I’ve been working for twenty years. After all of this time, it feels like I have nothing to show for it except for a lot of sneakers and a love for expensive ice cream (Van Leewun and Jenis need to sponsor me). Now I know this isn’t entirely true, it just feels like it sometimes. When I tell people I want to retire at 45, it’s not because I’m lazy, it’s because I want to enjoy my time, freedom, and the fruits of my labor. The American dream of working until 65 when life expectancy is 77, while being sicker than ever just doesn’t appeal to me. Retiring at 45 doesn’t mean I’ll never work again (y’all know I have too much energy for that) it just means work will not be the primary thing in my life as it can often be for many of us.
My complicated feelings around work are what many of us feel when it comes to our walk with God. some of us have twenty years or more of following Jesus and we’re asking: what do I have to show for it? There are the same struggles, new addictions, sickness, death, failed marriages, lost children, pains, and hurts. It feels like pursuing Jesus is pushing a boulder uphill until God kills you.
I can understand why people leave the faith if this is what all of life feels like. Jesus never promised us perfect happiness and perfect lives but does it all need to feel like a struggle? The tough marriages, the long days of parenting, the church hurt, and the community that never quite feels like home. Some of us are just searching for a bright spot-a glimmer of hope.
The Israelites found themselves asking the same question on multiple occasions. The prophet Malachi was ministering to them in the thick of this. In his book The Message of Malachi, Peter Adam says this:
“What do we profit? (3:14) is such a revealing question! It shows they are fundamentally self-centered, not God-centered. This is the embarrassing question that occasionally comes to us mid-way through our lives as Christians, and the painful question that can come near the end of years of ministry. What have I got out of all of this? Have the sacrifices been worthwhile? What reward do I have for my goodness and service of God? In particular the people complain, What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts? (14). Keeping God’s commands has not brought them any benefit, and neither has their penitence when they have failed to keep them. Whatever they have done, they feel that they are losers.”
The Long Run
Many of us feel like we are wasting our time following God. We feel like losers asking the question, what do we have to show for it? It can feel like Psalm 73; we’re doing everything we can to honor God but it feels like those who have no care for God or his commands seems to be the ones prospering while we suffer.
A little more from Peter Adam:
“If the words What do we profit? Reveal so much about their deep and destructive motivation, the following words reveal much about their deep and destructive tendency to envy those who have not even bothered to keep God’s commands or to sorrow for their sins. Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape (15). Envying other people’s happiness is fatal to our confidence in God. Distant fields are always greener.”
What does that mean for us? Are we dissatisfied because of comparison? It’s cliche but comparison is truly the enemy of joy. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to be unhappy about. I will never be the person to tell you “things could be worse” because many of us are dealing with very real problems that are worthy of unhappiness. Life is hard but where is our perspective?
There is something to be said about practicing delayed gratification. We’re not really good at that anymore. In a world where everything is available to us in an instant, we’ve forgotten how to wait.
The Christian hope is a future hope. We live in the tension of the Already But Not Yet. Christ has done the work. He has redeemed us. We have been made new. But we don’t fully realize those realities on this side of heaven.
That’s really hard. Life be lifing and the last thing I want to do sometimes is figure out how to live well in the midst of that tension.
Many of us, just like the Israelites are asking what do we profit? The joylessness of life, the dead-end job, the loneliness, all of it. God looks at us and says Romans 8:28 is still true. He still works all things together for our good. Even when we can’t see it.
I don’t think God has set us up for a life of misery. But he has designed it so that we would trust him more than we trust ourselves and that is good news. What do we profit? Our profit is communion with a loving and gracious Father who has been and always will be there for us. Nothing in this life can separate us from him. Our joy can’t be dictated by our circumstances, it has to be determined by how much we trust God with our lives. I know, easier said than done. I’m figuring it out too.