"This is our efficacy."

I had a good visit this weekend with Heather's aunt and uncle, and we talked a lot about my thoughts and what I have been doing. Good conversations, I thought. I appreciated their interest and their patient listening (when most others get pretty quickly agitated and argumentative).

They are about to go to Africa to work against the AIDS epidemic there (in both a medical and missionary capacity). And they are quite excited by the effectiveness of the program they're offering. Heather's uncle also seemed to emphasize to us that we should strive to be productive or fruitful for God. But I'm wary of that. I don't think striving to be productive leads us closer to Jesus, but rather draws us towards increasing our own economic and political power (so we can accomplish more). In the same conversation, I was also asked how I planned to get funding for my future work with the poor...

It reminds me of these quotes I put in my journal two years ago. The first is from a letter by Thomas Merton (written in 1966, three years before his death):

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
The second is from John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus:
The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and the other kinds of power in every human conflict; the triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys.

The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.
And, last, from Jacques Ellul's The Politics of God and the Politics of Man (the most radical and best statement on this point, in my opinion):
The action we attempt will always be regarded by the world as a failure, and the more so the more it is authentically faithful. We cannot be successful or show the church to be effective in the world unless we adopt the world's criterion of efficacy, which means adopting its means as well.

As the world sees it, action which is faithful to God will always fail, just as Jesus Christ necessarily went to the cross. Such action always leads to a dead end. It is always a fiasco from the standpoint of worldly power. But this should not worry us. It does not mean that our action is in truth ineffectual. Efficacy measured in terms of faithfulness cannot be compared at any point with efficacy measured in terms of success.

...Each time the people of God becomes effective according to the world's criteria, this only implies that society has absorbed our action and is using it for its own ends and for its own profit. ...The efficacy we think we have is simply a power in the world's service, for the perfecting of its own being, for its better organization....

...We have simply to be, and we can only be a question put within the world, a question invincibly confronting it. This is our efficacy. It is the efficacy of the question, a question which society and sociological movements cannot assimilate. Israel and the church have never been efficacious except to the degree that the world has been unable to assimilate them. This is the vocation of the people of God incomparably more authentic than "service" or "works."

It is not at the level of works and their results that this efficacy may be seen; it is at the level of inassimilability.