Friday, April 10, 2009

Called to Fail

Every elementary teacher is painfully aware of the challenging students moving toward her grade level. The future troublemakers make themselves known in the hallways, during assemblies, and on the playground. Before they ever walked through the door of my fifth grade classroom, I was fully aware of what was coming.

I began to dread one particular child early in his fourth grade year. His name was always expressed in an exasperated tone by his teachers. It seemed like every time I walked down the hall, there he sat on the floor outside the door of his classroom, banished for his bad behavior. He was an angry, frustrated little boy. And I had a sinking feeling that in the next year he would be all mine.

And so he was. I am only one very limited woman. Yet I knew that God had given him to me; not only for his benefit, but for mine as well. We would spend the year learning from each other. I threw myself into the boy. Every time I could find a reason to praise or encourage him, I did. I set reasonable and attainable boundaries for him. I carefully picked my battles and made sure the negative he got from me did not outweigh the positive. He was sneaky and manipulative. He also had some leadership qualities, and several of the other boys began to follow his bad example. I determinedly continued to work at positively influencing him. It wasn't easy. And unfortunately, it wasn't especially successful, either.

I breathed a sigh of relief as he walked out my door on the last day of school. I continued to occasionally see him throughout his middle school years as he passed my classroom door. He remained a troublemaker. I don't know if my year with him made any difference whatsoever. I sometimes think of him, and wonder how he is now as an adult. I wish I could have done more to help him turn around.

We all like a story with a happy ending. Even as Christians, we tend to measure our effectiveness by the "success" of our ministry. Yet there are times that God knowingly calls us to something that will ultimately result in failure.

Isaiah had that kind of calling. "Go, and tell this people: Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed." (Isaiah 6:9, 10) Judah had long been unfaithful to their God. Judgment was imminent. Isaiah was to bring a message to a people who would reject it hardheartedly.

God was sending Isaiah on a mission doomed to failure.

If he did it in the way God intended, the nation would remain unreceptive. This was in God's plan, for Judah had many spiritual lessons to learn that would only be accomplished by extreme hardship and desolation. Eventually the nation would repent. But it would not be in response to Isaiah's message.

Author Leigh McLeroy, in her excellent book, "The Beautiful Ache," comments on the idea of serving without immediate reward: "My generation is big on return-on-investment. We want to see results. We don't invest in much of anything at all unless we're relatively certain we'll be rewarded. But following the King into the mysteries of the kingdom may demand that we deny our rush to "cash in" and introduce ourselves to the discipline of long, unmeasured spending. Some might call this lack of foresight. But not Jesus. He would call it faithful obedience-- and he doesn't relent in asking for it."

God wants us in for the long haul. He is more interested in who we are in the process than in the final result of our efforts. Day by day obedience, even when things are true drudgery at best, or excruciatingly difficult at worst, is what honors Him. Because what we do should be about serving God, and not done for a self-serving sense of fulfillment.

Yes, we are called to live victoriously. But that victory may not always be over circumstances. It may be in the fact that we were found faithful in spite of the failure to accomplish what we set out to do.

"Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." Colossians 3:17


Heather Nicole said...

great post, julie. such a good reminder during those days when the battle seems lost. it isn't always about winning the battle, but about becoming a better solider in the fighting.

Zoe Elmore said...

Hey friend, I love this reminder to remain focused on the ONE we serve. I'm always inspired when I visit your blog.