14 October 2013

12 Years in Kenya; Can We Measure Success in Doing God's Work?

Most people want clean categories and happy endings. They expect and get excited about success stories. 

And yet, the world is full of tension, paradox, and unresolved issues.

As a missionary, do I aim for success? Do I put unwarranted pressure on myself? Is that my motivating goal in my work in Kenya – to go back to my supporters, friends, and relatives with amazing stories of unquestionable success?

We must never put our dreams of success as God's purpose for us.
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
What about Jesus? Was he successful during his earthly ministry?

Out of the masses that came to hear his teachings, the Father helped Jesus choose twelve specific men to be his followers. These twelve men spent three intense years with him – 24/7 – all the while listening and watching. They were with him in his public life and were also privileged to spend large amounts of time in private with him.

One would think we could take a look at their lives – individually or as a group – in order to determine if Jesus’ ministry was in fact a success. After all, he poured his life into them. He led them by faultless example, patiently responded to their questions, told them illustrative stories to help them understand, and was faithful to the principles and truths that he proclaimed.

  • Not one of them fully understood his purpose or even who he really was.
  • On numerous occasions they argued over who among them was the greatest.
  • The two that were closest to Jesus brazenly requested special position and prominence.
  • One ruthlessly instigated an act of utter betrayal.
  • The three closest to him couldn't stay awake and pray with him, when he sought their companionship.
  • Each and every one of them fled and abandoned him at his darkest hour and point of greatest need.
  • One publicly denied him – not once – but three successive times.
  • Another doubted him.
And when Jesus healed the ten lepers, only one came back to thank him. Only one!

Do these accounts look like or sound anything like success?

Spiritually we cannot measure our life by success, but only by what God pours through us, and we cannot measure that at all.
Jesus Christ says in Luke 10: 20, in effect - Don’t rejoice in successful service, but rejoice because you are rightly related to Me. The snare in Christian work is to rejoice in successful service, to rejoice in the fact that God has used you. You never can measure what God will do through you if you are rightly related to Jesus Christ.
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

If an assessment was done shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, the numbers weren't there for success. How do we measure success in the midst of ministry? Was Jesus successful in his calling, mentoring, training, and sending of the twelve disciples? When do we take the measurements and what do we measure?

Perhaps success is the wrong category. Jesus was faithful. Even to the end of Judas' life, Jesus loved him.

Success doesn't make sense of a self-giving love that is offered even to those who betray, deny, abandon, and doubt us. But according to Scripture, faithfulness in loving our friends – whether or not we see immediate results – does yield a harvest of fruit. And together we are drawn closer to the heart of God.
- Heuertz and Pohl, Friendship at the Margins

Joel Vestal, in his book Dangerous Faith, picks up this same theme of being faithful rather than aiming for success:

I heard God’s still small voice in my soul, ‘I want you to be faithful. You are not called to be successful, only faithful. Be faithful.’

Perhaps instead of aiming for and measuring personal success, you or I would rather deem ourselves useful.

The trap you may fall into in Christian work is to rejoice in the fact that God has used you. Yet you will never be able to measure fully what God will do through you. If you make usefulness the test, then Jesus Christ was the greatest failure who ever lived. For the saint, direction and guidance come from God Himself, not some measure of that saint’s usefulness. It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him.
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Go forth and do what God told you to do. God wants your heart and your obedience - not your performance or accomplishments. Pray about it and release the results to God. Take the responsibility off of yourself and leave it with Him.
- Scott, leader at a Missionary GetAway I attended

Success in ministry, perhaps especially in Kenya, is an elusive creature. It seems to me that one just does what the Lord leads us to do. Our inability to see what we would term success does not invalidate what He is really doing all along. Keep on praying and doing. You are successful in all things, with Him.
- Randy (aka Wafula), a friend of mine who has visited Kenya several times

Of course we know, when we read the whole story, that Jesus pleased his Father. There was no measuring of success along the lines of what we humans often look for – amazing numbers, extraordinary miracles, incredible achievements, or stimulating stories with perfect endings.

What was important about the life Jesus lived on this earth was that he fully obeyed his Father's will. 

“I am come to do the will of God who sent me.”
- Jesus, the Gospel of John
“I will do what the Father requires of me.”
- Jesus, the Gospel of John

And so, as I continue to follow God's calling on my life and do his work in Kenya... I must not attempt to measure success or even aim to be useful.

Might I rather, follow the example of Jesus and simply obey and be faithful to the will of my Father! I hope to one day hear my master say:

Well done, good and faithful servant! You are my daughter whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

At the end of my life, may I confidently echo Paul's sentiment:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
- 2 Timothy 4:7

The aim of the missionary is to do God’s will, not to be useful. He is useful, but that is not his aim. His aim is to do the will of his Lord.
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

"Our definition of success must come from God and not from man. It is he who called us to him and it is he who called us into the ministry... Sometimes God, in his perfect plan, will have us minister to and pour our lives into only one person. Does that look like success to man? Of course not. Man wants to see crowds. Remember, we must base our idea of success on what God has called us to do. Always be faithful to God’s calling on your life."
-Yinka John, spoken to me in Nigeria (2005)

"We are only asked to do what we are told - small, strange, or simple as that may be - our orders are to obey. Who shall doubt, or say that our labor is in vain."
- Jim Elliot (missionary to Ecuador)

God will ensure my success in accordance with His plan not mine.
- Francis Chan, Crazy Love; Overwhelmed by a Relentless God 

God’s will. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.
- Jim Dannenberg, Ripe for Harvest (my sending agency) 

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By the way, this piece was also published on Thrive Ministry's online magazine. you can take a look at it by clicking here.


Naomi Hattaway said...

Great post. I think the direction has fallen to heavy towards the reporting of the successes as opposed to simply the reporting.

I think that supporters love getting updates and to be made aware of what is happening but it's such a great reminder that it shouldn't be measured AGAINST anything.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Deb.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous. A lot of wisdom in there.

Anonymous said...

When we read the Oswald Chambers quotes during our quiet time together, Veronica and I were struck the same as you by the counter-intuitive nature of his words. You seem to have captured them faithfully and give a beautiful picture of God's perspective in that light.

Anonymous said...

We'll not really know the final success of our ministries until we stand before Him at the judgment seat of Christ and be given our rewards for faithful service. In the meantime, we can rejoice that He has granted us the opportunity to serve His people and therefore serve Him and trust that our friends and supporters will rejoice in the same, both for us and for themselves.

deb said...

Here is another comment by Oswald Chambers on this same subject:

'The test of the life of a saint is not success, but faithfulness in human life as it actually is. We will set up success in Christian work as the aim; the aim is to manifest the glory of God in human life, to live the life hid with Christ in God in human conditions.'