I was reminded this morning of some quotes that have meant a lot to me in the past, and now they speak well to my current thoughts and concerns. 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.
As Yoder points out, the clearest example of this is Jesus' choice of turning toward Jerusalem and the cross. Toward the impossible, toward a challenge he had no chance of conquering. And yet.
I think this only makes sense in light of God's true purpose. Which is to draw us to himself. Ministries that "succeed" or produce admirable results through the hard work and organization and gathered resources of human beings may indeed offer many worthy benefits, but instead of drawing us into deeper relationship and dependence on God they stir our admiration and dependence on human capabilities. When, however, like Jesus on the cross, our human weakness and failure is made clear, and yet.... When it is made clear that, in our helplessness, deliverance comes from God, then we are drawn to cling to him (to be held by him) more closely.
It has been harder for me to remember that when I have more resources and possibilities available to me. Apparently I start to think that somehow the situation has changed. That I should be able to be effective now, or make good things happen now, since I have more that can work for me. But nothing has changed. To think that such meager resources should make any significant difference is ridiculous. It is only God's power that makes any difference, and next to that any power that we might gather adds nothing.
God's triumph, and the enduring presence of his kingdom, is assured. But not because of my obedience or my resources. I must be obedient not because the outcome stands in the balance, but because obedience is just another aspect of clinging to God.