Month 10:4, Week 1:3 (Shleshi/Bikkurim), Year 5935:262 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Wednesday 28 December 2011
Patriarch Noah & Christopher Hitchens
Continued in Part 2
Only the other day a brother in another ministry poured out his heart to his people expressing his frustration and sense of failure because, notwithstanding the passion and dedication of his witness, he could, in his estimation, find few fruits for his labours. Conversions were a trickle.
"By emunah (faith) Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to emunah (faith)" (Heb.11:7, NKJV).
I know exactly how he feels. However, he is by no means alone. What were the fruits of Noah's lifetime of preaching, a man approved by Yahweh? A wife, three sons and their spouses. What were the fruits of Jeremiah's preaching? Probably even fewer souls, maybe a few more - we're not told. He certainly did not feel much of a success and at the end of his ministry when he was left a rag-tag of disobedient believers.
We are none of us capable of 'measuring' our success or failure when it comes to witnessing. We cannot always tell whether we are planters, waterers, or reapers, for one thing. Rarely, in my experience, are we eye witnesses to the whole process, and that is perhaps just as well, so that we do not fall into the trap of taking any credit for what is in truth a supernatural work from beginning to end.
It is not unnatural, mind you, to seek vindication or to long for some kind of approval of our labour. Every preacher does because every preacher is human. We long to know that our efforts - our life energy and passion - have not been in vain.
The preacher, just like the one who receives the ministry of preaching, walks by emunah (faith), and were it not for the divine hand, he would be walking blind. Preachers hurt and suffer just as much as those who receive his ministry. No matter what our calling, there are trials and tribulations, testings and rebukings, and the call to daily die to self. A good wife may be his only human comfort.
Many times I have wanted to pass on the baton to others. The one occasion I did do that, many years ago, when I felt a failure, Yahweh was not pleased. And the man to whom I passed the baton, albeit it briefly until I repented of my folly, was given a burden that was not his and which he could not possibly carry. I thought I was being 'humble' in doing what I did, but it was an act of presumption on my part to have done so. Your calling is yours, and no one else's.
Servants of Yahweh cannot, and must not, pass the baton. We may delegate more and more responsibility, to be sure, as we become physically incapacitated by age or illness, but our calling does not end until Yahweh takes us home. The only time we can ever really claim to be a failure is when we quit the race and give up. Those who may have done so, though, can pick up the baton again and reverse that fateful decision. So long as there is breath, there is work to do.
One of the greatest enemies of the Besorah (Gospel) in our time, Christopher Hitchens, a militant atheist, recently died (see picture). He devoted his life to destroying Christianity. I pity him given where he now finds himself, having thrown his life away for an utterly futile cause, and I pity those whom he influenced to the destruction of their emunah (faith). This he will have to answer for. And yet I can admire him for one character trait. To his dying breath, even while hooked up ibtravenous-drips and other gadgets devoted to helping him fight his cancer, he insisted on having a desk in his hospital room where he worked writing to the last. That's the way I want to depart this life too.
Not a single sermon of Noah, "the preacher of righteousness" (2 Pet.2:5) is recorded for posterity, and he preached for goodness knows how many years. What wouldn't preachers like myself do to read some of those! Yet, in Yahweh's eyes, he left a witness far greater than his sermons in his other life's work, boat! And that is what we chiefly remember him by - what believer, adult of child, and not a few unbelievers, has not heard of Noah and his mammouth exploit?! It was Noah's obedience to Yahweh in building the ark that stands as his greatest witness to a self-centred, rebellious and violent generation:
Your doing right and making few or no converts is more important that your not doing what Yahweh says and making hundreds or thousands of 'converts' whose houses are built on sand. Ezekiel didn't have too much 'success' either, did he? And yet he stands out as a model of emunah (hope) and hope for people who find themselves in the midst of a similar generation to his.
"Thus Noah did; according to all that Elohim (God) commanded him, so he did" (Gen.6:22, NKJV).
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great English Baptist preacher, found in Noah's life that "every act of faith condemns the world":
What my preacher friend may not realise is that at the moment he was going through a period of self-examination and doubt, I was doing the same. I was ready to quit - again. And it wouldn't be the first time I have gone through this most human yet counter-productive of reactions. For many of us, it may well be that our calling is, like Noah, to simply save our own families! And if that is true, that can by no means be chalked up as a failure, because that one family of Noah provided the raw material for a whole new world, a word that we stemmed from. We're here because Noah was there.
"By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to emunah (faith)" (Heb.11:7, NKJV).
You may not be a preacher like me but that does not mean your witness is any less important or effective. Commenting on the passage quoted from Hebrews, Spurgeon said:
Let us worry about being a straight stick instead of concerning ourselves that the crooked are not straightening out because of our witnessing. It is easy to be critical of the sins of others and masterfully expose them through the Word. But how much more powerful to demonstrate the grace and the righteousness of Yahweh by living for him, and being content simply in that living.
"Living a holy life...I have heard it said that if there is a crooked stick, and you want to show how crooked it is, you need not waste time in description. Place a straight one by the side of it, and the thing is done directly. Noah condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith".
 David McCasland, Crooked and Straight in Our Daily Bread (RBC Ministies, Grand Rapids, MI: 2006), Jun-Aug 2006, July 5.