A Theology of Faithfulness

God has not called me to be successful, but faithful. -Mother Teresa

According to Hebrews 11, “it is impossible to please God without faith”. If “success” is the measure of our work, what room does it leave for faith? Meaning, if success is what we are after, how does that influence you in the work you do or don’t do? I tend to lean more toward doing something I am relatively confident in my ability to succeed in, while faith beckons me to faithfully do the work trusting that God’s purposes supersede my vision of success.

I’m not suggesting we don’t have a responsibility to do our work in such a way that would produce relational fruit; however, for stewards, the ultimate measuring stick is our faithfulness, not our success. So much of what we use to define success is rooted in comparison. Asking the question “Am I successful?” is generally in comparison to someone else, some other church, another ministry, or organization, which is short-sighted. Asking yourself whether you are faithful to the vision and calling God has given you can lead to great fruitfulness.

Compete against your own potential. Never compete merely against an opponent. -Herb Hodges

According to the storyline of scripture, one thing that is clear of our life on this earth and in this season, that we know for certain, is that God does not reward faithfulness the same way this side of heaven. Look no further than the life of Abel and the life of Enoch. Both were considered faithful in their relationship with the Lord and their corresponding actions on earth, yet their lives could not have met a more radically different conclusion.

Abel – betrayed and brutally murdered by his own flesh and blood. Enoch – raptured into the presence of God, never tasting death. Who was more faithful?

It is possible that in this life and in this age, as we serve as ambassadors of Christ and stewards of the gospel, that our success, according to earthly standards of measurement, is not a  reflection of our faithfulness to our God-given mission any more than our lack of success is a reflection of our faithlessness. Success alone and measurable fruit is not a sustainable source of inspiration in our mission. Occasionally, God will encourage us with glimpses into the fruit of our intentional and coincidental service. However, more often than not, we will not see the fullness of the fruitfulness of the relational, faithful, hopeful and loving seeds we have planted through our service. In fact, it is possible that we may never see it!  However, that does not change our God-given ability to faithfully respond to opportunities around us to incarnate the love of Christ and manifest the presence of God to others in this life, trusting God to bear fruit as He sees fit.

By all means, take an honest look at your work and assess the effectiveness of your mission. What is working? What isn’t? But, by no means lose sight of the fact that in God’s economy, what is done in faith, hope and love lasts. Do not limit your vision merely to the fruit you can see. Instead, trust that the Lord of all creation, whose heart is filled with compassion for the world and your neighbors who are in it and who has all authority to bear whatever fruit He chooses through your effort. Submit your work and your gifts in faith, and let God bear the fruit.

I read this passage on August 31 from Oswald Chambers famous devotion, “My Utmost for His Highest”, and it encourages me to stay on mission and live by faith.

Am I convinced by Christ?
Notwithstanding in this rejoice not … but rather, rejoice because your names are written in heaven. Luke 10:19, 20.
Jesus Christ says, 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. Keep your relationship right with Him, then whatever circumstances you are in, and whoever you meet day by day, He is pouring rivers of living water through you, and it is of His mercy that He does not let you know it. When once you are rightly related to God by salvation and sanctification, remember that wherever you are, you are put there by God; and by the reaction of your life on the circumstances around you, you will fulfill God’s purpose, as long as you keep in the light as God is in the light.

The tendency today is to put the emphasis on service. Beware of the people who make usefulness their ground of appeal. If you make usefulness the test, then Jesus Christ was the greatest failure that ever lived. The lodestar of the saint is God Himself, not estimated usefulness. It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him. All that Our Lord heeds in a man’s life is the relationship of worth to His Father. Jesus is bringing many sons to glory.

If you see what God sees (sheep without a shepherd), and you are moved with compassion toward lost sheep, as a sheep who remembers what it was like to be lost, alone, defenseless and directionless, you will be poured out as rivers of living water.