Isaiah 49:4 But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
Various passages in the prophets, and particularly in Isaiah, show a blending of the prophet and the Messiah, and this is one of those. The passage as a whole is clearly Messianic, yet this particular verse would seem to be a very natural statement of Isaiah himself. I think the answer to that is part of the mystery of being in Christ, which is expressed extensively in the New Testament. My father wrote his doctoral dissertation on it, but he told me, of course many years later, that he had no real idea of what it was until he had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit, after he was already a missionary in Japan. Jesus talked about our being in Him and He in us a lot in the Upper Room Discourse, just before going out to Gethsemane. (John 13-17) Paul, in turn, spoke of our being Christ’s agents, His ambassadors. (2 Corinthians 5:18-29) Isaiah is here expressing what probably every servant of God has felt from time to time. We run out of our resources pretty quickly, and the results are seldom on a schedule we would like. Hebrews 11:39-40 tells us that the results are often after our death! However, every true servant of God needs to be like Isaiah here, yielding themselves to God and trusting Him to reward them appropriately, whatever the time table.
This is something with which I am deeply familiar, on a generational level, even. My father was a missionary from 1934 until He was called Home a few days after his 64th birthday in 1974, but he never saw the massive harvest for which he prayed and labored. He did have fruit from his ministry, certainly, but not at all on the scale that he desired. My mother told me after his death that on at least one occasion he prostrated himself on the floor before the Lord and cried out, “Lord, if I am standing in the way of revival in Japan, then take me out of the way!” I certainly identify with that. We have been ministering in Omura since 1981, and our current church attendance is around a dozen. However, I have baptized over 50 people over the years, both Japanese and non-Japanese, and there are people in active ministry who were raised in this church. I have had my times of feeling exactly as Isaiah states in the first half of this verse, so I need to follow through with the second half, in full faith and trust.
Father, thank You for Your faithfulness, to my parents, to Cathy and me, and to all Your children. Help us all love You and trust You enough to be fully obedient to You, doing Your will on Your schedule to produce Your desired outcome, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!