Discouragement gathers like storm clouds on the horizon. When the early morning sun breaks through the slits in the blinds, I fight the desire to bury myself deeper under the covers. I am exhausted and spent. I have little to show for my pursuit of God’s call on my life except dark circles under my eyes and a pile of neglected laundry in the corner of my room.
I am on the lookout for big results for my effort. I long for an appreciative slap on the back, a shout out of recognition, anything to present as evidence that what I do matters. I am met by silence. Deafening, discouraging, deathly silence. The darkness of discouragement has almost convinced me that a lack of results means failure.
I am ready to quit.
Shut the whole operation down.
Go back to easy.
A small light glows in the darkness. Truth breaks in to remind me of my calling. It is not to work for results. My calling is to be faithful as God entrusts me with skill, inspiration, and opportunity.
This truth leads me to a question: What is my definition of success?
Is it a win when I see evidence that someone listens?
Are the victories marked by a rise in popularity?
Is recognition the objective of my effort?
Or could success be defined as doing the thing God asked me to do regardless of the outcome?
My equation for success: good work always equals good results. Conversely, I believe bad results are a result of bad work. My standards are high for a positive return on my investments of time, money, heart, and soul. In the economy of my flesh, I desire recognition and results as a reward.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom. 8:5-8 NIV)
God’s economy is different. The results aren’t always palpably positive. Sometimes, the only thing I have to show for the calluses on my work-weary hands is a small shift in the attitude of my heart. It is possible to labor and toil and have nothing to show for it. Right now, my labor is met with famine. My soul is hungry for something to show for my endeavors.
I want to quit because I do not see success according to my standards. I am wrapped up in positive outcomes. Instead of quitting, I need to shift my focus. Results are not the reward. The reward is found in the pressing in. As I reach the end of my strength, I press into Jesus. There I find intimacy with God. Instead of trying to manipulate and force a positive outcome, I need to remain faithful to my calling. This is the painful, beautiful place where faith grows.
Consider the tree. It doesn’t try to make the rain fall or the sun shine. It doesn’t alter the pH of the soil. It doesn’t even brush away the pests that crawl in its branches. A tree stands firm. It stretches out to receive the gifts God offers. The tree makes its branches available for the fruit He chooses to produce when He chooses to make it bloom. No amount of straining, manipulating, or grumbling can change the produce. Quitting leads to certain death.
Instead of packing up my supplies and retreating deep into the covers to hide from this hard season, I think I will stand tall and stretch out my branches. I will take the sun and the rain. I will tolerate the pests and the harsh conditions. As I stand with my arms stretched out in surrender, fulfilling the role that God called me to, I will wait patiently for my Creator to do His work in me. I will wait for His fruit to bloom, mature, and ripen. And I will take no credit for that fruit. After all, it isn’t my work to begin with. It is simply being available, willing, and still.
Sometimes, the most faithful thing we can do is not quit.
Be brave with me, dear friends. That thing you want to quit? Release the need for results. Redefine success as dependence on and intimacy with God. Press in for strength and endurance. And wait with arms stretched wide.
Photo credits: Christopher Sardegna (feature) and John Mark Arnold via Unsplash.