Laboring Unto the Lord: A Reflection on the Pain of Loss and the Joy of Surrender

A few moments ago I received news of the passing of a son of a fellow minister of the gospel in my denominational district. Though I was not acquainted with this family, I am nonetheless acquainted with the losses that are common to us as human beings sojourning in a foreign and broken land. After praying on their behalf, acknowledging God's solidarity with them in their grief and asking for the Great Comforter to remind them of this, I was reminded of Paul's exhortation to the believers in first-century Colossae: "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:23-24).

I spoke from this text last night at my church's annual leadership dinner about our motivation for serving in the ministries of the local church. Paul addresses various members of Christian households (husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, slaves) with exhortations relevant to their working relationships with one another. These exhortations are based on the principle that when we do our work as "unto the Lord," not merely for humankind (and certainly not for the sake of accolades), we are rewarded by God for our good faith efforts regardless of whether we see positive results in this life.

As I tried to imagine what this family must be experiencing in their souls, I considered the tragic nature of death--that the loss is not primarily physical, but ultimately relational. Even as this family trusts their sovereign Heavenly Father to preserve their loved one for eternity, they grieve the loss of relationship. They grieve the loss of potential--what could have become of us life if the Lord would have granted him more years. I can also imagine them feeling at some point anger over the fact that they invested so much into the life of this boy-become-man, only to see his opportunity to bloom and bear fruit cut short.

With how much I invest into my children--especially emotionally--I am often motivated by hope that I will see them flourish in their love for God and neighbor, that they will be courageous and contagious disciples of Jesus, that they may even become great contributors to God's kingdom in this world. But I am reminded that my efforts would not be in vain even if I were to lose one of my children just as these parents have lost one of theirs. God sees our good work and brings fruit for His kingdom even in circumstances such as these. The labor of faith, hope and love is never in vain. When we acknowledge the providence of God which transcends our understanding, surrendering the results of our labors to Him, only then may we find joy in the midst of otherwise tragic loss.

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