How do you know when the work is done? How do you measure success? How do you trust that God is the one who is really doing what needs to be done and that you’re merely an instrument through which his work is carried out?
In Mark 1:29-39, we see Jesus modeling balance in ministry in a pronounced way. First, he comes to his friends’ house—the home of Simon and Andrew—and he heals Simon’s mother-in-law. By itself, the healing is a nice gesture—a sign that Jesus’ healing miracles are not only reserved for the anonymous crowds but also touch the lives of those closest to him. Then, Mark tucks in the not-so-little detail about the healed woman getting up to serve the guests. Yada, yada—that was expected back then. Yada, yada—she was simply doing what she wanted to do. Cultural differences aside, it’s still pretty subjugating. But, when I read the rest of the passage, when I realize that the story centers on how we are supposed to do God’s work, her service seems less a chauvinistic hangover and more a sign of productivity.
After the description of the mother-in-law’s hospitality, Mark writes about the crowds who literally meet Jesus on the doorstep. He can’t even get outside because of the mob of needy people who have flocked to him. And then, after a long day’s work, he sneaks off to be alone. He rests. He retreats. He turns his back on the countless people who need him and goes off by himself to pray. And, when the disciples finally come and find him, he says, “Time to head off and take our message to new people.” Work unfinished? Leaving anyway.
When we’re doing kingdom work, how do we measure success? When every soul is saved? When every broken heart is healed? When every person who comes to the door asking for assistance has what he or she needs? That might be how we measure our accomplishments, but that’s not how God sees our work. We are called to do our part. Like Simon’s mother-in-law, we are called to do what we can—even if it’s small. Like Jesus, we are called to give what we have until we are exhausted and then ask, “What’s next?” Jesus doesn’t dwell on the unhealed multitudes. He doesn’t wake up and say to himself, “If I had only worked a little bit longer.” Instead, he says, “Ok, God, what’s next?”
God’s work is what’s being done. God doesn’t measure that work in human terms. God’s work is as much about what’s happening within the caregiver as what is being offered to those in need. Those of us who make a living in ministry and those of us who volunteer to do God’s work—none of us is called to solve the world’s problems. In fact, we’re not even called to fix the problems of a single person. That’s God’s work. We’re just supposed to make ourselves available and let God use us how he will. Our success, therefore, isn’t measured in the lives we touch or the problems we fix. It’s simply measured by our willingness to say yes.