When Your Work Seems Fruitless…

This is part 4 in a blog series looking at “Hope For The Weary,” in which we are looking at different people from the Bible who experienced weariness, exploring how God met them in their weariness and looking at what we can learn from their examples about the underlying causes of weariness and some possible solutions. You can find previous posts here:
Part 1: Hope For The Weary
Part 2: When The Burden Is Too Heavy…
Part 3: When You’ve Lost Perspective…

I can only imagine Peter’s weariness as he reached the shore with nothing to show for a hard night’s work. (Luke 5:1-2) His hours out on the lake had resulted in not a single fish, and, despite his exhaustion, he still had the nets to wash. The discouragement must have been overwhelming. He had tried so hard and achieved nothing.

I wonder what he thought when Jesus asked to use his boat to sit in to teach the crowd that had gathered by the lake. Did Peter listen to what Jesus had to say, or was he too tired, too lost in his disappointment to pay any attention? Was he simply focused on getting the nets clean so that he could go home and sleep?

I wonder if you have ever felt like Peter?

I certainly have. It’s rather scary to realise that I have been involved in some form of youth ministry for around twenty years now, and I can think of several occasions where seemingly fruitless hard work has led to weariness.

There have been the times when despite the time and effort devoted to planning and publicising events, the turnout has been poor. There have been the young people who had seemed to be making progress or showing interest, only for them to suddenly stop showing up with no explanation.

And then of course there was the unforgettable occasion when after months of praying and working to persuade a group of teenagers to come to a youth service, and organising some complicated logistics to get them there, it all went wrong at the last minute when as one of them went to open the minibus which would take them there, the door handle literally came off in their hand, leaving them with no way to open the minibus and therefore no way to get to the event!

In moments like these, it’s so easy to give into discouragement and to lose motivation. When Jesus finishes speaking to the crowd and addresses Peter directly, telling him to go out into deeper water and let down his nets to catch fish, it’s understandable that Peter’s initial response is less than enthusiastic, but as he continues to speak, we see one of the keys to overcoming weariness.

Throughout this series, we have been identifying potential solutions to weariness, all beginning with the letters “Re-“. So far, we have looked at Recognise, Repent, Receive and Refresh.

Here, the solution is Relationship.

Logically it makes no sense to Peter to go out fishing again, and emotionally, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t be bothered, but one thing persuades him to do it – the fact that it is Jesus making the request.

“If you say so…” (Luke 5:5)

It’s unclear how much Peter understood at this point about who Jesus really was, but he must have heard some of the speculation, and in the previous chapter we read of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. He has seen and heard enough of what Jesus can do to make him believe it is worth the effort.

This brings us to the next “Re-” word – Resolve.

Peter has a choice to make in that moment, and, no matter how he may feel about it, he resolves to do as Jesus tells him.

Notice that Jesus has made no promise about the outcome, but as he steps out and obeys, Peter sees his nets overloaded with fish. It’s beyond anything he could have imagined!

I have known times when, despite weariness and discouragement, I have been sure that God is telling me to try again. Sometimes, like Peter, I have seen outcomes far better than I would ever have expected. Other times, I have seen no success, and I have wondered why, but, regardless of the outcome, a sense of God’s calling can make a huge difference to our ability to keep going.

We don’t always have a promise of obvious success, but we do have God’s promise that, despite how it may look at times, the work we do for him is never fruitless.

In Isaiah 55:11, God says of his Word, “I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”

In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul urges his readers, “My dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”

Like Peter, sometimes we have to make the choice to keep going or to try again, trusting that our work is not useless and God is not inactive, trusting that there is a purpose to our work for him whether or not we see instant reults.

One thing I have learned in my years of ministry is that God’s work is God’s work. That may sound obvious, but what I mean is that he will do his work in his way and it may not match with our idea of how it should happen. Just as there have been many occasions where situations haven’t worked as I had hoped, despite praying, planning and working hard, there have also been many occasions where God has surprised me with something completely unexpected – seeing his work in a situation where I hadn’t anticipated it or progress that seems to come from nowhere.

I like the description Jesus provides in Mark 4:26-29:

“The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”

Our job is to scatter the seed and leave the results to God.

If you’re feeling weary in your work for God, spend some time building relationship with him, simply being in his presence, knowing that you don’t have to achieve certain standards in order to earn his love, being restored in your calling to know him and to serve him. Consider where you need to resolve to keep going, trusting God to work in his way and at his time.

Linking with: Inspire Me Monday, Tell His StoryInstaEncouragementsLet’s Have CoffeeRecharge WednesdayTune In ThursdayGrace & Truth

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20 thoughts on “When Your Work Seems Fruitless…

  1. This is so encouraging, Lesley. Not only in Peter’s experience of resolve but in your own experiences. Thank you for sharing them, too. Those words “If you say so…” are so meaningful. May we follow Jesus no matter how discouraged we may feel! Love and blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These are encouraging truths, Lesley. I was thinking of ministry like seeds, where we don’t see what’s going on underneath the soil, when I came to that part of your post here. Sometimes God’s promptings don’t make sense to us, and we don’t always see any visible results from beying them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ack, I accidentally clicked to post the comment before I was ready–and just when I saw I needed to correct “beying” to “obeying.” 🙂 But I was going to agree, as you said, that even in those circumstances it’s good to obey and trust Him with the results.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m old enough to have experienced similar disappointments after much prayer, planning and work–also the flip side when God does far more than I could ask for of think of (Ephesians 3:20). You are so right, Lesley: relationship and resolve go a long way to fight against discouragement. And Isaiah 55:11 as well as 1 Corinthians 15:58 are wonderful verses to cling to!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When all you words seem such a waste,
    when ennui has come to stay,
    when life’s banquet has no taste,
    keep on going anyway,
    ’cause there’s someone who can see you,
    there is someone you inspire,
    so go on, mate, head on up the blue,
    for it’s not yet time to retire.
    Don’t look back, but know you’re followed
    by some small figure in the haze;
    it’s your courage she has borrowed
    in her hope for better days,
    and when at last with God you rest,
    you’ll have been that Sheila’s best.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Leslie, this was so encouraging. May we be like Peter who “resolves to do as Jesus tells him.” May we keep showing up, keep sowing the seed, and trust God with the results. Praying you see the results of your efforts soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lesley, thank you for this encouragement. There have definitely been times when weariness and discouragement seep in. Your reminder to keep the perspective that God is working, even when we can’t see Him is pivotal in helping me work through weariness.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lesley I appreciate your words of wisdom here. There are definitely times when I feel like my work is fruitless. But God has reminded me more than once, to simply be obedient to speak His words, and trust Him with the results.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lesley, I’m keep this close to my heart this afternoon: “One thing I have learned in my years of ministry is that God’s work is God’s work. That may sound obvious, but what I mean is that he will do his work in his way and it may not match with our idea of how it should happen.” Amen, friend. Wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

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