Friday, November 11, 2016

Not in Vain (l Corinthians 15:58) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

The weekend following September 11th, 2001, syndicated columnist and former presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan drove to Lower Manhattan to witness the relief effort taking place at Ground Zero. She found herself focusing on the convoy of trucks filled with rescue workers coming off their 12-hour shifts. The men in the trucks were construction and electrical workers, police, emergency medical workers, and firemen. It was a procession of the not-so-rich and famous.

She writes: “These New Yorkers had become celebrities, more significant than any Broadway act.   A large crowd of onlookers were cheering the workers with shouts of "God bless you!" and "We love you!" They clapped and blew kisses.  I looked around and saw who were cheering. Investment bankers! Orthodontists! Magazine editors! A lawyer, a columnist, and a writer. We had been the kings and queens of the city, respected professionals in a city that respects its professional class.  And this night we were nobody. We were so useless, all we could do was applaud the somebodies, the workers who, unlike us, had not been applauded much in their lives…. I was so moved and grateful. Because they'd always been the people who ran the place, who kept it going, they'd just never been given their due.”

On that tragic day, rather than talking them for granted, the world recognized how useful, how indispensable construction and electrical workers, police and firemen, and emergency medical workers are to a city.

Which leads us to our scripture lesson: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.”

How ironic.   The apostle Paul who wrote these words, personally knew not only success and joy in his life and ministry, but failure, discouragement, disappointment, and frustration.  He had endured persecution and threats, but in his hearts of hearts, he still knew God would honor his ministry to the Gentiles.

Paul writes: “I have been shipwrecked on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, in cold and exposure.  And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.”   That is, the churches which he and other apostles had planted.

In the Lord your labor is not in vain.”   Here are words of wisdom, words of spiritual maturity, words of truth, words used to depending upon the grace of God.   I admire the apostle Paul.  Despite daily facing obstacles and setbacks in his work, he believed in his heart that God was blessing his preaching, his pastoring, and his work of planting churches.   He believed that his work was not in vain.

By faith, you too have the power to endure, to push on, to not allow yourself to be defeated in your work.  You have the power to persevere.   You have the power to devise new plans and approaches.  You have the power to cast off bad habits and learn good habits.   And that power is the power of our Lord, the power of his victory over death, the power of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us through faith.

There is a work of difference between feeling useless and useful, helpless and helpful.  Spiritual wisdom is the conviction deep in your soul, that whether your efforts and energies produce results or not, they mean something in the purpose of God, in the mind of God, in the kingdom of God.  They weren't wasted.  That conviction lifts our soul.

We must never forget that we are engaging in a spiritual battle, in spiritual warfare.  The book of James says – “Resist the devil and the negative thoughts which can poison our life.”  Why - because Satan promotes a defeatist attitude.  The devil knows that a discouraged Christian is ineffectual, your power and influence to be a vital witness to Jesus Christ is mitigated at best and shut-down at worst.   You can’t share Christ’s joy when there is no joy in your heart to share.  

What is your deepest frustration today?   You are putting forth effort, but feel like you’re getting nowhere, you are just spinning your wheels?  God’s word is clear.  First, always abounding in the work of the Lord means be steadfast in the work of the Lord.  Don't allow others to discourage or stop you.  Stand firm and steady.  Don't give up, or give in or give out.  Second, always abounding in the work of the Lord means give yourself daily and fully to God, relying upon God’s strength, and not just your own, praying for how God wants to use you in His service.   Sometimes we are completely surprised with how God decides to us.

And third, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.  It’s never in vain when you prayerfully commit your efforts to God, when you ask for God's inspiration and power and blessing, when you humbly and sincerely dedicate your work to God, even though at times you fail to reach your goal or produce results.   Results may not be visible, but that doesn’t mean God is not working in an imperceptible way using your time and efforts and energy and prayers.

The book of Hebrews reaffirms God’s promise: “God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints.”    God never forgets work done in His name.  God remembers your labor.   God knows your efforts to love others and serve and glorify Him.  God sees what you have done and are doing and what these things mean for His kingdom.

I recall an intervention I was involved in with a family in our church in Monument, CO.  One of the family members had been an alcoholic for over 20 years.  The family had tried everything but to no avail.  This time it worked. The son made the commitment and joined AA. This family had the joy of seeing the results of their prayers and work over many years come to fruition.  Their work in the Lord was not in vain.  Praise God.

I remember a mother at our church in Santa Monica.  I knew she had been estranged from her daughter for many years.  The daughter had refused to have any communication at all with her mother.  The mother continued to pray and reach out through the mail and leave occasional phone messages on her daughter’s voice mail.  After 10 years, one day, the daughter phoned her and invited her mother to lunch.  It was a glorious day of where a mother and daughter were reconciled.  Praise God.

Open your heart.  Allow God’s word to encourage you.  God may bless you and you see results immediately.  Hallelujah.  God may bless you and you see results later on in your life.    Hallelujah.  God may bless you and you see results, not in this life, but in the life to come.  Hallelujah.    God has made you a promise.  Have confidence in the promise of God.   Amen!

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