The journals of US Army Captain Meriwether Lewis and his second in command, William Clark, recording their epic journey of discovery of the American West, are full of amazing details about the hardships they endured and their great accomplishments. The perilous journey lasted from May 1804 to September 1806, and in his August 18, 1805 journal entry Lewis wrote:
“This day I completed my thirty first year. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the happiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation…. I resolved in future, to redouble my exertions …”
Lewis wrote this at the point when he, Clark and the expedition members had not only reached the source of the Missouri River, but had also finally crossed the almost impenetrable Rocky Mountains. He and the others with him had vastly advanced the knowledge of the American West and had done a great deal toward opening up vast areas which would further human success and happiness on the continent. Yet he felt he had done little if anything.
The story reminds us of the words of the apostle Paul who, after incredible accomplishments for the work of God, wrote in his letter to the Philippians:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
This phenomenon is easy to see in our own lives. The more important a task to which we commit ourselves, the less we sometimes feel we are succeeding in it. Yet there is encouragement in this if we realize we often simply do not see, ourselves, what we are accomplishing in the work God gives us to do. This is probably especially true in work which shows no immediate or obvious tangible results. But the success of any spiritual venture is in God’s hands, not ours, if we are doing what we can do. I know of many servants of God who have felt total lack of success after preaching a sermon or writing something which they felt in retrospect would probably not really help anyone – only to be told by someone that the particular message was of great personal help.
The truth is, like Captain Lewis, we may not see the significance of the work we do, but (although we may not have accomplished anything like they did) like Lewis, and like Paul, if we continue to rededicate ourselves to the mission we have been given, time will show that we did, in fact, make a difference.