By Don Enevoldsen
A couple recently shared with me some of their insights from a lifetime of ministry. The part that dramatically caught my attention and prompted thoughts about the grace of God and the course of my own life and ministry was when the wife recounted a recent conversation with God. God told her that she had put idols between herself and him.
She had faithfully served in ministry for many decades, and could not think of anything she had ever allowed to distract her from her service of him. Baffled, she asked God for clarification.
He responded that the success of her ministry was an idol.
As I listened, I thought, but did not say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”
It’s one of my favorite responses when someone shares a personal failure or flaw with me. With this phrase I can strike a note of humility—“I’m sure I would be just as weak as you, given the circumstances.” At the same time, I can balance my humility with a reinforcement of my spiritual superiority—“I haven’t actually been weak like you.” Subtle arrogance is remarkably effective when you learn to express it just right.
What this woman shared, however, struck me a little too close to home. I knew immediately that I could only use part of my favorite phrase: “There go I.”
It’s always disconcerting to analyze what constitutes success in the minds of we preachers. Our conversations revolve around numbers of people to whom we have ministered, as though we run some kind of spiritual McDonald’s. “Come to the heavenly arches—10,000 served this week.” I’ve often made the statement that numbers do not define success in God’s eyes. But I still find myself counting up how many people I’ve touched in some way.
It’s sobering to realize that by that criteria, the prophet Jeremiah was an abject failure. So was Ezekiel. Nobody listened to either one of them. At least not during their lifetimes.
The truth is that God defines success by faithfulness to him and not by anything else. By the grace of God, I do get to see some of the success stories in which I’ve been involved, and that is immensely satisfying and encouraging. But it has nothing to do with defining my faithfulness. A key to success is to stop worrying about, “There go I,” and focus on, “Here am I.”