Chapter 1: the quest for fulfillment

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Another fallacy I’d like to pulverize is the notion that for a ministry to be important it must touch many lives.

Bible translators Des and Jenny Oatridge were so sure that God cares not just for the thousands but for the ones and twos that they resolved to bypass large language groups that needed the Bible and find a language known only by a tiny minority. They got their wish when they heard of a language on the verge of extinction in Papua New Guinea. It was spoken by just 111 people. To sacrificially spend one’s life for so few would be remarkable if that tiny population were stable, but their numbers were plummeting at a phenomenal rate. Moreover, relative to hundreds of language groups, their need was minor; the tribe already had a strong Christian witness in languages they half knew. Nonetheless, the Oatridges devoted more than a quarter of a century to the herculean task of putting God’s Word into the mother tongue of this dying tribe. The heart of God and the hope that a few primitives might more fully comprehend the Gospel spurred them year after year.22

Many of us would feel failures if our sole ministry were to a few retarded people. Yet we would think we had ‘arrived’ if our ministry were to three millionaires. What twisted minds we’ve got.

Let’s push aside petty human concepts and rise to the challenge of thinking like God.

The Savior shed as much blood for a derelict as he did for the entire world. In the combined angelic and human hosts there might be a trillion objects of God’s love, yet our amazing Lord loves an individual, not with a trillionth of his love, but with all his love. Moreover, his love for that person is infinite. You can’t exceed ‘all’, nor can you beat infinity. That makes it impossible for God’s collective love for a million, or a trillion, to exceed his love for one solitary person. That’s perfect love.

So, as staggering as it seems, if you alone can reach a particular individual, your contribution is as vital to God as that of someone who can reach a million.

Moreover, people who on earth enjoy popularity are already receiving a portion of their reward. Other things being equal, if your labors are unrecognized, you are more blessed than the person made famous by the obvious success of reaching a million. Instead of receiving your reward now, you’re accumulating eternal wealth. That’s great news because heaven’s interest rates are out of this world.a

Forget the multitudes; you are blessed if, by being true to your call, you touch just one person.

In fact you can do seemingly even less and still accomplish much. Consider Scott and his team, who struggled to the South Pole only to discover their honor of being the first to reach the Pole was lost forever. Amundsen had beaten them by about a month. To add to the futility, they endured further blizzards, illness, frostbite and starvation only to perish; the last three dying just a few kilometers from safety. Yet today their miserable defeat ending with death in frozen isolation, witnessed by not a living soul, is hailed as one on the greatest ever epics of human exploration and endurance.

Every fiber of my being is convinced that their glory is just a shadow of what you can achieve. Though you suffer in isolation and apparent futility, the depths of your trial known to no one on earth, your name could be blazed in heaven’s lights, honored forever by heaven’s throngs for your epic struggle with illness, bereavement, or whatever. The day is coming when what is endured in secret will be shouted from the housetops. Look at Job: bewildered, maligned, misunderstood; battling not some heroic foe but essentially common things – a financial reversal, bereavement, illness; – not cheered on by screaming fans, just booed by some one-time friends. If even on this crazy planet Job is honored today, I can’t imagine the acclaim awaiting you when all is revealed. Your battle with life’s miseries can be as daring as David’s encounter with Goliath. Don’t worry that others don’t understand this at present. One day they will.

No Call?

A further reason why some of us undervalue our ministry is because we have not received a call of the thunder and lightning variety. God’s call is his selecting and empowering an individual for a specific task. The response he expects is not necessarily to do anything new. You’ve asked for God’s guidance haven’t you? Don’t you think God just might be smart enough to have maneuvered events so that your divine assignment is right in front of you? If so, he simply expects you to plunge into what you are already doing. Don’t conclude you have a second-rate ministry just because you have no need for angels in luminescent nighties to boom something stirring like, ‘You should be doing something else, O great and mighty blockhead.’ There are Christians like Thomas who believe only because of a divine visitation. Yet, contrary to the way we often feel, Jesus affirmed that the people to be envied are those who believe without such displays.b

So long have I been tinkering with this book that it was years after penning the above that I sank into perhaps the blackest time of my spiritual life. It lasted for over a year and it was largely because I forgot the truth of the above paragraph.

I craved greater intimacy with God and more spiritual power. My one passion – my one reason for living – was to know Jesus and bring him glory. To allow more time for seeking the Lord I stopped my habitual revising of the book. I knew that my brain needed continual refilling with the words of this book or its truths would slowly seep from my mind, but I hoped the resulting frustration and lowered faith levels would merely intensify my drive to seek God. Heaven’s steely silence was devastating. Nearly every day I seemed to slump deeper until I was forced to re-read the book for my own survival. It worked. Meditating on the book revealed that my search for a spiritual breakthrough had degenerated into an excuse for unbelief. I had been edging closer and closer to refusing to believe God has great plans for me or even that he loves me unless he gave me an undeniably supernatural experience on which to hang my faith. How could I be so stupid? (Don’t answer that.) I was on dangerous ground. The omnipotent Lord, whose word is impossible to break, has gone to the extreme of putting his promises in writing. How dare I imply that even that is not enough!

Do I need a flock of angels on my roof, or an all-expense paid trip to heaven and back before I will accept that God thinks I am important to him? Christ’s shed blood proves God’s pledge of total commitment to me. Am I to pronounce that sacrifice inadequate and demand additional proof? Must God send a bolt of spiritual electricity through me before I’ll believe he wants to powerfully use me?

In his grace God might do something extra for me, as he has done for thousands, but to so focus on this possibility as to not believe unless he does it, is the height of impertinence.

If every non-Christian on this planet had amazing (though phony) spiritual encounters and every Christian received divine visitations every day, and I alone in all humanity experienced nothing, it could never diminish the infinitude of God’s devotion to me. If in his wisdom God decides to cut me off from such experiences in order to toughen my faith – that essential ingredient of spiritual life, more valuable than earth’s treasures – it is yet another demonstration of his love.

Faith in the unchangeable character of God is the only bedrock upon which a person’s ministry call can be founded. We have no need for God to write in the sky because he has written in a book. And Jesus taught that people who fail to believe the Bible would not believe even if they experienced the ultimate miracle of someone they knew returning from the dead and warning them.a

I dare not slacken my quest for a deeper spiritual experience. I will welcome any manifestation of the Spirit of God in my life and not proudly assume I don’t need it, but if God decides not to use such means to prop up my spiritual life, it merely proves the depth of his confidence in me. He obviously believes I have the grit to tough it out by raw faith.

Our call needs not spectacular confirmation but spectacular commitment.

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