Friday, September 17, 2010

Sacrifice Not Success

Last Monday I began taking a Revivalism college course that is being held onsite at my church. During the class, my professor showed a YouTube video called “Agony” that contained an excerpt from one of Leonard Ravenhill’s sermons entitled "The Cost of Discipleship." Ravenhill was a 19th century English Christian evangelist and author who focused on the subjects of prayer and revival. He is best known for challenging the modern church to compare itself to the early Christian Church as chronicled in the Book of Acts. His most notable book is Why Revival Tarries, which has sold more than a million copies worldwide.

At one point during his sermon, Ravenhill says Christianity is not measured in success but in sacrifice. This point really caught my attention because I believe that part of the reason the Church today is not as effective as the early Christian Church is because we are a results driven society. We are constantly bombarded in our daily lives with statistics and metrics to measure how we are performing at work, at school, at home. It is no wonder that this mindset has crept into the church.

Jesus never focused on success when it came to the ministry. If anything, He continually admonished us to go and preach the gospel and let the Father worry about the increase (I Corinthians 1:6-7). He told us to love others, even our enemies, but perhaps due to our human nature and pride, we just can’t leave it at that, can we? We need something to achieve. We need a barometer to justify and validate our efforts.

One of the most quoted verses from the Old Testament is Isaiah 55:11, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” I think when most people read this verse and see the word “prosper” they assume it means a person is saved as a result of hearing the Word of God. But the Word of God also prospers unto judgment too. I think of Noah and all that time he spent building the ark and warning his contemporaries of God’s pending judgment and no one got into the ark except for Noah and his family – eight souls total. Most would view that “result” and conclude that Noah failed in his mission because so few were saved; but in God’s view, Noah was a complete success because the Word of God he spoke and lived as he tirelessly built that ark was unto judgment.

My life and your life if you are a Christian, will not only be examples unto salvation but also unto judgment as God will use our words and lives to exact His justice upon those who have refused His salvation. This is why his Word is always prospering when it goes out because its purpose is two-fold – to save and to judge.

The key I believe for those of us walking with the Lord is to understand God’s gauge for success and it has nothing to do with pie charts, bar graphs, or flow charts. God’s measurement for success is simple – how much do you love Me? When Peter first saw Jesus after He resurrected in the Gospel of John, He asked Peter three times if he loved Him, and three times Peter said yes, and three times Jesus told him to “feed His sheep.” Jesus is always measuring our heart never our actions or results. He looks upon the heart to see the love for Him and how it is manifested toward others. And to be honest, when the love of Jesus has captured your heart, all else fades away, doesn’t it? When we are truly ministering to the Lord than the response of others no longer matters as our “success” is found in Him alone.

“Five minutes inside of eternity I believe everyone one of us will have wished we had sacrificed more, prayed more, loved more, sweated more, grieved more, wept more.” – Leonard Ravenhill

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