Sometimes, our lives sing the tune of drudgery and apparent defeat. We feel the drain of all the needs around us on our hearts. We give our lives to a cause only to see it defeated in the courts. We pour into a ministry only to see it removed from the church. We invest into a young man or woman only to see them move to another state. We mentor a boy or girl to see them make poor life choices. We push and push on the fly wheel at work only to see it progress backwards.
Over ice cream with ministry partners last week, I heard a sad story. A faithful couple had poured themselves into the life of a young girl and her child. The girl was a single mother who had become pregnant in her teens. The couple had considered her their ministry – they had taken her to church weekly, paid for her laundry to be done, purchased countless loads of diapers, and had answered phone calls at all times of the day to hear her cries for help. They had loved her as Jesus had, without question. They had instructed her in the way she should go and thought they were beginning to see progress only to find out last week that she is once again pregnant and soon to be homeless.
Are our efforts in vain? We love only to have our hearts broken. We invest only for loss. We pour our lives out and seem to show nothing in return for it. Is our work useless? Is our strength spent for nothing and to no purpose?
The answer to that question depends on where we place our trust. If we place our trust in ourselves, our jobs, or our own power, then it is absolutely in vain. If there is nothing on the other side of this life than the grave, then every failure on earth and every setback is nothing but waste. If the only reward we will ever receive is an earthly reward, then we will never make enough to account for all the losses, heartache, and pain that we experience.
The prophet Isaiah understood this principle. He cried out to God because he felt so useless. He didn’t see any way that he could be used for the glory of God, even though God had said, “You are my servant… and you will bring me glory” (Isaiah 49:3). However, even as his humanity cried out in despair, his spirit sought a heavenly reality. Instead of focusing on earthly rewards and outcomes, Isaiah ended up with an eternal focus, “Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward” (Is. 49:4). Isaiah knew that all the work of his hands, all his ministry, his parenting, his life had to rest in the hands of the Lord.
There are too many heartaches in this life to depend on earthly rewards. So what do we do when the young girl gets pregnant again? Or the ministry we believe God has called us to seems to sputter? We trust Christ for an eternal reward. We fix our eyes on what we can’t see. Paul writes, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever. So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
We don’t have to give up! We can keep working, investing, pouring into lives without the expectation of an earthly reward because we know that we have a reward in heaven that is from the hand of God! Our reward does not depend on the things we can see, the earthly rewards that tempt the masses. We can gaze on our heavenly reward that awaits us and will only be revealed when our Lord returns.
Be encouraged today – the early apostles gave their life for the cross before the church had been formed. I wonder if they ever felt defeated? Moses never entered the Promised Land. Was he a success by worldly measure? Jesus died on the cross. Did His disciples consider that an overwhelming victory at the time?
No matter how useless you feel today, how little of an impact you feel you are making on the world, be encouraged that God sees your work. Remember the saints before you often felt the same, but they trusted the work of their hands to God. Leave your work, no matter how small and “meaningless” it may be, in His hands, and one day you will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Shaun Denney is the Local Initiatives Director at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY, and is a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.