I don’t want to brag – no really, I don’t want to brag. As a matter of fact just saying that “I worked hard to get here,” makes me want to stop writing and delete this post. To me success has always been around the corner, one more hour of work, one more burst of energy, one more practice and then I will finally realise true success. I have worked hard which leaves me with one question; have I worked hard enough?
Looking back at the time and energy put into each day I have to wonder if it was worth it.
This year marks 20 years in ministry. I am not a famous Christian author or musician. I have not become the senior pastor at a mega church nor am I the must have conference speaker. With this in mind I have to ask myself, was all the time and energy worth it? When I do a historical review of my ministry for my wife, better known as displaying the most prominent symptom of “poor me” disease, she patiently treats my wounds with truth. Why does she do that? I wasn’t looking for the cure but rather someone to become infected with the same disease so that we could wallow in self-inflicted pain together. Even if I take into consideration my wife’s positive recollection of the impact that my ministry has made, I still wonder was all the time and energy worth it?
Should all this time and energy lead to success?
My wife pointing out the accomplishments of the past, reminiscing about the highlights of years gone by with ministry partners and hearing about churches growing and thriving because of some of the work that I was involved in, does not mean that all the time and energy I put in was worth it. If I am truly honest with myself, I can see that I have had a great 20 years of ministry and yet I still find it hard to say without reservation that I have had success. I have trouble even defining what success actually looks like. I have tried to create specific targets or goals to define success, a finish line to cross marking the proper completion of the task. When I reach this arbitrarily imposed finish line I am left wondering if a new finish line needs to be set in order to truly have success. Even in what can only be deemed as a total and utter failure, the foundations for future success have been set through lessons learned. If my failure is part of success, does that mean I have actually succeed when I have failed?
The definition of success may seem elusive but we can figure out if we have wasted time and energy in pursuit of it.
In the business world they have a simple way to avoid wasting time and money in the pursuit of what they define as success – make sure you don’t put out more than you take in. In our lives as Christ followers and in our collective of Christ followers we need to apply the same mentality, we need to avoid putting out more than we take in. In business the bean counters ensure that the project is on budget. If their advice is ignored the desired outcome may still be realised but additional time and energy is required at a cost that was never meant to be part of the budget. The same is true for our lives but instead of bean counters it is God who creates the “budget” and it is always designed to be balanced. He has a plan and He is the provider of the time and energy needed to complete the plan. If we take extra time and expend extra energy we will often end up with something that resembles His desired outcome (the basics of God’s plan are not rocket science) but additional time and energy are required at a cost that was never meant to be part of the plan.
Have I wasted time and energy in my ministry?
Yes. I have worked harder than required in an attempt to accomplish my version of success. When I look back I realise that I have put out more time and energy than needed to reach a target or goal that was beyond what God intended. Tired and discouraged at what I have considered a lack of success, I move on to the next project only to do the same thing. I am tired because I took more time and used more energy than God budgeted/gave me. I am discouraged because I didn’t meet the target I created beyond God’s perfect plan.
How can I be a success in ministry and life?
If I live out God’s balanced budget using only the time and energy He has allotted and no more, my life as a follower of Christ is a success even if the results in my view are far from what I consider a success. If I am obediently following God’s plan, done God’s way, in God’s timing, with God’s chosen resources, then I am a success regardless of the outcome.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)