Weariness

Paul writes, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) It is a famous passage, that we’ve read many times before in both good and bad places along the road of life. The frustrating part of the verse, however, is that it provides no mechanism for how to fulfill it. Sure, we’d all agree that getting tired and worn out—discouraged—from working hard for Jesus is something to be avoided. But the question on my mind, whenever I feel such discouragement is, “Okay, how?”

It’s like the passage in James’ letter, where he talks about faith versus works and tells us that faith without works is dead. James gives an illustration of what he means by faith without works being empty. If you found someone in need of food and clothes and simply told them, “Hey buddy, you should get some clothes on and get yourself something to eat” you’d have done nothing worthwhile, unless you actually give him some bread and a new shirt.

So, Paul warns us that we’re not supposed to become weary in well-doing. I doubt anyone would disagree.

But how do you pull that off? How do you keep from becoming discouraged after spending years at something only to see little or no progress? Or after facing repeated financial crises? How do you keep from not thinking it must be your fault, since, after all, you’re the one that is living your life? If God were really in it, wouldn’t there be lives transformed for the better? Wouldn’t something work out in some spectacular fashion? Why instead, despite all our efforts, when we look in our souls, all we see is not a glass half-full, but a glass plumb empty.

Being weary from well-doing is incredibly destructive. It saps the will, turns the heart negative, makes it impossible for the eye to witness even one positive event, to discern even one benefit to one’s continued existence.

How to avoid the bone crushing, dust-filled empty wasteland of weariness from doing good, from pounding endlessly at a cliff of granite without the smallest crack or chip appearing? Frankly, becoming weary in doing good seems nearly inevitable. Simply telling us not to become weary is like telling the runner not to get tired.

Even if one sees great blessings, weariness is going to creep up on you. What if the church magnificently prospers, the money rolls in, the sinners repent, broken lives are repaired, the damaged and hurting are made well again? What if one sees tremendous results? Will the sense of weariness fade away? Won’t the end of a long, productive week still bring a sense of exhaustion? Can’t discouragement and the sense of emptiness trouble such a successful individual just as much as the one who feels all his labor has been in vain? Does outcome really matter, or is it the work itself that induces the weariness?

Notice that a warning against becoming weary is addressed to those who work at the good, regardless of the outcome. Jesus told his disciples during his sermon on the mount that they were to seek God and his righteousness. One should notice that the wording is not completely dissimilar to the Declaration of Independence’s promise that we have a right to pursue happiness. There’s no promise we’ll actually find it; only that we get to chase it. Seeking God, seeking righteousness may not be guarantees of finding what we’ve been looking for. The author of Hebrews concludes the listing of the greats of faith by pointing out that many worked hard for God, suffered much for God and then never received anything that had been promised by God (Hebrews 11:39).

Such realizations from scripture and life don’t particularly help me not feel weary in doing good. Again: if we’re not supposed to feel weary or to grow discouraged, then how, practically speaking, do we manage? Oddly, Paul seems to suggest elsewhere that the answer is paradoxical. In his letter to the Romans he writes “… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

Paul argues that for the Christian, suffering produces perseverance which carries with it character and hope. This is counterintuitive. It seems unlikely. In fact, isn’t it our experience mostly that people quit when the hard times come? Didn’t Jesus give a parable about that once, something about seeds tossed along the road? (Matthew 13:18-23)

Ah, but that then supplies the answer, doesn’t it? Patience and self-control are both fruits of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22. And the difference between the “good” soil and the not so good soil was that when troubles and such came along, the seed that wasn’t in good soil withered: it quit. It’s not that the other seed didn’t have the same troubles, but it just kept growing anyhow.

James likewise writes that the testing of our faith produces perseverance (see James 1:3-4, 12). Meanwhile Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:6 that God has given us everything we need for our lives as Christians. And among those things he has given us is “perseverance.”

So, after all that, there’s no magic elixir to find, no spiritual Red Bull that you can get that will rev you up and keep you from getting tired or discouraged. What you have is actually a lot better: God living inside of you, finishing the work in you that he has prepared for you to do (see Ephesians 2:10). Tired or not, you’ll keep on keeping on, because that’s simply what we as Christians do. Our weariness does not lead to quitting. Instead:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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