The Responsorial (Psalm 106) reminds us never to doubt God’s goodness. On the contrary, no matter how
bad things seem, we should keep saying, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
Genesis 16: 1-16 shows us that God is good to us even when we bring pain on ourselves. Sarai told her husband Abram to have children by her slave Hagar. He did, but when her advice backfired and Hagar despised Sarai for her barrenness, Sarai blamed Abram and began to abuse Hagar. So Hagar ran away.
Enter God. He sends an angel to tell Hagar to go back and submit to Sarai’s meanness because, even though Hagar brought it on herself by despising Sarai, God will make it up to her: “I will make your descendants so numerous that they will be too many to count.” This squared things for Hagar. Happy ending: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
One of the greatest dangers in ministry is discouragement. Ministry always aims, in some way or degree, at conversion. Even healing ministry seeks to help people believe more in God’s love for them, which is a conversion. But true conversion depends on grace and free will, neither of which is under the minister’s control. So there is never a predictable cause-and-effect result we can expect from ministry. We just have to do our best and leave the rest to God. Whether we see results or not we must still say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
We could aim at and possibly achieve other results than conversion. In Matthew 7: 21-29 Jesus discounts eloquent preaching and exhortation (“prophesying”), driving out demons and working miracles — not that these are bad; they just aren’t necessarily good. What is good? What can we aim that we can be sure is fruitful to ourselves and to others?
The answer is decisions. Ministry, like the spiritual life itself, is fruitful when it leads to decisions in response to God’s word. “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Ministry that does not produce decisions is as futile as housebuilding on a sandy slope: when put to the test, anything it seemed to have accomplished will slide downhill.
But decisions and concrete actions that put Christ’s words into practice are the hardest thing to produce. Ministers can only focus on living out in action themselves what they exhort others to do, and then leave the results to God — while they keep saying, regardless of visible results, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
Initiative: Be a priest. Focus on fidelity in action, not success.