In the last few days, we got word that the pastor who followed me to that congregation has resigned, because of a no-confidence vote by the elders. During the three years he has been there, they have lost a lot of their people, including some who I would consider pillars of the church. I can't tell how much of that is because of his blunders or how much of it is because of other issues or people. All I know is that the remnant who are still in that church are bitterly divided over whether he should be leaving. There is some question in many minds whether the church will survive the trauma and division of it all. All of this in an intensely short period of time, as time goes. A vibrant, healthy congregation mostly destroyed in a few months.
The truth is that I have served 4 different churches, and most of what I have invested my life in for 32 years has fallen apart in all of them.
Now, I know that to most of you reading this, what happens to this congregation in a distant town, one that you will never visit, matters little. But it raises the question of significance for us all.
Where does personal significance come from? How do you measure it? Is personal significance something you or I control? I won't pretend that I know the answers to all of this. But I think God keeps impressing upon me a sense of what really matters.
I think significance is experienced in suffering, far more than what is taken to be success. Even as the apostle Paul wrestled with personal significance and concluded that it had something to do with knowing Jesus Christ "and the power of His resurrection, sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that if possible I might attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11) It would appear that significance has more to do with knowing God through Jesus Christ, which will ultimately come by finding Him in the midst of our sufferings, than with the outer trappings of accomplishment.
And I also believe this: significance is a gift from God, not a reward for what we have accomplished. At the very least, as Augustine said, He is the only One who discerns the ultimate significance of any moment in a person's life (The Way That Leads There, G. Meilander). It's not a work or the result of our work. Our worth and significance in this broken world is something God chose in His hesed love, that particular love out of which He makes promises that bind us to Him and to His people. It is conferred upon us, and upon the emotionally and mentally and physically challenged, and upon the poor and weak and the depressed and the have-nots and the outsiders and the marginalized. . . because it is what is in His heart, not because of what we have done. "For if while we were still enemies of God we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more . . . shall we be saved by His life." (Romans 5:10)
Something else seems clear to me. Significance is manifested in relationships. That is, when God's gift of value and meaningfulness dawns on us, the way it shows up, is reflected, is in relationships. In love. What we believe is no small matter. But the only way it is clear that one knows God and thus "believes" is by its fruit: love. "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?. . .I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:14, 18) "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (I John 4:8)
It says to me that the weightiness of our lives will be found in the long run in knowing God through suffering. And that we will see it in the eyes of the people we love.