I remember marveling at how small it was, that tiny little coffin. It still wasn’t real. 4 months old. Was he really gone? Was my friend actually mourning her first child? I have never felt so helpless, so unable to do anything to help.
As I stood at the cemetery, I heard a familiar voice begin to speak. I couldn’t see him, but I’d recognize that kind voice with a slight lisp anywhere. He spoke of God’s love and hope amidst maybe the worst tragedy a young mother could suffer. As I looked around at my co-workers, most of them unbelievers, my heart breathed a sigh of relief. That familiar voice belonged to a youth pastor I encountered in my teen years. This soft-spoken, kind, humble man was a pastor at a friend’s church when I was in high school. We were never particularly close, but his presence was God’s gift to me (and many others) that day. God was there in this seemingly hopeless situation using this man to bring my friend (and myself) the comfort we both needed. I saw him a few months later, and thanked him for his message on that sad day, but he will never know just how much his presence meant to me in that season of my life.
You see, that year was full of tragedy for my family. My father-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and passed within a few months; my mother-in-law’s health was failing; and my son’s nine-year-old classmate had suddenly passed away from complications with the flu. My children were young- five and eight-and while we were trying to help them navigate all of this loss, I was unknowingly mourning these young deaths as if they were my own children.
Recently, I reflected on this pastor’s seemingly small role in my life. He’s received few accolades in a lifetime of ministry. I don’t know if he’s ever doubted his impact on the lives of those he served, but I do know that his sincere and humble encouragement in my life, and in the life of many others, no matter how small, came at just the right time.
This realization makes me wonder, “Why am I so concerned about personal success?” I crave accolades for my teaching, mentoring, writing, even my ministry in the church. I long for and expect God to use me in big ways. But what I’m realizing is that God is not interested in what we think of as success. In fact, he most often loves to use weak, obscure people to accomplish his purposes. 1 Corinthians tells us, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1:27-29). In doing so, he gets the glory he deserves.
Recently, our church’s VBS studied the story of Ananias and Paul. The theme was “God helps us do hard things.” Acts 9 tells us, “So the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias . . . putting his hand on him, so he might receive his sight” (9:11-12). One day. Just one. Ananias was to go to this man with an awful reputation on this one day, restore his sight, and baptize him. We don’t hear of his ministry again. This one day is over-shadowed by many more significant biblical events, but it was the catalyst for one of the most influential figures in biblical history.
Our human nature causes us to want recognition. We yearn for the attention, respect, and praise of others. We want to do big things in our lives. As believers, we often forget that our purpose is not to shine a light on ourselves, but to reflect God to those around us. We were created for his glory, not our own. As it says in Isaiah, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (43:7). Contrary to the world’s view of success, God often uses the unnoticed, the weak, and the broken to accomplish his kingdom purposes. Just look at God’s vessel of salvation: born in a barn (literally), raised in a despised town, lived a less than impressive life, and whose only “success” was a shameful death on a cross. Yet, the one who was “despised and rejected by men” conquered sin and death and reigns on high as our Savior.
While I don’t know what legacy I’ll leave behind, I can be certain of this: God will use me to exalt his great name. He will use even my small acts of faithfulness for his kingdom purposes. I don’t want to miss out on the moments God has given me to be a small encouragement to those I encounter, whether it be for a lifetime, a season, or one brief moment. For just as God used Ananias’ faithfulness on that one day with Paul, and just as he used my pastor-friend to meet me in my suffering, so too will God use my small acts of faithfulness to bring him glory, encourage the hurting, and point others to their hope in Christ. Micah 6:8 sums up what God calls us to, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Lord, make me a humble vessel, ready to be used by you, no matter how small or brief the moment.
About the Author:
Jessica Roan has a Bachelor’s Degree in English Education from Oklahoma Baptist University and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Montana State University-Billings. She is a high school English teacher, mentor and blogger. She can be found at carriedalong.blog. She enjoys writing, hiking, skiing and traveling. She lives in Billings, Montana with her husband and two boys. Her home church is Rocky Mountain Community Church.