How Should Followers of Jesus Christ Measure Success?

As I observe Christianity in America, it seems that success is often times measured by numbers that do not always indicate biblical success. Most evangelicals evaluate whether their church is healthy based on attendance, baptisms, giving, and buildings. But when we take a look at God’s word we get a much different way to measure whether a person is a man/woman of God or a church is pleasing in God’s sight.

The two biblical ways to measure success found most are FAITH and PERSEVERANCE. Hebrews 11, for example, is known as the Hall of Faithful Heroes of the Bible. And everyone listed is applauded for their faith, not how many numbers they were able to accumulate. Among those listed are the prophets (Hebrews 11:32). Today, I’d like to share a summary of the life of one of those prophets. This prophet has become one of my favorite heroes of the Bible. He is a fantastic example of PERSEVERANCE. Many times, I wonder just how many ministers would still be faithful and persevere if they had the results that my hero had. He is none other than, JEREMIAH!

So, brace yourself. We’re about to take a trip to one of the darkest times in the life of God’s people in Judah. Imagine if you were the only one in your entire country willing to follow God. That’s what Jeremiah faced. And he persevered by continuing to be faithful to God regardless of his circumstances. Needless to say, his book wasn’t a best seller in his day. Not a single person bought it. No one attended his worship service to listen to his preaching. And there were no numbers to evaluate.

Jeremiah the prophet lived in the final days of the crumbling nation of Israel. He was, appropriately, the last prophet that God sent to preach to the southern kingdom, which comprised the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. God had repeatedly warned Israel to stop their idolatrous behavior, but they would not listen, so He tore the 12 tribes asunder, sending the 10 northern tribes into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians. Then God sent Jeremiah to give Judah the last warning before He cast them out of the land, decimating the nation and sending them into captivity in the pagan kingdom of Babylon. Jeremiah, a faithful, God-fearing man, was called to tell Israel that, because of their unrepentant sin, their God had turned against them and was now prepared to remove them from the land at the hands of a pagan king whom He called “My servant” (Jeremiah 26:7).

No doubt Jeremiah, who was only about 17 when God called him, had great inner turmoil over the fate of his people, and he begged them to listen. He is known as “the weeping prophet,” because he cried tears of sadness, not only because he knew what was about to happen, but because no matter how hard he tried, the people would not listen. Furthermore, he found no human comfort. God had forbidden him to marry or have children (Jeremiah 16:2), and his friends had turned their backs on him. So, along with the burden of the knowledge of impending judgment, he also must have felt very lonely. God knew that this was the best course for Jeremiah, because He went on to tell him how horrible conditions would be in a short time, with babies, children, and adults dying “grievous” deaths, their bodies unable to even be buried, and their flesh devoured by the birds (Jeremiah 16:3-4).

Obviously, the people of Israel had become so hardened by the numbing effects of sin that they no longer believed God, nor did they fear Him. Jeremiah preached for 40 years, and not once did he see any real success in changing or softening the hearts and minds of his stubborn, idolatrous people. The other prophets of Israel had witnessed some successes, at least for a little while, but not Jeremiah. He was speaking to a brick wall; however, his words were not wasted. They were pearls being cast before swine, in a sense, and they were convicting every person who heard them and refused to heed the warning.

Jeremiah tried to make the people understand their problem was a lack of belief, trust, and faith in God, along with an absence of fear which caused them to take Him for granted. It is very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, especially when the focus is not on God. The nation of Israel, just like many nations today, had stopped putting God first, and had replaced Him with false gods, those that would not make them feel guilty or convict them of sin. God had delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, had performed miracles before them, and had even parted the waters of the sea for them. In spite of all these displays of God’s power, they returned to the false practices they had learned in Egypt, even making vows to the false “queen of heaven,” along with performing the other rites and rituals that were part of the Egyptian culture and religion. God finally turned them over to their idolatry, saying, “Go ahead then, do what you promised! Keep your vows!” (Jeremiah 44:25).

Jeremiah’s constant loneliness and isolation finally got the best of him, and he became discouraged. He sank into a quagmire where many believers seem to get stuck when they think their efforts are not making a difference and time is ticking away. Jeremiah was emotionally spent, even to the point of doubting God (Jeremiah 15:18), but God was not done with him.Jeremiah 15:19records a lesson for each believer to remember in those times when he feels alone, useless, and discouraged and whose faith is wavering: “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’” God was saying to Jeremiah, come back to Me, and I will restore to you the joy of your salvation. These are similar to the words penned by David when he repented of his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51:12).

What we learn from the life of Jeremiah is the comfort of knowing that, just like every believer, even great prophets of God can experience rejection, depression, and discouragement in their walk with the Lord. This is a normal part of growing spiritually, because our sinful nature fights against our new nature, that which is born of the Spirit of God, according to Galatians 5:17: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” But just as Jeremiah found, we can know that the faithfulness of our God is infinite; even when we are unfaithful to Him, He remains steadfast (2 Timothy 2:13).

Jeremiah was given the task of delivering an unpopular, convicting message to Israel, one that caused him great mental anguish, as well as making him despised in the eyes of his people. God says that His truth sounds like “foolishness” to those who are lost, but to believers it is the very words of life (1 Corinthians 1:18). He also says that the time will come when people will not tolerate the truth (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Those in Israel in Jeremiah’s day did not want to hear what he had to say, and his constant warning of judgment annoyed them. This is true of the world today, as believers who are following God’s instructions are warning the lost and dying world of impending judgment (Revelation 3:10). Even though most are not listening, we must persevere in proclaiming truth in order to rescue some from the terrible judgment that will inevitably come.

Be faithful and persevere. Whether you have “results” or not, God and God alone is the One who can change the hearts of people. It’s our job to be faithful by loving Him and loving people. If you do that, you’re a success in God’s sight. So, the next time you get discouraged because attendance at your church is down, you haven’t had a baptism in a while, or your church didn’t meet the last month’s budget…remember Jeremiah.

One of the most used passages for music has been Lamentations 1:12 > Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.” 

Here’s one of the most popular settings of this passage in Latin, Lamentations of Jeremiah (O Vos Omnes)…

Resources:  Great Lives from God’s Word Series by Chuck Swindoll and Logos Bible Software

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