People have differing views of work ranging from dread to excitement - but very view people relish working in vain. We want something to show for our efforts.
In the fifteenth chapter of his first letter to Corinth, the Apostle Paul admonishes his friends, "Therefore my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
Perhaps the Corinthians suspected that it all might be for naught.
Everyone who uses a computer to communicate deeply felt convictions and intricate concepts has had the experience of seemingly working in vain. We have labored over thoughts and words for intense periods of time and have finally formulated those ideas into concrete sentences when the computer suddenly crashes and all is lost.
All of that for nothing! But not really.
We have meditated, wrestled, and have been shaped by truth. We may have to step away, take a break, or lick our wounds. However, the next time we write the same thing, it comes out a bit differently, but it comes nevertheless.
The process was about what was happening inside of us and not what was occurring on the screen or the page.
It is often that way.
The occasion for Paul's encouraging words was twofold. It came in recognition of the people's present concerns. All truth is wrapped in a veneer of present reality. We live in context and experience the full range of what it means to be human. We know pains and joys, satisfaction and discouragement. It is all a part of life. Add to that the ever-present, looming threat of death that eventually will overtake us all and we may wonder, "What is it all about?"
The second occasion he addresses is the future conviction that people of faith are going somewhere, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ has something more than an historical significance to His followers. In the earlier verses of the chapter, he expresses the conviction that resurrection hope is shared among all who embrace Jesus and live in the power of His death and life.
Everything has meaning, even the mundane and tedious experiences of life.
What follows is a threefold admonition. The NIV uses the words, "Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself to the work of the Lord."
The first admonition is to STAND.
It is hard to stand when the ground is shaking. For that reason, people who intend to live forever must find deeper grounding for their lives. They (we) cannot be controlled by our circumstances or our emotions. These are a part of our reality; they are not the sum total of it
"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."
Another way he could have said this might have been, "Don't lose your footing." Remember what you believe. Remember where you are going. remember why you are doing what you are doing. Reconnect with what stabilizes you in your resolve and commitment.
Someone has said that if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.
The second admonition is to WITHSTAND. "Let nothing move you."
We have some choices to make about what we will allow to move us. I choose God and God alone.
It is easy to place one's life in neutral when bombarded by a cacophony of voices and a barrage of influences all vying for our attention and compliance. Everyone wants our ears and our acquiescence.
Political, social, peer, commercial, moral, and familial voices tantalize, rationalize, and intimidate us into uncertainty about our core values and commitments.
That is what Paul is saying when he encourages the folks not to be moved.
Of course we need to challenge our presuppositions, prejudices, comfortable notions, and assumptions. He is not addressing these. He is talking about our life mission, or unchanging purpose for living, our devotion to God and His vision within us, and the work that we are called to do.
Keep on keeping on. Be not easily dissuaded from the cause. Persevere. Expect to be maligned, attacked, challenged, and inconvenienced, but stay with it.
The third admonition is to ABOUND.
He says we are to abound in the work of the Lord, always giving ourselves to it. The first admonition was abound grounding; the second was about rebounding in the face of opposition. Now we are looking at the call to be abounding in work itself.
It is about full engagement, heart devotion, energy investment, and enthusiasm.
"Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."
You can stand with deep conviction and withstand with stubborn tenacity, but it takes the power of the Holy Spirit within you to abound. You must rely on a strength greater than your own to fully engage.
The word "enthusiasm" means "God within."
The word, "inspired" means "breathed upon," as though by the very breath of God.
"Motivated" really means "moved to action."
Abound. As you know in the physical world, the body requires rest, replenishment of energy through nutrition, and exercise to abound. The health system Kaiser calls it "thrive."
In the realm of work that has abiding significance and eternal implications, the same is true. We must nourish ourselves spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically to abound in our work. Paul says that our labor is in the Lord which means that He supplies the tasks as well as the ability to do them.
Some of the tools we have for abounding are true for ministry, business, and social endeavors:
READ - For me, part of the diet, the biggest part, is the Bible, but I also read instructive, encouraging, motivating, and challenging books and articles from many sources.
PRAY - Engage in an honest, ongoing, satisfying, and open relationship with the Source of your life. "Pray without ceasing."
RELATE and PARTNER - In Christianity, we call this fellowship. In business and entrepreneurship, we call it networking. In any realm, it is the reality that we are not alone and the assurance that others are engaged in the mission that helps encourage us.
FOCUS -Christian words for this are obedience and faithfulness. We focus on what we are doing and let lesser things go. We keep eyes on the prize and invest our time, energy, and love in what produces lasting results and deep change.
Stand, withstand, and abound or, you could say, ground, rebound, and abound. That is the threefold admonition.
Finally, he gives a grand assurance - Your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
God knows it is hard. You know it and God knows it. Sometimes you just don't want to get up and have no idea where the energy will come from or how to muster the will, but you do in faith and it comes.
God knows it is discouraging. You will not always be complemented, appreciated, or affirmed. Stay with it. It is not in vain. There will come a day. The story has been told so many times that no one really knows the source or whether it is fiction or history. It may not be true, but it is truth:
An old missionary couple had been working in Africa for years and were returning to New York to retire. They had no pension; their health was
broken; they were defeated, discouraged, and afraid. They discovered they
were booked on the same ship as President Teddy Roosevelt, who was
returning from one of his big-game hunting expeditions.
No one paid any attention to them. They watched the fanfare that
accompanied the President's entourage, with passengers trying to catch a
glimpse of the great man. As the ship moved across the ocean, the old
missionary said to his wife, "Something is wrong." "Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these many years
and have no one care a thing about us? Here this man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody makes much over him, but nobody gives two hoots
"Dear, you shouldn't feel that way", his wife said. He replied "I can't help it; it doesn't seem right."
When the ship docked in New York, a band was waiting to greet the
President. The mayor and other dignitaries were there. The papers were full of the President's arrival. No one noticed this missionary couple.
They slipped off the ship and found a cheap flat on the East Side, hoping the next day to see what they could do to make a living in the city.
That night the man's spirit broke. He said to his wife, "I can't take
this; God is not treating us fairly". His wife replied, "Why don't you go in the bedroom and tell that to the Lord?"
A short time later he came out from the bedroom, but now his face was completely different. His wife asked, "Dear, what happened?" "The Lord
settled it with me", he said. "I told Him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put
His hand on my shoulder and simply said;
"But you're not home yet."
That is because God knows the outcome. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him."
You are going somewhere and your labor is not in vain.
Keep on keeping on.
- Tom Sims The Dream Factory