In modern missionary history, no person likely casts a larger shadow than William Carey. His faithfulness in giving his life to reach the people of India with the gospel is still inspiring believers today, over 200 hundred years later! Towards the end of his life, when asked how his ministry was sustainable for decades, he simply answered, “I can plod.” While this insight was not especially exciting or inspiring, it was accurate. More than anything, Carey plodded along through difficulties and challenges that would have forced many missionaries to return home. His ministry can be viewed as successful because he persevered and remained faithful to the tasks God placed before him.
Carey’s missionary example can be a challenge for us today. Even in ministry, we tend to expect quick results, instant success, or significant social influence. We are probably more easily moved by another William Carey quote that says, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God!” This idea motivates us more easily because it appeals to our desire to make ourselves known; we focus on the attempting over and above the expecting. The idea of “attempting great things” moves and excites people, while “expecting great things” comes from God calling us to a task that is beyond our abilities or skills. Attempting gets “likes” and followers, but expecting sees beyond the current reality into what God could do if He so chooses. Sadly, one could grow a ministry—or a church—through bold attempts, even if they lack real God-given expectancy. Merely attempting great things without expecting great things is a man-made endeavor that has little eternal significance. But when we expect God to move, we may be privileged to see whole cities and nations changed, along with people coming to know and glorify God for eternity!
Carey did not impact the trajectory of missionary work for centuries because he had an amazing moment, day, or year. Carey’s disproportionate impact came because he plodded faithfully for decades. Most of his missionary struggles did not have a quick fix or an easy answer. He often was solely reliant on the Lord to come through and meet his needs and sustain the ministry. He took life as it came and remained faithful to the opportunities put before him. Most days probably did not look all that “successful” from a human vantage point, but sustained faithfulness to God’s calling led to a successful ministry.
The most challenging thing about living with the expectation that God will use one’s ministry and life for His great purpose is determining what to do day by day. For instance, I believe God has led me to help start the Rochester campus, and I have an expectation that He is going to work in amazing ways in this city. I long for the day when dozens of students in Rochester are pursuing theological education—an education that they will take back to their churches, homes, workplaces, rural towns, and across the world. It is easy for me to dream about what this campus could be, but to still feel stuck in the daily challenges of directing the campus. This is where I believe Carey’s insight is most helpful: I need to be faithful in my daily plodding to complete the tasks before me, knowing that God will use it all for his glory.
Christian fiction author Jonathan Rogers puts this idea of daily faithfulness another way in his book The Bark of the Bog Owl. The story takes place on the fictional island of Corenwald and is a creative retelling of the life of King David. In the beginning of the story, a young shepherd boy, Aidan (i.e., David), is anointed by the traveling prophet, Bayard, to be the next king. At this moment, Aidan finds himself puzzled. How is he going to get from his current circumstance to the great expectation he has before him? Instead of silently pondering the path, Aidan asks the prophet, “What if I am destined to be the Wilderking? How should I live?” The prophet’s answer gets right to the heart of the matter when he responds, “The same way you should live if you weren’t the Wilderking. Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil.” Bayard’s advice to Aidan was to be the person he was made to be, live life each day as it unfolds before him, and let the director of the bigger picture take care of all the other things.
This story often reminds me that my duty is to faithfully live the life that unfolds before me. I have a great dream—and a great calling—to spread Christian theological education. Through this dream, I pray that the campus can disproportionately impact the entire world with the gospel. But I know I am not equipped to meet all the challenges today. It will take sustained faithfulness, by myself and others, through years of serving in this work. Even in faithfulness, this task is beyond myself—God will either move to make it a reality in the future, or He will redirect me toward a different path. Today, my task might be to follow up with that one potential student, meet with a local pastor to share the vision, or to simply finish lecture notes for my next class. Whatever is before me, I find joy in knowing that as I plod along in faithfulness, God can use these little things to grow a fruitful campus.
No matter what God has called you to do, all you need to focus on is faithfulness in the tasks that are before you today. God has everything in His control, so today you can write that email, make that phone call, complete that report, or have that conversation. Plod through the challenges of today, knowing that God is directing all of this towards His wonderful and glorious end.
Rocky Coleman, PhD
Rochester Site Coordinator &
Assistant Professor of Theology and Global Studies
- Pray for the Rochester campus as we continue in our first year. We are grateful for the solid start and excited for what the future might hold.
- Praise God for the students who are currently studying at our campus, and pray for those whom God is preparing to join us next semester or next year.
- Pray that we can continue to make good connections with additional churches in our city and the surrounding areas.
- Pray for the provision of the 110 remaining scholarships that will allow us to graduate students who are ready to launch into life and ministry without the financial burden of student debt.
- Pray that God would guide the steps of the students and their families who will join us for Spring Preview Day.