Personally, I’m coming out of a season of frustration where I struggled over a lack of “productivity.” It seemed everything I was working on was on hold, waiting for input from others or cancelled altogether as a result of COVID. My frustration had spilled over into a bad attitude that my wife saw long before I did. I’d become critical and cynical. I could feel myself drawing away from people. My temper became shorter. I heard the constant hiss of “failure” in my ears, and saw it’s reflection in the mirror.
We’re Not Alone
In the midst of it all God reminded me of the story of John the Baptist, one of the more curious faith journeys in the Bible. JtB lived in the desert, ate locusts and honey, got major push-back from the spiritual power brokers, set the stage for the Messiah then stepped out of the limelight as most of his disciples and notoriety went to Jesus.
Faithfully pointing people to Jesus and standing up for what was right eventually landed John in prison. At one point, he questioned the validity of the very Messiah he’d promoted—which had to cast doubts on his own ministry. To top it all off, he was executed out of spite, when Herod couldn’t control himself when his mistress’ daughter performed an erotic dance for him and his friends. He ended up beheading John just to save face.
“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (Matthew 11.2)
We can only wonder what must have been going through John’s mind as his head lay on the chopping block. What voice of failure do you think hissed in his ears? Your faith has led to THIS? Some ministry! Did your life make any difference at all?
The Real(?) World
Our culture is wired for production. I like being productive as much as the next person, but It’s easy to let achievement and approval of others define our self-worth, our value and even our identity.
This presents a challenge when it comes to faith in Jesus, since keeping his commands often can’t be tracked in terms of fans or social media followers. Loving others as he loved us is often sacrificial and behind the scenes. The right thing to do many times is the unpopular choice. Forgiving those who’ve offended you or giving to the needy is rarely comfortable.
The Non Sense
Being a disciple of Jesus and making disciples isn’t a numbers game. Challenging people to surrender their lives and to be willing to die for Christ won’t grow a big church very quickly. But it will help to identify those who are most committed to keeping Jesus’ example and commands.
“keeping Jesus’ commands often can’t be tracked in terms of fans or social media followers.”
Trusting God and following his leading often doesn’t make worldly sense, and frequently looks risky and even foolish—which is why it’s called faith. And it lives not for this world’s rewards, but for the next one’s.
The Ultimate Measure
In terms of how the world measures value, John and his ministry were unremarkable and irrelevant. Yet Jesus said no one born of a woman was greater than him. Pretty high praise.
“Faith lives not for this world’s rewards, but for the next one’s.”
JtB’s ministry set the stage for Jesus’ arrival and was the basis for people understanding faith in him. John baptized the Messiah. His message of repentance drew a line in the sand that—even today—calls us to make a volitional choice: If you want to stand in the light of a new life, you have to step out of your old one; you can’t straddle the line with a foot in each.
“A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John…” (Luke 7.26-28)
Not only was John completely obedient to the calling on his life, his ministry is timelessly relevant. He uncommonly lived out common faith—which is exactly what God is asking of all his followers—and it changed the world.