I cringed writing the title for this post.
I am a results person. In fact, most of my life up to now has been balanced on what I can only call the process-results equation: if I work hard at the process (any process!), I will receive positive results. And it’s not just me. I’d say that most of us have been hardwired to think that way; our secular culture is results- and production-driven. The outcome we accomplish is considered a direct reflection on how good or bad our effort is.
We expect good jobs and degrees to result from our hard work in school. We expect raises and better opportunities to result from our hard work at our jobs. We expect to lose x pounds on y diet and we expect friendship after we invest a certain amount of time in a person. The thinking goes that if only we put in the right amount of effort, time, and energy, something great will happen.
Friends, that is not always true.
I’ve seen students of mine work desperately on improving their writing, only to come short of the grade they were trying to get. I’ve seen churches with prayerful, committed congregations nevertheless struggle with stunted growth and faltering ministries. I’ve seen parents put their all into raising a child, only to find themselves bewildered by the adult who emerged.
We should always, of course, strive for the best results we can receive. The Bible praises the value of hard work and effort and promises blessing in return. But sometimes? Sometimes you give your all and the results are ppppbbbbblllllttt. Nothing great. Nothing special. Sometimes actively awful.
That doesn’t always mean you’re doing it wrong.
I am uncomfortable with metrics in the Christian world, with the idea that we can always judge a thing by the results thereof. A church with a small membership isn’t necessarily a failure just because it has a small membership. A ministry that only reaches four people isn’t a failure because it doesn’t reach twenty. An inspirational book isn’t a failure because it never reaches the bestseller list. A mother isn’t a failure because her son goes to prison.
I think we’ve internalized this idea that God only speaks through positive/ever-improving results. If your book’s not selling that means God didn’t want you to write it. If your church isn’t gaining members God is mad at it. If your ministry isn’t growing by the day He doesn’t need it.
But that’s not true.
God values process. God takes us through processes not so that we can get results but so that we can grow closer to Him. So what if your ministry only reaches four people? If it reaching them and if it is bringing you closer to God, awesome. So what if your church isn’t growing? If it’s a dedicated body of believers serving each other and the community, great. So what if your kid isn’t the Christlike overachiever you envisioned? If God is teaching you a new understanding of mercy and grace through it, that’s what matters.
Try to divorce your idea of godly success or failure from metrics and measurements and results. Sure, sometimes God speaks through them. Sometimes He doesn’t. But if we depend on them alone to guide us, we will falter. We will lose the value of patience and process over the desire for quick satisfaction, for the “right” numbers, for the desired outcome.
And in doing that, we might lose something precious.