Written By Jasmine Koh, Singapore
I’ve always believed that hard work pays off. Sacrifices must be made—be it time, entertainment, or sleep—if results are to be expected. It is therefore no surprise to hear how many would stay up late to complete their assignments, edit their masterpieces, or study for an exam.
I apply this attitude to both my studies and my involvement in Christian ministry. Besides serving in church, over the past four years, I’ve been volunteering at a para-church organization for youth where I share the good news of Christ to unbelieving youths on the streets and disciple small groups of believers.
Occasionally, the time I invest into preparing Bible study materials and facilitating comes at the expense of sleep and social life. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about these sacrifices—after all, this work ethic has long been ingrained in me.
But, despite my efforts, my group members seemed to display stagnancy in their spiritual growth. On better occasions, there would be four to five of us. But academia and school commitments proved to be real competing elements, and whenever competitions and examinations drew near, there would be a drop in attendance. Week after week, Bible study sessions and prayer meetings would see a regular attendance of two attendees—myself and one other student.
It was extremely defeating.
I remembered seeking God intently for His direction and for affirmation, wondering if my work was acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. Was there something I had to do more of? Or did I have to let go of something?
But then I thought: It can’t be that ministering to others through Bible studies is not effective enough. After all, bible study is one of the most fundamental habits of Christian growth. So why did I feel that I was not doing enough?
Over time and after seeking godly counsel, I arrived at this conclusion: Either what I was doing was clearly against biblical principles, or my heart was simply not right with God.
I believed it was the second case. Clearly, my heart was not aligned with God’s. What I saw as the end goal in ministry was not what He saw. I had been unwittingly distracted by the things of God, instead of focusing on God himself. In other words, my focus on the attendance, the quality of discussion, and the materials had consumed my focus on the One I was doing all this for.
Psalm 37:4 (NASB) says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, we will naturally desire what He wants and experience joy. Yet, despite knowing this, I had allowed myself to be caught in a tiring, fruitless cycle of focusing on the peripheral things. I had held on too tightly to these aspects of ministry that while necessary, were not critical. My disappointments in ministry came because I sought joy in getting results.
Disappointment is a natural response to our unmet hopes and expectations. But it’s how we respond to our disappointments that reveal our intentions. Too often, I become despondent when things don’t go according to how I envision and I lose steam to continue—instead of surrendering the work to the Lord.
Through Paul’s letter to Timothy in 2 Tim 3-4, I’m reminded that what God requires of us is to persevere and to hope in Him—regardless of the outcome. Despite Paul’s tribulations and persecutions, he fixed his eyes on Jesus and remained faithful to the task of advancing God’s kingdom work.
If there is one thing I need to tell myself when faced with disappointments again, it is to learn to let go and seek God. My prayer is to continually see the big picture that God has in His ultimate plan of redemption and salvation so that in any role I partake, whether big or small, I place my joy and assurance in the Lord that He will bring it to completion.
But while I pray that the Lord gives me the joy of knowing Him well, I must also not neglect taking concrete steps in improving how I teach and share from the Bible. For instance, I should communicate regularly with my students to get feedback on their challenges and ways to improve the sessions.
Psalm 127: 1 (NASB) sums it up well: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” A ministry can only grow if it is God-led and God-centered.
May the joy of knowing God spur us to excel in His work, and not the other way around.