My well-worn and often-read copy of Jane Yolen’s essay “Working Up to Anon” (Anonymous) was clipped from The Writer magazine many years ago. “The best writers,” she says, “are the ones who really, in their heart of hearts, aspire to the byline Anon. The story told is important, not the storyteller.”
The story we tell is about Jesus, the Savior, who gave…
For three consecutive years, my son participated in a piano recital. The last year he played, I watched him mount the steps and set up his music. He played two songs and then sat down next to me and whispered, “Mom, this year the piano was smaller.” I said, “No, it’s the same piano you played last year. You’re bigger! You’ve grown.”
Spiritual growth, like physical growth, often happens slowly over time. It is an ongoing process that involves becoming more like Jesus, and it happens as we are transformed through the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
When the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we may become aware of sin in our lives. Wanting to honor God, we make an effort to change. Sometimes we experience success, but at other times, we try and fail. If it seems like nothing changes, we get discouraged. We may equate failure with a lack of progress, when it’s often proof that we are in the middle of the process.
Spiritual growth involves the Holy Spirit, our willingness to change, and time. At certain points in our lives, we may look back and see that we have grown spiritually. May God give us the faith to continue to believe that “He who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
A memorial stone stands in the grounds of a former Japanese prison camp in China where a man died in 1945. It reads, “Eric Liddell was born in Tianjin of Scottish parents in 1902. His career reached its peak with his gold medal victory in the 400 metres event at the 1924 Olympic Games. He returned to China to work in Tianjin as a teacher. . . . His whole life was spent encouraging young people to make their best contributions to the betterment of mankind.”
In the eyes of many, Eric’s greatest achievement was on the sports field. But he is also remembered for his contribution to the youth of Tianjin in China, the country where he was born and that he loved. He lived and served by faith.
What will we be remembered for? Our academic achievements, job position, or financial success may get us recognized by others. But it is the quiet work we do in the lives of people that will live long after we are gone.
Moses is remembered in the faith chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, as someone who chose to align himself with the people of God instead of enjoying the treasures of Egypt (v. 26). He led and served God’s people by faith.
In 1986, John Piper nearly quit as minister of a large church. At that time he admitted in his journal: “I am so discouraged. I am so blank. I feel like there are opponents on every hand.” But Piper didn’t walk away, and God used him to lead a thriving ministry that would eventually reach far beyond his church.
Although success is a word easily misunderstood, we might call John Piper successful. But what if his ministry had never flourished?
God gave the prophet Jeremiah a direct call. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” God said. “Before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5). God encouraged him not to fear his enemies, “for I am with you and will rescue you” (v. 8).
Jeremiah later lamented his commission with ironic language for a man with a prenatal calling. “Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends!” (15:10).
God did protect Jeremiah, but his ministry never thrived. His people never repented. He saw them slaughtered, enslaved, and scattered. Yet despite a lifetime of discouragement and rejection, he never walked away. He knew that God didn’t call him to success but to faithfulness. He trusted the God who called him. Jeremiah’s resilient compassion shows us the heart of the Father, who yearns for everyone to turn to Him.
In his book The Hidden Brain, science writer Shankar Vedantam describes the day he went for a leisurely swim. The water was calm and clear, and he felt strong and proud for covering a long distance so easily. He decided to swim out of the bay and into open water. But when he tried to return he couldn’t make any progress. He had been deceived by the current. The ease of swimming had not been due to his strength but to the movement of the water.
In our relationship with God something similar can happen. “Going with the flow” can lead us to believe we’re stronger than we are. When life is easy, our minds tell us that it’s due to our own strength. We become proud and self-confident. But when trouble hits, we realize how little strength we have and how helpless we are.
This happened with the Israelites. God would bless them with military success, peace, and prosperity. But thinking they had achieved it on their own, they would then become proud and self-sufficient (Deut. 8:11-12). Assuming that they no longer needed God, they would go their own way until an enemy attacked and they would realize how powerless they were without God’s help.
When life is going well we too need to beware of self-deception. Pride will take us where we do not want to go. Only humility will keep us where we ought to be—grateful to God and dependent on His strength.
Often I meet with people who serve in what they think are seemingly small ways in small places. They are frequently discouraged by loneliness, feeling that their acts of service are insignificant. When I hear them speak, I think of one of the angels in C. S. Lewis’ book Out of the Silent Planet. He said: “My people have a law never to speak of sizes or numbers to you. . . . It makes you do reverence to nothings and pass by what is really great.”
Our granddaughter Julia spent the summer working in an orphanage in Busia, Uganda. On the final day of her internship, she went to the children to tell each one goodbye. One little girl named Sumaya was very sad and said to her, “Tomorrow you leave us, and next week the other aunties [interns] leave.”
Movers and shakers” are people climbing the ladder of influence and success. Luke 3 mentions seven prominent leaders who exercised control in the society of their time. Roman Emperor Tiberias Caesar held the power of life and death over people in his far-flung empire. Pontius Pilate represented Rome as governor of Judea; while Herod, Philip, and Lysanias kept people in line at the regional level. Annas and Caiaphas served as high priests, taking their religious authority seriously.
Many of us make daily decisions based on the odds. If there’s a 20 percent chance of rain, we may ignore it. If there’s a 90 percent chance, we’ll take an umbrella. The greater the odds, the more our behavior is affected because we want to choose wisely and be successful.