I feel very privileged- I often get the chance to spend time with Christians who are doing a fantastic job. I think of friends I visited last week- doing tremendous work in a tricky church situation at great personal cost. Other faces come to mind- those who persevere through painful temptations or suffering, those who have significant burdens to carry at work and yet also bless the church even in the midst of tiredness, those who have persevered in ministries despite little fruit and those who work hard to raise their children in a godly manner despite a hostile culture.
The irony is that as I replay conversations with some of these people in my mind, one thing seems to stand out. A sense of failure. All of them would confess that they fall short, don’t do enough and so on. At one level that is a useful attitude- it is good to hold on to our need of God’s mercy as sinners. We are, after all, unprofitable servants. And yet the danger is that if we only have a sense of failure then the burdens will feel that much greater and unmanageable.
I think those who are working hard for the Lord and yet are feeling the pain of that need to know two things. The first is the Lord’s compassion. Regulars at Woody Road will have heard me say this before but I’m constantly struck by Psalm 103:13-14. The Father is compassionate towards us- because He knows what we are like, He knows that we are dust. I remember hearing that passage preached at the first Pastoral Refreshment Conference and it completely changed my way of thinking. Prior to that point I had always assumed that the Lord was somewhat disappointed in me when I felt tired and drained, as though He thought that I should be tougher and able to work harder. But Psalm 103 corrected me. The Lord knows that I am just dust and so is compassionate towards me in my weariness. It might be good for weary workers to remember that.
The second thought is newer to me. I’ve been pondering Malachi recently. In many ways it is a challenging prophecy as the Lord rebukes the half heartedness of His people. And yet I was struck a couple of weeks ago by 3:16:
“Those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honoured his name.” (NIV)
The Lord will not forget those who have been seeking to honour His name. Those who have faced exhaustion, loneliness and opposition for His sake will one day be rewarded. We need to hold on to the fact that it is possible to please the Lord. Where He sees His people fearing Him and living for Him, He is pleased. And- as we at Woody Road were thinking on Sunday evening– there will be a rich welcome one day, a “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Hard work in the Lord’s service feels harder if we think the Lord is disapproving and hasn’t noticed our efforts. Praise God- the opposite is true. He is full of compassion and will never forget those who live for Him.