Is It Vain To Serve God?

“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)!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Where Is the God of Justice?

Ye have wearied the LORD with your words.

Yet ye say, “Wherein have we wearied him?”

In that ye say, “Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them;” or, “where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17).

The evils and inequalities of life can pose a quandary for people who believe strongly that there is a God and that He loves and cares for His creation. When oppression takes place and injustice seems to rule the day, it is easy to start wondering where the God of justice went! Probably not a few people have turned to Deism in order to make some sense, at least in their own minds, of how it could be that God could create the universe and then allow such things to happen – instead of trusting that God will right the wrong, it is easier to believe that God is an absentee landlord.

Undoubtedly Israel in the days of Malachi wondered whether God was an absentee landlord. It would be quite easy to interpret their statements in Malachi 2:17 as rebellion but they are most likely the result of frustration and despair. They say such things not because they do not believe in God but precisely because they do believe in God and do believe in the promises God made to their forefathers.

What they do not understand is how God can be the God of justice and lovingkindness and allow what was happening to continue. These Jews had their faults and failings – but they were not as guilty as their fathers. They had not established idols of all the gods of the nations around them as their fathers had done. And yet while their fathers lived in a free and independent Israel with their own king, they remain under the hand of the Persian authorities and Persian taxes. How was that just? How was that fair? How could God allow them to remain under the hand of a foreign authority when they were acting more faithfully than their fathers who were free? Where was God in all of this, anyway?

The Jews also perceive how the ways of the wicked, at least for the time being, were prosperous. They had read in the Law and the Prophets how blessings come to those who obey God and curses to those who act wickedly (e.g. Leviticus 26:1-46, Jeremiah 7:1-15). The Psalms and Proverbs are full of such statements (e.g. Psalm 1:6, Psalm 37:17, Psalm 75:10, Proverbs 3:33, Proverbs 10:6). Yet, in the eyes of the Jews, those who were righteous were not gaining favor, but the wicked were increasing and prosperous. In bitterness they declare that God must now be siding with the wicked – how else could they be so successful?

The Jews, however, are not right in this, no matter how justified they might have felt in their despair and criticism. They are wearying God with these words and these ideas. Malachi goes on to promise the day of God’s coming, a day of refining and purification, and it will be painful (Malachi 3:1-6). The message is evident: God is paying attention. God sees what is going on. God remains the God of justice. God does not take pleasure in the sinfulness of the wicked. Yet God is patient, and shall accomplish His will in His good time.

We would do well to learn the same lesson. It is easy to get impatient and impetuous and wonder where the God of justice has gone. One could easily despair and wonder if God is in fact prospering the wicked. But such would be wearisome and unprofitable – God is still here, and God has no pleasure in the sinfulness of the wicked (1 Peter 3:12). God also takes no pleasure in any injustice, especially injustice perpetrated against His elect (cf. Luke 18:1-8). Nevertheless, God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). He is patient when we would be impatient (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). His concept of time is far different from our own (2 Peter 3:8). When God acts, it will be done mightily, and we will be ashamed of ourselves if we wearied God with these types of words – we will see His justice vindicated, and righteousness fully established (cf. 2 Peter 3:10-13). The righteous will be refined as silver (1 Peter 1:6-9); the wicked will perish (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Let us not fear or be distressed. The God of justice has not abandoned His creation. He is paying attention. He will render to each one according to His works. Let us therefore serve Him while we still can, fully confident in His presence and justice, and be prepared for the ultimate Day of the Lord!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

One Step At a Time

There are many principles we follow that make us successful in this world that we can and should be applying to our lives with God. It’s all about the choices we make. At the end of the day, have the choices I made drawn me closer to or farther from God? What motivates us on a daily basis? Until we can understand why we would want to draw closer to God, we can’t fully follow those steps to grow closer to Him.

What does God expect of us? He wants us to be like Him, knowing that, if we are like Him, then we can live in this world without being a product of the world. Romans 12 examines how Christians come together to create something larger than themselves individually. We all respond differently to different situations; we all have different abilities and talents; we all have different roles we can fulfill in His work. He wants us to have the inner character to love as He loves, to be merciful as He is merciful.

Remaining Focused on God

Regardless of the many ways we may be distracted and discourages, we should ultimately be focused on our final goal. Like the gyroscopes of the old Apollo missions that could keep an easily disrupted flight path on target, we should be continually directing ourselves back to the course set before us. James 4:1-10 talks of us continually drawing nearer to God, even when dealing with the problems of this world.

We can focus on our past regrets or on the potential of our future, using that past as a tool with which we can build our future rather than a weapon to tear ourselves down. Galatians 6:7-10 reminds us that we will reap what we sow, but Paul encourages us to avoid growing weary and to keep trying to do what is good. We have to take responsibility for our own paths, but we cannot let the small things add up and build barriers in our way. We can fail many times, but we becomes failures when we begin looking for blame and excuses. We have to continually face those challenges if we are going to find success on the other side.

Small Steps Toward Our Goal

Where do we focus? How do we view our pasts? What happens when we face challenges and discouragements? Those small steps of determination, of purpose, and of direction can give us an edge in following our God. Why do we search Him out? He has already given so much to us. We can determine to draw closer to Him and allow us to lift us up. It just takes small steps – a few second more of prayer every day, another couple chapters of Bible reading.

If we truly believe in the power and salvation in our Lord, then our motivation to follow Him becomes clearer. In Him we can have a goal in mind, and we are all at different points in our spiritual journeys. We should never worry about making our journey slowly; we should only worry if we stop in that walk. We can continue in those small things that can lead to our spiritual success. Like David, in I Samuel 17, we can have confidence in God’s power in our lives, and, no matter how far we go off our course, we can redirect ourselves and resume our Christian walks. We can find time every day to refocus ourselves on God, making small choices that keep our feet directed toward His salvation.

lesson by Donn Koonce

The Christian Journey

We sing a song about a shepherd who goes through pain and agony to find his lost sheep. Every one of us are sheep that have lost our way, and our good Shepherd suffered and died to redeem us. The Christian life after redemption is sometimes called a walk our a path, and Psalm 119 describes God’s word as a light for our feet. We have to consider where we have been and where we are going. We will not reach our destination on accident.
A Walk, A Race, A journey
Ephesians 4:1 calls on us to walk according to our calling, and chapter 5:1-2 continues by asking us to walk in love. Verse 8 encourages to walk as if in the light, and verse 15 calls upon us to take care in our walk. We are to be circumspect or wise. Paul tells Christians to be careful in how they make the journey set before them.
Hebrews 12:1 speaks of a cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and these should give us strength to lay aside the weights that hinder the race we run. We push forward with endurance, always looking toward Jesus. In I Corinthians 9:24, Paul calls on Christians to run with our incorruptible crown in sight. He encourages Christians to run confidently, knowing the goal toward which we press.
In Hebrews 11:13, the author speaks of those who died in faith, knowing they were strangers and pilgrims while on this world. They seek after an eternal country to call their own, prepared in heaven to be their resting place. God’s children recognize themselves as transient residents wherever they are, always journeying toward another land. In I Peter 1:15, Peter quotes from Leviticus, calling on us to be holy, as God is holy, and he tells us to pass the time of our sojourn in awe and reverence.
Conclusion
Paul says we can run with certainty. Peter expresses confidence in Christ’s redemption. I Peter 1:24, quoting from Isaiah, reminds us that our race is finite. It will come to an end, but God’s word will endure. As we press toward our goal, we should be preparing for the destination. Our Shepherd has died as a Lamb so we can complete our journeys. We should run our race all the harder with that sacrifice in mind.

We sing a song about a shepherd who goes through pain and agony to find his lost sheep. Every one of us are sheep that have lost our way, and our good Shepherd suffered and died to redeem us. The Christian life after redemption is sometimes called a walk our a path, and Psalm 119 describes God’s word as a light for our feet. We have to consider where we have been and where we are going. We will not reach our destination on accident.

A Walk, A Race, A Journey

Ephesians 4:1 calls on us to walk according to our calling, and chapter 5:1-2 continues by asking us to walk in love. Verse 8 encourages to walk as if in the light, and verse 15 calls upon us to take care in our walk. We are to be circumspect or wise. Paul tells Christians to be careful in how they make the journey set before them.

Hebrews 12:1 speaks of a cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and these should give us strength to lay aside the weights that hinder the race we run. We push forward with endurance, always looking toward Jesus. In I Corinthians 9:24, Paul calls on Christians to run with our incorruptible crown in sight. He encourages Christians to run confidently, knowing the goal toward which we press.

In Hebrews 11:13, the author speaks of those who died in faith, knowing they were strangers and pilgrims while on this world. They seek after an eternal country to call their own, prepared in heaven to be their resting place. God’s children recognize themselves as transient residents wherever they are, always journeying toward another land. In I Peter 1:15, Peter quotes from Leviticus, calling on us to be holy, as God is holy, and he tells us to pass the time of our sojourn in awe and reverence.

Conclusion

Paul says we can run with certainty. Peter expresses confidence in Christ’s redemption. I Peter 1:24, quoting from Isaiah, reminds us that our race is finite. It will come to an end, but God’s word will endure. As we press toward our goal, we should be preparing for the destination. Our Shepherd has died as a Lamb so we can complete our journeys. We should run our race all the harder with that sacrifice in mind.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Waiting for the Lord

Beginning in Psalm 27:1, David praises God’s strength in his life. He expresses confidence in God’s ability to deliver him from various tragedies and difficulties. He expresses his desire to worship his God in joy. The first six verses declare trust and confidence, but the tone changes in verses 7-12 where he entreats God not to hide His face. David expresses fear of those plotting against him, and a study of his life demonstrates the reasons behind those fears.

David’s Life of Adversity

We are introduced to David in his defeat of the Philistine warrior Goliath, but his life becomes more difficult from this point. In I Samuel 21:1-10, David is fleeing for his life, and king Saul murderously pursues him. Those who assist him are murdered in the very next chapter, deaths for which David feels responsible. In chapter 23, David has to flee even after defending a city from the Philistines, and I Samuel 25:44 records Saul giving David’s wife to another man. He is forced to hide among rocks and caves. In II Samuel 15:13-14, King David’s own son Absalom plots against him. David again has to flee for his life. David’s life is full of danger and distress, and he approaches God with these concerns even when expressing his joy in the Lord as he does in Psalm 27.

Psalm 27:13-14 conclude David’s thoughts. Even feeling forsaken by all around him, he sings of his belief that he will again see God’s goodness. He instructs himself and us to wait on the Lord in His time. It is reminiscent of Moses comforting the Israelites before the Red Sea when he calls upon them to be still. It is a lesson of patience and fortitude, and it is often difficult to be patient. Wait for the Lord.

Trusting in the Lord

What does it meant to wait for the Lord? It is about trusting in God and looking to Him for answers. When Moses called upon the people of Israel to be still, he wasn’t calling upon them to remain inactive. He was calling upon them to remain calm and be ready to respond when God’s deliverance was made available. There are some things we must do if we are waiting on the Lord.

  • Continual Fellowship with God. I John 1:6 encourages active involvement in our relationship with God. If I am looking to God, I must be in communion with Him.
  • Constant prayer. I Thessalonians 5:17 calls upon us to pray continuously. We pray to God in good times and in bad. We speak with our God regularly to help maintain that relationship He desires.
  • Remain in His presence. The entire book of Hebrews warns against the dangers of drifting away from God. Chapter 2:1, 4:16, and 6:1 call us to draw near to God, so we may trust in Him.
  • Stay in the fight. I Kings 19 sees Elijah in fear of his life (much like David is time and again), and verse 18 records God reminding Elijah that he is not alone.

In His Time; In His Way

We have to be patient with God and remind ourselves that His time is not our time. God has never promised He will remove our trials, nor has He promised to make life easy. He may not even let us know the reason for our trials, but He has promised that our trials would make us stronger. James 1:2-3 tells us the testing of our faith produces endurance. In James 5:16, the author writes that our prayers for each other work, and we can better comfort one another if we have been prepared to do so through our own. Finally, God promises these trials will draw us nearer to Him. James 4:8 says that God draws nearer to us when we draw near to Him.

Like David, we can grow spiritually when facing the trials of this life. We can find peace and strength in Him. We can wait for God with the hope that we will dwell with Him forever in His house.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Waiting on the Lord

We don’t like waiting around – in traffic, in a doctor’s office, at restaurants, in grocery lines, at the license branch, etc. Things are never fast enough for us, and we make ourselves miserable with impatience when we are forced to wait, effecting our health and our attitudes. However, the Bible tells us to “wait on the Lord” over 50 times.

Waiting on the Lord

Isaiah 40:31 is probably the most famous scripture in terms of “waiting” on God, but this concept is a challenging one. Patience does not bring about wealth and celebrity in our society, but it can help us draw closer to God. If we can wait on the Lord, we can void unnecessary worry, compromising of morals, poor decisions, hypocrisy, and absence of spiritual focus. If we are impatient, we may make decisions that will have lasting physical or spiritual consequences.

In James 5:7-8, the author compares Christian living to tending a farm. A farmer has to continually and patiently care for his land, animals, and crops. Cultivation involves labor and study to understand how to best care for the object involved. We need to be cultivating our spiritual growth and avoid allowing cares of this world choking us. (See Mark 4:1-20.) Waiting on the Lord is not inactive – it involves giving ourselves the time it takes to be spiritually healthy Christians.

In waiting, we are learning of and following God (Psalm 25:4-7). II Timothy 2:15 reminds us that Christian knowledge and living involves diligence.

Our Application

We need to avoid distraction from God in our lives. Psalm 123 tells us to focus on God, waiting for His mercy. Psalm 25:1-5 reminds us to wait for instruction from God, avoiding the shame of impatience, and Habakkuk 2:3 records promises made during the old covenant that would not be immediately fulfilled. The people were to be patient. The prophecy would be fulfilled when the time was right.

In the beginning of Acts, the apostles were instructed to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit, and, in II Peter 1:2-8, we are told that God has promises for all His people. Like the apostles waited for the Spirit in Jerusalem, we need to wait on the Lord, but this waiting is not passive. In our patience, we are building up our spiritual strength.

Conclusion

We wait for God’s mercy, His forgiveness, fulfillment of prayers, His blessings, and the return of His Son. Psalm 25:3 says that we will not be ashamed if we exercise patience in our spirituality. This involves studying our Bibles, praying, encouraging others, focusing on our purpose. The world will try our patience, distracting us, but remember Isaiah 25:9 and Isaiah 30:18. We wait on God for Him to save us, and He is patient with us, also waiting, looking for us to turn to Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser