Faith and Success

One of our family traditions this time of year is to watch all three Lord of the Rings movies, the extended editions.  In total it is about a 12 hour commitment.  I have yet to get tired of the story.  One of my favorite moments occurs near the end of the third movie.  A great battle has just been won, but the enemy is gathering an even larger army.  This time defeat seems certain.  As the main characters are discussing what to do next, Gimli the dwarf says, “Certainty of death, small chance of success, what are we waiting for?”  For me this sentence sums up the entire trilogy.  Success was never a given. Lately I have been reflecting on “the Call.”  What are the implications when God calls us?  When I look to Scripture it seems that the call always has a certain dangerous quality to it.  In Exodus 3, there is the story of the burning bush, when Moses is called to confront Pharaoh.  Moses does his best to get out of the call.  He is very aware that God is calling him to do something that will most likely end in his death.  Or think of Jonah, he jumps a ship going in the opposite direction.  Going to Nineveh more than likely meant his death.  His running from God was based in reality.  And then there is the story of Mary, more than likely a teen girl, being told she was going to be the mother of the Messiah.  According to Luke 1 this conversation took place between Mary and the Angel with no witnesses.  Who is going to believe the story?  According to the laws of the day an unmarried girl getting pregnant could only have a bad ending.

The call of God and security do not seem to be connected.  If we can learn anything from Scripture and the call it is that Gods calls us into uncertainty and even danger.  We have the privilege of knowing how the stories of Moses, Jonah, and Mary end, but they didn’t have that privilege.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  A Savoir to came to earth as a human, grew up, had three years of amazing ministry, was nailed to the cross, rose again, ascended into heaven, and now calls us to be his hand and feet.  This call to be Christ’s ambassador is not safe. Gimli got it right- certainty of death, small chance of success, what are we waiting for?


This year, a colleague and I have been asked to lead an urban ministry study project for Mennonite Church USA. So far we have visited folks in Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles. It has been a privilege to listen to these leaders share about the joys and frustrations of urban ministry.

Last week I was at another one of these gatherings. As we were going around the circle sharing, one of the African pastors made the following statement, “We jump into mission! You North Americans need to process everything before you decide to jump”

It took a minute for me to comprehend what he was saying.

We do like to process. I have always thought of processing as a way to include everyone in the conversation. I still believe this to be true.

As I have reflected on this statement, it is also true that we sometimes use process as a stall tactic. If we talk about it, then we don’t actually have to do anything. When we don’t do anything, then we cannot be blamed for making a bad decision.

Our politicians are famous for doing this. Should this be something that the church is known for as well?

Sometimes it is more important to jump in and start working than to hold a committee meeting to decide if we should vote on whether or not to take action.

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything. In that same spirit I would like to suggest that there is a time to process and a time to jump in.