Investing in the lives of people is work – the gritty, dirty, sweaty kind. The kind that requires stretchy pants and a pony tail and comfortable footwear – metaphorically speaking of course. It isn’t confined to tidy schedules, and predictable flow charts, and it doesn’t make for an impressive lifestyle blog or instagram pictures.
And then there is the part nobody wants to talk about – investment in people is kind of like the stock market – you may do well over the long haul, but there’s a chance you could be left with empty hands. There are no guarantees. You can spend 18 years putting your blood, sweat, and tears into the life of your child, and they can decide your ways and your God are foolish and walk away from it all. You can walk the long road with a sister in Christ, with so many conversations and open doors and wrestling through problems and Scripture, and yet the possibility of the slow fade or the whiplash betrayal always looms. You can finally get THAT family, the dependable-all-in-there-whenever-the-church-doors-are-open family that is shouldering the ministry with you and the next thing you know they have a new job six states away and you are back to square one
I’m going to assume that you have already made the choice to radically orient your life around people and that you are wrestling with this perennial question: How do I keep investing when I’m not seeing the results I long for? If you are doing this business of soul formation without getting burned, you are probably pampering souls instead of seeking to form them. There are so many ways that investment can seem fruitless, everything from a lack of growth to outright anger and betrayal. We are formed in our efforts to form, because lack of fruit can make us dig deep. We have to examine our motives in ministry, our faith in the power of God, and even our calling in ministry.
What never fails to be tested is my endurance – how long am I willing to walk the long road with this person? How this question has haunted me of late. There are situations that I feel should be different, given how much a person has been loved and poured into. I want to fume that people should be in a different place. Clearly I have set a time table for growth in my head and decided that it’s God’s timetable, too.
When I hit these places I always have to remember that I am carrying around my own brand of brokenness. My sin problems may be different, maybe a little more presentable, but still real and affecting other people. When I am keenly aware of my own need for the grace of God, I am ready to extend it to others. And as my view of self grows smaller, my view of God grows larger, and that large view of God is the secret of moving forward in discipleship when you feel like giving up.
The growth of our ministry or the people in it isn’t centered on me or my husband. We are utterly dependent on God to do what only He can do. Only He can convict people of sin. Only He can break generational bondage. Only He can soften a hard heart. Only He can bring repentance. We cannot manufacture those things in the lives of others. With that in view we shift our hope from our ability to minister well to the power of God to work in seemingly impossible situations. The Psalmist wrote, “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39:7)
When my hope shifts from myself to God I know that investing in others is really about my relationship with the Lord. I’m serving Him, that is the goal, and any side benefits in the life of another person are an extra bonus. That frees me to love people genuinely, and not see them as projects. The spiritual growth of my children or my church people is not the validation of my work and investment – what a heavy burden to put on the people around us, what a way to try to rob God of His glory.
When I am embracing my own smallness and setting my hope in God, the same things always happen. First comes acceptance, I can say to myself, “yes, this is where we are at.” I can open my hand to what God has given. After that always comes peace and joy; this is always the result of opening the hands to God. And last comes more prayer than ever before, because I’m focused on God’s work and not my own. And suddenly God’s command to, “not grow weary in doing good” seems lighter and easier. (Galatians 6:9)
Loving people well doesn’t need results to measure its success. The loving is its own reward, its own destination. What is done for Jesus and with Jesus is never wasted.
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