You spend hours and hours with a friend, helping them work through the same issues again and again, helping them carry their enormous amount of baggage. You tell your son not to punch his brother for the bajillionth (1 followed by, like, inifinity zeros) time. You desperately pray for the salvation of your parents for five years, ten years, even twenty years. You bust your butt (or “bottom” as we say in my child-friendly house) to serve a difficult person in the church.
And yet, in spite of all your efforts, you don’t see any fruit. It appears that your friend is still carrying the same baggage. You son is still throwing blistering haymakers and jabs at his brother. Your parents seem to be even less receptive to the gospel than in previous years. And that difficult person in the church is still being… let’s see, how do we say this?… difficult. You’re doing the work, you’re not a slacker! (see What About Bob?). But you’re not seeing any results.
What is the point of it all? Why should you keep investing yourself in a person when you are seeing zero fruit? Why should you keep working on a relationship that just doesn’t seem to be working?
1 Corinthians 15:58 says:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Paul knows we will be tempted to think our labor is in vain. A waste. Absolutely useless. So Paul reminds us of the truth. Our labor for God is never in vain. Our work for God is never wasted. God promises that he will use our labor and sweat and tears for his purposes, to bring him glory. Even if we don’t see results, we can be assured that God is working. Most of the time we have no idea how God is using our efforts. As Charles Bridges says:
Apparent must not be the measure of the real result…. There may be solid work advancing underground, without any sensible excitement; as we observe the see that produces the heaviest grain lies the longest in the earth. We are not always the best judges of the results of our Ministry. (The Christian Ministry, 73)
In other words, our perception of what God is doing in a person is often very different from what God is actually doing in that person. It may appear that nothing is happening in a person, when in reality, God is at work all over the place. We have no idea what God is doing quietly, behind the scenes. We have no idea how he is pressing, convicting, and shaping a person. We have no idea how God is using our labors to draw a person to himself. We usually are not the best judges of the results of our ministry.
So we must be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work God has called us to. Be steadfast in raising, instructing, and training your children, even when it seems like you’re on a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle. Be faithful in helping your baggage-carrying friend, even if it seems like the baggage is actually accumulating! Be abounding in the work of serving others, even when there is no thanks in return.
Why? Because YOUR LABOR IS NOT IN VAIN! God will use it. He will be faithful. Don’t hang all your faith on visible results. We don’t know what God is doing. We do know that our work is never wasted.