When it comes to religion, I’ve pretty much seen it all.
No brag, just fact, as Walter Brennan used to say in an old TV series.
I grew up as the son of a minister. For 30 years, I’ve been practicing Christianity myself. I’ve been a pastor 26 of those years. For about seven years, I was the full-time religion writer for a large secular newspaper, a job in which I interviewed and worshiped among people of all imaginable–and a few unimaginable–belief systems.
Here’s what I’ve concluded: In the Christian walk, faithfulness is everything.
I’ve seen ministers rocket to prominence–then crash in smoldering heaps and deny the Lord altogether. I’ve seen churches multiply in membership–only to split into warring factions. I’ve seen terminally ill people miraculously healed–only to become profiteers and, in one instance, end up in federal prison for ripping off other believers.
I’ve seen more commonplace Christians worn down by the countless, ongoing, daily irritations of life: personality conflicts, marital strife, financial reversals, freeway traffic, the aches and pains of aging. Many start out strong, then disappear.
What I’ve always tried to keep foremost in my own mind is this saying by Jesus in Matthew 24:13: “The one who endures to the end, it is he who shall be saved.”
At the moment, the mid-week adult Bible study at my church is working its way through Revelation. This past Wednesday, we studied chapters two and three: Jesus’ messages to the churches of Asia. I was struck that in at least five of those seven messages, he specifically praises the churches for their perseverance or exhorts them toward it. Faithfulness in difficult circumstances clearly is a huge deal to Jesus.
I learned a long time ago I don’t possess whatever talents it takes to become successful as a minister or a writer. I’ve been a pastor for more than a quarter century, and on a good Sunday my church draws 70 people. I’ve published several books, and none of them sold more than a few thousands copies; all are out of print now. Clearly, I’m not the most compelling speaker, the most eloquent author.
But I’ve also concluded that, in the scope of eternity, those kinds of successes ultimately don’t matter. What you and I alike are called to do is be faithful to the tasks the Lord has given us, whether those tasks are great or small, whether we succeed or fail.
Faithfulness isn’t exciting. It consists of getting up each weekday, lacing up our shoes and going to work. Similarly, we crawl out of bed on Sundays and go plant the seat of our pants in a pew, even when we feel as if God’s left on an extended vacation and provided no forwarding address. We just do it because we’re supposed to.
That’s faithfulness. We stay with our wife not because we always like her, but because we vowed before God that we would. We provide for our children, not because it’s always convenient, but because it’s our duty. We stay with our church, not because we agree with the elders or the most recent sermon, but because that’s where God put us.
To be faithful, we don’t have to be pretty, smart or gifted. We only have to be . . . faithful. But, as Jesus said time and again, faithfulness will see us through to the end.