Apr 24, 2018

Don't Labor in Vain

I read an allegorical story once of two men who stood before the judgement seat of God.  The first, a pastor, had a smug look on his face as he was called up.

"God," he said, "I was a pastor for 57 years, lead thousands to salvation, established a dozen churches overseas, and wrote a best-selling book.  I served you faithfully and tirelessly.  People mocked my efforts, but I stood up for Your name.  I'm ready for my reward."

"But I didn't call you to that,"  God responded,  "I called you to be a woodworker like your father.  I called you to serve me faithfully in the little things, but instead you jumped into seminary and lived a life I never asked you to live.  Your life touched thousands, but I led you to be my witness to others."

The second man stepped up.  He fiddled with his hands and let his eyes trace the lines on the floor.

"God, I'm only a woodworker,"  he mumbled.  "I built shelves and fixed carts.  But I did raise a nice family and tried to be kind to my clients."

His voice lowered.  "Sir, I didn't call you to be a woodworker.  I called you to be a pastor, but you ran from My calling and settled into the easiest life you could find.  What about all those who would have been brought to Me if you had been faithful?"

(a paraphrase of the original story)

Friend, what's your calling?

In the story above, there's one message I don't want to convey: that God's goal for our life is something confusing and hard that we have to try to "find out", as if it was a puzzle we scrambled to dig up pieces for.

The problem in the story wasn't that the two men were "tricked" into living the wrong lives.  The problem was that both characters were actually living for themselves.

The pastor seemed to do all the right things, but he did it for fame and fortune.  The woodworker hid from God's will and settled into something less than what God had in store for him.

It's so easy for us to follow their pattern.  We can live and say and do all the right things and still miss the point:

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31

A few days ago, I learned about someone who is my age.  She's doing amazing, hard things for Christ, and hundreds are noticing her impact.  As she fulfills God's goal for her life, she is also gaining recognition.

I was left wishing I had her life.  How come I don't have what she has?  Why can't I make as much of a difference in the world as she is?

But the point is that God has a plan for her.  God also has a plan for me.  They're different, and I might not see how God uses me for His glory.  Yet the most important thing is that I'm living life for the glory of God.

When we take our eyes off Jesus and start comparing ourselves to others, we're missing the point.  Selfishness wins.

Here's a test we can use to discover if we're really living for His glory.  Solomon wrote in the Psalms,

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;

Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain. 
- Psalm 127:1

Let's take the first two lines and use them as a guide for our own life.

Unless the Lord ____ the ____,
They labor in vain...

Here are some suggestions:

  • writes the book
  • says the words
  • gives the hug
  • sings the song
  • starts the business
  • shares the Gospel
  • prays the prayer

And on and on.  Unless the Lord does all those, they are done in vain.

This leads me to ask so many questions.  I started a book because the Lord lead me to... but am I letting Him write it?  When I let my words flow in prayer, am I really doing it for His glory?  When I sit here to create this post, am I letting His Love come out of my fingertips?

On our own we can do nothing.  With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

What good things are you doing?  Are you going them with and for Christ?  Or do you labor in vain?

C.S. Lewis wrote,

There have been men before … who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but to exist. There have been some who were so preoccupied with spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.
- C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce

Even something so beautiful as sharing the Truth can become corrupt if we do it for our own gain.  That's because Christianity isn't a religion - it's a relationship.  We can't selfishly do all the right things for someone and hope they love us because of it.  Love is giving without expecting something in return.

That's what Jesus did for us - He gave freely.  Do we live selflessly for Him?

As John 12:24 says, if a grain of wheat remains standing, what good is it?  But when it falls to the ground and dies, there it can produce a harvest.  Through brokenness and being open to God's leading, He can use us for His glory.

My challenge for you is this: examine your motives.

Why are you writing that, saying that, doing that, reading that?  Is it for yourself or for His great glory?

Let's not do all the right things and miss the point.  Even if we lead thousands to Christ, like the pastor who stood before the Throne, it will all be rubbish if it is apart from Him.  We must be faithful with little so that we can be faithful with much.

I'll leave with another quote from C.S. Lewis.  This one is rather long, and it's better read in context.  However, I think it will give you something to chew on as you finish reading.

The scene is in a place after death between a Ghost (a human who has not accepted Christ) and a Spirit (one who has).  The Spirit has been trying to show the Ghost the truth.

'When you painted on earth - at least in your earlier days - it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape.  The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too'... 
'How soon do you think I could begin painting?' it asked. 
The Spirit broke into laughter.  'Don't you see you'll never paint at all if that's what you're thinking about?' he said. 
'What do you mean?' asked the Ghost. 
'Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you'll never learn to see the country.' 
'But that's just how a real artist is interested in the country.' 
'No.  You're forgetting,' said the Spirit.  'That was not how you began.  Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.' 
'Oh, that's ages ago,' said the Ghost.  'One grows out of that.  Of course, you haven't seen my later works.  One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.' 
'One does, indeed.  I also have had to recover from that.  It was all a snare.  Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants.  Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.  For it doesn't stop at being interested in paint, you know.  They sink lower - become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.'
- C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
- Romans 12:1



  1. Thank you so much, Hosanna Emily! Good post. It helped me.

    1. I'm so thankful the post helped you, Amy! Keep living for Jesus. =)

  2. I LOVED your example of substituting the words in that bible verse, and loved this post! Thanks girl!

    1. Thank you, Bri! I was amazed when God opened my eyes to that verse. Unless Jesus is living in and through every aspect of our life, we live in vain. Ouch...

      Thank you for your sweet encouragement!

  3. Beautiful post, Hosanna..... we shouldn’t labor in vain, but instead to work with God with the goal of spreading His kingdom - and following His guidance in that.
    Thanks for sharing this :).

    1. That's so true, Sarah! We're supposed to follow His guidance - not make our own agenda and throw in a "little bit of Jesus." He has plans to give us a hope and a future... what could be better?!

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you, Regine, and I hope you're having a lovely day!

  5. Once again, such a beautiful post, Hosanna! Like Bri said above, I love the idea of substituting specific words in that verse. I've heard it often before, but sometimes a new way of looking at something makes it come alive. Thanks for sharing this! xx

    1. Emily, thank you for the encouragement! I hope this post was able to remind you that everything has purpose if it is done with Christ. He's so faithful! ♥ I love you, friend!


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