It was the last day with my class that I had had for the whole year. We were out on the playground, enjoying the nice weather, when one of the little girls became so intent on getting up the ladder to the slide first that her sweet, innocent face contorted into a hideous expression of malice, and she began kicking violently at the face of the child behind her, so hard that I was afraid the other child would fall off. Appalled, I ran to the rescue of the child under attack before dealing with the girl about her attitude and actions.
The incident came as a real blow to me. I remember thinking about all the long hours I had spent trying to teach those kids to love each other, and here I was at the end of the year with seemingly nothing to show for it. (A little melodramatic—they are only 3-year-olds—but it discouraged me nonetheless.)
The Lord was gracious to remind me, though, that even though I love the kids in my class and really do desire to see them love and follow the Lord, that is not the foremost reason that I do what I do. If it were, I would probably always be discouraged.
Why we do what we do is the most important factor in whether we become discouraged in our work or not. If I am laboring day after day to cultivate perfectly mature little Christians (a little much to expect from children, especially as someone who hasn’t achieved that myself), then I am destined to be disappointed. I cannot regenerate or sanctify anyone. That is God’s work. He can do great things, but it isn’t likely that I will get to see much fruit in my student’s lives. They come and go while they are still so young.
But I can be perfectly satisfied in my work before God because I know He has given me this work to do, and I can do it happily and wholeheartedly for Him.
And that is a very encouraging thought. Even if all the years of service yield zero visible fruit in the end (hypothetical since the Lord is gracious to give us glimpses of what He is doing from time to time), whatever is done for the Lord is not lost. He sees us, and every moment we live for His sake, doing our small part of His work in the world, is precious to Him.
All of ministry is like this. We have no control over the people we love and minister to, and sometimes this fact can be excruciating. We know how desperately they need the Lord, but they are humans with their own wills, and we are powerless to change them.
So how do we stay encouraged in doing what God has called us to? By being faithful in the work for His sake, knowing that our efforts matter to Him, hoping in His mercy—that He will do for them what we cannot.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 15:58