DEALING WITH PERSONAL FAILURE
But they have not all obeyed the Gospel. For Isaiah says, “Who has believed what they have heard from us?” Romans 10:16
It’s easy to assume that Paul writes his epistles theoretically. But I believe that in this, and in many other passages, he writes personally. Perhaps this verse reveals his greatest heartache. He has gone out, preached to the best of his ability, yet few have believed. He pulls out an Isaiah lament from the O.T. because he identifies with it. He probably finds comfort that another preacher validates what has been his own experience. “Who has believed our message?”
How much does this passage reveal about the personal responsibility Paul felt for other’s rejection of Christ? You might wonder if I’m reading too much into it. I don’t believe I am.
For any who open their mouth to share the Gospel with their heart engaged, there are minefields emotionally. Before speaking with a family member, or a class, or a congregation, you can prepare well. You can spend hours in prayer. You can ask others to pray for you. You can pray scripture over the group, asking God to make every Word effective. But then most of the time, only a few will listen. Even fewer will respond. To the one who preached, is that not internalized as personal failure? It would be the rare person who didn’t struggle with it.
For any who have a temperament where they put way too much pressure on themselves, this will be a spiritual battle. I know. It was my Achilles heel for many years until a year or so ago. If I had worked hard to prepare, if I had engaged others to fast/pray for me and for the group I was speaking to, if I had trusted God to make my teaching powerful, if I had asked God for a special anointing to teach, then I had an expectation of a certain result. When few showed visible signs of life change, I took it personally. I concluded that something had to be wrong with what I had done. I cited the examples from the New Testament when the apostles went out in the power of the Spirit and thousands believed. I failed to take into account that this was the exception. More often than not, Paul (for one) felt like no one had believed, so few were the conversions.
The Spirit of God had to work on me and take apart this destructive stronghold in my thinking. He worked with me to define ‘effective’ teaching. He reminded me that Jesus was certainly effective, yet there was one in his intimate circle who grew disillusioned with him and ended up traded him in for silver. Did that mark Jesus a ineffective mentor/teacher?
When ten hear the Gospel and one responds, it probably has little to do with effectiveness. Jesus experienced the reality of these numbers, certainly. I am called to give my all and pour my heart out for those who listen. After that, the results are up to God. “Men love darkness rather than light.” However, for those who have been predestined to find the narrow way, God will shine a light on the beauty of Jesus for them. He will open their eyes wide; they will see His glory and believe. For all who shrug their shoulders and walk away, I am not responsible.
To every other overly responsible person reading this, I say to you… “We must stop our striving and live. God bears the burden and invites us to ‘shake the dust off our feet’ on the other side of preaching.” Even with family. Bearing the burden for other’s spiritual blindness is a plot Satan has conceived and feeds. Jesus is the lifter of our heads.
Break the chains of false guilt. Set perfectionists free and use my story of failure, Lord. Amen