by John Maust
In Christian work, we talk a lot about forward movement: advancing the gospel, extending the Kingdom, spreading the good news, writing or publishing more books. We also look at numbers….of new churches, new converts, small groups, attenders at services, baptisms, social media followers, books sold, and the like.
Results in ministry are a wonderful gift from God. But the reality is that many times we do not see visible progress and the numbers just aren’t there.
So, what happens when all our efforts to serve God in ministry, or in any difficult life or work situation, don’t seem to be getting anywhere? What happens when opposition and obstacles threaten to knock us down and squelch even our best efforts in ministry? Is something wrong with us? Is God not hearing our prayers? What should we do?
Scripture simply says this: stand firm. When waves of discouragement roll in, stand firm. If the lack of success causes you to question your call or even give up, stand firm.
Sometimes, the greatest victory is simply hanging in there by faith—quietly and humbly maintaining a presence for the gospel even when there are no visible outcomes, maybe not moving forward for the moment, but not going backwards either.
Example of Julia Woodward
In this regard, I am inspired by the example of pioneering missionary Julia Anderson Woodward. In 1902, Julia and another young female missionary, Ella Ozman, were sent to work among the Quichuas, descendants of the Incas, in Ecuador’s Chimborazo Province. They learned the language mostly from children tending the family goats and sheep on the slopes of the Andes.
It was tough going in the high altitude, the cold, the loneliness, the isolation, and the frequent opposition. But the women saw signs of hope, and Julia even began translating portions of Scripture into the language.
Then, in only their second year among the Quichuas, Ella died suddenly from pneumonia. A year later, Julia caught smallpox, surviving with her face noticeably scarred. 1n 1915, she married fellow missionary William Woodward, only to lose a son in childbirth and then her husband from a heart attack 12 years later.
Julia weathered health issues and threats and opposition from religious fanatics in the ensuing years. But as she continued working among the Quichuas, with other missionaries joining her, perhaps the hardest thing was the Quichuas’ unresponsiveness to the gospel.
“How can you carry on out there without anyone accepting the Lord?” someone once asked her. “The greater the darkness, the more need there is of light,” she said. Other times, she would quote, “He hath not taught us to trust in His name, and thus far brought us, to bring us to shame.”
At age 71, Julia completed her New Testament translation, a bilingual Quichua/Spanish version, a major accomplishment. But when she retired from missionary service in 1953 after more than 50 years, she said, “I can count on one hand the number of Quichuas I am sure to see in heaven.”
Some might consider Julia’s half century of ministry a failure. But the story does not end there.
Her mission, Gospel Missionary Union, considered leaving the Quichua work due to lack of response and focus instead on the cities. But out of respect for the spiritual investment in the Quichuas made by Julia and others over the decades, the work continued.
Then, in the 1960s, a Holy Spirit-inspired people movement took place. Quichuas began turning to faith in Christ in large numbers. By 1991, some 335 Quichua churches and congregations dotted the Andes in Ecuador’s Chimborazo Province, having a constituency of more than 100,000.
Julia was already in heaven when the breakthrough came. But one wonders: Would it even have happened had she not stood firm and maintained a presence for the Gospel during all those years of seemingly fruitless labor?
Labor not in vain
Maybe you’ve been sharing your faith with a neighbor, teaching a Sunday school class, praying for the conversion or life change of a family member, struggling to finish a publishing project, or engaged in some ministry to which you feel called but are not seeing any progress.
If so, remember to put down even deeper roots in the Word and strengthen your relationship with the Lord (which is more important than any “results”). May your life be like a house built upon a rock, standing strong against the waves of doubt or discouragement.
“Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand,” Paul wrote to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:13-14).
Sometimes, God will give us the joy and privilege of seeing how he has used us, other times not. But what an encouragement to know that, no matter what, our labor is not in vain.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
John Maust is President of Media Associates International.