“Your words have been stout against me,” saith the LORD.
Yet ye say, “What have we spoken against thee?”
Ye have said, “It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his charge, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?” (Malachi 3:13-14).
People tend to prefer and value instant gratification. Sure, there are some things for which people are willing to wait for a little time, but on the whole, we want results, and we want them now. We do not want to wait in line, we do not want to wait to buy things later, and we certainly do not like being held in suspension.
If humans cannot stand waiting, then it stands to reason that humans have an even harder time tolerating seemingly constant failure. In the minds of many, insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” In many facets of life, that statement is reasonable and accurate.
But what happens when it comes to waiting on God?
Human beings want things right now. They want change to have happened already. Yet God operates in His good time, for He is not bound to time like we are (cf. 2 Peter 3:8). We want everything right now, but God is patiently transforming those who seek to be His obedient servants (cf. Romans 8:29, 12:1-2). It does not happen overnight– but it does happen!
But how do we feel when we look out in the world and think that nothing is going right? What happens when it seems like things are worse for us because we try to serve God? How should we then respond?
We can see how the post-exilic Jews responded to this situation. By all accounts they were less sinful than their fathers, and yet while their fathers lived in a free and independent Judah, they remained under the hand of the Persians. It seemed to them that the wicked and arrogant prospered while the righteous were distressed and humbled (cf. Malachi 2:17, 3:15). Their response was natural: why bother serving God? In their eyes, it was vanity to serve God– they were no better off for it!
This response is as entirely understandable as it is misguided. It is the result of the myopic tunnel vision that we humans often experience– we focus on all of our challenges and difficulties and the oppression and the injustice in the world and declare God unjust, or believe that since we prayed fervently for some noble cause and yet still have failed that God has abandoned us, while all around us the blessings of God in life, both physical and spiritual, abounds (cf. Genesis 1:1-2:4, John 3:16, Ephesians 1:3). If we understand that God is the Author and Sustainer of Life, how could we even begin to think that it is vain to serve Him?
It is important for us to remember that our work in the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). It may not lead to the immediate results we desire, either in terms of our own growth and development or the encouragement of other souls, but its long-term impact may be vast indeed. Even if it has little impact on ourselves or others, it works within God’s greater plan and His great will (Ephesians 1:3-11), and that is glorious. As Jesus indicates in Luke 18:1-8, there is great value in persistence in prayer, and we should not assume that our prayers fail because we do not immediately see changes.
We may find that things seem to go worse for us once we have turned to righteousness and seek the will of God. But we must remember in such circumstances that it is only a reversal on the surface. Consider the image we see in Revelation– if you just read Revelation 13, for instance, you would have good reason to despair if you were one of the members of the seven churches of Asia. The world of Revelation 13 was the “real world” in which you would have inhabited. Nevertheless, the picture is given in Revelation 12, 14-19, of what else is going on, and that perspective changes everything: Satan’s hold on the powers of earth is his desperate last stand, and it too will fail in the end. No matter how bleak it might have seemed on the earth, God was still ruling in heaven.
And so it is with us today. It is easy to get lost in the surface matters and the temporary setbacks, get frustrated and discouraged, and wonder if there is any value in serving God. Yet let us remember that God is still ruler in heaven, that He is accomplishing many great things, and that our work in the Lord is never in vain. Let us be patient and faithful servants of God, knowing that He does all things well (cf. Mark 7:37)!
Ethan R. Longhenry