I have nothing to prove

Sometimes I think I must be a fool.

Of course, I know that much of my cherished wisdom is foolishness to God. And sometimes it’s foolish even in my own eyes. But what makes me feel quite foolish sometimes are the opportunities I’ve let go of.

If you’ve given your life to missions and ministry, maybe you can relate.

After college and graduate school, awards and accolades, degrees and dreams, we went into ministry. At first it didn’t feel like much of a sacrifice; our friends in other fields of work were also just starting out, taking risks, living like paupers. But after a decade or two, the difference between us is stark. They’re rich. They occupy positions of economic and social power. They have long lists of achievements attached to their names. And those are great opportunities to serve God.

What have we done? Survived, even thrived, in a foreign country or among a new people? Learned a new language? Preached and taught falteringly in that new language? Made fruitful friendships? Learned how to live very simply? Rejoiced and wept with people? Opened our home and practiced hospitality? Launched a church? Started a business or organization? Made disciples who make disciples?

What are those things worth? Are they enough?

At first, there’s the “cool” factor of missions: it’s “radical” to live in another country. But after a while the luster wears off, and we’re just people who have given up our own ambitions to serve Someone Else’s. It’s simply not logical in the eyes of the world.

Sometimes a sneaky feeling darts into my heart and makes me want to prove that even though I’ve chosen ministry, it doesn’t mean I couldn’t do those other impressive things. I decide to show that I can succeed with the best of them, and I labor over a project for entirely the wrong reasons: to prove that even by the world’s standards, I’m worth something! If I’m honest, part of me still hungers for that approval.

But ministry does not consistently give us that approval. Even if you started a business for missions that’s thriving, achieving all the goals you set, and becoming a fixture in the community, it’s not the same. It’s not the same glory as building a successful business in the developed world that brings millions of dollars along with social and civil positions.

If we feed our self-worth with accomplishments, missions won’t give us enough. In fact, nothing will.

If I take on the perspective of eternity, I know that being approved by the world is a poor, stingy substitute for God’s pleasure. I know what I must do: set my eyes and my joy on Christ, fulfill my calling with excellence, and be glad in what my brothers and sisters are doing. It is literally true that being faithful to God is genuine success.

And in my imperfect way, I can live this out. My husband and I, we make decisions based on eternity. But in some of my bad moments, fears and insecurities creep in, tempting me back toward that merciless treadmill to prove that I’m enough.

But I don’t have to prove a thing. I know for whom I live: He died a supposed failure, yet He lives again and rules the universe. I will neither die His death nor live His glory. And yet, in a way befitting the creature rather than the Creator, I will. I die to sin and self. I will rise again to an imperishable body and the glory of the adopted children of God.

He has proven all that needs to be proven.

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Kathleen Shumate

Kathleen has been married to Jonathan for 15 years and is a homeschooling mother of seven. She has a master’s degree in counseling and has served in missions and ministry for the past 18 years. She graduated from Rice University and Covenant Theological Seminary. She has spoken and written about abuse for churches and Christian groups. She co-founded global marriage and family ministry CrossLife (crosslife.org) with her husband, who is an ordained teaching elder.

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