“An act of love that fails is just as much a part of the divine life as an act of love that succeeds, for love is measured by fullness, not by reception.” Harold Loukes.
Have you ever felt a little sad or ignored when your hard work for the Lord was not producing fruit that was tangible in the lives of people you serve? Have you wondered if there was something wrong in your methods or even that the Lord was not blessing your efforts, and doubted that you were in His will? Have you felt discouraged by the apparent failure of your ministry?
Or your self-inflicted criticism could turn into an understandable self-justification into accepting a self-imposed defeat and throwing down the gloves. “After all the Lord has not blessed me with the gift of evangelism”, you might argue. Look at all the successful ministries with crowds waiting in lines to participate in the latest human-crowd-baiting nets operations.
Not all fishermen are in the fishing business equipped with huge nets and fleets of boats to carry all the catch. Big fishing ministries might not start with the initial call, blessings of God ending up with the final rewards for faithful service, but you surely can if you are fishing for God, with God and in whatever pond, river or sea the Master has called you to be.
“But wait a minute; what about me?” you might retort. “All I have is two hands, one mouth and the Word of God to help me.” My friend, you have all you need to be – maybe not as an apparently successful captain of a fishing-boat fleet, but as a faithful angler – because God has called you to cast your bread on the waters and not to worry about the size of the catch.
Conversely, you might be gifted by the Lord to feed the fish instead of catching it. We are not in the business of killing the fish. The fish is already dead. Sure, physically, it jumps, swims, eats and reproduces just as any normal fish. So why are we surprised when the fish escapes the hook and swims away?
Do we think the hook is as important as the bait? Are we sorry that the fish got away? Maybe we have it backward in our attempts to draw people to Jesus.
We should rejoice when the fish gets away with the bait – the Word of God, the real food that will one day give them life and imperceptibly but surely help them to get closer to the day when the Word of God will produce its work of new birth and eternal salvation. Then, they will grow bigger and stronger and reproduce.
Paul in I Corinthians said that one plants the seed, another waters it according to the task assigned by God. “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” (I Corinthians 3:7-8).
To go back to the initial quote above, if your service to God and your fellow human is an act of love accomplished in faith and obedience to our Lord Jesus, it might seem to you as a failure because of the seeming lack of immediate results; it might be that the person that was the object of your love did not receive it, but that does not take away your unwavering commitment and your acting in faith and love. It just might be a matter of time. Sooner or later, up or down the stream of life, another angler will build on your faithful work and bring the fish home, hopefully without the wounds of unscrupulous fishermen using false bait and using big hooks and harpoons that hurt the fish.
Take the example of the great missionary to India, William Carey, whose biography I recommend reading: “After seven years of tireless toil in India, Carey still did not have a single convert!” However, he trusted in the Word of God for his life, and he quotes it in the text of a historic sermon in Isaiah 54:2-3:
“Enlarge the place of your tent and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings. Do not spare, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes! For you shall expand to the right and to the left and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make desolate cities inhabited.”
And this is exactly what he did.
The Apostle Paul, Apollos, all the disciples and great men of God throughout history can be used as good examples to emulate (see the list in hall of faith in Hebrew 11).
However the best and supreme example of somebody who acted with the highest disinterested kind of love, who could have been seen as a failure, was our Lord Jesus-Christ. He spent the 33 years of his short life being rejected. He was not attractive or beautiful in his human form, and had nothing that would make man desire him – a man full of sorrow, despised.
Talk about a failure in the eyes of the unbelieving world! He was oppressed, afflicted, and did not complain. He was betrayed, and died through the false testimony of lying witnesses. He dies the death of the worst criminals. And he did it for the love of his Father and love for you and me. He labored and was faithful even to his death, but not in vain, because look at what beautiful inheritance – salvation from eternal death and the promise of the Spirit and eternal life with him – he won for the millions of believers who trust in him. This is the great victory brought by his sacrifice on the cross.
If you trust him with your life, he can turn your apparent failures into victories. Don´t look at instant results, judging your performance by the way people react to your sharing the truth with others.
“Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (I Timothy 4:15-16).
God is a good and tender loving Father who likes to reward his faithful and obedient children with surprises, big and small, in answer to our prayers.
This is what the Word says concerning fullness, love, faith and works:
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19).
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form and you have been given this fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10).
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).
“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 whom you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).