Not in Vain (Letters to a Samuel Generation)

It is the ultimate question of life. The one question we find ourselves asking again and again, no matter who we are or where we come from. The heart of our nation asked it as we watched the Twin Towers fall on our television screens. We ask it when the job we wanted so badly slips away from us, we ask it when we lose a loved one, we ask it in loss and sometimes in blessing. It is the burning, searing question of life: “Why?”

Sometimes the answer comes. More often, our only answer is the ash-filled breeze that tells us something has happened, something is gone, and we do not understand.

As I write this, my family is facing a situation in which we are left holding ashes. For a period of time we have poured our lives into something, only to lose it. And we don’t understand why.

Weeks ago, the Lord began to prepare me for this. He began to speak to my heart, to tell me that He knows how we feel. He has felt the same way.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” you’re saying. “God knows everything. Jesus is God. He has never felt like this. He has never wasted His time, wasted His life for nothing.”

In Isaiah 49, there is a passage in which Jesus is speaking. He speaks words I never thought I’d hear Him say:

“Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain; yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God” (Isa. 49:4)

Have you ever beat your fists against the doors of Heaven, demanding to know what God was doing? If you have, perhaps all you gleaned from the experience were bloody knuckles. You see, God doesn’t always tell us exactly why things are. He only asks us to trust Him, to believe that our work truly is with Him.

Jesus, hanging on a cross, looked out over a dark world and saw the end of His life approaching fast. And what had become of His work of three years? The disciples had denied Him and fled. Rather than glorifying God, the people of Israel were mocking and spitting on Him. For one brief moment, I believe the emotions of the Son of Man cried out for understanding. Yes, He knew that God was in control. Absolutely He understood what He was doing. He knew the reasons. But the cry came, anyway.

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

And there was no answer.

Three days later, Jesus stepped out of the tomb. The answer to Jesus’ dying prayer had come. In His death, Jesus handed all of His earthly ministry over to the Father. He trusted Him to be faithful with it. And just as the Resurrection proved that nothing had been in vain, so, in your life, God knows exactly what He is doing. You can trust Him with your work, with your prayers, with your efforts, and even with your mistakes. No matter what the circumstances say, God is still faithful.

It is not in vain. True, you cannot see the reasons now. Maybe you will never see the reasons in this life. Only believe what God has said. Your judgment is with the LORD, your work is with your God—and He does not let anything slip through the cracks.

All of you missionaries who have spent your lives on the field, giving your all for people who so often do not want to hear, who so often take advantage of you while turning a deaf ear to your message: your work is not in vain. God has seen your sacrifice, and He has accepted it.

Mothers on your knees for rebellious children, who pray and weep for all the prodigals who have wandered in one sense or another—I know that sometimes it seems that God is not listening. I know that it seems you have poured your entire life into your children for nothing. Just remember that it is just this point that Jesus reached on the cross, as He watched all of His children scatter. And never, never forget what happened when Friday ended forever and Sunday finally came.

To everyone who has ever followed the call of God and found that it led to disappointment, persecution, and pain: your work is with your God. Your judgment is with the Lord. And He is faithful.

Offer all you do as a sacrifice to our God, the Eternal, the Almighty, the Great I Am.

In His hands, nothing is ever for nothing. Nothing is ever in vain.


This is an excerpt from Letters to a Samuel Generation, a book about knowing the mind and heart of God. I will be posting from this work until I finish Seeds 2 and can get back to writing new Matthew commentary later this fall. I hope it’s a blessing to you!


Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash




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