstacle has propelled me into a new realm of efficiency.

Those contrary winds are not as fickle as they seem.

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Paralysis

Edison invented the light bulb not by trial and triumph, but by trial and error (over 1600 errors, I’m told). During his life, he didn’t stop at mere failures. He made some spectacular blunders – like when he was meant to be selling newspapers and ended up setting a train on fire. (I must look into this: Edison and I might be related.)

Mistakes are rarely the black ogre they seem. We’ve seen how failure can be a valuable asset, cleansing us of ugly pride; correcting and directing us; barricading enticing avenues that meander away from heaven’s best, or purging us of reckless independence and pushing us deeper into the heart of God.

Out of control, however, the fire that warms can destroy. When failure piles on top of failure, the hideous shadow of a psychological barrier slithers across our mind. As failures mount ever higher, we all begin to quake. Yet Edison refused to be intimidated, though the dark mountain grew every day. With a mere three months of formal schooling and considered to have had a learning disability, Edison eventually became one of the most prolific inventors of all time. In his struggle to invent a method of storing electricity he is said to have had tens of thousands of failures. Attempt 50,000 – or thereabouts – worked.

We can cower in defeat like the mass of humanity, afraid of shadows, or we can become Edisons.

It’s been said Oral Roberts has been used of God in the miraculous healing of more people than anyone else in human history. Just one humiliating complication – it is also estimated he has prayed for more people who haven’t been healed than anyone else ever has.

Many people call C. H. Gabriel the king of hymn writers. His most famous work, ‘The Glory Song,’ translated into almost every major language, is estimated to have been printed over one hundred million times. He earned a reputation of being better than anyone in the world at putting the finishing touches on a hymn. Yet he claimed he experienced more failure than success.

‘The way to succeed,’ said Thomas J. Watson, ‘is to double your failure rate.’ Watson isn’t your average crack-pot. He founded IBM.

What often distinguishes successful people is the uncommon number of failures they suffer. The rest of us give up before experiencing our full quota.

If failures are rungs on the ladder to success, we reach the top not merely by seeing failures, but by mounting them.

One rejection from a publisher would send me reeling. How many blows could you sustain before forever abandoning the idea of becoming a writer? Ten? Fifteen? Fifty? Would-be novelist John Creasey received an unbroken succession of 743 rejections. I’d be throwing in the towel, the soap, the bath water, my rubber duck, my little red tugboat, everything I could lay my hands on. Few people would ever expose themselves to such devastating failure. That’s why so few enjoy the renown he finally achieved. While unsuccessful, he was forced to write deep into the night. He came late to his paid employment so often that he was fired from twenty-seven different jobs. Undaunted, he continued to perfect his writing, striving to be so good that his skill could no longer be ignored. Shy success crept near, then swept him to fame. Over sixty million of his books have been published.

The chilly winds of rejection can ruffle our feathers or carry us to new heights. Sag in doubt or stretch wings heavenward and soar: the choice is ours.

It is not arid persistence that success finds irresistible, but a dogged resolve to improve. Don’t huddle in self-pity. Harness rejection’s power. Let it spur you to a greater commitment, inspiring you to new levels of excellence.

We often let God down. It is even worse if Satan persuades us that the resulting failure is God’s fault, rather than our own. (Proverbs 19:3) But we must not let past fizzlers paralyze us. Acting outside of God’s time will hurt. It is ludicrous, however, to let such traumas darken our expectations of future service. Moving in God’s time and manner will be markedly different.

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Escape

Experimental psychologists designed a dog enclosure, divided by a low barrier and wired to deliver electrical shocks to half the cage. Dogs quickly learned to cross the barrier and avoid the unpleasant shocks. New dogs, however, were given the shocks no matter what they did. The ‘mad scientists’ then changed the conditions so that these dogs, like the first ones, could easily avoid the shocks. Yet they never learned. Being subjected to a no-win situation had rendered the second group of dogs incapable of succeeding. Even in their home cages they seemed lethargic and dejected.

Psychologists call this phenomenon learned helplessness. The only way they could get the dogs to avoid the shocks was to physically drag them over the barrier.

Can I ever identify with those pathetic creatures! It’s as if for my whole life I’ve been victim of a sadistic conspiracy to crush me into a whimpering defeatist. Yet even if your experience has been more harrowing, there is one thing distinguishing us from those dogs. Though racked by failed ministry attempts, we can know when conditions for ministry have changed, because we’re in union with the God who knows. The sovereign Lord enjoys certain advantages in being omnipotent, one of which is the ability to communicate with even the deafest, densest (why are you looking at me?) of his children. (Compare John 10:4, Romans 8:14) We may still question whether it was God, but after entreating him we will receive enough confirmation to warrant giving it a go.

All we then need is faith to mount the barrier.

Use steps. Start with a minor challenge. Slowly, methodically, climb higher. Even if your situation seems a case of all or nothing, prayer, creativity and persistence will usually carve a series of steps into a towering barrier.

Try spending fifteen or more minutes a day simply imagining yourself totally at ease, doing something you presently find just a little daunting. Over days or weeks, slowly advance – moving in your mind to the next stage only when you can picture the scene in detail without experiencing the slightest tension in your body. Research has convincingly demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach in breaking fear’s fangs. Add to this the prayer of faith and the power of knowing that Jesus is with you, and in a few weeks you will mount that barrier.

You’ll find this method far more dignified than having to be dragged over. I am not too keen about the whole of heaven looking on while I’m madly yelping, claws dug in, being yanked by the scruff of my neck to a place of joy and fulfillment that my foolishness imagines to be a den of terror.

There’s an alternative to volunteering or being forced. And it’s even worse. Geriatric specialist Dr. Peter Rowe reported in a British medical journal the case of a thirty-four-year-old lady who caught influenza. She was examined by a doctor who told her to stay in bed until he saw her again. He never returned. She never got up. Forty years later a doctor examined a plump, seventy-four-year-old, bed-ridden spinster. He found her in perfect health, still refusing to get up. It took seven more months of coaxing before she left the comfort and security of her quilt-covered prison. Then followed three ‘fairly active’ years until she met her Maker.

You may be a pew-warmer for a while, but don’t get too comfortable! I’d prefer the torment of endless striving. Better to chase a God-given dream through a minefield, than be as snug as a slug in the mud.

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Too Ordinary?

Young Samuel initially failed to respond to God’s voice. (1 Samuel 3:3 ff) It sounded too ordinary. He probably expected God to thunder his commands with booming voice and Technicolor vision.

God often breathes through thoughts, desires, circumstances or human agencies. If we are looking for something more spectacular, we might not recognize his call.

Yet we can just as easily err in the opposite direction, missing the Spirit’s leading, not because it seems too ordinary, but because it seems too bizarre.

Earlier in my full book, Waiting for Your Ministry, I skimmed the mad-cap exploits of Spirit-intoxicated saints. I didn’t so much as mention such star performers as Elisha who made the weirdest UFO claim ever concocted, whacked a river with his coat, threw salt in the town’s water supply, lay on a corpse, and urged followers to eat poison. (2 Kings 2:11-18, 13-14, 20-21; 4:32-33, 40-41) So obviously we’ve left untold the antics of lesser-known oddballs like Agabus, who tied himself in knots. (Acts 21:10-11) But despite this book being shorter than the Bible, I hope I’ve squashed any illusion that your ministry will be ‘normal’, because everyone else will expect it of you.

It was hard to rate a mention in the Bible unless you made a laughing stock of yourself. God hasn’t changed. You can be as conservative as God allows, but that will not be nearly as innocuous as the world, the flesh and half the church want you to be.

It’s scary being different. We’d rather hide, trying to clone someone else’s ministry. But there’s simply no demand for more impersonators. There is, however, a demand for your unique contribution.

Resist the pressure to conform. You may die of embarrassment, but you’ll live in glory. The world needs your distinctive ministry.

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A Cup of Water?

Now for some free verse – no one would pay for it.

    I can’t evangelize or speak;
    Can’t even wash people’s feet.
    I sing like a sea-sick crow.
    When I arrive, people go.
    As a shepherd I’d lose the sheep.
    When I pray, heaven falls asleep.
    No one could be
    So useless as me.
    I can do nothing at all.
    Life for me is so sinister –
    (Pardon while I answer this call.)

    Yes, Mr. President – er – Prime Minister.
    Have you read any more of the Bible?
    Yes, I’ll pray for revival.
    The prince wants to see me on Sunday,
    I could squeeze you in on Monday . . . 

    What was I saying before that call?
    O now I remember it all!
    No one could be
    So useless as me.
    I can do nothing at all.

You’re sure you’re achieving nothing, but I wonder if heaven finds your lamentations a bigger joke than my poetry. There are no angelic chuckles over your pain – heaven weeps – but how laughable is your logic? (Jesus said nothing about having the brains of a mustard seed.) How oblivious are you to your triumphs? There are a thousand important ways of serving besides the few that at present get all the attention.

Take hospitality. Though Scripture exalts this prized ministry, we downgrade it. (E.g., 2 Kings 4:8-17; Job 31:32; Isaiah 58:6-7; Acts 16:15; Romans 12:13; 16:23; 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Peter 4:9-10; 3 John 5-8; and many others) It has been both received, (Genesis 18:1-8; 19:1-3; Luke 7:44-46; 24:29-31; Hebrews 13:2) and engaged in, by such glorious beings as angels (1 Kings 19:5-8) and even Christ himself. (John 13:4-5; 21:9-13) A cup of water offered in love? We might despise it. Heaven doesn’t. (Matthew 10:40-42)

Of all the people Elijah could have gone to during the famine, he sought the ministry of a hopelessly impoverished widow – and a Gentile one at that. Her ministry of hospitality was so precious to the Lord that he turned it into a spectacular miracle. (1 Kings 17:10-24; Luke 4:25-26)

Of course, we’re too spiritual to regard dressmaking as a beautiful ministry. We’re more spiritual than God! Read the touching story of the raising to life of Dorcas. (Acts 9:36,39) We are left with the impression that her needlework warmed the heart of God. Sewing can be a chore, a chance to boast, or an opportunity to bless. You know this lady’s choice. The world may miss it, but whenever God sees a twentieth century Dorcas, beauty is in the eye of a needle.

Amid the throng that flocked to Jesus was a select band. Early in Luke’s Gospel we read of them. There was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and many others, who materially supported Jesus and his disciples. (Luke 8:1-3) Luke had already drawn attention to Jesus’ mother, whose incessant labors for her son must have been as immense as those of most mothers. Their ranks swelled to include Martha and her sister, and probably many more. One of them wove Jesus’ seamless robe. Another perfumed his feet. Some cooked his meals. Others gave from their purse. Precious ministries. When things got so tough that even Christ’s most loyal followers fell away, the world beheld these women’s glory and the majesty of their seemingly mundane ministry. They were with their Master to the last, comforting and supporting him. They prepared his body and visited his grave; serving when everyone else had given up. No wonder it was to them that the risen Lord first appeared.

Even today there are treasured saints who cook Christ’s meals, wash his clothes and nurse him through sickness. They take the homeless into their homes. They clothe derelicts. They hug AIDS patients. ‘Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

We are forever overlooking the joys of apparently menial tasks. When Jesus turned water into wine, the master of ceremonies was oblivious to the miracle. He didn’t even know it had once been water. ‘But the servants who had drawn the water knew.’ (John 2:9)

Heaven is as moved by Miss Nameless cleaning vomit from a drunk, as by Rev. Bigstar preaching the greatest sermon ever heard.

‘How do you do manage to do the work of two men?’ David Livingstone asked C. H. Spurgeon.

‘You have forgotten there are two of us,’ replied the preacher, thinking of his wife, ‘and the one you see the least of often does the most work.’

This rule extends far beyond the Spurgeons.

I expect the upper echelons of heaven to be dominated by women. Though things are slowly changing, historically it has been women who are the great servers, the kingdom’s unseen, unthanked power. The last shall be first. (Matthew 20:16; Mark 9:35; 10:43-44)

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Sacred Service Agents

When the church appointed its first deacons, they were looking for people to distribute welfare. Nothing about the task was essentially spiritual. In theory, trustworthy pagans could have done it. Yet the early church carefully selected Christians of outstanding caliber. Each was of high character, ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’. (Acts 6:3) One of them, Stephen, was further eulogized as being filled with faith, grace and power. He had a ‘signs and wonders ministry’, and under the Spirit’s anointing was such a persuasive speaker that the church’s enemies regarded him, rather than any of the apostles, as their greatest threat. (Acts 6:5,8,10 ff) Not only was he martyred (an honor I have graciously offered to defer), he attained this glory before any of the others. Another welfare distributor, Philip, was a powerful evangelist with a miracle ministry. He pioneered work in Samaria, turning the whole city right side up. (Acts 8:5-13) Such were the men chosen to oversee the material needs of widows. So the divinely authorized history of the early church inspires us to esteem seemingly nonspiritual administrative work as exalted service. How easy it is to underestimate a ministry.

I fear lest I fail to extol the most trivial act. Since doing the little we can to cheer hurting Christians is equivalent to cheering Christ himself, (Matthew 10:40-42; 25:35-40) to down-play such acts is to slight the King of kings. Moreover, a large part of Jesus’ earthly ministry was that of a servant. (Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:27; John 13:4-5) So in this sense, too, to regard a servant’s ministry as inferior, is to insult our Lord. Of course, the risen Christ left his servant duties behind with his grave clothes. Or did he? As John’s gospel closes we catch our final glimpse of the triumphant Lord of glory, and what is he doing? Cooking the disciples’ breakfast. (John 21:9-13)

In fact, Jesus taught that the supposedly lowly ministry of a servant is the route, not to obscurity, but to undying greatness. (Matthew 20:27; Luke 22:26; John 13:12-17)

Levites were the tabernacle’s cleaners, laborers, caretakers and door-keepers. Their tasks were the type people queue up to avoid. Yet not even prophets were recipients of holy tithes, like the Levites. (Numbers 18:21-23) Priests, whose duties were even more sacred, surrendered their lives to the odious drudgery of butchering livestock – beast after beast after beast. Even kings, on pain of death, were barred from priestly duties. It is almost as if the tasks we are inclined to disregard are the ones God chooses to exalt. (Luke 16:15)

Put bluntly, the main reason we undervalue many important ministries is worldliness. The world looks for human recognition. (Compare Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18; 23:2-12, 27-18; Luke 6:22-26) We do lip service, for example, to the power of prayer, yet view an evangelist basking in the limelight more favorably than the prayer-wrestler hidden in the back room. We exalt the virile missionary and sneer at the withered old lady whose paltry dollars God multiplied to carry that missionary to the field. If we’re blinded by carnality, heaven isn’t. To measure success in terms of human acclaim is to serve man, not God.

The most powerful ministry is probably intercession. And the world’s greatest intercessor could be the ‘no-body’ sitting next to you in church last Sunday. Only the spirit-realm comprehends what Christ’s sacred service agents accomplish behind closed doors and behind enemy lines.

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Satan’s Slander

At church, it’s usually the car-park attendants who most inspire me. Most of us would make faithful preachers. We’d be prayerful, punctual and well-prepared if called to flaunt our talent in a flashy ministry. But how many of us would have the humility and strength of character to be faithful church parking attendants? Their task makes flossing your teeth high adventure. I’d feel like a second-hand tissue. With a face so long it gets caught in my belt, I’d be the constant brunt of Satan’s malicious whisperings that this service is just too degrading and embarrassing; that I must be the scum of the church. Could I successfully resist such slander? How I admire those saints, those Christ-like overcomers, every Sunday.

We are all subject to the Deceiver’s relentless barrage. If he fails to intoxicate us with pride, he’ll do all he can to induce a downer – maligning our ministry, telling us we are contributing nothing to the kingdom. Either way, surrendering to his persuasive lies will impair God’s work.

Imagine the consequences if in the midst of the battle Moses’ helpers had said, ‘I can’t fight like Joshua. I can’t lead like Moses. I can’t sing like Miriam, or engrave like Bezaleel. I’m just a run-away slave. Whoever heard of a stick-holding ministry! Life’s passed me by. Forget that stupid stick, I’m going back to my tent!’

Don’t conclude that God doesn’t have more spectacular things in store for you. What you are doing right now, however, is probably far more valuable and potentially more satisfying than you realize. You may be the only Christian presence in your work place, the only mother that precious child will ever have, the only one praying for that forgotten man, or the only one willing to encourage that person of unknown potential.

Lost in prayer, David Brainerd did not see the reared rattlesnake poised to strike his face. Watching wide-eyed with glee, were hate-crazed savages who had snuck up to the tent for the express purpose of murdering him. Unexpectedly, the snake suddenly veered and slid away. The Red Indians also silently retreated, awed by the snake’s reaction and intent upon spreading the word about this pale-face who so clearly had the Great Spirit’s protection. Oblivious to the entire episode, David broke camp and continued his journey. Yes, that was unusually dramatic, but are you any less ignorant of what takes place in the unseen spirit-world and within the sealed vault of people’s minds as you go about your normal affairs with the touch of God upon your life?

What was the greatest event in human history? Jesus’ death. Yet in a sense, it was nothing. People wanted him killed; he let them. It was no epic of human endurance. He even failed to drag his cross the required distance. There was no display of artistic skill. Other religions find it offensive. Intellectuals ridicule it. (1 Corinthians 1:23) Yet, in God, it is of incalculable worth.

Since we are sufficiently enlightened to view Jesus’ ministry as God sees it, let’s endeavor to be equally enlightened about our own service.

The church has a million unsung heroes. Their exploits, unknown on earth, are the talk of heaven. These resolute, Christ-like conquerors cannot be bought. They refuse to trade eternal acclaim for temporal applause. Heaven’s megastars may be so inconspicuous, you’d think they’re in training for the Pew Warmer of the Year Award. No one would guess the shock-waves they send through Satan’s camp when these spiritual gladiators plunder his kingdom. Everyone scrambles to be in the limelight, except these saints: they are light – the light of the world.

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Did You Know . . . 

    * Most actors wanting the role of Long John Silver are hopelessly inadequate? They have too many legs.

    * Most people look like ridiculously overdressed, non-Japanese, anorexic sumo wrestlers?

    * When I was younger I could run faster than Carl Lewis? Over the years my superiority gradually waned, especially after baby Carl learned to walk.

I know what you’re thinking: I’ve finally blown a fuse upstairs. It was all a misunderstanding. They said success was just around the corner, so I went around the bend. Before you start sending get-well cards, however, let me assure you I’m as sane as anyone else here in the psychiatric ward. My point is this: whether you see yourself as gifted or weird, indispensable or inadequate, depends entirely on the frame of reference you choose. From God’s frame of reference – the life’s work he has chosen for you – no one is as perfectly endowed as you.

If that seems like soppy idealism, you have not thought it through. Do so, and it will become a treasured source of strength and comfort. You could choose any individual and fill volumes with what he or she cannot do or is hopeless at, but that’s of no more concern than the fact that a DVD player cannot fly, wash dishes, quench thirst, tie shoelaces, and prevent tooth decay. Besides the endless list of things a DVD player cannot do, many of the things it can do, it does poorly. It’s an inferior paperweight, straightedge, and bookend. You could use it as a fly-swatter – once. Such lists miss the critical point: anything skillfully designed is ideally equipped – and usually solely equipped – for the specific and commendable purpose for which it was made.

Did you hear about the man who inherited an old violin and an oil painting? Excitedly, he took it to a dealer for evaluation and to his amazement discovered he was the proud owner of a Stradivarius and a Rembrandt. Unfortunately, Stradivarius was an atrocious painter and Rembrandt’s violin was worthless.

An exceptionally attractive woman heard wedding bells whenever she thought of a brilliant composer. ‘With your brains and my looks,’ she told him, ‘what wonderful children we would have!’

Replied the composer, ‘Have you considered a child with my looks and your brains?’

Of course you cannot do everything – that was never your Designer’s intention – but to imagine that your Creator and Savior will not fashion you with perfection for your reason for existence, is to accuse your Maker of impotence and incompetence. Face facts: everything God does is impressive. For the exact role that he created you, you are superbly endowed.

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Under-Rating Your Efforts

A well-loved hymn was nearly lost. Just in time, the only surviving manuscript was discovered in a rubbish bin. This was not the slip of a careless cleaner. It was a deliberate act. Someone had almost succeeded in defrauding God and countless people of a blessing.

After investigation, the offender finally confessed. It was the writer himself! John Henry Newman had judged his beautiful work as worthy only of destruction. One wonders how much such distorted judgment is the work of the Evil One.

‘The devil is trying to make me think my talent is no good,’ Andraé Crouch confessed to Oral Roberts. He had just finished performing for Oral Roberts’ television program. If such a famous singer can be afflicted by these feelings, few of us can hope to avoid them.

Surprisingly, this fact constitutes a first line of defense. The Enemy gains an advantage if he can isolate us, convincing us our trial is unique. Scripture affirms that every type of temptation is normal. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

To prove how common it is to be blitzed by temptations to underrate ourselves, study the following enthralling, though drastically shortened list. Skim over it, if your need is superficial. If you are as dry as me, however, you will imbibe each instance, savoring every hope-giving drop.

    * In 1933, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote that nothing but failure lay ahead of him. (His biggest failure was his prophecy.)

    * He had no voice at all, said his teacher. Nevertheless, Enrico Caruso became the greatest opera singer of his day.

    * Beethoven’s music teacher declared him ‘hopeless’ at composing.

    * ‘Balding, skinny, can dance a little,’ they said of Fred Astaire at his first audition.

    * ‘What will they send me next!’ said Edmund Hillary’s gym instructor of the puny school boy now known as the man who conquered Mount Everest.

    * Said Professor Erasmus Wilson of Oxford University, ‘I think I may say without contradiction that when the Paris Exhibition closes, electric light will close with it, and no more will be heard of it.’

    * An invitation was extended to witness one of humanity’s most historic moments – the Wright brothers’ first flight in their heavier-than-air machine. Five people turned up.

    * Walt Disney was fired for ‘lacking ideas’.

    * H. B. Warner of Warner Brothers fame scoffed at the notion of ‘talkies.’ No one would want to hear movie actors talk.

    * Television, too, was once written off. It would never appeal to the average American family, pronounced the New York Times.

    * ‘Sit down, young man, and respect the opinions of your seniors,’ chided the man of God. The seasoned pastor was just one of an army of saints opposed to this young upstart’s radical ideas. ‘If the Lord wants to convert the heathen, he can do it without your help.’ But William Carey (1761-1834) didn’t ‘sit down’. Instead, he spearheaded the modern missionary movement.

    * For years, Hudson Taylor tried to glean knowledge about China – a difficult task in his era. Then up jumped a chance to be advised by a missionary with experience in that very country.

    ‘Why, you will never do for China!’ exclaimed the missionary. He glared at the blue-eyed youth, certain that the Chinese would find his features grotesquely alien. ‘They would run from you in terror! You could never get them to listen to you,’ he told the founder of the China Inland Mission.

    * It is Kenneth Pike’s genius as a linguist that earned him acclaim as ‘one of the great missionaries of the twentieth century’. He has been ranked with ‘the most brilliant and highly honored linguists of the twentieth century, recognized the world over in secular as well as Christian circles’. Inadequacy at language learning was cited as a major reason for his rejection as a missionary candidate. Humiliated, he continued writing to different mission boards until at last one did not reject him, and even they reportedly exclaimed, ‘Lord, couldn’t you have sent us something better than this?’

    * Mentally backward Max Raffler loved to paint. Over the years, as his paintings piled ever higher, his sisters would burn them to make room for more. Finally, when an old man, his artistic ability was recognized. The well-meaning sisters had destroyed paintings that would have sold for tens of millions of dollars. (Quick! Where are my finger paintings?)

    * It was the dead of night. A shadow slunk down the street. It was Charles with the dickens of a problem. He was off to mail his manuscript, huddling his guilty secret, petrified lest friends find out and ridicule him. The manuscript was rejected. More rejections pierced him before he won the hearts of millions with such classics as Oliver Twist.

    * ‘All his discourses are redolent of bad taste, are vulgar and theatrical . . . ’ said a newspaper. Another paper described his preaching as ‘that of a vulgar colloquial, varied by rant . . .  All the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly and impiously handled . . . ’ They were referring to C. H. Spurgeon, the man routinely hailed as the prince of preachers. Moreover, they were writing after he had already attained immense popularity.

    * As Billy Graham preached, a missionary’s daughter battled an almost uncontrollable urge to run out of the meeting. It was his future wife, and it wasn’t conviction that made her squirm. It was her response to what she considered appalling preaching.

    * To these could be added a gaggle of other instances, too humorous to mention.

If only we could laugh in the midst of our trial. Coping with rejection and apparent failure is a serious matter. The tragic death of John Kennedy Poole screams this truth at anyone lucky enough to need an explanation. No publisher would touch Poole’s book. In a vain attempt to kill the pain, he suicided. Posthumously, his book was published. It won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

But don’t knock the knockers. In its early stages, virtually every great achievement has seemed pathetically insignificant.

The pressures to undervalue your contribution may be even greater than Poole faced. Spiritual work, not secular writing, is the focus of Satan’s rage. Through Jesus, however, your power over oppression is greater still.

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Glorious Failure

Moses was in ‘the backside of the desert’, says the King James Bible. (Exodus 3:1) I’d steer clear of that expression, but there might have been times when Moses was tempted to use it. The desert drop-out stood before the burning bush a broken man, haunted by his inadequacy. (Exodus 4:10-14) He was so long in the tooth, ivory hunters must have started asking after his health. And excuses! When God called him, this word-masher’s comeback was packed with more ‘buts’ than a church pew on Easter morning. As he tried to stammer home his point, he even had the audacity to imply that his deficiencies were bigger than God. What’s a stutter to the One who fashions mouths? What’s a mental block to the Maker of minds?

Poor old tongue-twister – one foot in the grave, and the other in his mouth. Yet it was Moses the word-slurping geriatric, not Moses the headstrong royal, who was on the brink of greatness.

Forty years earlier, fresh from his Egyptian education, strong in body, high in status and political pull, he was keen to help God’s people. But heaven had no use for a budding superstar. Heaven was waiting for a bumbling sheep-minder.

Viewed from the final side of the grave, everything tackled in one’s own strength fizzles. (Compare John 15:5) Only through God could Moses’ splash in time ripple for all eternity. Perhaps it took the full forty years for this realization to become an unshakeable conviction, but it was worth the wait. It became the secret of Moses’ strength, ridding him of the arrogant independence that would otherwise have fouled his service. He was the meekest man on earth. (Numbers 12:3 ff) This precious quality is adorned with exquisite promises.

‘The meek will he guide . . . 
The meek will he teach his way.’ (Psalm 25:9)

‘The meek will increase their joy in the Lord.’ (Isaiah 29:19)

‘The meek will inherit the earth.’ (Matthew 5:5)

Humility – joyous dependence upon the Lord – is the road to honor. (Proverbs 15:33 b; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6-7) The glitter at the end of other roads is a mirage. (Luke 14:11; Proverbs 16:25)

    There was a young man with rashes;
    All that he touched turned to ashes.
    Yet marigolds, azaleas,
    Lily bulbs, and dahlias,
    All grew in those wonderful ashes.

    (If you wrote poetry like this, you’d be humble, too.)

The issue of pride and humility is a deathtrap strewn with confusion and false concepts. Let’s clear this minefield before anyone else is hurt. We’ll begin with the analogy of a lamb in Bible times.

There’s a pride that says, ‘I can find better pasture than the Shepherd. I’ll always find water. I can handle bears, and lions are probably a myth invented by the Shepherd so he can dominate me.’

Few of us are in danger of such stupidity. Our danger is the independent spirit that says, ‘I adore my wonderful Shepherd, but that grass over the rise looks particularly juicy. I’ll just wander over. I’m growing up. I’ve been out of sight before and everything went fine. If a lion comes I’m sure I can bleat loud enough and the Shepherd can run fast enough . . . ’

There’s an attitude masquerading as humility that beats itself miserable. ‘I’m dumb. I’m ugly. I’m hopeless.’ Give no room to this imposter. But there’s a humility that rejoices in the certainty that the Shepherd knows best. Having abandoned faith in itself or in luck, it puts all its hope in the Shepherd, believing that to leave him out of sight for a second is to flirt with disaster. This virtue hugs the Shepherd, delighting in his every whisper, feasting on his goodness. Sometimes humility is led over rocky terrain but ultimately it enjoys the best pasture and the highest security. Not only is it not mauled by predators, it produces the best wool and the best offspring. It sometimes staggers up hills to stay with its Shepherd but it frolics in the warmth of the Shepherd’s love.

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The Critics

No one who always surrenders to criticism will achieve anything significant for God. There is no type of music, for example, which appeals to every Christian. Suppose ninety-nine percent of people find your ministry atrocious. If your band played at an anti-nuclear rally, they wouldn’t know whether to ban the bomb or bomb the band. What should you do? Assuming they are reacting to your style, and not spurning spiritual truth, it would seem desirable to serenade the one percent when the others were out of earshot. That should make the unappreciative less inclined to consider a lynching. However, I have established in Feel Useless? Help for “Hopeless Losers” that heaven does not measure a ministry by the number of people influenced.

If you appeal only to a minority, it could well be a minority that is not being reached by other means. If so, the church would be poorer without your specialized ministry. Heaven’s approval outlasts earth’s applause.

Even if I spent hours producing something I liked, I used to worry others wouldn’t like it. But that was five minutes ago. Now, I’m learning to trust God.

Though bent by Adam’s crash and bashed by my own sin, God gave me my personality with its tastes, and for years I’ve been looking to him to mold me. So I believe that somewhere are people with cerebral plumbing like mine. They will appreciate my style and are most likely the ones God has called me to minister to. Should there be millions of them, I’ll be famous; if only a few, I’ll blend with the wallpaper. But it won’t affect God’s view of me. If popularity is a valid measure of success, our deserted Lord was a failure.

Take my poetry (not everyone can take it). I actually found someone who likes it (and they have pretty good poems at pre-school these days). Audience-wise, that’s all I need to validate my ministry. What would it matter if everyone regarded my admirer and me as literary nincompoops? I’d rather win an illiterate to Christ than be hailed a genius. The person who appreciates my poetry is just as precious to God, just as worthy a recipient of ministry, as all the critics.

‘Experts’ regularly berate the simplicity of Fanny Crosby’s hymns. It is said she had the literary skill to silence her critics but she deliberately simplified her songs to meet more powerfully the needs of the distressed, the infirm and the poorly educated.

That does not mean I can be lax. To limit oneself to a particular style can be very demanding but because Fanny considered it the most effective way to reach her target audience she strove for perfection within this framework.

Since my actions reflect on my Creator and Redeemer, living below my best tarnishes God’s glory. In Christ, however, my best is powerful. Within the framework God sets me, my best, nothing more and nothing less, is just what the Father ordered. Too bad if people think I’d be a greater blessing selling inflatable dart-boards. If God has commissioned me, that’s all that matters. And if my poems make Shakespeare turn in his grave, I’ll assume he needs the exercise. If it turns the experts off their food, I’ll be the envy of the weight loss industry.

You don’t like my humor either? It makes you want to what? Well, if it’s that bad, how come you’ve read so much? Oh. Well, how was I to know you would open the book at this very page? I was going to produce a book you couldn’t put down but I couldn’t figure out how to stop the superglue from setting until the critical moment.

It’s a gift. Some people turn heads, I turn stomachs. Stomachs are important, too. Being a stomach specialist (I could market myself as the kingdom’s gastroenterologist) need not automatically disqualify my writing. I could still be in business if all humanity despised my writings. I know of at least one person soundly converted by a song he loathed.

You needn’t concern yourself with such extremes, however. We are often so over-awed by God’s moral standards that we overlook other aspects of his nature. Our Lord is Creator as well as Savior, and the Maker of rainbows and nightingales didn’t suddenly lose his creative urge at the close of Day Six. God’s creativity is inexhaustible. And you were made for him. He longs to express his creativity through you. As an instrument and musician together make beautiful music, you and your Lord can unite to create exquisite beauty. What you can do together defies imagination. You make an awesome team.

Yield to Christ, like a brush to the artist, and from your life will flow unearthly beauty.

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Climax

Too often I think and act as if the darkness of my inadequacy could extinguish the brilliance of Christ. I have seen myself as a failure and I have seen the results of such thinking. Now I endeavor to see myself as a born failure, born again a success. That’s scriptural. Without Christ I am brain-frozen with inadequacy. But I am not without Christ. I am tired of being hauled through the sludge by my former view of myself. I had backed off so far from the monster of pride that I had almost fallen into the ditch of despair, dragging God’s glory with me. Though I hate egotism, I must hate doubt with equal passion.

Hailed as the forerunner of Protestant missionary glory, the missionary pioneers’ hero, the Bible translators’ inspiration, William Carey founded several schools, translated Scripture into forty-four languages and dialects, established missions in India, Burma and Bhutan, was appointed professor of Oriental languages by the Governor-general and became an authority on Indian agriculture and horticulture. Yet he reached these heights not on the wings of genius, but on plodding feet; not by bursts of inspiration but by a determined, daily slog. It was as a plodder that Carey wanted to be remembered. ‘To this,’ insisted the great achiever, ‘I owe everything.’ When he headed for India, his wife had refused to go, his church resisted the move, and his parents thought he was mad. He plodded on. In India he was lonely, poverty-stricken and spiritually barren. When his son died, Carey was too ill to bury him and so friendless he almost despaired of finding anyone to assist in the burial. He plodded on. For the first seven years, there was not one convert. He was strongly opposed by governmental and commercial authorities. He had coerced his wife to join him, but she became mentally deranged and grew progressively worse. He plodded on. He had left for India, having failed as a farm laborer, a shoemaker, a school-teacher, a preacher, a husband and a father, but the old trail blazer left for heaven a master of plodding.

Our spiritual forebears can so motivate us that the furnace they endured can harden the steel in our own spines. Let’s look at a few and see if it works.

Though he died before the Reformation, Luther honored Savonarola with the title of Protestant martyr. Savonarola preached, pouring out his soul to congregations of less than twenty-five. The impact could hardly have been less had even those few stayed away. It slowly dawned with heart-crushing certainty that whatever gifts he had, preaching was not one of them. He reverted to teaching convent novices. Later, he again thought he should face the daunting task that had so devastated him. Again his preaching made little impression. He continued, and in time the great Duomo cathedral was so incapable of containing the eager throngs flocking to hear him that queues regularly formed in the middle of the night, waiting for hours for the doors to open.

Clarence Jones’ dream of a South American Christian radio station was known in his local church as ‘Jones’s folly’. Hurt, but not defeated, he invested in an exploratory trip to South America, praying for the Lord to do ‘great and mighty things’. Instead, heaven slammed doors in his face. He courted government officials in Venezuela, then Columbia, then Panama, then Cuba. All refused him.

He returned home in agony to acquaintances who continued to laugh, and to a wife who was secretly elated about the failure. Finally, it got too much. He decided to chuck his family and local Christians by joining the navy. The navy rejected him too.

Eventually he met a missionary couple who claimed that Ecuador was the place to go. He had no sooner received the necessary government clearances than he learned from officials and radio engineers that the site was utterly unsuitable for radio. The mountains and proximity to the equator were insurmountable obstacles to acceptable transmission. Yet it seemed God’s leading, so ‘Jones’s folly’ continued.

In 1931 his 250-watt transmitter in a sheep shed beamed its first message. Many missionaries were strongly opposed to the whole idea of Christian radio, but people were at least curious. That day, every radio in the country was tuned in. That’s right; all thirteen.

Donations fell off due to the Depression. In the entire year of 1932, he received less than a thousand dollars. In 1933 the bank through which he operated folded. Then the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle, the mainstay of his mission’s support, went bankrupt. As he staggered on, it began to be said that you could hear the sounds of his station from behind doors displaying Protestants Not Welcome signs.

In 1940 he expanded to a 10,000 watt transmitter and started receiving letters from New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Russia . . . . Contrary to expert opinion, he had located on one of the best spots for radio transmission on the entire planet. He later moved up to half a million watts and ‘Jones’s folly’ became one of the Christian wonders of the world.

‘It seems as though everything I do is wrong,’ cried Gladys Aylward in a letter from China. Great men and women of God often long to quit, but they wobble on. (E.g., Jeremiah 20:7-8) When they are hit, they bounce – like flat footballs usually, but enough to stay in the game. After a while they are pumped up again and their erratic zigzag course resumes that vaguely goalward trajectory that sends angelic cheer-leaders wild.

Success is failure that tried one more time. As we look to God and courageously move ahead, stumbling blocks turn to stepping stones to a beautiful ministry. Not only are apparent failures rarely the disasters we imagine, they are often not even failures. God’s definition of success may be far more generous than you imagine.

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Recovery from Failure

 

 

 

Help When You Feel You’ve Failed

 

 

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Related Pages

Slandered by Fellow Believers! Coping with Rejection & Cruel Criticism

Fear: Help & Cure

Encouragement When Demons Keep Winning

Help When Feeling Suicidal

A Totally Useless Waste of Space? Compassionate Help for “Hopeless Losers” is a webpage created in the same way as this one (extracts from my book, Waiting for Your Ministry). You are likely to find it quite helpful, because the two topics – but not the information – overlap.

If you think you are such a moral failure as to be unforgivable, see the following and keep following the main link at the end of each page until you find the relief you crave:

If you feel a moral failure:

 

 

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