BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2 New King James Version).
Prayer is very important in the life of a Christian. However, prayer is not the solution to every problem. Prayer will not solve some problems except the prayers are for the opening of one’s eyes to the solution.
Many people pray that their labour will not be in vain. But that prayer may never be answered until they do what will prevent that from happening. To avoid labouring in vain, some people need to recognize and correct what could lead to this in their lives. If they want to pray, the right prayer point should be that God will open their eyes to see or touch their hearts to understand what they must stop doing or start doing to avoid labouring in vain.
Apparently referring to the famous Isthmian games held every two years on the Isthmus of Corinth in ancient Greece, the Apostle Paul says that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize. He says that Christians should run in such a way that we may obtain it. He further says everyone who competes for the prize practises self-control and does it to obtain a perishable crown. But Christians do it for an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). This means that both in physical and spiritual matters, nobody wants to labour in vain but to achieve his goals.
The Bible says that after the Galatians had known God or God had known them, they turned again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which they desired again to be in bondage. They also observed days and months and seasons and years (Galatians 4:8-10). Thus, Paul was afraid for them, lest he had laboured for them in vain (verse 11). Paul felt that way because nobody wants to labour in vain.
He expressed a similar concern to the Thessalonians that his labour might be in vain. “For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:4-5 New King James Version).
Earlier, Paul had said that the Thessalonians knew that his coming to them was not in vain (1 Thessalonians 2:1). Before coming to them, Paul and Silas had suffered at Philippi where they were imprisoned (Acts 16:16-40). Nevertheless, Paul boldly spoke to the Thessalonians the gospel of God without error, uncleanness, or deceit (1 Thessalonians 2:2-3).
Labouring in vain is not what anyone desires. Therefore, Paul was mindful of this in his ministry. In Philippians 2:16, he urged the Philippians to hold fast the word of life, so that he might rejoice in the day of Christ that he had not run in vain or laboured in vain.
In Luke 5:1-11, Peter toiled throughout the night and caught no fish. He was an experienced fisherman and must have been fishing in that same sea before. But that day, his labour was in vain until Jesus came to his rescue. And in the same sea, he had a net-breaking and boat-sinking catch of fish.
Things that can make one labour in vain
What are the things that can make one labour in vain, which one must deal with?
1. When one doesn’t acknowledge the supremacy and authority of God in one’s life but puts trust in self or man. Psalm 127:1-2 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep” (New King James Version). Take note of the phrase “labour in vain.” The word “vain” is used three times in the passage.
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:28 that as sinful people did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting. Failure to acknowledge God’s supremacy and authority in one’s life but trusting in self or man causes labouring in vain.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (New King James Version).
2. When one acts in rebellion against God. Any labour out of rebellion against God will be in vain. In Genesis 11, the building of a city with a tower whose top would be in the heavens (the tower of Babel) was labour in vain because it was in rebellion against God’s plan for man to fill the earth, as He said in Genesis 1:28, therefore, the project failed (Genesis 11:1-9). They wasted their labour like it was with the people whose labour was in vain when the broad walls of Babylon were utterly broken and her high gates burnt (Jeremiah 51:58).
In Leviticus 26, one of the punishments for not obeying God was that the Israelites would sow their seed in vain; their enemies would eat it (verse 16b). Verse 20 also says that they will spend their strength in vain, for their land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit. That’s not the kind of labour anyone wants to do. Indeed, Christians are no longer under the law but rebellion against God still has consequences today. To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22). Jesus said if we love Him, we should keep His commandments (John 14:15).
3. When one’s goals are wrong or undefined. Don’t pursue wrong or undefined goals. You should have well-defined goals. If you don’t, you have nothing concrete to focus your efforts on to achieve. Don’t run with uncertainty and don’t fight as one who beats the air (1 Corinthians 9:26). Also, make sure you pursue the right goals so that you won’t labour in vain.
4. When one’s motives are wrong. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (New King James Version). The World English Bible puts it this way: “You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it for your pleasures.”
Let your motives be right, especially in your walk with God and prayer. If anyone has a wrong motive and he still achieves his goal, the person will ultimately labour in vain because it won’t last. Be controlled by the Holy Spirit to avoid wrong motives.
5. When one is not disciplined or one’s methods are wrong. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (New King James Version). A lack of discipline can result in labouring in vain. Discipline is required to achieve success in any enterprise. This is lacking in the lives of some people. Thus, they labour in vain.
Someone’s labour could also be a waste when he employs unbiblical or wrong methods. For example, when people succeed through cheating and they are caught, they’re often punished, disgraced, or disqualified, and all their labour is in vain. As we have read in 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul disciplined his body and brought it into subjection, lest, when he had preached to others, he should become disqualified. Be disciplined; avoid unbiblical methods.
6. When one labours in ignorance or like a fool. Lack of knowledge and wisdom could lead to labouring in vain. Proverbs 1:17 says, “Surely, in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird” (New King James Version). That’s not a wise thing to do. Birds will stay away from nets visibly spread. Ecclesiastes 10:15 says, “The work of the foolish will be a weariness to him, because he has no knowledge of the way to the town” (Bible in Basic English).
Wise people acquire the right knowledge and wisdom needed for fruitful labour. In Galatians 2:1-2, Paul said, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain” (New King James Version).
Paul wanted to be sure that his message to the Gentiles was correct so that he would not run or labour in vain.
Don’t labour foolishly to avoid labouring in vain. Proverbs 24:3-4 says through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. The Living Bible puts Proverbs 24:3-4 this way: “Any enterprise is built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts” (The Living Bible). Acquire the right knowledge; get the needed understanding; pursue wisdom.
7. When one partners with the wrong people. If you partner with the wrong people, you may not achieve much or anything. And if you do, it may not last. This will amount to labouring in vain.
Jehoshaphat was a good king, but he went into partnership with an evil king to make merchant ships. They made the ships, but they never sailed because the ships were wrecked. “After this Jehoshaphat king of Judah allied himself with Ahaziah king of Israel, who acted very wickedly. And he allied himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish, and they made the ships in Ezion Geber. But Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, ‘Because you have allied yourself with Ahaziah, the LORD has destroyed your works.’ Then the ships were wrecked, so that they were not able to go to Tarshish” (2 Chronicles 20:35-37 New King James Version).
All the investment of these two kings into making the ships was wasted. 1 Kings 22:48 records their wasted and unfruitful labour thus: “Jehoshaphat made merchant ships to go to Ophir for gold; but they never sailed, for the ships were wrecked at Ezion Geber” (New King James Version).
Did Jehoshaphat learn his lesson? Verse 49 says, “Then Ahaziah the son of Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Let my servants go with your servants in the ships.’ But Jehoshaphat would not” (New King James Version). Jehoshaphat had learnt his lesson. Be careful who you partner with to avoid labouring in vain. Some people carry a blessing; some a curse!
8. When someone is a victim of demonic operations. Demonic forces could attack one’s labour to ensure that one labours in vain. This could lead to no result, failure on the verge of success, or failure after success.
Demonic forces can work through people to make others labour in vain. In Judges 6:3-6, the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the people of the East frustrated the Israelites. They attacked them, destroyed their crops, took away their livestock, and left them with nothing to eat. The labour of the Israelites was in vain.
But God’s promise is that you won’t labour in vain. “They shall not build and another inhabit; They shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth children for trouble; for they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them” (Isaiah 65:22-23 New King James Version).
You must engage in prayers against demonic forces that want your labour over your children, family, ministry, business, etc. to be in vain. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God (2 Corinthians 10:4). God will give you victory.
Conclusion: Guide against all the things I have said could make someone’s labour be in vain. Your labour shall not be in vain but shall be rewarded. Your ships will sail and not be wrecked. If you have laboured in vain in the past, God shall show you mercy and your labour shall be rewarded. “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:16a New King James Version). Be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded (2 Chronicles 15:7).
If you have not given your life to Jesus, do so now by taking the following steps: *Admit that you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto You today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and God raised Him on the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The Lord be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President of Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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