Was it all worth it?
Robin Lane finds hope in a poignant question
A crucial question
In this centenary year of the outbreak of World War 1 many articles have been written and documentaries broadcast that examine the crucial question: was it all worth it? Was all the effort, all the expense, all the bloodshed, all the suffering and all the loss of life worthwhile? Had it really achieved anything? And that has proved to be a difficult question to answer; with passionate views expressed for responses of both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
One view that became popular nearer the time was that it was ‘the war to end all wars’. But 21 years later came the outbreak of World War 2, which saw even greater numbers of casualties, and again prompted the question: was it all worth it?
This question is not consigned to the past. Just a few days ago the last British combat troops withdrew from Afghanistan after 13 years of fighting. And the question has arisen again: was it all worth it? That question is particularly poignant for relatives and friends of the 453 service personnel who died and the 2,187 who were wounded in action during that conflict, which was fought so far from home. It is a question that has become even harder to answer with the emergence of terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda in countries closer to home. Was it worth fighting so far away, when the enemy has appeared in many other places?
For churches too
It is also a question that is not confined to military conflicts. For some years now churches of various denominations have seen a decline in numbers that has led to the closure of many, and left others confronting the same fate in the near future. So Christians who have served for years, in a wide variety of ways, are left wondering: was it all worth it? Was it worth all those years of effort just to see the numbers in the church fellowship decline?
Yet it is not a new question for followers of Christ. Almost 2,000 years ago the small group of disciples was left wondering whether following Jesus had been worthwhile. Those disciples had left all they had to follow Jesus for three years. They had seen him turn water into wine, heal many, feed thousands, drive out demons, walk on water, calm a storm, and even raise the dead; and yet he had been arrested, tried, tortured and crucified. Then his dead body was laid in a nearby tomb, and they were devastated – had it all been a waste of time?
The Servant also
Even before the disciples confronted that question, the servant of the LORD had expressed a similar point of view. Having first declared with confidence his calling by the LORD, and stated that he was the servant in whom the LORD would display his splendour, he then said: “I have laboured to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing” (Isaiah 49:4). Thus he too looked at the situation and thought that all his efforts had been futile.
But he immediately went on to express faith in the LORD: “Yet what is due me is in the LORD's hand, and my reward is with my God.” And the LORD replied: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob ... I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." So great would the servant be that, in spite of being despised and abhorred by some, kings will rise up to honour him, princes will see him and bow down.
The vital promise
Just as the servant’s pessimistic statement was quickly countered, so the disciples were soon lifted out of despair. On that first day of the week the good news came to them – the tomb is empty, he is risen! Their efforts in following him for three years were not in vain, far from it. The fruits of their labours were yet to be revealed.
In a similar way, all those who have laboured for years in churches should take courage, even if they have seen their local fellowship decline. For as the apostle Paul wrote: ‘... my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:58). Even if the local picture looks gloomy, even if it looks like defeat, the Lord continues to build his church, and his servants should know that their work is not in vain.
Robin Lane is a member of Ashford Baptist Church (Kent) and one of its team of lay preachers