By Mary DeMuth
When we came home from France after being church planters there for two and a half years, I received an email from a friend asking me if we’d missed God by going there in the first place. After all, we came home early, so maybe our going had been a failure on our part to hear God’s voice in the first place. That would neatly explain why things didn’t quite work out as we had planned.
I prayed, then spent a lot of time answering my friend. The gist of my communication was this: It’s an American idea that if God calls us to a task, and He is truly in it, then success always follows.
I hate to say this, but it’s not always true. In fact, it’s often seldom true. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time-death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.” (The Cost of Discipleship, 99)
Following Jesus wherever He leads means walking down frightening paths. It means risk-of reputation, of meeting society’s neatly packaged goals, of your own concept of victory. It means thinking beyond your personal kingdom to the kingdom of God.
We are far too short sighted if we feel that following Jesus is the pathway to worldly (or even churchly) success. He is the pathway to new life, yes. But new life springs from death.
When we returned from France, defeated and bone tired, the one thing someone said to us that encouraged us was this: “Nothing significant in the kingdom happens unless death occurs,” one of my husband’s seminary professors told us.
We rested there, hoping and believing that our toil in a foreign land, though not magnanimous or something tangible to point to, meant something in the silent, growing, unseen kingdom. Nearly four years in the aftermath of coming home, we’re beginning to see it.
We’re deeper. We have more empathy. We understand many who go through ministry hell. We can walk alongside those who feel bewildered by their calling. We understand slander, misunderstanding, shattered dreams. We are weaker, but in that token, we are stronger because Christ’s strength is ONLY seen in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).
We may walk with a limp, having not “conquered France for Jesus.” But we were faithful there, doing the next thing, then the next thing, then the next thing. We persevered through mounting trials. (After one year on the field, we were both diagnosed with PTSD. Yep, a lot of stress.) We kept the faith. Our children are in love with Jesus.
Did we miss God by going to France, then coming home early? No. We learned valuable lessons about sacrifice, death, and the beauty of trusting even when the outcome is dark. As my husband said recently to some other former missionaries, “I firmly believe God brought us to France. And I firmly believe he brought us back to the States.”
May it be that we believe God is big enough to bring us through perceived ministry failure for the sake of His name, His glory, His plan. May we be humble enough to be small for the kingdom’s sake so His story resounds. And when God calls us again to do a difficult task, without promise of tangible, spectacular results, may we plow forward in dogged, joyful obedience.
Mary is an, author, speaker and mentor. You can find daily updates from her at www.marydemuth.com.