Parish magazine article September 2023
Achievement – One of the things I have done as part of my study leave is to walk the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. I have wanted to do this since I was in my late teens. I actually did around a third of it back in 1986 and have done different parts ever since but never got around to walking the whole path. I can now say that after walking for 16 days I have completed all 186 miles and enjoyed every moment of it! Whilst written out it does not seem quite so challenging, as it was coastal walking it certainly contained a lot of climbing up and down. According to the Coast Path, guide book the ascents and descent are said to be the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest – 35,000 feet! In addition I lost weight and raised with my sister in law £3000 for the Alzheimer’s Society. It actually feels like I have achieved something and it got me thinking about the idea of success.
In our society today, we are often measured by how successful we are and whilst we should all aim to do our best and work hard that will not always lead to success. It is so easy for us to try to emulate others or to search out the golden bullet that will change our fortunes but the reality is chasing after superficial success will not help us spiritually.
The same is true in our churches it is far too easy to compare ourselves with others or think that there is a clever solution to our problems. The reality is there is no one way to grow our churches or to be successful because it is God who grows the church not us. When we chase after clever tools and copy other peoples strategies we miss the point completely.
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
James writing to the early church recognised that it is only God who can create our spiritual growth and grand plans that don’t include God are fruitless. When we chase success for successes sake we will simply end up missing what God is about and fool ourselves. James isn’t suggesting we have a fatalistic faith but what he is saying is that we need to see what God is doing amongst us and join in with him. So often, we create plans and then invite God to bless them rather than asking God in prayer what he would have us do. James wants the church to be a place that is faithful to the gospel and to listen to God and not chase after success and achievement so we can boast about ourselves. When we put God first in our lives then we will see achievement in a different light.
Achievement also does not come without cost and it amazes me how so often we stockpile our resources and then wonder why we don’t see more fruit from our church life. Generosity and hospitality are core parts of our faith and yet we often fail to share what God has given us with others. If we truly want to see our churches grow and flourish we have to live out the values of our faith and not allow ourselves to become inward looking. Our faith is not a business transaction where we get what we pay for instead we are called to give ourselves away for the sake of the kingdom. This is what Jesus taught his disciples and it is just as true for us today.
“Don’t pile up treasures on earth, where moth and rust can spoil them and thieves can break in and steal. But keep your treasure in Heaven where there is neither moth nor rust to spoil it and nobody can break in and steal. For wherever your treasure is, you may be certain that your heart will be there too!”
The good news is that we can all achieve things for God if we put our minds to it and he has given us all the resources we need if we put our trust in him. It doesn’t matter if we are part of a church with six members or sixty we all have a part in God’s plan if we ask him and listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit to guide us. Instead of trying to be successful, we need to learn to be faithful and obedient to the call of God to serve our communities. I love the words of the Missionary teacher William Carey that remind us to trust God and have a go!
“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”