Faithful Failure

Each morning, our staff gather together in various formats to start the day in fellowship and prayer. Three mornings a week we do this all together and all our staff have the opportunity to lead devotions based on the theme we are thinking about at the time. I am continuously amazed at the depth, insight, honesty and vulnerability that our staff share with each other each day.

Recently, Helen, one of our amazing Learning Assistants, shared the following reflection on faithfulness.

I have thought long and hard about sharing with you stories of famous people who have lived faithful lives and the fruit that came from it. People like Hudson Taylor, William Carey and William Wilberforce. But history has always had people who become known because they worked faithfully and were blessed; blessed to be the reapers for whom the church sees converts, blessed to be the school that enables high test scores, blessed to be the parents that see fantastic character in their children.

Then I thought about sharing with you the nameless people who we can see have borne fruit over the years. People like my great grandmother who faithfully wet nursed and raised for a number of years, someone else’s child, while the mother was unwell. People who only mean something because they connect to you and your story.   

But what I actually want to talk about is the faithful ‘failure’.

Because my favourite example of faithfulness from history comes from a missionary whose name I don’t even know, who served a people group fond of drinking and living to excess. He lived with them for over 20 years without one convert.

When he died, the next missionaries who came harvested soul after soul for the Kingdom of God. When the people were asked why now? What was different in the way the Gospel was presented that they were willing to believe now? 

The reply was, “Nothing. We just had to see Christianity lived and died before we would believe.”

He showed faithfulness without much, if any, external encouragement, built solely on the belief that the God whom he served was worth it. He looked like a failure. However, he stayed serving and it is probably only because others came later and reaped the fruit of his labor that meant his story was recorded so we can talk about him as being faithful and not as a failure.

This is a double edged sword of an example. On the one hand if you are an onlooker; beware judging what faithfulness is purely by what something looks like. What appears to be success may not stand the test of time. Success isn’t necessarily the same as faithfulness. We are to be faithful, to do our best and offer what we have to God. What fruit and when fruit and if fruit are God’s business.

On the other hand, as the doers of faithful acts, the cultivator of faithful hearts and as those who abide in Christ, beware of judging what faithfulness should look like in your own life purely by what your circumstances look like. 

Do not compare the fruit of your life with that of another.

Do not worry if you are the ‘behind the scenes’ person who doesn’t get accolades from the world or perhaps even the church. 

You do your bit, I do my bit. God does His bit.

In the end if you can embrace it, the idea of living to please the audience of One can be freeing, hope filled, resilience growing, life giving and contentment building. You get to be faithful you, I get to be faithful me and that is enough. It leaves room for the full scope of life experience; Nobel peace prize winner alongside cleaner, movie star alongside aged care worker, neurosurgeon alongside garbage collector. Each is called to be faithful with what they have, not to just turn into what someone else wants, or try to be what some else values or expects. There is room for the ordinary as well as the extraordinary when life is about being faithful.

In fact I would argue that one of the lessons from history, from the faithfulness of the famous to the so-called failures and strugglers, is that God’s working out of the Kingdom of God on earth has always been done by people, for the audience of One, regardless of results.

The students we serve need to know about the resilience and hope that comes from only having to please God, the audience of One. The hope that comes from knowing that being faithful requires from each one, only what they can do with God’s help. Results belong to God and they are His business not ours. Our role is to be a faithful example of Christianity lived and died, like my nameless missionary hero.