Saturday’s Column: Learning From Lehman
How many times have you put forth much effort to achieve success in something, only to get to the end and feel like the whole thing was kind of a mess? Maybe things did not really go as you planned or envisioned. Maybe you had a team of people working on it that did not really click with each other. Perhaps it was simply that the results just were not as grand as you wanted it to be.
This does not just happen in our personal projects or at our jobs, does it? If you have ever been involved in the works of the church, you have probably felt these things regarding congregational efforts from time to time. Putting together projects or collective efforts can be very challenging, and the work of the Church is not any different in that regard. If you have ever put yourself out there and invested yourself in any effort, you know that there is always that potential for “failure”—no matter how much effort you put into it. It is in these moments that we may be tempted to feel disappointed or dejected. After all, you just poured so much of your time and energy into this! It’s hard to justify the work that was required for something that seems fruitless at the end. “Why didn’t more people show up?” “Why didn’t we get more help from others?” “Is this worth trying again, if it’s just going to look like this?” We may start questioning ourselves and the work around us.
We often focus on the evangelistic successes of our predecessors, some of which are borderline miraculous. We think of Peter in Acts 2 preaching the first gospel sermon, he and the other apostles baptizing 3,000 people. What about Paul, who traveled several thousand miles over three missionary journeys and a journey to Rome? The number of churches Paul and his companions helped establish is mind-boggling—and to think that they did this in an ancient pre-industrial world! And all of the literature that were written by all of these inspired men, whose texts have guided billions of souls over the course of human history toward God. It’s easy to negatively compare our own efforts against these giants of faith.
But the Bible is not all success stories of grandeur either. Every exemplary character of the Bible has had their fair share of failures and disappointments, whether they brought it upon themselves, through circumstances, or the evils of others. The prophets of old fought tooth and nail against the influences of pagan gods to guide the people of Israel back to God. Many were persecuted, rejected, and cast out. In the eyes of man, that is an undeniable failure. And yet, people like Jeremiah—to whom God said “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you” (Jer. 7:27)—continued to press on despite the loneliness and the rejections. The apostles and the early Christians were often persecuted by both the leaders and the common people of their time, and yet they still pressed on: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:41-42). Even Jesus, the Son of God, was rejected by the world for the message he brought from the Father Himself: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isa. 53:3).
When I think about these examples in the Bible who pressed on even though sometimes their work seemed fruitless and unsuccessful, I think of the very well known anonymous Greek Proverb: “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” What a wonderful thought. I believe the same applies to the Church today and perhaps has applied for centuries. When we dare to continue planting seeds in soils from which we know we will never eat the fruits, then the Church will grow like it did back in 1st century. God promised that one day that “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). God will give the growth and comfort as He promised; but through his perfect mercy and love He desires us to be a part of that process. Our work, therefore, is never fruitless; no matter how futile it may seem sometimes in the perspective of the world.
As we try to engage everyone—including ourselves—for eternity this year and for the rest of our lives, let us never be discouraged by the standard of success of this world. Rather, let us rejoice in the fact that we have been called to be a part of God’s plan for mankind, knowing that our work is not in vain. For God has given us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:57-58). Let’s kindle our hearts with zeal for God, and continue in fighting the good fight in every front.