Over the past thirteen years of ministry, hundreds of people have come through our doors with different stories, different wounds, and different journeys in life. As a ministry, we look to walk alongside these people with the love of Christ and assist them in their journey toward freedom, mainly spiritual, but emotional and economical as well. We have witnessed many “successes” as some of these individuals have grabbed ahold of the love of God and it has slingshot their life in a totally new and positive direction. However, for every success story, there are many who, due to their deep woundedness, just can’t seem to take ahold of that life and freedom that God offers. They want to. They believe it. They just seem to spend a lifetime taking five steps forward and four steps back. Honestly, sometimes it is hard not to get discouraged when you invest so much time and ministry money into people, and by the worlds standards they just can’t seem to turn it around.
This past month has painted a perfect picture of these seemingly contrasting outcomes as I have wit nessed God’s grace transform the hearts of a couple who have struggled in their marriage with infidelity. Through perseverance, the power of forgiveness and gaining God’s perspective through the Word this couple has reconciled and have moved back together to continue to write a new future. Unfortunately this past month my heart broke as I learned of a young lady who the ministry had walked alongside for years, and had made strides towards a better life, had relapsed back into the drug scene and all that goes with it.
When working with people, outcomes like this cause you to think, Is one a success? Is the other a failure? Was the progress forward all for not due to the drastic fall from grace? In the end, does the ministry “work”? As I ponder these questions from time to time, I recently came across a chapter in a book by Gregory Boyle titled, “Tattoos on the Heart.” He is a Catholic Priest who founded Homeboy Industries, a ministry to gang members in Los Angeles, CA. His thoughts on success in the eyes of God and how it relates to NHLB was very encouraging and convicting. I hope it speaks to you as well. He writes:
“Twenty years of this work as taught me that God has greater comfort with inverting categories than I do. What is success and what is failure? What is good and what is bad? Setback or progress? Great stock these days, especially in nonprofits, is placed in evidence-based outcomes. People want to know if what you do “works.”Are you, in the end, successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa’s take: “We are not called to be successful, but faithful.” This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback. You need protection from the ebb and flow of three steps forward, five steps backward. You trip over disappointment and recalcitrance every day, and it all becomes a muddle. God intends it to be, I think. For once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burden than they can bear, all bets seem to be off. Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful, keeps you from truly seeing whoever’s sitting in front of you. Embracing a strategy and an approach you can believe in is sometimes the best you can do on any given day. If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God’s business.
Faithful, not successful, is what No Heart Left Behind desires to be with the people that God puts in front of us. Being faithful is by no means easier than being successful because it requires throwing away measures and categories and just remaining true to the hard work of what God has called us to. But as Boyle concludes, “On most days, if I’m true to myself, I just want to share my life with the poor, regardless of result. I want to lean into the challenge of intractable problems with as tender a heart as I can locate, knowing that there is some divine ingenuity here, “the slow work of God,” that gets done if we’re faithful.”
In His Grip,