If you are suffering without succeeding,
it is that someone else may succeed that follows you.
If you are succeeding without suffering,
it is because someone else has suffered ahead of you.
Throughout the history of the world, and at present in many cultures and countries, there is suffering of a degree that we have not yet experienced in America. This includes verbal and physical abuse, loss of property and employment, imprisonment and even death. The suffering in our country is usually limited to effort expended with no evident result, rejection, or perhaps ostracism. The suffering to which Lorne refers, in our culture and generation, largely consists of working to advance the Kingdom of God but with little or no visible effect. Lorne’s words were spoken to encourage those who were involved in a ministry that, seemingly, was unproductive. His words are also a reminder to those whose ministry the Lord has blessed with success. They should remember they they are in debt to those who have gone before them in preparation for the results they are now experiencing. His comments are made necessary by the fact that we live in a success oriented society.
Our entire world is impressed by success. Those who have success in their fields are all honored, whether it be sports, the entertainment industry, developers or inventors. Many others who have invested years in these same fields are seldom noted and rarely mentioned. We celebrate and root for winners, not the runner-up. We carefully and expectantly follow the careers of the successful and cheer them on. If we do give any thought to those who have more failures than success, it is to wonder what they are doing wrong. These same thoughts, sadly, are reserved for those who are not successful in the spiritual realm. We suspect that they may have personal problems, or that their methodology is wrong. We compare them with others and are more inclined to pray for and provide financial support to those who report successful ministries. We look with approval and perhaps admiration at organizations and churches which seem to flourish in membership and in their ministry endeavors.
Our generation is not alone in experiencing varying results. Jim Petersen points out in his book “Living Proof,” that Peter’s message at Pentecost resulted in 3,000 converts while the Apostle Paul’s message in Athens produced only a “few believers.” What was the difference? Was Paul’s message deficient? Was Peter a better preacher than Paul? No to both questions. The difference, pointed out by Jim Petersen, is that Peter was talking to a prepared audience.
Jesus, in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, points out that some are called to a prepared audience, while others are called to do the preparation. He says in John 4:38 “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 labor.” According to our Lord, to labor with little visible fruit in preparation for the harvest is harder work than reaping the harvest with its visible demonstration of success.
For some, the Lord grants times of seeming success without suffering. I recall hearing about a lady who responded eagerly to the Gospel presentation and trusted Christ after only a brief discussion with the presenter. A few weeks later I learned from a friend of hers that a small group had been praying for her for years and investing time with her in various activities. Despite their efforts she had always turned a deaf ear to all that was said. Her friend related that they were about to give up and had concluded that she had a hard heart and would never come to the Lord. Their work had been extensive and difficult with no visible response resulting in their discouragement. The investment of the other person, however, was very limited and successful.
I, with others, have had the opposite experience. Some of us had invested years in a Bible study with a man who showed no interest in trusting Christ. He continued to come to the study, but showed no response. He finally left our group after a few years. I heard some years later that he had eventually been led to the Lord by a different individual and that he was now a follower of Christ. In this situation, the group of which I was a part had done the hard work.
The Apostle Paul describes the varying work to which we are called in I Corinthians 3:5-8. “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.”
The recognition and thanks that we receive from others for success in ministry endeavors is, at times, a needed source of encouragement that the Lord provides. There is a danger, however, in looking to that source as an evaluation of our service to the Lord. We need always to remember that our service is to Him. Colossians 3:23-24 reminds us that “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
One of the drawbacks of any ministry organization or church is the seeming necessity to provide results of their ministry. One reason for this, of course, is that some measure of accountability is required. We would all be safer, in some measure, if we modeled our lives after the Apostles. It is recorded after the twelve had been sent out in Luke 9:15 that their ministry resulted in the following results. “So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the Gospel and healing people everywhere.” (Luke 9:6) There is no doubt that they were excited and delighted with what had been accomplished. What did they do then? Luke 9:10 states that “when the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done.” They reported to Jesus! Can we learn to report primarily to Jesus rather than to others? Are we able to bring our suffering without success to Him? Should we bring our success without suffering to Him? He is the One who has sent us to minister in both situations and He will reward both! It is my prayer that, whether in suffering or success, your eyes would remain on Him, knowing that it is the Lord Christ you are serving. He is the One who will say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
In Christ, Richard Spann