“He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.’ I replied, ‘But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I will leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.’ “49:3-4
You’ve been there. You’ve committed yourself to good work. To hard work. And it seems so useless. Maybe it’s a person you’re trying to love well. You pour yourself out to them continually, sacrificing your time, energy and latte budget for the sake of their well-being and you find yourself getting no where.
I’ve been there often. I frequently find myself in circumstances where God invites me into something, puts me to work and the results don’t roll in the way I expect. My first memory of this was sitting down with a friend several times and addressing their addiction. I think I was hoping they’d throw their arms around me and immediately agree or perhaps maintain an on-going stream of thank you letters. But instead, they stubbornly pushed back, our deep friendship immediately ended and they never looked back. It felt so useless.
I could greatly discourage you with a long list of circumstances similar to that one, and I’m sure you could share some war stories too. Because sometimes we don’t get to see the rewards of our work. Or worse, sometimes the results just don’t happen.
Luckily, God isn’t measuring our work by results. He, yet again, is interested in our heart towards him. He graciously invites us in to his plan and along the way reveals his glory, sovereignty and unfailing love. If I feel discouraged or want to give up on something God has me working on, it’s usually because I’m working for the wrong reason, or the wrong person. Here’s some self-talk I do when I’m ready to give up:
What are you working for? If the answer isn’t immediately “loving and obeying God”, it’s time to step back and reevaluate my involvement. For example, when Bethany and I started this blog, we mutually agreed we wouldn’t worry about how many people read it. If our goal is to point to God and not to ourselves, it eliminates the temptation to find identity or value in what we’re doing. (We are, however, delighted by our readership and thankful you guys join us!)
Who are you working for? A good friend of mine use to ask me this when we worked at summer camp. I would be getting all worked up about something, questioning my character and earthly value, and he would remind me that A. I am referring to a kickball tournament and B. I ultimately work for the Lord, not for camp directors. When I feel run down by expectations from my boss, pastor, husband, etc, it’s exclusively because I am trying to perform for mankind instead of trying to serve the Lord.
The author of the verses above sets a great example: trust God and leave matters into his hands. This doesn’t mean we are to give up. Keep reaching out to that person God put on your heart. Continue working on that seemingly dead-end project. Your work is not in vain!