Labored in Vain?

“Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; yet surely my just reward is with the LORD, and my work with my God.’”

Isaiah 49:4

We all love to hear testimonies from people who have preached the gospel and who have subsequently experienced the conversion of the listeners. Or they have distributed a tract and the recipient is so deeply moved that he immediately confesses his sins to God. Have you ever thought when reading such events: “Why doesn’t my testimony have the same effect as in the example I just read?” I try to live out the gospel to the best of my knowledge and to tell others about it, but nothing happens! People go on by or are even upset by it. Then Satan can whisper in the ear of the child of God: “Give up!” – “You are doing it wrong.” – “You can’t do it like….” or even: “There must be something wrong in your life, otherwise the fruit would come.” Would it not be much more satisfying if we could do our job with ease? 

Jesus said in John 15:19-20: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” If we look at the mission of Jesus, we see that very often He spoke words that fell on deaf, indifferent, or hateful ears. He also had little “success” on earth. That is why He also instructed His disciples to prepare for failure. Only when the Holy Spirit has made a person’s heart receptive will a person accept the gospel, but others will reject it, no matter how and by whom the gospel is shared with them. We must take this into account when we think about our spiritual work. 

We read of Noah, the preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), who testified and preached for years, and not a soul listened to him. The prophet Jeremiah said: “O LORD, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me. For when I spoke, I cried out; I shouted, ‘Violence and plunder!’ Because the word of the LORD was made to me a reproach and a derision daily. Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.’ But His Word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not’” (Jeremiah 20:7-9). Although these people were sent by God, led by the Holy Spirit, the fruit did not come, and Jeremiah was about to give up and no longer preach the Word of the Lord. Maybe you feel like Jeremiah when you read other people’s testimonies of how God was able to use them. If you are struggling with such discouraging thoughts, I would like to encourage you. Take a look at the following facts:

1) We are responsible for obedience; God produces the fruit. I often have to think about the life of the apostles. Their tasks were very different. For example, James, the brother of John, was killed by the sword already in Acts 12. He was a witness for Jesus for only a few years and then God allowed his time to end. But Paul, Peter, and John worked, suffered, fought, and endured much longer. Who was more Spirit-filled? Who was more obedient? They were all the same, but God’s plan for each disciple was different. Dear child of God, do not be discouraged if you cannot write stories like others. Continue to be obedient in your work of witnessing!

2) Often we do not see what is happening in people’s hearts. On the outside, people in our lives may reject the gospel and make fun of it, but on the inside they may listen and have a desire to hear more. We may not be the person privileged to harvest, but God uses us to prepare the ground, sprinkle, or water the seeds. After perhaps praying for a person for years or sharing your testimony, the person meets someone else who can lead them to Jesus. But that doesn’t happen in a heartbeat. The Spirit of God may have started speaking through your testimony long before and prepared the soul for this time. When many came to Jesus through the testimony of the Samaritan woman, he said: “For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:37-38). We are often inclined to admire only those who bring in the harvest and forget about those who have sown. But one question: What requires more stamina to continue: when our testimony has an effect, or if it seems to fall on hard ground? The answer is certainly: if we see no fruit and yet continue to testify and love in prayer and obedience to God.

Dear child of God, be encouraged by the experiences of others leading people to Christ, and do not be discouraged if you cannot write such stories. Remain faithful and obedient at the place where God has put you. The servant who gained a tenfold return was also rewarded, as was the one who gained five. Do what you can! Do it out of love for the Lord! The Lord will reward your obedience forever. 

John Reimer

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