There are some jobs no one wants. Take for example, no one wanted to be the guy who had to tell George Steinbrenner that the Yankees lost. If you were that guy, it's quite possible that you'd lose your job just for brining the news. An entire television show has been dedicated to just these kind of jobs — Dirty Jobs — jobs that no one wants but someone has to do.
The Bible has a few such jobs as well. Who wants to go tell Ahab and Jezebel that God doesn't quite approve of what they're doing? Who wants to be the bearer of bad news before Herod and Herodias? What kind of guys tells Nebuchadnezzar that his days are numbered? It's one thing to be alive during the major course changes of world history but its another thing to be on the frontlines. If you remember correctly, Elijah had to run for his life, John the Baptist lost his head, and Daniel spent some time amongst the lions. These guys pulled some tough duty.
Most of us aren't called of God to walk before the pagan firing squad. We aren't going to operate in the circles that these biblical heroes experienced. Yet, there are other biblical heroes whose call to duty is much like ours. They were called not to successfulness but faithfulness. They were called to call others to God. They were called to people with hardened hearts. They were called to ministries with no earthly hope of success.
Consider for a moment Isaiah. Isaiah's call to ministry comes in chapter 6. There he has a vision of God's throne room. There he has an incredible religious experience. There, moved by the worship of the one true God, Isaiah responds to God's question, "Who shall go for us," with a hearty, "Here I am, send me." Amen!
Those who've been tasked with recruiting missionaries love to preach of Isaiah's willingness to go. And, he was willing. But, we dishonor the depth of Isaiah's commitment if we ignore the fact that he was commissioned to go forth to a people who didn't want to hear his message (just like many of us today). Worse yet, God told Isaiah that no one would respond. Isaiah was called to a dead end ministry with no hope of worldly success. He wasn't going to see a revival. He wasn't going to facilitate a major church growth spurt. He was called to preach to a rebellious people whom God already knew would not respond. You see, Isaiah wasn't called to sucess. He was called to obedience. That's tough duty.
Jeremiah experienced the same fate. He was set aside from the womb for the great task of preaching repentance to his countrymen. Yet, he too knew that there was no hope. His message would go unanswered just as God had warned. The people would not listen. The people would not respond. Jeremiah would preach. The people would sin. Jeremiah would preach some more. The people would sin some more. It was a lose-lose proposition for Jeremiah, yet he continued on in the face of stern opposition. Now, that's tough duty.
Today, many of us need to learn the powerful lessons contained in the stories of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Too many of us become quickly disheartened when the world doesn't jump for joy at our proclamation of the gospel. Too many give up hope and then give up trying.
That's just the laypeople. Those called to the ministry vocationally don't do much better and that's much worse. They feel called of God to serve him. They feel led to go to churches where they can make a difference. Then, frustrated with the lack of progress, dismayed by the obstinance of a church full of sinners, they cry "uncle" and beg God to send them somewhere else, to someone else who will soak up their words of wisdom and sing their praises to their neighbors.
Good luck, gentlemen. God doesn't call pastors to success. God call ministers to faithfulness.
Imagine the Bible without Isaiah 53. It's not inconceivable if Isaiah had given up as easily as many of us do. Imagine the New Covenant without Jeremiah 31. It's not hard to think that Jeremiah could have walked away in despair 13 chapters earlier when he complained of the people's rebellion. Now, imagine many of our churches if someone didn't step up, answer the call to tough duty, and love the unlovable in many of our pews.
The Christian walk, Christian ministry … those things are tough duty. Don't measure the value of your efforts by the so-called marks of success. Measure your success by your faithfulness to those things that God has called you to do. It may be tough duty but it's rewarding duty.