One of my favorite quotes comes from the lips of our nation’s twenty-sixth President, Theodore Roosevelt, who wisely stated, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Wise words indeed! Those words can be applied to any endeavor we undertake. No matter what one undertakes to do there are always critics who are ready to criticize and point out where it could have been done better or will tell you how much better they could have done it, you knowing and they knowing, too, that they would have never embarked upon such an endeavor to begin with. I have always said, tongue-in-cheek, an expert is someone who has never done it before!
While Roosevelt’s words are true in any endeavor one embarks upon, it is especially true for those who are faithful laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. One who is attempting to plow a straight row with the Gospel plow is always visible in their labors and is always open to scrutiny. It is easy to spot the stumbling of a man or to point out where he could have done better. While “attempting” means the possibility of stumbling and coming up short, but it is better to have swerved a bit in the row than the alternative which is far worse….to never have been faithful in plowing. Laboring in the Lord’s vineyard may produce blisters along the way, but the Master’s heavenly ointment soothes and heals hands of faithful service.
It is easy to measure success only by what one sees, not realizing success often takes place in the realm of the unseen. Too often success is defined as visible results that that can be measured by the physical eye and takes us beyond what has previously been accomplished. If results can’t be measured by sight, there are those who are quick to label the effort as unsuccessful. Such criteria must not be the measuring stick for judging spiritual success. When Paul wrote First Corinthians he defined success as a person who was “found faithful” (I Cor. 4:2). Paul’s criteria for “success” was faithfulness, which cannot always be measured by visible results or the grandiose being accomplished.
Oswald Chambers echoed Paul’s wisdom when he wrote, “God has not called us to success but to faithfulness.” The Bible requires us to be loyal to the Master regardless if we don’t measure up to the world’s definition of successful. Faithfulness is a characteristic that is lacking in many arenas today. While success can be short lived, faithfulness is a quality that is enduring and in the long run has the greatest impact.
Faithfulness is not always exciting and often deals with the mundane. Faithfulness doesn’t always find itself in the spotlight, but is often found in the background getting done the things that need to get done. Faithfulness doesn’t always receive accolades from the crowd, but it carries with it its own reward. Sometimes faithfulness doesn’t get press, but it gets the Lord’s attention. Let us never dismiss the importance and value of faithfulness. Faithfulness doesn’t always receive applause, but it looks forward to those words from our Lord, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” What we label as success can be momentary and vanishing, but faithfulness possesses an enduring quality priceless in the eyes of the Lord. While every servant of the Lord should set goals and strive to fruitfully reach them, let us never sacrifice faithfulness on the altar of perceived success as defined by culture.
Sometimes we may grow weary in our faithfulness, but let us keep on keeping on being faithful in our service and relationship with Him. Sure there are always rocks in the field and stumps to avoid when one plows for the Lord, but that is no reason to slacken the pace; keep faithfully plowing. Faithfulness keeps the plow sharp. Let the critic continue to criticize, let the finger-pointers keep pointing, let the whispers keep whispering, but may those who are diligent in duty and service continue to be faithful.
Let it be said of each servant of the Lord as was said of David’s loyal followers who were faithful to guard the supplies, David commending them for faithfully “staying by the stuff” (I Sam 25:13). Let us always strive to be faithful to “stay by the stuff,” and in so doing our “place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Being faithful…therein is found success.