Living without a Guarantee

We all want our lives and work to be worthwhile.

I recently encountered a young woman considering work in a difficult place who wonders if she will see fruit—will her sacrifices be worth it? I’ve read a discouraged letter from a former colleague who experienced a break-in at the hands of someone she and her husband have invested in. As a young mother, I worried whether my little boys would grow up to be responsible adults or delinquents. And my husband and I invested years in a Middle Eastern country, seeing only modest fruit—we would have liked to have seen many more come to faith. Perhaps you are working with women or children or the needy and question, “Am I having an impact? Will all this effort produce fruit?”

Hebrews 11 lists accounts of saints, some who achieved great things by faith, and others who suffered and did not see good things. Verse 39 gives a sobering comment regarding the second group: “And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised” (NET). Some of our most important work and most difficult suffering does not come with a guarantee of success in this life.

On the other hand, I’ve gotten glimpses of unplanned (by me) fruit the Father has produced along the way. As a young married couple ourselves, we did marriage counselling for a young couple and then lost contact with them. Many years later we heard how they applied our counsel for their good. They have been married for decades and serve overseas. People we have had in our home simply to show love have made decisions to serve God in bold ways; God somehow worked during our time with them. Others I have met, seemingly by chance, on planes or trains or in Bible studies have somehow been influenced by God during my interactions with them—many times I have no idea exactly how.

We recently hosted a man in his fifties in our home for lunch. When this Middle Eastern man was a high school student, my husband discipled him for one year while I served him countless glasses of tea. Now, as an adult, he leads an important and fruitful ministry in his country. Many, many have invested in his life and ministry—we had only small parts while he was a teen. But God took those acts of service, carried out faithfully, and used them along with the investment of others. So, much of the fruit I have had the privilege of seeing has come simply from going about my business abiding in Jesus, doing what he gives me to do, and responding to his prompting.

Jesus promises, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing” John 15:5 (ESV). Jesus declares that the one who abides in Jesus will bear fruit, but Hebrews 11:39-40 reminds us that as we run life’s race, we may not see the fruit of all work and suffering this side of heaven. A life lived faithfully abiding in Him does not come with a guarantee of sensational success in this life, but rather with the assurance that God can and will work through our faithfulness. We simply won’t begin to know the extent of that fruit until we meet him face to face.

My boys did grow up to be responsible men—not delinquents—but I may have to wait until heaven to worship the Lord alongside many I have known and served among. I look forward to that day.

Photo “fruit” by plumandjello is licensed by Creative Commons: CC BY-SA 2.0.

Beth Barron and her husband have worked cross-culturally for decades, first in the Middle East and now in the U.S. She teaches English to refugees and uses her writing skills to advocate for them. Beth enjoys writing, biking, vegetable gardening and connecting heart to heart with other women. She is involved in her church's External Focus ministry. She and her husband have three adult children, two daughters-in-love and three grandsons. Beth graduated from Rice University in Houston, attended Dallas Theological Seminary and is committed to life-long learning.

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