Laboring in Vain
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give as a light to the nations.” – Isaiah 49:6 (NRSV)
Ever feel like you have little or nothing to show for all your hard work? Do you sometimes wonder if you have labored in vain?
If you’ve known that experience, you’ll find a companion in the prophet Isaiah. God has called him as a special servant, but now the prophet is deeply discouraged. He prays, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (49:4).
It’s hard to escape such feelings, at least at times. We work to plan a great event, but the turnout is dismal. We labor long and hard but when we check the numbers, there’s no confirming evidence at all. Like Isaiah, we may sigh, “I have spent my strength for nothing.”
God responds to this discouraged servant in the strangest of ways. God gives Isaiah a new and much bigger job: “I will give you as a light to the nations.” What could be bigger than “light to the nations”?
Isaiah feels a failure at one task, and God gives him a bigger one. What gives? Sometimes it is when our own ideas of success go belly-up that God can reach us. Sometimes when we are tired out and ticked off from trying to do it all – and do it all by ourselves – it is then that God can show us a new way. Sometimes when we hit a wall, God opens a door.
You know us, Lord; you know that we suffer times of discouragement, times when we feel we have labored in vain. Grant us grace to let you share the load, to let you use us, and trust the outcomes to you. Amen.
This devotional by Tony Robinson is adapted from his reflection in This Is How We Begin: Devotionals and Prayers to Start Meetings, a collection of devotionals intended to center church meetings in God’s wisdom. Order This Is How We Begin here.