You led them to Christ, helped them grow in their faith, did their wedding, dedicated their children, buried their parents and then lost them because your mask policy was fill in the blank.
They credit you with saving their marriage and having an eternal impact on their kids, but now they won’t return your phone calls and you learn they have changed churches. God and few others know why, and this ignorance is anything but blissful.
Everyone who serves God has experienced, on one occasion or another, the sickening feeling that some of your best efforts, even sacrifices, have felt like they were for naught. You poured your life into people and godly projects, and it seems futile, a folly.
Let me just tell you, plain and clear: it matters, and He is worth it. Despite the frustrations, pain and lack of response, giving your life for Him, the gospel, His people and those who need Him is not a waste of your years. Despite betrayals, slander, abandonments and, at times, a discouraging lack of obvious fruit, it is not a fool’s errand.
In the din of battle, we often forget this truth—and flirt with disbelieving it. All of us, especially in this confounding, aggravation-filled era, need to be reminded and encouraged to press on.
As is often the case, it is gospel-certainty and hope that gives us the confidence we need to stay committed to serving.
Built on the foundation of His resurrection, we can—dare I say “must”—“stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58 NIV). Because Christ has been raised, we are not fools, flushing our lives away. This is great news!
After reminding the messy Corinthians of the trustworthy gospel (1 Cor 15:1-57), Paul urged them not to slide into self-centeredness or sneak off the playing field to the supposed safety of being a spectator. This church would try his patience more than most, a recurring source of discouragement. So, Paul reminds them, himself and us that since Jesus is alive, we can stay in the game of ministry knowing that it matters.
Read verse 58 again: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Cor 15:58 NLT).
So, pastor, with a life and ministry built on God’s gospel-certain foundation (1 Cor 15:1-7), with the confidence that we have hope of forgiveness (8-19) and the future (20-57), believing that lives spent for Him are not wasted (58), what are you to do?
First, stay “settled in” on the gospel and serving God. Don’t just exegete. Recommit to it each day and keep building your life on it, Him, the risen One. While some deconstruct the faith, we must re-affirm it. Yes, remove cultural or ungodly clutter—but on His resurrection, be steadfast. In the words of a dog owner, “Sit!”
“Sit” on His grace. Our lives and ministries are all grace (Rom 5:1-5, 8:1; Titus 2:11-14, 3:3-6). Working even harder and gathering bigger numbers have nothing to do with our worth. Our lives are hidden in God with Christ (Col 3:1-3). We are working out what He has worked in us (Phil 2:2, 13). We do so as those fully accepted in the Beloved (Eph 1:3-6; 1 Pet 1:3-5). Our lives, ministries and hope flow from His grace, the ground for our own steadfastness.
Dog owners know that “sit” and “stay” are two different commands. Sitting lasts just a moment. Staying tests trust in the Master, often with hope for a reward. With hearts as squirmy as a new puppy, we need not just commit and sit—we need to stay with dogged determination. We are to be immovable, standing firm. Full of gospel hope, we endure difficulties, unmoved from our hope.
In our current climate of conflict, petty squabbling, immature asserting of rights, strawman-building and burning, we must fiercely fight for focus and against distraction (Mark 4:3-9). Contend for it: despite foes, fears and falsehoods.
The path of good works
But being gospel-solid is not enough. Someone said we are too often doctrinally sound, but also sound asleep. We must stay on the path of good works He prepared for us in eternity past, continually engaging in our calling (Eph 2:8-10). We are to be abounding in good works.
With gospel grace, we overflow in our labor in His fields, not offering only spare change and extra time. We are at the ready, doing what He has put before us.
When Paul wrote to the church in Colossae to tell Archippus, “see to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord” (Col 4:17), the basis of this appeal was the Jesus-centered gospel: this hope remains our motive and message. We sit in it, settled down, serving, with the joy-giving comfort that our ministry in Him matters. We can know that our ministry matters because it is what we were called to do.
Even when we cannot see fruit, a life spent in service to God is never wasted. Pastors, but also parents, spouses, singles, all who serve, take heart! Your church, spouse, children, employers may not respect or reward your efforts, but God sees, remembers and rewards. After all, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (Heb 6:10).
Here are some simple disciplines to keep your feet firm:
- Review and ruminate on the gospel. Turn your reading into rejoicing and praise.
- Ask wise friends what endeavors you need to drop or double-down on to recalibrate your field of focus.
- Go old school: write out verses on index cards (start with 1 Corinthians 15:57-58, Colossians 3:23-24 and 4:17, Hebrews 6:10 and 2 Corinthians 9:8). Carry them around for meditation and memorization.
- Be globally aware and as involved as you can, but remember to stay engaged locally. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). How can you help the neighbors get and stay out of your area's ditches?
When sweat and blood are given in serving the Lord and the results look like a big, mocking zero, remember our gospel certainty: Jesus is alive and will give resurrection life to all who believe. This gives us confidence to stay committed to serving the Lord—it is worthwhile.
Since the gospel gives us confidence to keep serving God, allow me to repeat the words of Paul again: “My dear friends, stand firm and don't be shaken. Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for him is worthwhile” (1 Cor 15:58 CEV).
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