"Not In Vain"
(Note: Recording made prior to getting better sound equipment!!!)
"For you yourselves know, brethren, our coming to you was not in vain" (1 Thessalonians 2:1).
A testimony from Brooksyne:
When my friend, Theresa, was in 9th grade she began to run with the wrong crowd and soon got pregnant. She had a baby girl and, with her mother babysitting, she continued to attend school. By her sophomore year she was pregnant again by the same boy and gave birth to another daughter. After this she quit school and, since I no longer saw her at school or the bus stop, we lost contact for the most part.
We were the same age and yet the choices we made were vastly different. I had given my heart to Christ in 9th grade and began to live a life fully surrendered to Him during my high school years. Because Jesus had laid Theresa on my heart I would periodically visit with her in her home. She also had four sisters who had chosen a similar way of life and I will admit that it was difficult to visit this family who repeatedly violated God's moral laws. There were quite a number of fatherless children who resided in this small house that reeked of thick cigarette smoke and bottles of alcohol were visible everywhere. I had invited Theresa to church and revivals repeatedly. I do remember that she attended one youth event with me and even went forward to pray at the altar but I didn't really see fruit from that experience.
When I was a senior in high school the father of Theresa's two daughters, whom she was very much in love with, rode his motorcycle to a well-known sight where many of the hippies of that day hung out. He came from an affluent family in Tulsa but wealth and drugs could not provide the solution he was seeking for. He had lost all hope and tragically shot himself. His suicide devastated Theresa and destroyed the possibility of a future marriage or a father figure for the girls.
I continued to reach out to her but then I left Tulsa to attend Bible College in Springfield Missouri about 200 miles away. I wrote to her periodically over those years since I continued to carry a burden for her. But she did not respond to my letters and then she simply became a faded memory since I moved far away from home after I married.
You can imagine how surprised I was in 2001 to receive a phone call. When she identified herself as Theresa, my former neighbor in Tulsa, I immediately recognized her voice. She had called my mother to get my current phone number so she could give me an update on her life.
Her voice was filled with joy and enthusiasm as she spoke to me over the phone that unforgettable day. "Brooksyne, I wanted to call you to let you know how God has worked in my life over the last thirty years. When you took me to church in high school and I prayed at the altar I gave my heart to Jesus. I still have all the letters you wrote to me when you were in college and they really did help me."
She went on to tell me how she married a Christian man who became father to her two girls and they had two children together. All of them are serving the Lord as well. She raised her family and then got her GED so she could go to college for a teaching degree. Theresa is now an elementary teacher and absolutely loves working with the children.
Theresa's story reminds me that God works in the invisible realm where we cannot see the inner person. We usually judge by visible circumstances as we view the outer person and give up way too soon.
Today we want to share with our fellow servants about one of the greatest hindrances to peace and fulfillment in our ministry for Christ. We have all faced discouragement due to the apparent lack of "success" in our ministry. This may be based upon comparisons with others, our own expectations, the failings of those we minister to and at times a sense of "what difference does it make." We have found that the potential for discouragement does not lessen with age.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers several months after his rather short period of ministry there. We are told that during this time of ministry "some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women" (Acts 17:4). But we have no specific idea of how many were actually converted, of any discipling activity or setting a church in order. There's certainly no record of a church building being constructed (which is the case in the entire early church).
Paul and his ministry associates were run out of town shortly after he began to see these fruits. What chance would the fledgling group have to sustain and develop into a church?
But when Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, sets out to write a letter to "the church of the Thessalonians" (1:1) he was confident in God and was assured that his ministry to the Thessalonians had not been in vain. In 2:1 (our daily verse) he wrote "For you yourselves know, brethren, our coming to you was not in vain." The NIV translates: "You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure."
We have learned (or really are learning) the following principles in overcoming the discouragement that comes with ministry. Here are eight truths we all must remember.
1) Remember the power of God's Word. When Paul had established the church in Thessalonica he "reasoned with them from the Scriptures" (Acts 17:2b). That's the foundation of effective ministry. We all know the familiar promise that God's Word does not return void. As we are faithful in proclaiming His Word we are assured that He is faithful to leave an impact. Be on guard against the myth of "I'll be OK (or feel successful) once I reach the next plateau." Our sense of worth, esteem and fulfillment in ministry must be anchored in God's character and Word or else we'll be on a spiritual rollercoaster. We'll also be tempted to rely on our own giftings, eloquence, or skills rather than relying on the Holy Spirit Keep proclaiming the Word!
2) Remember that we simply do not see the results of our entire ministry. Paul sits down to write a letter to a group of young believers in Thessalonica. In his wildest imagination would he have seen a man 2,000 years later writing an article based on this letter? You're only seeing the tip of the iceberg in your impact for Christ. Years ago we had a Sunday night visitor in our church who looked vaguely familiar. He testified that he was now a Christian and recalls my witness to him while working on the roof of the parsonage several years earlier. At the time he had lost his license due to several DUI offenses and he was, to be honest, a real "down and outer." When he appeared that Sunday night he'd had a nice haircut and was even dressed in a suit. He had also brought his Christian fiancé with him. I'm sure that some of you have had similar experiences, but I wonder how many times we just don't get the report on this side. We are called to faithfully sow the seed. I love the line in "Thank You" which states: "and one by one they came, far as the eye could see, each life somehow touched by your generosity. Little things that you had done, sacrifices made, unnoticed on the earth, in heaven now proclaimed."
3) Remember God's call to obedience. Paul wrote to the Ephesian elders, "For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (Acts 20:27). I love this moving passage and Paul's earnest conveyance of truth. Your preaching may not always be popular or even appreciated by the faithful. Keep preaching it. A discouraged pastor once dreamed that he was standing on the top of a great granite rock, trying to break it with a pickax. Hour after hour he worked on with no result. At last he said; "It is useless; I will stop." Suddenly a man stood by him and asked, "Were you not allotted this task and if so, why are you going to abandon it?" "My work is in vain; I can make no impression on the granite," was the minister's reply. Then the stranger solemnly replied, "That is nothing to you; your duty is to pick, whether the rock yields or not. The work is yours, the results are in other hands; work on." In his dream the pastor saw himself setting out anew his labor, and at his first blow the rock flew into hundreds of pieces. Remember that God supremely calls us to faithful obedience.
4) Remember to maintain lifetime contacts with those we minister to. Paul wrote: "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19,20). It was the dear people that mattered. Ministry is serving God and His people. I find it astounding as I read Paul's warm greetings to scores of people in the many regions he traveled as an evangelist. I have counted 115 different proper names associated with Paul, not to mention groups of people such as the Ephesian elders. Much of what we, on the short-term, describe as "successful" ministry is comprised of numbers and/or a physical structure. It's interesting to me that a specific count of conversions or church size is never found after the first several chapters of Acts. And of course there’s no mention of church buildings at all. John writes "I have no greater joy than to hear my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 4). What a joy to speak with someone I ministered to over 20 years ago and hear that they're still walking with God! Stay in touch with those to whom you have ministered. You may no longer be their Christian mentor but what a joy to see they are staying faithful.
5) Remember that some plant and some water. “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8). For many years missionaries labored in Latin America with little visible success. Surely they faced great discouragement at the harsh living conditions and sparse response to their ministry. But as you know in the last 30 years we have seen remarkable revival in Biblical Christianity in this part of the world. Are our present missionaries more devoted to God? Do they pray more? I hardly think so! The faithful work of those who went before sowed the seed for the present harvest. Some countries and regions that have had missionary activity for many years remain very resistant to the Gospel. Mike Chase, a missionary to Taiwan, reports of the lack of receptiveness in that country. I believe there's a parallel in Pastoral work as well. You may be in a sowing place or you may be in a reaping place. Remember the cooperative harvest. One plants, another harvests. We are indebted to many who serve in the great Gospel enterprise with us. We are likely planting and harvesting at the same time, although at times the planting is more prominent, at other times the harvesting is. But to the physical eye the harvesting is seen as more successful! Stay faithful!
6) Remember that we are not alone. The Psalmist wrote: “The LORD is with me; He is my helper.” Jesus said, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Elijah experienced great discouragement in His service for God. A.W. Tozer, who knew God so intimately, had days when he was so discouraged he felt he could not continue as a minister. This man who instructed thousands in the deep things of God often felt he was a miserable failure. Charles Spurgeon looked back upon dark hours in his own life and said: "I bear willing witness that I owe more to the fire, and the hammer, and the file, than to anything else in my Lord's workshop. I sometimes question whether I have ever learned anything except through the rod. When my schoolroom is darkened, I see most.”
7) Remember our own unique giftings and seeking to find creative ways of ministry that fit the particular gifts God has given us. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” You see, I've come to realize there are some things I just don't do well. Perhaps God wants me to develop these gifts but in many other cases they're just not there. Stuart Briscoe notes that "discouragement comes when you try to start with what you wish you had but don't have. And it intensifies when you insist on trying to be in a position you are not in and probably never will be in.” I learned a long time ago I can’t sing well, but I can still enjoy good music, and encourage others in this most effective ministry.
8) Remember just how puny we really all are in view of God's greatness! Drink in God's greatness. "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One." Isaiah 40 is a great chapter that describes God’s almightiness. The greatness of God infinitely exceeds the greatness or accomplishment of any human. You see, what really matters is not what I may think about you or what you may think about me or even what we think about ourselves (our self-esteem). We must keep our focus on the greatness of our God!
I'll end with my life verse. "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
In diligent service,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."
© Copyright 2007 Stephen C. Weber - All Rights Reserved
Daily Encouragement Net - Mount Joy, PA 17552
(Message preached at Mount Pleasant on November 4, 2007)
"Living today anchored in God's solid foundation"