We all know that the results in ministry aren’t up to us. You do know that, right? My working theory is that enough of us didn’t know this, or acted as though we didn’t know this, that the Lord brought covid to us so that he could show us in no uncertain terms how little he needs us.
When we were entirely shut down and could not readily meet, the Lord seemed to grow our people. When we could run no programmes nor spend time with anybody meaningfully, the Lord seemed to be at work saving people. It is a lesson I am slow to learn and so the Lord continues showing me again and again. He does not need me to do what he wants doing.
I am minded of the person who became a believer whilst we were locked down and couldn’t do any outreach. I am reminded of the other person who trusted in Christ by engaging with all sorts of stuff I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. I am reminded of the person who, though a believer themselves, was in a church with radically different doctrine and a faulty understanding of the gospel. They figured what they were hearing wasn’t right simply because they were reading the Bible and saw it didn’t tally. I can think of several other stories besides.
In all these cases, we had very little (if anything) to do with it. The Lord worked by his Spirit through his Word to achieve what he wanted to achieve. In one case where something we did seemed to play a part, it did not lead to someone joining our church. They went to another church (a good, gospel preaching church) for various reasons. In the other cases, we had nothing really to do with it at all yet the Lord blessed our church as a result.
Now we are back to normal, so to speak, the Lord hasn’t suddenly started to need us again. He didn’t need us before covid, he didn’t need us during covid and he doesn’t need us now. He graciously calls us to be co-labourers in his work, not for his benefit, but for ours. It serves us to be involved; he can manage just fine without us.
The freeing thing about all that is the results are not on us. They are the Lord’s and his alone. The freeing thing about that is God’s kingdom is not impeded by us. The freeing thing about that is the Lord may well bless us despite all our insufficiencies and inability. It is the Lord who builds his church, not us. He calls us into the work for our sake so that we might grow through our service; the results of our work are entirely up to him.
If my wife goes to bake a cake, my kids may or may not want to be involved. If they aren’t, a cake will still get baked. My kids will also still enjoy the cake. They will have missed out on the opportunity to grow in their knowledge and understanding of baking. They might not appreciate as much as they would otherwise just how the cake came to be. But they will nevertheless see a cake and even enjoy some of the result.
Like that, God will grow his kingdom whether we want to get involved in helping or not. If we don’t get involved, the kingdom will still grow. We may even still enjoy the results of that growth much of the time. But we will have missed out on the opportunity to grow ourselves; in our love for the Lord, in our understanding of him, in our reliance on him, in our own character and in many other ways we might not even perceive. We may not fully appreciate what the Lord is ever doing in the world if we sit back and never put our hand to the plough. But the kingdom will nevertheless increase by the degree the Lord desires and we may well enjoy some of the result because he is gracious to us anyway.
Of course, if we really love him (as Jesus said) we will keep his commandments. We will want to do the things he calls us to do. But he commands those things less for his own benefit and more for ours. We are not called to produce a certain yield, we are called to be faithful. The results, in the end, are his alone. And we can be happy with that because it frees us from the tyranny of thinking they rest upon us.