As a missionary, I know that often the fruit we see is the work of those who have come before us. I also know that much of what we do in outreach and relationship building will be left for others to reap. The Bible even tells us this will be so: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor. 3:6-9) and, “Thus the saying, ‘One sows, and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.” (John 4:37,38)
These verses are a comfort and a reminder to all of us, that a bigger plan is at work, and what we are doing in our daily lives contributes to that plan. But it is the fruit we see that really makes us feel like we are being successful in our Christian walk. As people begin to trust in Christ, as churches are planted, and Bible studies grow in number our efforts are validated. But is this a true measure of Biblical success?
Probably the most common thing I hear in ministry is people who are hurting because they don’t feel good enough or special enough to be destined to do ‘great things for God.’ They plug away alongside the local church but don’t really feel like what they do makes a real difference for God. We all do it whether we mean to or not. We feel like failures when we sow but never reap. We feel inadequate because we don’t sow as well as someone else. We hold a high standard to ourselves, and a higher one to those in ‘full time ministry.’ Pastor’s kids are expected to not struggle with the same teenage issues as ‘normal’ teens. Missionaries are put on pedestals and apparently spend all their money on purchases at the Christian Bookstore, or in giving back to the poor. And a television preacher is deemed worthy because of the number of his followers and not by the content of his message. We set up pedestals and beat up our own feeble efforts at not reaching a higher standard.
I am here to tell you that by the standard we judge ourselves, poor Jeremiah failed horrifically. Did you know he preached his whole life long and not one life was changed? Even worse, not one person even listened! He lived during and after the reign of King Josiah, and despite all the outward reforms, not one heart did Jeremiah convert. In fact, he was even left behind after God’s chosen people were carried away into exile and he spent the remainder of his life mourning over the wasteland of Israel and the destruction of the temple, still trying to plant hope. He didn’t even go with them to keep preaching. What a waste of time! What a waste of resources! What a waste of a life! OR was it??
What is Biblical success? This is an important question in reference to the life of Jeremiah. This is an important question in reference to the life of you and me. The truth is, if Jeremiah wasn’t known as a major prophet, I’m not sure I would think that highly of what he ‘chose’ to do with his life.
But God’s standard is never man’s standard. We have already seen from yesterday’s devotion that Jeremiah was chosen before his birth, and he walked in obedience to God and with the heart of God. Is that Biblical success? To do as you are told? To love as God Himself loves?
Joshua 1:8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
God wrote that.
1 Kings 2:3 And observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.
God wrote that.
And in talking to King David God says: Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the LORD gave Moses for Israel. (1 Chron. 22:13)
It appears that to God, success is not in results and numbers and how great we do God’s job for Him. Success lay, rather, in simply knowing His Word and walking in it. Now it is important to note here that the Pharisees were really good at the knowing part. They knew the law and kept it to the letter. But walking in His ways meant being touched and filled by the Spirit of God. It is the law written on a heart of flesh, not stone. The fruit of evangelism is one fruit; the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is another.
Our efforts to plant the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit are never wasted. Whether it is preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ or doing a good deed to show the love of God in action, we have obeyed. The goal of course is repentant hearts, coming one step closer to truly understanding the love of the Father, and even salvation. But that isn’t the promise. The promise is simply, “I, God, created and know you.” And the response needs to be, “Here I am, send me.”
Jeremiah says, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, I do not know how to speak. I am only a child.” His Father and God responds, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” It is obedience in relationship.
I remember leaving for the mission field with a 4 and 2-year-old and already feeling like a failure because I had given birth in a hospital and not in some mud hut in the bush. But by the Biblical definition, I was already successful before I even stepped off of the plane. I had read God’s Word. I had obeyed where He had called. I was a child that didn’t even know how to speak but was willing to say whatever He commanded me, because of my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
If Jeremiah was successful based on his obedience and trust in God, don’t let yourself be swayed by the lack of lustre for the job God has for you. It is God who lays out the task. It is in knowing Him that we are to trust and to obey. And therein lies Biblical success.