I don't know about you, but aren't there times in your life (my life) when we are just so caught up in the mundane that we lose sight of the bigger picture? When the dishes stack up in the sink you just emptied and the mail comes again to sit in the same spot you just cleared off...on those days in particular, doesn't it just seem like you cannot win?? Like no matter how many times you pick those toys up or clean that room, it's only a matter of minutes before it's a disaster again and was your faithful work really worth the effort?
There have been seasons of ministry that have taught us (me) some very valuable lessons in some very dry and seemingly fruitless days. Days when the critics are many and the complaints numerous. Days when you show up, you excute a plan you prayed and labored over and as you watch the madness unfold around you, you have to wonder if anyone heard a single word of the message that the Lord so clearly asked you to bring? We've been there. Travis especially has shouldered days like that, seasons that we begged the Lord to end. When you work with people for a living and when those people are under the age of 18, there are many times when you question what you do. Because let's be honest, there aren't too many teenagers (although there are some) who are jumping at the chance to thank you for the hours you spent in prayer and in the Word or who are dying to tell you how much the Lord has been working in their lives and using you to show them some things they needed to hear. And consequently, there also aren't too many parents who are willing to put aside the preferences of their own kids to thank you for staying true to how the Lord is asking you to lead, not how they wish their son/daughter's needs were being met.
If we were fueled simply by compliments and affirmation of men, we'd never show up for another Sunday.
But as we've learned over the years, we aren't. And quite simply, those two things have nothing to do with why you do or do not serve.
You serve because the Lord is worthy of it. He deserves our best effort, our faithfulness in the Word, our conviction to pray and not just because we want Him to bless our efforts so we can achieve "success" but because He died to give us (me) a new life, to provide us (me) with hope that is rooted in Him and to secure a future that is kept by Him, for us (me). Because of Him, we are compelled to serve. As He laid down His life for us, we can lay down our lives for others too. Not because we're selfless or love to take a beating or have no self-esteem, but because He enables us to take the gifts and blessings He's given us and He asks us to give them back to others. To Him. To each other. To our kids. To our families, to our friends, and to students. He loved, so we love. He gave, so we give. He died to self, so we do too. All of it, humbly. To the best of our ability. With frail, flawed human hearts. With or without thanks. (1 John 3:16)
I share all of this because I think parenting is a lot like this. Maybe even mothering in particular. If we do it soley to hear a "thanks Mom" or to see our kids immediately and without fail heed our every instruction, we'd burn out in about 30 minutes. The fact is, it just may take years and years of faithfully serving and loving our kids before we see the real fruit of what we do. I might change a thousand diapers, wipe sticky messes clean for years to come, repeat myself a million times and not ever feel like I'm making much of a difference. Because the kids still fight, no one picks up their clothes and our natural reaction is always going to be to yell "Mine!" when we are threatened.
But that's not why we do it. It's not why we take a deep breath, patiently explain the same thing 20 more times, or commit ourselves to praying for our child's future spouse when that seems like a lightyear away. We do it because He's worthy of it. The Lord, not our kids. We don't serve them because they've "earned it", they'll never earn it. Just like He doesn't serve us because we've earned it. We never will. He CHOSE to love and serve us, WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, not after we got all cleaned up and acceptable in His sight (Romans 5:8). He CHOSE to give up His very life before He saw any fruit in us, knowing that it was His will and part of His rescue plan for His people. And even more amazing, knowing that even in our rescued state, even as His adopted children, we'd still fail Him. We'd still sin, we'd still try to hide from Him or eat of that forbidden fruit...not from all that He provided for us but from the one thing He tried to keep us safe from. And yet, knowing all of that, He still CHOSE to love us first. (1 John 4:19)
So what does that mean for me? It means that no matter if my kids obey or don't, I have a choice to serve and love them every day. To be faithful to them, to keep doing the things I know I'm called to, regardless of the fruit it produces. Chances are, the fruit that is rotten now will one day become sweet. The little decisions that seem just that, little, will lead to bigger decisions down the road that will pay off. So if I CHOOSE to stay faithful in God's Word everyday now, it will pay off immensely in the present and in the future. If I CHOOSE to help them understand their need for boundaries now, it will pay off in the future. It may seem like it's falling on deaf ears now, but it's not. They just need time and lots of repetition for it to sink in...but they deserve the same patience and consistency and grace from their Mom, that she receives daily from Her Savior.
One of the sweetest blessings in student ministry is to taste the fruit of faithfulness, years later. It has amazed us to hear from students at 18, 19, or 20 that we (all too often) wrote off as troublemakers or disinterested or indifferent as junior highers. To receive an email or a phone call from a kid who tells us that something he/she remembers from junior high, or that they learned on a retreat, has impacted them or changed their lives all these years later is one of the highest honors of ministry. Not because it's a pat on our backs but because it's proof that when we were sure they weren't getting it or didn't like us or hated being there, God was still working. In ways we didn't know, in spite of us and maybe just through us. It never feels like "Finally, a thank you!" opportunity but instead a divine privilege to say "Thank you Lord for reminding us that YOU are the one who does the work and YOU are the one who calls us to stay faithful. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into YOUR plan and reminding us that our ways are not always your ways."
As I've remembered some of those students lately, their stories reminded me to stay faithful and look forward to the day when I have those same moments with my own kids. When I can see good things in them that we've been working on, affirm them and then tell the Lord, "Thank you!! Thank you for showing me this fruit NOW and for helping me stay faithful then, when I couldn't see it and I was sure they weren't getting it." Because raising kids is hard. Staying the course is exhausting and as the Bible tells us, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12) There is reason it's literally sickening when you don't see the fruit. BUT, when you see it and when you can finally taste it, it's like a divine feast from a life-giving tree.
For you, this post might not be about mothering. Maybe for you, it's about a marriage that you are fighting for, or a job that you know you've been called to, or a ministry that you serve in. Maybe the days are long and the critics are many and you are heart sick because you don't see any hope, or any future. It's my prayer for you and for me to remember that in those dry seasons the Lord is still working. If you are His child, He may be quietly establishing your steps or moving mountains behind the scenes or teaching you to be faithful in the wait. You may never know the "why" of this season, but you can rest in the designer of this season. Whatever your circumstance, don't wait for the fruit to stay faithful. Someday you'll see the fruit, on this side of Heaven or the other. It will come. But in the mean time, keep getting out of bed and doing what you know is right. Stay faithful in the Word and rest in the knowledge that He chose YOU first. He loved YOU first. He is fighting for YOU. And He will stay faithful to YOU, regardless of whether you stay faithful to Him. But oh that we WOULD stay faithful to Him!! Our obedience is always His choice for our good and His glory...
Some truth to chew on today...
"But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
"...Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love."
"By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
1 John 3:16
"The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still."
"Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness."
"We love Him because He first loved us."
1 John 4:19