A long, long time ago I was wrestling with a desire to pursue vocational ministry, which had recently awakened in my heart. Not having much of any idea how to take those first steps or even how to make the decision, I went to a man who for a long time had been in vocational ministry and who had been a great help and encouragement to me. He gave me a gentle shove in the right direction, and he also said a few words that for some reason stuck like a treble hook in my mind. He said, “Ben, the politics you’ll see in ministry will break your heart.”His point was that as I faced a future life in ministry, I would see things that would make me retch—things that would make me question whether I wanted anything to do with Christian ministry, and perhaps even Christianity itself. It took me a few years to see tangible evidence of the truth of his prediction, but I did, to be sure.
The most important part of what he said was that my only responsibility was to be faithful. A year later, I was wrestling with the frustrations (most of which were caused by my own incompetencies) of my first year in vocational ministry. A Maranatha alumnus who was one of my bosses for the summer told me the exact same thing that I'd heard almost a year before: God rewards faithfulness.
Since those days, those conversations have frequently returned to mind during frustrating times. Somewhere along the way a passage from Scripture was filed in my brain right next to those conversations: John 21:18-23. Now, I don't expect to die a martyr's death, and I don't even think that I've been treated unfairly. But the point is that I need to be faithful to the work God has given me regardless of what happens to those around me. Even when authorities are dishonest to me. Even when heroes let me down.
It doesn't matter. I need to be faithful. I need to follow Christ.
What happened to me over the course of time was that my exhuberant idealism got a healthy dose of reality. In the piece I wrote a while back, I said something that might be relevant today:
The bottom line is that the optimism of my youth is now dead—but it needed to die. It was largely an optimism that was based on hope in flesh. Read any biography or history of an institution. It will either be a stark record of human failure, or it will fall short of objectivity and accuracy.So what are you trusting right now? What's your anchor? If you're hope is grounded in a beloved leader made of clay or a group of distant, faceless names (also men of clay) unknown except for their prowess at collecting offerings, then one of two things is true. Either 1) they've let you down, or 2) they'll let you down pretty soon. (And if you haven't noticed, you'll let yourself down far more than anyone else will.)
That’s the bad news. The good news is that my optimism is not dead and gone—just the optimism of my youth. The optimism that remains is a gift from God. It is a reinforced hope in His changelessness and His faithfulness to do as He has said. It is, by His grace, an optimism grounded in His eternal purposes, His sovereign plan, and His kind intention to bless His people. And somehow, he’s chosen me to share in those riches.
God has never been elected. He is sovereign. His power and His purposes are not contingent on whether a person or a group of people makes wise decisions.
Follow Christ, not men, particularly when you don't know whether to believe what men are telling you. He is all you have. He is all you need.