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The Ministry of Failure

I know how to be abased and how to abound. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Phillipians 4:12

Paul years as a travelling apostle were marked with success. He started churches wherever he went. His message was relayed to the farthest corners of those provinces he passed through. To be sure, there were many obstacles, persecutions, and sufferings. Still, with his own eyes Paul could look on the fruit of his labors, and take satisfaction knowing his sufferings were not in vain. He was doing what he loved doing, and had a natural talent and proclivity for his work: even before his conversion, as a passionate opponent of Christianity, he had done similar things, going from city to city promoting his convictions.

God often does give us opportunities to serve Him doing what we're good at. However,the times of our greatest effectiveness for the Kingdom of God come when we are forced into doing what we don't do well, in areas where we lack interest and talent.

It must have been devastating to Paul, peripatetic that he was, to be shut up in a house and forbidden to leave. He could only preach to those who were sent to him. Even while he was in prison, he couldn't help thinking about where he would go when he regained his liberty (Phil. 2:24) . He was able to send letters, but apparently Paul was not even able to write the letters himself, but had to dictate to a scribe(Phil. 4:23, KJV).

Looking back now on Paul's itinerant ministry and his ministry in prison, we see clearly which of the two had more lasting impact. The regions where Paul travelled most extensively are now given over to Islam. On the other hand, not a day goes by but multiple millions of believers read, hear, study, quote, contemplate, and memorize the words he dictated while he was bound against his will.

Paul is not the only Biblical example of this "failure" principle. The principle is almost universal throughout the Scripture. Today everyone knows about Joseph's betrayal and his ordeal as a slave and a prisoner -- but apart from saving Egypt from famine, who can name one of his deeds as regent of Egypt? Daniel today is far more famous for his escapes from death than for his prowess as an administrator -- while during his lifetime, the reverse was probably the case.

The quintessential example of success through failure is Jesus Christ's death on the Cross. The Cross was by far Jesus' greatest accomplishment, without which the rest of His ministry would have been a footnote in ancient history.

The ministry of apparent failure is far harder than that of apparent success. Success is a powerful motivator to keep you going in the face of adversity and pain. But if there is only visible failure, what keeps you going? Nothing but faith in the unseen. This is by far the harder work, and requires more maturity.

Suppose then I am forced into in a position where I am incompetent and ineffective. What should I do? First of all, I must not lose heart but continue to bring my shortcomings, my failures, and my inadequacies before the Lord in prayer. I must not cease to cry out to Him, until either I have no more strength to cry out, or until I receive an inner assurance from the Holy Spirit that, though I may continue to fail outwardly, though I may not be delivered immediately from distressing and depressing circumstances, still God's good, pleasing, and perfect will is being accomplished through my current ordeal.

Prayer: Lord, please help me to embrace and joyfully accept the ministry of failure. When the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, only then may it bear much fruit. Father, please reveal to my heart the fruit which is coming, so that I may not be swallowed up in despair when I fall.

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Copyright © 1998 CrossPollen
Last Revised: March 20, 1999

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