You Succeed Without Success

Cannon success“And all these, though well attested by their faith did not receive what was promised (Hebrews 11:39).”

Being brought up in the tradition that success is the measure of a man, missionary work has proven to be full of frustrations that irritate, and irritations that frustrate. Things never seem to work out the way you want them, when you want them. I’ve tried being the high-powered executive type, but always end up doing everything myself. I’ve tried being the non-direct, all-knowing psychologist type, and ended up accomplishing nothing. Why can’t natives, oops! I mean nationals, be more interested in my success as a missionary?

Again, we read in our religious papers about the great successes of missionaries in this or that country, and I find myself wishing I was there. How come the work is hard going only in the place where I am? Why are the nationals where I am not flocking to hear the gospel? Why do the people I love remain indifferent and cold? Maybe those papers do what I do and only print the good stuff. Maybe they aren’t telling the whole truth. Is it possible that behind it all others are not roaring successes either? I try to cover up all my failures, and never tell my supporters about them, for fear I will become a “financial failure.” Wouldn’t it be just a bit comforting to read, “Preacher Returned from Overseas Admits Very Little Accomplished,” or, “Baptized One Hundred Yesterday; Can’t Find Ninety Today.”

One thing I like about the Bible – it tells the whole story. If the lives of men of God recorded there were put into headlines you would read, “After a Lifetime of Hard Work and Suffering Jeremiah Passes into Obscurity with Nothing to Show for It.” Or about Christ before Pilate, “After Three Years’ Work Not One Convert Remains Faithful.”

Success isn’t everything, but doing the will of the Lord is. Certainly there are successes in doing God’s will, but they are not always obvious. Success in the sight of God could mean enduring failures in the sight of men. Overzealous advocates of Pauline methodlogy who promise success if Paul’s “formula” is followed, need the headline which would read, “Paul Fails to Establish Church in Rome, the World’s Most Strategic Center; Misses by Twenty Years; Methods Considered Unsuccessful.”

The missionary preacher is not called to success, but to faithfulness. He is not sent to baptize, but to preach the gospel. The work is to be done to please Christ, not to please readers. He is not the be judged by a sponsoring church, but the sponsoring Christ! The fruit of success, or the promise of his labors may not be experienced in his lifetime. His faith may be the testimonial and not his success. In the chapter of Hebrews quoted above, along with the successes are listed the dismal failures, but the chief point is faith which surmounts difficulties, faith which endures faithfully, though that which was promised was not received. Some churches will back a work unfulfilled. They will sow in hope, and endure until God’s purposes are accomplished. Great will be their reward for they will have succeeded without success.

Cannon, Joe (1969). For Missionaries Only. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group
Used by permission
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