The real test of the saint is…doing the things that do not count in the actual estimate of men but count everything in the estimate of God.
Mom, do these [dishes] count for my work today?
Does this [Monopoly money] count for my math?
Does this [vacuuming] count for exercise?
Does this [Fruit Loops box] count for my reading?
No kidding. Our eight-year old asked me each of those in a single day last week. Because at our house summers off aren’t entirely.
We still do work in the summer. We learn to do dishes and sweep floors and fold laundry. We do math and reading, and play piano and exercise. And Gabe, God bless him, doesn’t want to waste his efforts. He wants to be sure reading the cereal box at breakfast and scrubbing dinner dishes and counting play money are entered on his ledger.
He wants it all to count.
We all want to know that our work counts. We crave assurance that our labors are not in vain, that our love is not wasted. We long to know that somehow, in some way our efforts will be rewarded. We wonder:
Lord, do these [dishes] count for my work today?
Does this [meal for a new mom] count for love?
Does this [hard forgiveness] count for faith?
Does this [check to our church] count for some reward?
The worst moments in our lives are those that scream: Wasted! All in vain. They etch themselves deep, these moments. My husband was into balsa-wood building back in the day. Hours, a day and maybe a night was how long a diligent twelve-year-old labored over one little model home.
Finally, exultant, he set the delicate little dwelling on his bed. Dan came in, then, and they bantered as brothers can and Jim flopped joyful back on the bed. And the balsa-wood house was smashed in a second into smithereens. And Jim cried.
Waste feels awful. When hours of dinner prep are lost in a smoky oven and days of writing are lost in a hard drive crash. When weeks of study are lost-one click shy of submitted-and the test is outside its window. When months nursing peach trees are lost to a summer storm, tiny fruits hard on the ground. No counts hurt.
These crushing flash points hit us hard; when work seems irretrievably, irrevocably lost and love looks irretrievably, irrevocably wasted. As if labor was in vain, and love wasted. Lost.
But are they?
Not In Vain
Paul was like us. He wanted to be sure his own work, his ministry, wasn’t in vain. He wanted his work to count.
Fourteen years after Damascus Road, Paul went up to Jerusalem. Why? To make sure [he] was not running in vain (Galatians 2:2). He wanted to be sure he was doing his work right, proclaiming the gospel truly. He told the Philippian church, Hold fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain (Phil. 2:16).
You’ve probably heard it said, You must preach to yourself. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, an English pastor last century, may have coined the adage. The futility of wasted, no-counts are preempted by preaching to ourselves.
We must constantly be reminding ourselves that we are always in the presence of God, that He sees and knows everything and we can never escape his sight. Where can I go to flee from your presence?
If we were to practice this it would be revolutionary. I am quite certain a revival would start at once. Think of all the pretense and sham, and all that is unworthy in us. If only we realized that God is looking at all, and is aware of it all, and is recording it all. (D.M. Lloyd-Jones, The Sermon on the Mount, V. II, p. 17)
So don’t phone it in because you don’t see a reward. That’s what faith must be. It’s precisely the work no one sees, the hours that no one notices and love that’s not returned that God will reward. It’s just then-when love or labor seem in vain- that God tells us, It counts.
That’s one reason, I think, that the great day of the Lord will be so great. We’ll know that our work of faith counted. That the efforts pleased our Master. Isaiah foretold this day, when They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat…They shall not labor in vain (Isaiah 65:22).
What About Rewards?
The whole issue of rewards troubles people. But reward is central to Christian belief. Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:60). So we make it our goal to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one should receive what is due for what he has done in the body (2 Cor. 5:9-10).
Each believer will receive his own reward according to his own labor (1 Cor. 3:8) and, Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord (Eph. 6:8). In one span of eighteen verses, Christ spoke four times of reward. He spoke-not to put such talk of reward to rest-but to assure us that it is perfectly good and right to seek it.
Provided, of course, that the reward is rightly sought from the righteous Judge.
The key thing is to remember that rewards come once. If you seek yours from man, you won’t get it from God. So, don’t let your left hand know about the check your right hand wrote.
But, it doesn’t follow that we should be unconcerned with reward. Only be mindful that God keeps accounts. He sees what you do in secret, and one day out in the open will be gathered all the nations. And the King will say, “Come you blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom…For I was hungry and you gave me food, a stranger and you welcomed me.”
How To Make It Count
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1).
Lloyd-Jones prods us again. Work through your religious life, think of all the good you have done in the past, in the light of that pronouncement. How much remains to come to you from God? It is a terrifying thought.
In an age when it’s so easy to showcase our righteous acts, and reap rewards the instant we post them, it is a terrifying thought. We’d best beware.
2. Let Him Keep Accounts
“Leave the book-keeping to Him and his grace. Let Him keep the accounts…There is no need to waste time keeping accounts, He is keeping them. And what wonderful accounts they are. May I say it with reverence, there is nothing I know if that is so romantic as God’s methods of accountancy …The whole world is turned upside down by grace” -D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones*
Do you live for God’s glory? Do your work and play, your Facebook posts and text threads make God look great? Praise Him if they do, but don’t keep track. Seek the Kingdom first. Quit asking if it counts. Like my NYC sister-in-law says, Forget about it.
3. Keep Doing Good
So don’t grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
4. Keep On Trusting
The Hebrew Christians were like Gabe. They wanted their work to count. And since whatever was written for them is for our benefit, too, we have hope. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints (Hebrews 6:10).
In a sermon on that text, John Piper reiterates this great truth:
The great battle of the Christian life is not to produce merit so that the justice of God will repay with salvation. The great battle of Christian life is to keep trusting God patiently until he freely gives the final inheritance.
Do you trust Him? That he saw how patiently you listened, how silently you cleaned her kids’ mess? That these checks year after year will bring reward one day? That He saw the smile forced for the man who slandered my man? Can I trust this hard forgiveness He’s helping me do counts for something?
Yes, Gabe. Your work counts. Scrubbing dishes and counting Monopoly money counts. It all adds up to something good. By God’s accounting, and by his grace, it makes the man.
Yes, Christian, it does. It all counts for something. In God’s economy no labor or love for his name’s sake is ever wasted. He will reward the righteous acts you do for Him. They matter.
In fact, nothing on earth matters more.