Your Labor Is Not in Vain
April 22, 2022
This Photo by Nancy Hughes on Unsplash alerts me to a juxtaposition of two realities. All is in vain and nothing is in vain.
The first reality is expressed by the "Preacher" in Ecclesiastes. "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity and a chasing of wind."
The counter to that is the resurrection and overriding reality Paul expresses when he says, "Your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
All is in vain and nothing is in vain.
Take your pick by how you respond.
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 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 abounded 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:
As she tells it, it is the story of missionary Samuel Morrison’s (or was he called, "Henry?") return to the United States, as told in Ann Graham Lotz’s book, The Vision of His Glory:
The story is told of an old missionary named Samuel Morrison who, after twenty-five years in Africa, was returning to the United States to die. As it so happened, he traveled home on the same ocean liner that brought President Teddy Roosevelt back from a hunting expedition. When the great ship pulled into the New York harbor, the dock where it was to tie up was jammed with what looked like the entire population of New York City! Bands were playing, banners were waving, choirs of children were singing, multicolored balloons were floating in the air, flashbulbs were popping, and newsreel cameras were poised to record the return of the president.
Mr. Roosevelt stepped down the gangplank to thunderous cheers and applause, showered with confetti and ticker tape. If the crowd had not been restrained by ropes and police, he would have been mobbed!
At the same time, Samuel Morrison quietly walked off the boat. No one was there to greet him. He slipped alone through the crowd. Because of the crush of people there to welcome the president, he couldn’t even find a cab. Inside his heart, he began to complain, “Lord, the president has been in Africa for three weeks, killing animals, and the whole world turns out to welcome him home! I’ve given twenty-five years of my life in Africa, serving You, and no one has greeted me or even knows I’m here!”
In the quietness of his heart, a gentle, loving voice whispered, “But my dear child, you are 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.
I listened to 5 or 6 renditions of this and after I had shared another, I found this and was deeply moved.
What heart and love you brought to this! I had to come back and add it to my post!