When I was young and new at ministry, I thought that faithful service to Jesus Christ began with building complex institutions, proposing overtures, moving congregations between presbyteries, making well-greased machinery run flawlessly, and culminated in preaching to thousands with a television "ministry" and a couple of honorary doctorates on the wall. That would mean my life had made a difference.
What is success in ministry? The longer I live, the less sure I am that anything listed in the paragraph above causes the heart of Christ to leap for joy. All those wonderful things offer comfort to me by banishing my fears of my own insignificance and unworthiness. But the world is filled with such preachers and teachers-- Dallas is practically drowning in them. Has it changed Dallas appreciably? I would be hard-pressed to be able to say how it has, other than the fact that everybody knows those preachers' names and faces.
I find it fascinating that we don't know what Jesus actually looked like. No one ever thought of getting him to sit down, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln did, and having a life-cast bust made, or finding a great painter to paint his picture. Surely the disciples could have found the money to pay for that. We know Caesar; we know Constantine.
But Jesus could walk up to me today, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't know it was him. He left no army, no great crowd of disciples. The crowds were a flash in the pan-- the only people he left behind were the 12, and one of them betrayed him while the rest forsook him and fled. So why was Jesus's ministry successful in God's eyes? I'm drawn to the simple definition of work that Jesus gives in John:
Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?"Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." John 6:28-29
Confession is my primary action. I am called to believe-- which means to obey down to the last detail of my own life what the Lord tells me through the Word. That call to obedience constantly humiliates me with the reality that I cannot do even that one task, and constantly calls me to confess my need for forgiveness and mercy.
My life is lived in continuous prayer, continuous need, continuous communion. Whatever flows out of that life-giving relationship is what gives God joy.
I probably will never be a doctor of anything. I won't be on TV (I really hate the lights anyway). OCPC will probably never be a megachurch (can't tell God what to do, but with my worldly eyes, I think I'm probably right). No one on earth may have any idea who I am (but I guess I have enough vanity to be writing this-- there is work yet to be done). But my life will make the difference that Christ wants it to make if I place my life in his hands. If I can come to the end of this day and say, "Lord, whatever this day was, I lived it believing in you with all my heart, mind, and strength," that is success. That life, lived that way day by day, makes a difference.