I’ve outlived my 1981 dream by one year. I was still in my first year as pastor at Bethlehem and I was fighting discouragement. My dream on that early May morning was
to come to the end of my life after 30 years of pastoral labors and be able to say (gray-headed and full of joy): “My right is with the Lord and my recompense with my God.”
Now I’ve been here 31 years and I can testify from three decades of ministry that the weapon God gave me against discouragement that day has been precious and reliable the whole way. I commend it to you now, as Charles Bridges commended it to me then.
Charles Bridges (d. 1869) said, “Our recompense is measured not according to 'our success' but 'our labor' and, as with our blessed Master, vouchsafed even in the failure of our ministration.” God rewards our labor, even if we “fail.” Like Jesus.
This is exactly what I needed. I knew success was not in my power. By grace I could do my work. But the fruit—that was all God’s doing (“God gives the growth” 1 Corinthians 3:6). God did not expect of me what he kept only for himself. He did expect me to work.
Then the real power of the encouragement came. Bridges quoted Isaiah 49:4, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity, yet surely my right is with the Lord and my recompense with my God.”
That was not Charles Bridges talking. That was Isaiah the prophet, on assignment from God, to an unresponsive people. It landed on me with explosive hope and joy.
That was more than 30 years ago. I exulted then in a dream: “To be faithful for 30 years and conquer every attack of discouragement with God’s word.
Now 31 years later, I thank God for the lesson. The recompense will come whether I “succeed” or “fail”. A burden was lifted. A burden I could not possibly bear.
Nor can I now. So I still pray: Lord let me come to the end of my days bearing the easy yoke and the light burden: Success belongs to the Lord, and my recompense is with him, whether the last season is famine or feast.