The bottom line. An “A” means passing, while “F” is failing. First place is winning, last place is losing. The number of people means more effective. In our culture today, we have unlimited numbers of ways to measure success and failure. The longevity of something prides itself as success, while the brevity of something immediately points to failure. What is concerning is when these same thought processes, these same ways of measuring success and failure, are applied to our faith. But so often, they are.
I am not the pastor of a megachurch. I am the pastor of a medium-sized congregation in rural North Carolina. I serve a group of people who have the heart of God, the faith of mountain-movers, the love that is rarely seen in a world self-absorbed, and the work ethic of world-changers. It is indeed a blessing. I serve as their enigmatic leader, who is constantly one misstep away from a nervous breakdown. Yet, they love me anyways.
Today, I kept thinking about different things in ministry over the years and measuring them according to the standards that I mentioned to open this blog. This program gets an “A” because it has lasted for five years. The attempt at that ministry was a failure because it didn’t do what I thought it would do and was shut down. Even more dangerous than that assessment came when I started to do the same with the ministry I have had over nearly two decades and started assessing myself in the same manner.
On my way home tonight, the idea of failure overly fresh in the mind, the Lord reminded me of the cross. On crucifixion day, the cross seemed to be the sign of failure. Jesus, the leader of the group of disciples now fearing an equal fate, was dead. Jesus, the opposition as the Pharisees saw Him, had been overcome. Jesus, the very One Satan wanted to see gone, was gone. To have looked at the cross at that moment would have been to see something the world regarded as a failure. Here, the Rebel who had come had taken His rebellion too far and paid the ultimate price. The cross – the place that appeared to be a great “failure” but was anything but. You see, you can’t have an empty tomb without a cross before it.
You are wondering where this is going. When it comes to faith, we cannot measure things by results, for in the workings of faith, there are results that are unseen. We cannot simply assess things by numbers, by giving it a grade on appearance, by judging it through the worldly lens of winning and losing. There is no failure in faith when faithfulness has been taken to its extreme. When we are working out things in faith, rather than asking if we failed, we are presented with this question from the Lord – “Were you faithful?” Faithfulness to God is never a failure, even if the results appear to be a failure in our eyes. Our goal is to be faithful to God and allow Him to work about the results.
Philippians 2:8 tells us “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even to death on a cross.” He was faithful. What could have been seen as failure to the world, was seen as faithfulness in the eyes of God.
This is a reminder to you, and myself, to avoid seeing yourself, or your efforts for the Lord, as a failure. God can see what we cannot see and God can do what we cannot do. Satan is the one who likes to label us as failures and longs for us to give up because we have appeared to fail. God tells us just to remain faithful to Him and watch Him work through that faith. Whether it is a ministry you are involved in, or a work you are writing, or an idea God has planted in your mind, remain faithful and it will never be a failure. What may seem like a cross today might just lead to an empty tomb a few days from now.