I've a good friend who's doing scientific research. She's part of a team trying to find a cure for a particular form of cancer. Hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year she pours over a microscope. She and her colleagues study the way cancer cells react to various chemicals. Meticulously they record their findings. There are other such dedicated teams of scientists all round the world.
Hopefully, one day they will find a cure. But that may take years. My friend and her many colleagues recognize they may never see the success of their research. They may never gain any credit for all their dedicated hard work. And yet she and they press on, fortified by the hope, the conviction, that one day all their efforts will have proved worthwhile. They will have helped to save lives.
Such a researcher must be a very special kind of person. It means not expecting instant success and personal glory -though that would be marvellous if it came! Most likely my friend and her colleagues will have built on other people's efforts. Probable other people will come along later and build on their labours. For such dedicated people eventual success, rather than personal glory, is what really matters.
That means being prepared to take the long view, while realising the importance of concentrating on the here and now of focusing on particular cells. Such researchers must live in the present while living a life of hope and perseverance, despite set-backs and false trails. They must accept that they are part of a team in which rivalries and jealousies would undermine their work.
St. Paul puts this approach beautifully when he reproves the Corinthians for rival personality cults of particular preachers,
"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants, or the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose...For we are God's servants, working together,"
(1 Cor. 3. 5-9).
My researcher has shown me the importance of not looking for instance results. I must not even expect to see any success for all my efforts. That, indeed, is the lot of the researcher and preacher. Instead, our hope must be on things unseen. We build on other people's labours, and others will come after us to develop our work and perhaps take credit for the eventual success. None of us is likely to achieve anything of lasting value if we are loners, seeking instant success and glory.
Such acclaim ultimately depends upon God and is due to God. He gives the scientist the personal skill and temperament to develop techniques to conduct fruitful research. He's with the preacher in preparing and delivering a sermon. He touches the minds and hearts of those who hear it. He gives both of us the patience to cope with setbacks and the lack of immediate success.
For all of us, in whatever we achieve, the ultimate glory must be given to God. With the Psalmist I exclaim, "Not to us, but unto your name belongs the glory," (Ps. 115). With Paul I must be convinced that, "we are God's servants, working together" -working together with each other as a team; all of us teaming up together with God. That kind of teamwork must be essential to my meeting God.
And with my scientist friend I must be prepared for God to work in His own good time and way. If we are not to give up in frustration and despair we must be convinced that what we are doing is in itself worthwhile, even though we may never see the results of our labours. Without laboratory researchers no wonder drugs would ever be discovered to cure the patient. And without the preacher the Good News would not be heard and believed.
My researcher friend has shown me the importance of being prepared to take the long view, without becoming discouraged, even when I never seem to achieve anything worthwhile. If I'm to meet God I must learn to place all that I am and do in His hands and leave the outcome to Him. That means leaving Him the freedom to act in His own way and in His own good time. According to St. Peter God's way of measuring time, is certainly very different from ours, "With the Lord one day is like a thousand, and a thousand years are like one day!" (2 Peter3. 8). My researcher friend has taught me the importance of waiting for things as yet unseen -the greatest being meeting God Himself in His eternal kingdom. He's worth working for; He's worth waiting for!
In a fortnight's time Fr. Peter will reflect on meeting God through
'A Fat Cat, Feline Beatitude, A Heavenly Cat'