There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
Relate: Way back in the early 18th century, a brilliant man named Edmond Halley came up with a brilliant plan for figuring out how far the earth was from the sun. This was the same Halley who now has a comet named after him. It was also the same man who had a discussion with a colleague that led to that colleague writing something called Principia Mathematica. Not only did a conversation first kick off the world-shattering work, but it was also Halley who offered to foot the bill for publishing the work when the British Royal Society refused to do so for fear it wouldn’t garner enough interest to make it worth the cost. Unfortunately, today an apple gets credit rather than Halley for being Isaac Newton’s sidekick in explaining how gravity works.
But getting back to Halley’s idea… He realized that if precise measurements were made of Venus’ path across the sun from various locations on the earth, these could then be triangulated and we could figure out exactly how far we were from the sun, and from there figure out how far everything in the solar system is from everything else. Unfortunately, Venus only crosses the sun twice, eight years apart, every couple hundred years or so. The next pair of eight would take place two decades after Halley was six feet under.
When this time came, the world was ready for this scientific/astronomical/mathematical venture like they were for nothing else in history. A scientist named Mikhail Lomonosov organized the teams and locations and scientists set out from dozens of countries (mostly France and Britain) headed out to hundreds of locations to measure a roughly three-hour journey of Venus across the sun. One of the men was named Guillaume Le Gentil. He set out from Paris France March of 1760 with the goal of being at the Isle of France (India) to make his observations on June 6, 1761. I’ve made a few trans-Atlantic flights in my day and abhor the flights and layovers and delays that have once even made this nearly a two-day journey. I can’t imagine leaving well more than a year early and still not getting there in time. Thanks to the British vs French Seven Years War and also some bad weather that blew his ship off course, Le Gentil was still at sea when the time came for that first Venus crossing. Since he was at sea, the bobbing of the ship made impossible any chance of accurate readings.
Le Gentil decided that he wasn’t going to put this trip to waste and decided to wait for the next crossing 8 years later. During the wait, he did some mapping of Madagascar and had a little trouble with the Spanish in the Philippines, but he made sure to get back to the Isle of France well more than a year before the time for the next Venus crossing. He built an observatory and waited. For the months leading up to the fated time, the weather was beautiful and cloudless. Unfortunately, on that day, the 4th of June, 1769, the sun fell behind clouds about an hour before the start of the event. They remained there until a couple hours after it would have ended. Once again, there was no chance for any observations to be made.
Frustrated nearly to the point of a mental breakdown, Le Gentil headed home. First dysentery, then storms, delayed this most unlucky scientist and it wasn’t until October of 1771, more than 11 years after his departure, that he finally arrived home. If only that were the end of the story. Le Gentil returned home only to discover that none of his many letters home written over the years had managed to survive the journey. His family had him declared dead, his wife had remarried, and his position in the French Royal Society had been given to another.
React: If were dependent solely on Le Gentil, through no fault of his own, the world would have had to wait another hundred years to know how far we were from the sun and how big the solar system really is. Fortunately, he was only one of many people all over the world who were part of the same task, working toward the same goal. Others also had some mishaps, including some Russian peasants chasing off one scientist they thought was a witch, and including a Mason and Dixon team that would later go on to chart the line that borders Pennsylvania and Maryland, but enough scientists were able to complete their task that the job got done. Science was able to put Le Gentil’s efforts to use. If nothing else, he became an inspiration to others through the writing of Tim Ferris and Bill Bryson, and even the subject of a relatively successful opera play called Transit of Venus.
Sometimes, I feel like my own luck and effectiveness is just as bad as Le Gentil’s. Sometimes I wonder if I am just frittering away my life uselessly while the world goes on around me. Sometimes I think that my weaknesses and failures are holding back the Kingdom of God. I put unreasonable levels of pressure on myself as if God were dependent on me rather than the reverse. Perhaps I should remember what I read today from Mordecai to Esther. If God doesn’t use me, he will raise up someone else to bring deliverance to His people. Sometimes I might fail. Sometimes the expectations and hopes of life might fail me. But God… He never fails. I am simply one of a large, multinational team all working towards the same task. Through me or through others, His kingdom will advance. I am only called to be obedient. It is His job to be effective.
Help me to avoid having a Savior complex. You alone are the savior. I am simply Your servant. I am simply one of a body of servants, being used with various gifts in various ways throughout the world. I pray that You would use me effectively, for Your glory, but even when my luck runs as bad as Le Gentil’s help me to remember that Your work is still moving forward.