We have learned from Isaiah 49 that the Lord knows your battle. He has fought it before you. And it is no sin to endure thoughts that your labor has been in vain, or to be cast down with a sense of failure over shattered expectations. Jesus himself experienced this and was without sin.
It is very dangerous, however, to allow these hellish lies to fester and enflame your soul. Jesus showed us the way out of such despondency with this statement: “I have labored in vain…Yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, and my work with my God” (Isaiah 49:4). The Hebrew word for judgment here is “verdict,” Christ is saying, in effect, “The final verdict is with my Father. He alone passes judgment on all that I’ve done and how effective I’ve been.”
God is urging us through this verse: “Stop passing a verdict over your work for me. You have no business judging how effective you’ve been. And you have no right to call yourself a failure. You don’t yet know what kind of influence you’ve had. You simply don’t have the vision to know the blessings that are coming to you.” Indeed, we won’t know such things until we stand before him in eternity.
While the devil is lying to you, saying that all you’ve done is in vain, that you’ll never see your expectations fulfilled, God in his glory is preparing a greater blessing. He has better things in store, beyond anything you could think or ask.
We’re not to listen to the enemy’s lies any longer. Instead, we’re to rest in the Holy Spirit, believing him to fulfill the work of making us more like Christ. And we are to rise up from our despair and stand on this word: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The Lord appeared to Abraham one day and gave him an incredible command: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
How did Abraham respond to this incredible word from the Lord? “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
What was God up to? Why would he search the nations for one man, and then call him to forsake everything and go on a journey with no map, no preconceived direction, no known destination? Think about what God was asking of Abraham. He never showed him how he would feed or support his family. He didn’t tell him how far to go or when he would arrive. He only told him two things in the beginning: “Go,” and, “I will show you the way.”
The place God wanted to lead Abraham is a place he wants to take every member of Christ’s body. Abraham is what Bible scholars call a “pattern man,” someone who serves as an example of how to walk before the Lord. Abraham’s example shows us what is required of all who would seek to please God.
Make no mistake, Abraham was not a young man when God called him to make this commitment. He probably had plans in place to secure his family’s future, so he had to be concerned over many considerations as he weighed God’s call. Yet Abraham “believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
The apostle Paul tells us that all who believe and trust in Christ are the children of Abraham. And, like Abraham, we are counted as righteous because we heed the same call to entrust all our tomorrows into the Lord’s hands.
Jesus calls us to a way of living that gives no thought about tomorrow and puts our future wholly into his hands: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:31-34).
Jesus doesn’t mean that we are not to plan ahead or do nothing about our future. Rather, he is saying, “Don’t be anxious or troubled about tomorrow.” When you think about it, most of our anxieties are about what might happen tomorrow. We’re constantly harassed by two little words: What if?
Jesus interrupts our “what ifs” and tells us, “Your heavenly Father knows how to take care of you.” He tells us further, “You don’t need to worry. Your Father knows you have need of all these things, and he won’t ever forsake you. He is faithful to feed you, clothe you and take care to supply all your needs.”
“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?.... Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:26, 28-30).
We gladly give all our yesterdays to the Lord, turning over to him our past sins. We trust him for forgiveness of all our past failures, doubts and fears. So, why don’t we do the same with our tomorrows? The truth is, most of us cling tightly to our future, wanting the right to hold on to our dreams. We make our plans independent of God, and then later ask him to bless and fulfill those hopes and desires.
In my travels around the world I have witnessed a “spiritual tsunami” of evil drifting. Entire denominations have been caught up in the waves of this tsunami, leaving in their wake the ruins of apathy. The Bible warns clearly that it’s possible for devoted believers to drift from Christ.
A Christian who goes after “peace and safety at any cost” and merely hangs onto salvation pays a high spiritual price. So, how can we guard against drifting from Christ and neglecting “so great a salvation”? Paul tells us how: “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).
God isn’t interested in our being able to “speed read” through His Word. But what’s more important is that we “hear” what we read with spiritual ears, and meditate on it so that it’s “heard” in our hearts.
Staying steadfast in God’s Word was no small matter for Paul. He also says, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Paul isn’t suggesting to these believers that they’re reprobates. Rather, he’s urging them, “As lovers of Christ, test yourself. Take a spiritual inventory. You know enough about your walk with Jesus to know you’re loved by him, that he hasn’t turned from you, that you are redeemed.”
Ask yourself today: How is your communion with Christ? Are you guarding it with all diligence? Are you leaning on him in your hard times? And as you examine your spiritual walk, allow God to show you where you can be strengthened.
One time, a pastor friend of mine traveled up to Wyoming to go snowmobiling with two of his friends. They went back-country and were having a grand old time until they started to realize that all their landmarks were out of sight. They had no GPS signal and no compass.
Now this wasn’t the kind of lost where you just keep wandering until you find a road one or two hours later. This was the kind of lost where you spend the night huddled by a snowmobile with no gas left. This was a they’re-sending-in-helicopters-to-save-you kind of lost.
The very definition of becoming truly lost is not knowing the way back. At that point, you need a rescue party. Sometimes we forget that when we start talking about sin, and this isn’t just talking about before we were saved, when we were still dead in our sins, as the Bible puts it. This is the flesh that we all struggle against. This is the creeping coldness in our hearts, the drift that we experience in life.
Sometimes when we sin, we fall in the Old Covenant mentality, thinking that God is there to smite us for our faltering and that we have make a payment of our own for our sins. This mentality is rooted in how we have to observe the law in order to earn our way back into the Lord’s good graces. This brings up fear. “Oh no, I’ve stumbled, so now it’ll be curses and rebukes for me. God’s going to put me on the sidelines for a while now.”
This contradicts what the apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
We need a Savior, and we never stop needing him.