Christians do it all the time. Pastors are the very worst. It can lead to great discouragement and pain. What am I talking about? Attempting to measure the results of our efforts for Christ when we know not how to measure, nor what success really is.
I guess in the end we worry more about the results of what we planned to do rather than being simple servants of Jesus Christ. His plan, not fully even understood by us, is not enough for us. We live for what we might do for Him rather than what He might do through us. We carelessly blur the line till we are living for what we want to do and consider ourselves a failure when it doesn’t all work out as we planned. May I encourage both you and I to think about this from a different angle?
I read and reviewed a moving book about David Livingstone (link to review below). If you are like me, you count him as a hero and are inspired by his life for Christ. He was just a man. Perhaps he got a little sidetracked on exploring at the expense of his missionary efforts at times. He could be a little tough on those who worked under him in the harsh conditions of Africa and a few relationships were severed along the way. I am sure he was filled with regrets over the way he treated his wife and children. Still, he gave his life to the work he believed Christ gave him to do until that life was gone.
He clearly was led by God to see that exploring Africa would make a way for the Gospel. If the rivers could be mapped properly, missionaries could be brought in. He came to learn, quite accurately, that slavery would be a complete barrier to bringing the Gospel as no African would know the difference between a white slavetrader and a white missionary. So he went relentlessly.
In his later years he dealt with the discouragement of his results. One of his main expeditions was an embarrassing failure that haunted him his last years. Critics came out to agree with the worst thoughts his censuring mind could conjure up. The book I read showed these things really bothered him. His wife died just like her parents predicted she would if he took her to Africa. He mistakenly made finding the headwaters of the Nile his key exploration goal and he never found it. He exerted what influence he could in Africa and through letters to Europe to fight the slave trade. From his perspective, it was as ugly and bloody the day he died as ever.
He loved His Lord. On his last expedition he surely knew he was dying. He knew that meant his life would end with another failed exploration. Missions were not thriving in Africa and the slave trade marched on. I imagine he was a broken man, in body and spirit, as he knelt by his bed in prayer and then closed his eyes in death.
But Livingston was wrong. He measured his life by only what he could see. He forgot the very thing you and I so often do–what God is doing. As the book I read so magnificently showed, God was doing mighty things. He had no idea that the Lord was using his letters in Britain to kill the salve trade. He had no idea it would that the main slave market in Zanzibar would close within a month of his death. He had no idea that that army of missionaries that he dreamed of would in fact flood the African continent on the trail he blazed. He died thinking he was a failure and all lovers of Christian biography have David Livingstone volumes on their shelves. He was dead wrong.
I realize that after death we may not have the reputation Livingstone had, but it likely will not be the dark conclusions we imagine either if we have truly given our lives to serve Him. Our Lord feels no obligation to reveal all He is doing on a schedule that will massage our egos. In Heaven we can connect all the dots, but now are the days of simple service. Avoid measuring eternal results with instruments calibrated for time. Give Livingstone credit. He may have played some of the mind games of measuring results, but he never stopped serving his Savior. Right up to that day deep in Africa when he went home to look upon his Savior’s face. Let us follow his example there.
The Daring Heart of David Livingstone