Jeremiah 31:16 This is what the Lord says:
“Restrain your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,”
declares the Lord.
It’s significant to remember that Jeremiah ministered in the southern kingdom of Judah, but here he is writing about the northern kingdom of Israel, which had been carried away to exile by Assyria. Judah’s time was coming, when they too would be exiled to Babylon, which supplanted Assyria, so that when they returned from captivity there were indeed representatives of all 12 tribes, since the geographical areas largely overlapped. Some people from both the northern and the southern kingdoms indeed went very far away, but the whole idea of “lost tribes” is an invention of Europeans who didn’t know their geography. All of that aside, this verse about labor being rewarded meshes perfectly with statements throughout the Bible to the same effect. Both Jesus and Paul mentioned the idea repeatedly, with Jesus saying, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done,” (Matthew 16:27) and Paul saying, “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:8) God is not a cruel taskmaster, and our work is not meaningless. Hebrews says that is an essential element of our faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Sadly, the whole concept of rewards is losing ground in modern society, with people thinking they are entitled to good things without having done anything for them. God’s grace indeed gives us far better than what we deserve, but that’s not at all the same as an entitlement mentality. Giving people participation trophies isn’t bad, provided 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place trophies are even better. There is a hymn that speaks of giving God our best, and that is a very good metric. One person’s best will not be the same as that of another person, but God knows our hearts and our abilities, and His rewards are abundant.
This certainly applies to me. Japan is not the place to be if you require massive results for your ministry! I was talking with one of our newer church members yesterday (he moved from another part of Japan) about our 40+ years here, and how people have accepted and liked us, but haven’t felt that the Gospel we shared was for them, because we were foreigners. That has been painful, certainly, but I have to leave it in God’s hands. I have to believe what the Bible proclaims: my work will be rewarded. Recently I’ve been getting a lot of satisfaction from working in our vegetable garden, because the rewards for my labor are visible, tangible, and tasty! I have to leave the rewards for my spiritual labor in God’s hands, trusting that He will bring good even from my mistakes and failures (Romans 8:28). As He told me personally, I am to rest, relax, and rejoice. He’s in control!
Father, thank You for this reminder. I do thank You for the garden to help me get through some of the other stuff. Thank You for all the things I haven’t planned, such as the conversation yesterday that I feel built up this church and advanced Your kingdom. I pray that each believer would grasp that there are things that You have equipped them to do for which You haven’t equipped me, so that they too may indeed give You their best, for their great blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!