[James] Denney urged his flock to love their neighbors in need and “to spend and be spent in the teeth of all discouragement.” He pressed them to shrink from “the impiety which seeks in successful work the ground of self-glorification.”
These prescriptions transcend the specific problem Denney was addressing. They are words for us in all seasons. We need to practice a “patient continuance of well doing,” no matter what the difficulties or obstacles. As Paul put it, we should “not grow weary in doing what is right for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Despite the temptation to cut and run, or to burn-out, we need an ongoing commitment to doing God’s work in ministry, through all our days and all our circumstances. This patience needs to be continual, grounded in the trust that God is at work in what we do.
When things go well, on the other hand, we may be tempted to think we have done nicely! We pat ourselves on the back for what has been achieved. The cult of “success” is always before us, luring us into its grasp and urging us to attribute whatever has been accomplished to our own abilities, smarts, and strengths. We can easily turn in upon ourselves to ascribe all goodness to our own efforts.
But this we need to resist. As Denney said, there is “the impiety which seeks in successful work the ground of self-glorification.” In our better moments, we know all things rest in God; and God’s grace is the ground for all that emerges through anything we do. I’m always reminded that “success is not a biblical category”! We are not called to be “successful;” we are called to be faithful. Again, Paul reminds us that in “whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whatever goodness arises from what we do, the glory is God’s, not our own.
from The Patient Continuance of Well Doing, by Don McKim