My father is a retired commercial fisherman. He is strong for his age. You’d never guess that he’s seventy. He hasn’t been fishing for a number of years, but the ocean never left him. He has a wild, weathered-by-the-sea look about him at times and he loves to play the salty old pirate/sea captain for his grandkids—a game that is met with delight and enthusiasm.
Last week, at a large family gathering, my dad organized a pirate treasure hunt for several of the younger children. The evening before the event, he and a couple of my brothers buried a rather large chest full of “pirate treasure” on a small beach. With a broken toe, my dad carefully paced off the location according to the treasure map he and my mom had created.
A group of tattooed young men with intoxicants were hanging out nearby. My dad explained to them what he was doing, but he was nervous that they might get rowdy or mischievous after he left and sabotage the treasure. As a precaution, he buried it under about a foot of sand.
The next day, a hoard of small pirates, led by the Captain, paced down the beach following Peg-leg’s treasure map. They arrived at the skull, walked the final paces toward the sea’s edge, and began to dig. They dug and dug. Nothing. Well, it had been dark and the captain did have a broken toe—maybe it was a little farther to the right or the left, or perhaps it was closer to the shore.
The kids tried different places. Adults began to plunge sticks into the ground, hoping to strike something hard. Some of the kids began to wander off, looking for other clues. Others were sad, resigned to the fact that different pirates must have stolen their treasure. Some just got bored and started playing in the sand.
I felt bad for the little ones, but my heart was really with my father. He was trying to do something magical for those kids. He’d built up excitement and suspense. Was he going to have to tell them the Captain was wrong—there really was no treasure? I could hardly stand it—but just then, a young man hit something hard with his shovel.
It was there! The precautions against vandalism had made it a bit difficult to locate, but the treasure was only a few inches away from where the kids had been digging. After considerable effort on the part of some adult helpers, squeals of delight erupted as the trunk was hauled out of the sand and the booty (costume jewelry, pirate guns, and gold wrapped chocolate coins) was distributed. All was well. The Captain had delivered. His daughter was very relieved.
I think sometimes I get nervous for God that way, too. I know that He is what people need. Those who are without Him need to know Him. Those who have begun a relationship with Him need to learn to know Him better. And He has chosen to use us to show Himself to the world. But I am fallible, and so are other believers. Even sincere, passionate Christians teach the wrong things or communicate the right things poorly. Then there are false teachers, and ministers with impure motives to be reckoned with.
What if, because of us, they don’t find the treasure? What if they are excited and ready to dig, but we point them in a slightly wrong direction and they get disillusioned and wander away? Or what if we’ve covered up the treasure with too much religion and they just can’t find it? What if I, in all sincerity, try to communicate truth and I just do a lousy job? And what about the pirates?—All it takes is a run-in with one false prophet or one immoral or arrogant minister for someone to develop suspicion and mistrust. God’s name will be smeared and He will have to watch His children walk away empty handed and disappointed. The thought is sickening. Is that really how it is?
Well, yes…and no.
The great commission was given to us by Jesus (Matt 28:19-20). It was not some ploy to make us feel like we were making a difference. We are the agents God chose to deliver His message through. Whether we do it and how we do it have real, eternal consequences for others. In light of the urgency expressed in scripture, we ought to go about the responsibility of making disciples intentionally, sensitively, diligently, enthusiastically and fearfully (in the sense of respect for the gravity of the task).
1 Timothy 4:16 (NASB)
16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
Our complacency, laziness, defensiveness, greed, unpreparedness, or lack of integrity will cause some to walk away or stagnate. It is healthy and appropriate for me to give great weight to the role I play in the battle for human souls.
But when I stop there, I am gripped with the fear that we might just sabotage most of the good things God intended for us to do. I become discouraged by my own failings and inadequacies. I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the need and the degree to which peoples hearts seem to be hardened, blinded, or unknowingly influenced by worldly philosophy. In all my worrying for God’s sake, I forget who He is.
He spoke the world into existence and He constantly sustains it (Col 1:16-17). He created the human soul for the purpose of an eternal relationship of love with Himself. He became a man and payed the price to restore that relationship when sin severed it. His Word is powerful and enduring. He knows the motives of every person’s heart. He convicts and leads people to the truth (John 14:17). He dwells in me (1 John 4:4).
The privilege of being an ambassador for God deserves my very best, but I am not alone. In fact, it is only because of what He does through my efforts that they matter eternally at all. It is easy for anyone to see that I am flawed and fragile, but that only makes the power of God that flows through me more evident.
2 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB)
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;
If I make the gospel what my life is about, then my heavenly Father will be glorified and the world will see Him better. That’s a promise.
Philippians 1:20 (NASB)
20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.