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September 23, 2013

Invisible Labor

Stay faithful even when you can’t see the fruit



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I sat at my computer and hoped the words would compose. Why am I doing this to myself? I wondered. After two years of freelance writing, I felt I had little to show for my work.

The slow progress left me frustrated and feeling alone. If this was the place where God had called me, why wasn’t he blessing my efforts? Why were my days made up of unanswered emails and unending rejection?

On days our work feels fruitless, we face a choice—will we dig down deeper, adjust our perspective, and listen as the Spirit leads? Or will we ignore our flaws, throw up our hands, and check out spiritually? Our response defines our posture and dictates our perspective.

Wrestling with Ourselves

When others seem unresponsive or our work feels unfruitful, questions inevitably arise. Is this where I’m supposed to serve? Am I doing something wrong? Why isn’t God rewarding my labor? As we wrestle with our questions, we invite God to show us personal shortcomings and cultivate character.

When I began writing, I assumed that a shower of success would follow. Surely others would see the depth of my insight and rush to publish my work. But instead, most emails never received a response. Many pieces were politely turned down.

A spiritual tug-of-war ensued as I struggled with God’s unexpected plans. With every rejection letter, he exposed my impatience. He uncovered my childish demands. And he showed me that my present season was more about character formation than career formulation.

God allows us to wrestle with ourselves so that we’ll eventually rest in him. We face our insecurities, release our expectations, and accept our situation. Through the process, we open ourselves to God’s deeper work, allowing him to produce perseverance and patience within us.

Reframing Faithfulness

As we explore our misconceptions and welcome God’s work, our perspective changes. Before, faithfulness might have looked like larger numbers, more speaking engagements, or extra volunteers. Now faithfulness looks like deeper faith, stronger relationships, and openness to new ideas. We shift our focus from the physical and flashy to the simplistic and spiritual.

In every life stage, we strive to measure our success. As a student, I evaluated myself based upon grades, internships, and job prospects. As a church associate, I tracked event attendance, vision buy-in, and volunteer enthusiasm. As a writer, I look for ways to improve my work and add to my resume.

But once the indicators evaporate, we’re forced to reevaluate. What if physical factors are markers instead of measures? Perhaps grades reflect book knowledge. Numbers indicate people’s interests. Resumes show our superficial success. These identifiers provide markers that help us assess our situations, yet they cannot measure our wisdom, depth, or growth.

Once we’ve walked through a dry season, we learn to measure faithfulness by what lies beneath the surface. We long to know what God is doing in the deep, damp earth beneath us. As we gaze, our gauges shift and our eyes sharpen. We become aware of personal and spiritual changes taking place within us and others. We start to see successes in the small recesses of our lives and ministries. And we find freedom to consider new possibilities.

Realizing Untapped Potential

With our hearts softened to the unexpected, we invite God to show us new horizons. His mission for our ministry might not be growth but depth. His purpose for our season might not be achievement but transformation. His calling might not be children’s ministry but women’s ministry or pastoral work. Whether God changes our circumstances or simply changes us, we find ourselves in a new place because of a new perspective.

I wish I could tell you my current situation has shifted. I long for the day when my inbox will herald more acceptance letters than rejection mail. I survive for weeks on those rare moments of affirmation. I still struggle with self-doubt.

Yet on the days when I’m willing to get down on my hands and knees and gaze at my own spiritual soil, I see something new sprouting up within me. I know more about myself than I did before this journey started. I am more certain of my calling yet more open to new ways for it to play out. I more readily recognize my dependence on God and need for his daily guidance.

In times when we look at our landscape and scarcely see fruit, we’re reminded that the One who sows the seed also sends the rain and summons the harvest. He waits as we wrestle. He works underground. He celebrates each shoot that sprouts from our souls.

Faithfulness reveals itself as both a posture and a perspective as we allow God’s arduous cycle to change us. As we wrestle with ourselves, reframe our successes, and recognize new opportunities, we start to see the first signs of harvest—ripening within our own fertile soil.

So if you are laboring hard, heart and soul, in a ministry that hasn’t taken hold, schedule some time to assess your own soul. Set aside a day where your only assignment is to sit with the Lord. As you look at your life and listen to your longings, allow God to illuminate his work within you.

How has your character changed or deepened as you’ve done difficult work? Notice the ways God has cultivated humility, developed fortitude, or grown your faith. What life-giving moments have you experienced amidst challenges? Attend to these glimpses, allowing God to show you fresh passions and new abilities. Who has come behind or alongside you in this season? Even when your ministry seems small, don’t disregard the women who have watched, listened, and learned from your example. Where do you sense God stirring? Sometimes God’s tug is so slight we barely notice, so pause to consider any new desires or directions that arise.

Whether God changes your circumstances or simply changes you, celebrate the harvest emerging right before your very eyes.


Amanda DeWitt works as a freelance writer, conference speaker, and blogger for Tapestry. She has served as a magazine editor and an associate on a megachurch staff; she holds a M.A. from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Comments

Such a timely article for me. Thank you. The Lord spoke powerfully through your words. Blessings!

Thank you, Amanda. This article speaks not only to career challenges, but relational ones as well. It is good to shift perspectives in difficult times. Blessings to you in your ministry! Laurie

Awesome article. Thank you for articulating my struggles over the past few years. I thought I was reading about myself, but knew I didn't have the skill to express myself so well; so thank you! Although it's been a difficult time personally, and I also have experienced self doubt, there is an inkling that God is definitely changing my perspectives and me through these trying circumstances. It is encouraging to know that others are also going through these types of trials and times that actually are used to carve off the rough edges, and to make us more in the image of Christ. It is true, that one is closest to God when we are at the bottom. I only pray that I will be used by God as He created me to be. May God bless you, for you have blessed me.

Thank you Amanda for your open and honest article; it really spoke to my heart. In trying to establish a non profit for the less fortunate i believed that I could rally more volunteers and support for my work.

Somewhat discouraged after a few years my work kind of dwindled. I still try to be a blessing in the community and fund raise for over seas projects but feel that there must be more. I don't want to underestimate what God can do in one's heart with the little acts of kindness day to day but after having read your post it throws and new light and hope and inspiration on the subject.

Many thanks again! You never know the effect that you have had in someone's life as not everyone will respond but know that the seeds have been planted and that you are very much appreciated! God bless you

Thank you for sharing this! I find myself at a place in my life where I used to see much greater results for my efforts. Now it seems for all my hard work there is little return or progress. Reading this has encouraged me to look beyond the visible fruit -or lack thereof- and to dig deeper to see what God is accomplishing in my life, teaching me lessons of perseverance, faith without sight, endurance and trust.

Thanks, very encouraging and very easy to relate to. You gave words to my lessons and I'm sure to all of us who love to write and share our experiences with others.

I liked your article. Funny. I just finished reading a whole book on the subject, Rick Warren's "purpose driven church". He explains very well how the unchurched think and feel and how to relate to them. He also explains why churches act in a certain ways. God bless you!

Well written. That's just what I needed as the feelings you were expressing have been my own very recently. I now realize I need to view my present circumstances & the place the lord has me just now with new eyes. As a mature Christian (at least in years) & having been through & learned a lot one would think this the obvious course of action when in this type of situation. But more often than not we need it spelled out for us as otherwise it simply would not necessarily enter our minds. How lovely it is to have each other to help keep us on the right track & our focus exactly where it should be. Your writing has served a far more important purpose just in this article alone.
As we know as soldiers we fight a vastly more important battle than mere personal accomplishment alone. We fight for the very Kingdom, each other & the King we serve. This article will no doubt be far more reaching than perhaps we can imagine.
Thank you.

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