Our lives as believers matter more than we might think:
Something caught my attention moments ago, and as is often the case, it is now being spun into a whole new article! In his 1988 book Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, at one point Malcolm Muggeridge is discussing Mother Teresa and the impact she had on him. What really stood out to me is this:
“I could go on and on enumerating the saintly qualities in Mother Teresa. Jean Pierre de Caussade writes of how, all the time, the sequel to the New Testament is being written by saintly souls in the succession of the prophets and apostles, not in canonical books, but by continuing the history of divine purpose with their lives.”
I quite liked that idea of a sequel to the New Testament. Not of course as further inspired and inerrant writings: the biblical canon is now closed. But in the sense that all believers play a part in the ongoing story of God’s work in the world. That is something we all need to keep in mind.
It is not just little old me, but God working throughout history, using little old me – and you. We are all part of a much bigger and much grander story. As such, there are no people of no consequence in God’s Kingdom. We all have a role to play. We all have a job to do which we need to get on with.
I have said similar things before. For example, I have often pointed out the start of the book of Acts. Luke wrote Acts, and it continues on from his gospel. In Acts 1:1 we read this: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.”
The implication seems to be that the rest of this book will deal with what Jesus continues to do and teach. Yet in verses 9-11 we read about Jesus being taken up into heaven. So what gives? Actually, all that we read about in the rest of the book IS the continuation of the ministry of Jesus. But it is Christians who carry on the work that Christ began.
Sure, we contribute nothing to the work of Christ at Calvary to deal with our sin and alienation from God. But proclaiming that good news, and sharing in the other works of Christ, is something all believers can and should do. So in that sense we do indeed continue not only the story of the gospels but the story of the New Testament.
So we can say that your story and mine are a sort of sequel to what is found in the New Testament. It is a follow-up to what we read about there, and by God’s grace we can also do great things for God, just as the early disciples did. Our stories contribute to what is still the continuing great work of God on planet earth.
I often tell my students that if we put Christ first in all things and seek to faithfully serve him in whatever way he calls us, that if the Lord should tarry, and in the years ahead historians – or at least church historians – write about our times, we may find ourselves being written up.
Just as a handful of young college kids of a few centuries ago who loved God supremely went on to change the world and are now the subject of countless books by secular and Christian historians (I refer to George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley), perhaps our stories as well will one day be told. I discuss these three here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/1998/03/02/%e2%80%9cnormal%e2%80%9d-christianity/
And this is not some ego trip or matter of pride. Our aim in life should be to please Christ. And if we seek to do that with the Spirit’s enabling, we will be making waves: we will be influencing our culture; we will be making a difference for the Kingdom.
Sure, for every Augustine or Luther or Whitefield or Spurgeon or Lewis or Billy Graham that are known and loved by millions, there may be a hundred or a thousand believers that also contribute greatly to the Kingdom – that become part of the sequel to the New Testament – but who are never known by the masses. They have quietly and in an unassuming fashion been faithful to Christ and left a mark. That is what counts.
Indeed, just moments ago I was reflecting on the issue of fame. I was looking at some recent posts on my website, including one in which I featured a picture of Paul McCartney – the legendary – if now aging – Beatle. I thought that millions of people the world over would recognise his face and know at least something about him.
I thought of others who would be known worldwide – for good or ill. Past figures would include a Plato or a Shakespeare or a Hitler or a Mother Teresa. Obviously cultural icons of recent times would be known to millions of people as well, whether Muhammad Ali or Kim Kardashian or Princess Diana or Donald Trump or Lady GaGa or Tom Cruise.
Some of these folks would be known by millions, if not billions, of people. And of course there are various ‘celebrities’ or very famous people in the Christian world as well. I mentioned Billy Graham, but today we would have a Rick Warren or a Tim Keller or a Tim Tebow or a Joel Osteen in the US, or a Brian Houston or a Fred Nile in Australia.
All would be fairly well-known, and all would be in the spotlight for various reasons. But my point here is that there are millions of faithful, committed, and sold-out Christians all over the world who are NOT well-known and are not in the spotlight. But they are doing just as much for Christ as some of these more well-known Christians are – maybe more.
Indeed, we will never know until we get to the next life just how much good we did and how much influence we had. So in one sense it is a bit of a waste to try to gauge your influence and outreach now. And it often would be very hard to do anyway.
I often pray and ask God if what I am doing is worthwhile and having much of an impact. In terms of human measurement, it would seem not. Yes, I have had a very minor outreach into the broader community; some have seen or heard of me online or in the media; my website has some sort of reach; and my books and articles have been of some use to some folks.
But if there was a fame-o-metre or some such thing to measure how well-known I might be, what would I end up with? Perhaps something like 0.000001 per cent of the world’s population would have ever heard of me. By the world’s standards I am a nobody, and maybe even by Christian standards!
I sometimes joke about whether anyone would even think of turning up to my funeral one day, and I mention the cartoon about a very sparsely attended funeral service with a person saying, “He had over 2000 Facebook friends. I was expecting a bigger turnout.”
But of course the point is this: if we are doing what God has called us to do, if we are being obedient to our Lord, if we seek to be faithful in what God has given us, we ARE having an impact. Sure, it may not be measurable today by any fleshly standard, but when we get to heaven we will learn just what we have done that is of eternal worth.
And more importantly, we will then hear those words which all true Christians long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:23).
So we keep pressing on. Don’t worry if nobody knows about you. Don’t worry if your ministry seems to be slim pickings. Don’t worry if your web traffic is quite low. Don’t worry that you are never invited to speak or share your story. Don’t worry if hardly anyone seems to know that you even exist.
Worry instead about things like this: Am I pleasing my Lord? Am I being faithful in what he has called me to do? Am I in the centre of God’s will? Am I bringing a smile to God’s face as he thinks about me? Are the angels in heaven excited when they consider my dedication and zeal for Christ?
Those are the only things that really matter. As such there are no small Christians. There are no insignificant believers. There are no ‘little people’ as Schaeffer put it. We are all a part of God’s great redemptive story. We are all part of the sequel to the New Testament.
We must never forget that fact.