If a Salvation Army bell ringer stands outside a department store all day and not a single cent drops into the bucket, was it really worth the ringer’s time and effort?
If a church holds a rally and not a single soul gets saved, was it worth the church’s time and effort?
Many of us have been to a church-sponsored camp, revival or other event where we heard a speaker attempt to rouse a reluctant crowd, saying, “If only one person chooses to follow Christ tonight, then all of our work here will have been worth it.”
But what if no one came forward that night? What if no one chose to give their life to Jesus at that rally? Was the work still worth it?
Getting an immediate reaction from those we minister to would certainly make Christian service easier. The same can be said of any difficult task in life.
For instance, exercising after a hearty holiday meal would not be such a challenge if we could be guaranteed that immediately after we would see a chiseled six pack staring back at us from the mirror.
If only we could always see the results from our work. If only we could be certain that the seeds we plant will blossom. But God never promised us our eyes would bear witness to all that he is doing in our lifetime.
I think it’s time for the church to retire the phrase “If only one…”
Jesus commanded us in his final words to go and make disciples of the nations. A disciple, however, is rarely made in one meeting. Instead, the trail is often marked by a series of experiences and conversations that combine together to create a collage of Christ’s love.
As followers of Jesus, our duty is simply to be about this work, to plant the seeds we were called to plant in other’s lives. The efforts we make might not make an immediate impact, but they will have an effect in fertilizing the seed and the soil so that one day God can come in and reap the harvest.
There might not be one person who gets saved simply because of one conversation, one service, or one act from us. But without these small pieces we put into place, the puzzle of God’s love would never be complete in a person’s life.
Wouldn’t it be incredible if only one person could be saved at every church in the world’s Christmas service this year? Of course it would. But when we think about the gospel in terms of numbers and conversions, the church becomes like a department store keeping track of credit cards they’ve gotten customers to sign up for.
Do not weigh yourself down thinking that even just one person must be saved through your work. Trust what God is doing through you. Refuse to put restrictions on his work. Rejoice that God is not dependent on you. He chooses to use you.
Let the gift of the church this Christmas be the retirement of the phrase “If only one…”
Take comfort that sometimes just ringing the bell is enough, even if it seems like no one is listening.
(This post originally appeared as a guest column for the Augusta Chronicle.)