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
3 thoughts on “Faulty Measurements And Misunderstood Results”
“control” comes to mind. The modern american “business” mindset is all about statistics, probabilities, and other resources that help us “control” things and achieve visible results ASAP. At some point there is no problem with trying to be effective and efficient. But if you forget God and His mysterious, eternal workings, then yes, those things become problems. I was just thinking about idolatry the other day, trying to put myself in the shoes of someone who had an idol sitting in their house. What’s the point of setting that image up on my shelf? To me, the continual presence of that idol could have given me a sense of hope and security. When a problem arose, I could go to where the idol was and make my petition. I think those principles, and more, apply to some of the ways we do ministry sometimes. We surround ourselves with things that make us more efficient in ministry, and we end up relying on those earthly things to produce eternal work rather than God. We rely on those things to do work that we KNOW only God can do, but since those things are visible and tangible, they give us a greater sense of security – a security that Livingstone apparently never really had, taking a sense of failure to his grave. Ministers today are not willing to do this. No, if there is a sense of failure, we just need to apply some more principles from self-ministry books to fix the problems. But perhaps we should consider that those problems may be there for a reason – so that God, using the foolish things of the world, may reap a glorious harvest because of His work, not ours.
Our God so uses the foolish things of this world for sure! We must not forget it.
Your thoughts on idols is an issue in our hearts as well.
Good thoughts! Thanks, as always , for adding thoughtfully to the discussion.
We live in a time of numbers, and I think America is probably the worst. Everything has to be optimized and we must have results. It is hard to optimize God’s work but we still have to try. That is why we see books and meetings on how to grow your church all the time.