Ministry—along with life in general—can break your heart. The soft-focus promos for small group curricula don’t typically emphasis this, but some of the people we try to love and lead will reject the gospel. I’ve always known this, but lately I’ve felt the weight of it.
I’ve grieved with parents of prodigals and friends who have had their dreams crushed. I’ve watched helplessly as people made choices that left a trail of devastation in their wake. I’ve seen people push away every offer of help and hope to continue on a needless path of self-destruction. He told us the road was narrow, but I wasn’t prepared for how heart wrenching it would be to watch people I love choose the wide path.
One of my favorite testimonies in the Bible is that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When threatened with death in a fiery furnace for not bowing to an idol, they chose to stand firm:
Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17–18)Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren't taking a stand because they were certain of a good outcome. In fact, they didn't know until after the furnace doors were opened how it was going to turn out.
Some translations render "but if not" as "but even if he doesn't." I seem to be in a season of "even if he doesn’t." I am not peering into the mouth of the fiery furnace, but I am begging God to do a bunch of things only he can do. These relationships might never be fixed. And even if they aren't, he is still good. Even as the voices asking, “Did God really say?” get louder, his Word is still true.
We can only plant and water, God makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). And this reminder of my human inadequacy actually gives me more hope.
Because the heartbreak is only half the story. I’ve also seen restoration where it seemed there was no hope at all. I’ve seen the person who once had no use for the gospel embrace the truth with passion. I’ve seen marriages restored and families reunited. I’ve been reminded again and again that God is often doing his biggest works when things look bleakest.
I know that God could fix these things in a heartbeat. The test comes when he tarries. He really does have the words of eternal life (John 6:68), but he must give us eyes to see. The waiting just reminds us who is responsible for the victories.