Devotions for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost: I Laboured in Vain
I Laboured in Vain
Give ear, ye islands, and hearken, ye people from afar. The Lord hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he hath been mindful of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword: in the shadow of his hand he hath protected me, and hath made me as a chosen arrow: in his quiver he hath hidden me. And he said to me: Thou art my servant Israel, for in thee will I glory. And I said: I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength without cause and in vain: therefore my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God. And now saith the Lord, that formed me from the womb to be his servant, that I may bring back Jacob unto him, and Israel will not be gathered together: and I am glorified in the eyes of the Lord, and my God is made my strength. (Isaias/Isaiah 49:1-5)
In Isaiah 49:4 we read these words: “"I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength without cause and in vain:" Note that these are not the words of Isaiah, who was called by God at a mature age. No, they are Christs own words, spoken by One called The Lord. Who "called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother...to be Gods servant to bring back Jacob again to him, (and to gather Israel)”" (49:1, 5).
St. Theodoret, Cyril of Alexander,St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, and other early Fathers of the Church have agreed that this is a reference to Jesus.
When I read this scripture and found that that the early fathers said that these scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus, I was astonished! Jesus said "I laboured in vain, I have spent my strength without cause and in vain." These were words were a response to the Father who had just declared, that in the Fathers eyes "Thou art my servant in thee will I glory" (49:3). We read Jesus surprising response in the next verse: "I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength without cause and in vain" (49:4).
How wonderful! I can hardly believe that Christ was this vulnerable, confessing to the Father that he was experiencing what we humans face. In his humanity, He tasted the same discouragement, the same despondency, the same woundedness. He was having the same thoughts I've had about my own life: "This isn't what I perceived was promised. I wasted my strength. It has all been in vain."’”
Reading those words made me love Jesus all the more. I realized Hebrews 4:15 is not just a cliché: our Savior truly is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin.
For we have not a high priest, who can not have compassion on our infirmities: but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
He had known this very same temptation from Satan, hearing the same accusing voice: "Your mission is not accomplished. Your life has been a failure. You've got nothing to show for all your labors."”
Christ came into the world to fulfill the will of God by reviving Israel. And he did just as he was commanded. But Israel rejected him:
"He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).
Why would Jesus, or any man or woman of God, speak such despairing words as these: "I have labored in vain"? How could the Son of God make such a statement? And why have generations of faithful believers been reduced to such words? It is all the result of measuring little results against high expectations.
You may be saying, “This message sounds like it applies just to leaders in the Church, or to those called to do some great work for God. I can see it being meant for missionaries or the great prophets of the scriptures. But what does it have to do with me?”
How many years have you prayed for a husband, a wife, a child, and they still have not yielded there life to Christ? How many years have you prayed for their conversion to the Church and yet they still ignore your pleas? Maybe you just gave up praying. What is the point of it. God seems to not be listening. "I am praying in vain. I have been praying with all my strength and nothing has happened " Do not give up! Jesus felt at some point the same way and yet he kept on keeping on. In fact Jesus himself said
"Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)
St. John Chrysostom said about this verse that "when we ask we are seeking and knocking, we should do it with much "importunateness (persistent), and strength." Do not stop praying! It is not in vain!
How many years have you struggled with a particular sin in your in your life: Drugs, depression, pornagraphy alcohol etc. You have decided to stop trying. Every time you get things right, you just keep falling back into to sin. What is the point of trying anymore? I have tried and tried and it has been for vain. I have tried with all my strength and for what? Its been all in vain. Solomon in the book of Proverbs said that "a just man shall fall seven times and shall rise again:" (Proverbs 24:16) So keep getting up! It is not in vain!
I think we’ve all been there at least once in our lives: Ready to give up when it seems like the burden has become too much to bear. Let me give you a few words of encouragement to help you not to give up, not to feel it is in vain.
And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints. (Romans 8:28)
For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of affliction, to give you an end and patience. (Jeremias /Jeremiah29:11)
And in doing good, let us not fail. For in due time we shall reap, not failing. (Galatians 6:9)
But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us. (Romans 8:37)
God had sent Jesus into this world to save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21). But his people rejected Him, "His own received Him not" (John 1:11) Now in our eyes, we would see that all Jesus did was for nothing. It did not work! "He laboured in vain!" But we do not see the whole picture. For because the Jews received Him not, according to St. Paul "by their offence, (the Jews rejection of Christ), salvation is come to the Gentiles," (Romans 11:11) In others words What look like a failure turned out to be a success. Why? Because by Gods people, the Jews, rejecting Christ. It gave way to us as Gentiles to accept Him. Nothing happens in life where God is not in control. Nothing happens in life where God does not make all things happen for the good.
So do not think that what you are going through is in vain. Put all in Gods hands. Never give up.
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (I Corinthians 15:57)