The Invisibility of Progress

Most days we are not breaking the tape of a finish line, walking across the stage at graduation, or standing to receive ovations for a job well done. Generally those moments are the rare capstones of greater accomplishments: keep running and you can finish the race, persevere in study and you can graduate, work hard where no one sees and eventually your hard work will be rewarded publicly. This is a truism: public success is won at the price of private labor. What a compliment to hear it said of someone, “he really did his homework…he always comes prepared.” Public praise for private work.

Yet, what if we are working as hard as we can but we see no visible result? What if you’re doing private work without public acknowledgement, when private work yields nothing? These are actually wonderful moments in as much as they clean the debris of business away long enough to see clearly what is always true: we are dependent upon God. We are at His mercy. The preposition implies location. That’s where we are; we are not lost at sea, adrift in a sea of bad decisions, in a confusing maze. We are located precisely at the mercy of God. And His mercy is so profound it does not need to manifest itself in visible ways. This is why invisible progress is so often hidden in visible regress. We feel like we are going backward, but we are simply at the mercy of God.

Consider Leah. Leah was over looked because she was not beautiful. She had a birth defect that made her unattractive, and to compound her trouble, her sister was beautiful (Gen. 29:17). Her husband did not want to be married to her, and she was barren. Yet, though over looked by others, in the midst of her private pain, “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb…” Barren but at the mercy of God meant she should start decorating the nursery. Anything parked at the mercy of God means that He is working privately for our good and for His glory in ways that may not be currently visible. And this is the end of the story: Leah is the mother of Judah, the very human bloodline of Jesus. Private suffering, yet she lives in immortality. She was not lost; she was located exactly at the mercy of God. It’s a good place to be.

This is why we must work tenaciously in private. Tenacious private work acknowledges that we understand our location and that we know where we are. We are at God’s mercy and consequently no private sacrifice, no matter how small, will be wasted. Not one. And this is peace. We often confuse peace as the product of accomplishment of mental and spiritual tranquility. Peace is not the end of suffering or the realization of an ultimate goal. Peace is rest. Resting in the knowledge that what we can’t see is actually true. That God is in fact working. So we stay at it. And to be sure, we are waiting for a tangible reward. God does not promise to reward us openly, but to reward us ultimately.

We are always at the work because we are always at His mercy. The rest is in the invisible work of the God who sees all.

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