I’m working on my ordination and have to read an immense 600-page book on my denomination’s history for a class I’m taking this winter. I haven’t taken a class since I graduated seminary six years ago, and I’m immediately hit with the memory of all the studying and reading I have done throughout my academic career, and how much I hate it. I hate reading – there it is. I know I went to Yale and I’m not supposed to say that, but I did, and I do. I’m much more of a sit-around-the-house kind of guy.
But I enjoy what I’m reading about, which is the history of Christian pietism in Germany, which eventually found its way to Sweden, and then to the Evangelical Covenant Church, which is my denomination – very interesting, believe it or not. And what strikes me the most are the small roles that leaders and organizations play in this history – this small fellowship group making the spiritual climate just a little different, the writings of one nearly anonymous man inspiring another to fight for religious freedom, stuff like that. All of these individuals and groups played a small role in this history, the effects of which they probably never themselves saw nor understood, and their names are largely forgotten to most people now. Have any idea who Nikolaus Ludwig, Count von Zizendorf was? Probably not, but he is famous for this cool little maxim:
“Ich habe nur eine Passion, die ist Er, nur Er.” – I have only one Passion – it is He, only He.
I think it’s an encouraging reminder that God often uses us in ways that we never fully perceive nor appreciate. Although many of these faithful Believers in Sweden may not have seen the direct fruit of their labor in their lifetime, the generations that followed directly benefited from their prayers and faithfulness, bringing revival and change throughout the country. But in contrast, so often I crave immediate spiritual gratification, to see the fruits of my labor immediately, in my lifetime: I want MY church grow, people I know come to Christ IMMEDIATELY, so that I can see it for myself (…and to no small extent, take some credit for it as well).
But just because we do not see fruits in our lives, it does not mean that we are not fruitful, because someone may be affected by a small act of devotion, or a simple word of encouragement, far beyond what we were able to perceive. That act may soften one’s heart for a future work of God, like when a child takes a good Sunday school lesson and mysteriously internalize it for decades – you just never know. After all, people so rarely take the time to express their thanks to those who have made a difference in their lives. And it is God who then takes these small things and weaves them into something with purpose and beauty, something bigger than we ever could have accomplished as mere individuals.
And I think that this book I’m reading is a perfect analogy of this idea. Too often we live our lives as if our aim is to be in the newspaper, for our individual successes to be rapidly chronicled and celebrated in our lifetime, to be listed as one of the popular stories of the day, or month. But we should instead be living to be in the history books, not necessarily individually recognized, but taking part in the much larger and longer story of Redemption which God is fulfilling in our lifetime, and beyond.
Not the newspaper…the history books.