I used to believe that in ministry, no sacrifice is wasted—that our blood, sweat, and tears will always bear good fruit. When I started a new ministry, I envisioned ascending a ladder of faith, going higher and higher to reach the mountaintop. I figured if I put in the hard work, it would hold, and I could continue building on that foundation.
Imagine my shock when unforeseen situations caused pillars in my ministry to fall. In hindsight, I’m not sure why I thought I wouldn’t face any problems. In the military, the enemy always attacks the base as a strategy to eradicate the heart of your operations. In fact, the more impactful you are, the more the enemy will target your base with the intention to put you out of commission. So why would life be different for God’s spiritual armed forces—those of us in ministry?
More mature leaders have told me countless stories of rebuilding their ministries. Even Elisabeth Elliot, who translated the Bible for the Auca Indians, had to start over when someone stole her papers from her car. These stories helped me see that starting over is normal for any leader on a mission.
Then God challenged me: “What exactly is your legacy? Is it building the ministry, taking it to a specified level, getting it to a place where it will continue forever?” I wanted to say, “All of the above.” And then I saw the fallacy in my thinking. I was focused on an outcome that was completely out of my control. A personal legacy needs to be something within my own power to make happen. Otherwise, I’m dependent on someone else’s decisions, an external factor I have no control over. Beating myself up for factors that are outside of my sphere of influence is a sure strategy for depression!
After pondering this new way to think about legacy, I arrived at this statement: “I desire to leave a personal legacy of continuing in God’s mission every time I am knocked down.” A personal legacy of perseverance is completely within my control. I can make the choice to get up every time I am knocked down. I can make the choice to keep trying until my very last breath on earth. Rather than focus on the end goal, I focus on God’s call for my life, making decisions that keep me heading in that direction. My measurement of success is no longer based on whether I actually make it to the end goal, but rather measured by obedience and perseverance. What I am choosing, then, is a life of faith that trusts God with the outcome in the same way that Abraham did when he left everything to go to the land God would show him. By faith, he headed in the direction of God’s call, though he never lived to see the ultimate destination.
In church and ministry presentations, results are often shared as evidence of the impact someone has made or the success of a program. Results such as completing a building or reaching thousands for Christ inspire others to dream big, but they don’t show someone how to live. Dreams, after all, are built through lives that are lived out in the battlefield of an imperfect world with imperfect people.
When we focus only on the results, we undervalue the process and discourage people from simply getting started, taking one step at a time. The Bible tells us in John 4:37–38, “One sows and another reaps . . . I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor." So perhaps it’s true that no sacrifice in ministry is wasted. Though we may not see the fruit of our labor, someone else may have the chance to reap the blessings of the seeds we sow.
Anita Carman is the Founder and President of Inspire Women. She is also the author of A Daughter’s Destiny: Finding Redemption in the Midst of Broken Dreams.