I just discovered that Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain, is just two years older than me. And here he is, leader of a country, and here I am, er… well… I picked up this interesting bit of information from David Brook’s article, The Transformer, in the Atlantic Monthly (July/August 2003, 27).What really struck me in Brook’s article was his account of the turning point in Blair’s life.
“The turning point in Blair’s life, as every biographer makes clear, occurred when he was eleven. His father, then a prominent barrister and a rising figure in the Conservative Party, had a debilitating stroke, nearly died, and lost the ability to speak for three years. Although Blair senior was a nonbeliever, on the day of the stroke the headmaster of Blair’s school and Blair prayed together, thus planting the germ of what became Blair’s unusually strong religious faith.”
It’s safe to assume that Blair’s headmaster had no inkling that praying for a eleven year old charge would plant a seed for the Kingdom that would bear fruit in such a significant way. (You do not have to agree with Blair’s policies to respect the fact that he struggles to bring his faith into the crazy arena of politics.)
When I read this account I thought of a student in my preaching class who shared that he struggles when he preaches, and the congregation doesn’t seems to be responding to his preaching. I responded by telling him not to assess the effectiveness of his preaching by the apparent lack of immediate response from his listeners. We never know what God is doing beneath the surface. Or what He will do with our efforts further down the road.
The account of Blair’s turning point reminded me yet again that we can never know what will the actual outcome of our efforts. Indeed it is worth remembering that the bible calls us to be faithful, not successful.
I know of many who try to make a difference for Christ in different spheres. From pastors, missionaries, and theological educators, to those working on law reform, to those working among the poor, to those trying to change their company’s corporate culture…many soldier on faithfully day after day without any apparent breakthroughs. And often haunted by doubts as to whether they are making any difference at all. The following come from a designer working in an award winning design house (edited slightly):
“Ways of making positive social impact (as designers)… yes, we can create posters but would they just end up as junk? How effective do you think a poster exhibition can be? How big an audience do you think it will reach? Or is it just another heroic move with limited impact?”
My response to this person was that we should do what we can and trust God to do what only He can. We can’t change the world. That is a job of divine proportions. But there are things I can do. And God holds me responsible for those things. But when I am faithful and I do what I can, often God kicks in and does His divine stuff.
One of my favourite passages in Scripture is the account of the boy who gave the five loaves and two fishes (John 6: 1-14). There was no way the boy could feed the hungry crowd. Indeed the disciples pointed out the inadequacy of the supply in the light of the need: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” v.9 (NRSV) But the boy did what he could. He gave his lunch. Jesus did the rest.
These are tough times. Especially for those trying to make a difference for Christ in the world. Often you feel as though you are pushing a big boulder uphill. Or as though you are swimming against the tide. Everyday. Many a day we wonder if it is all worth it, if we are making any difference at all. The account of Blair’s turning point is but one of many examples that encourages me to press on.
I have a story of my own. The day my clinical depression broke, I was slated to preach in an evangelistic service. I spent the whole day holed up in my room taking hot showers. The hot showers were the only thing that eased my depressive pain a little.
When it was time to speak I had to force myself to go. Every sentence I uttered took Herculean effort. I felt so flat. The meeting felt so flat. Nothing happened. I went away with a deep sense of failure. I had let down the Lord, the gospel, and the friends who had invited me to speak.
It was many years later that I discovered that one of the listeners that day had accepted Christ and had since become a Christian with a vital faith. Like I said, you never know.
We are just called to be faithful and to leave the results to God. But I suspect that on the last day, when we face the final audit of our lives, we will all be pleasantly surprised. Especially those who faithfully served even though they saw little by way of results. After all, our God is a God of grace. And a God of joyful surprises.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan