Nothing and Vanity

by Melinda Viergever Inman

“But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength on nothing and vanity’” (Isaiah 49:4a ESV).

 You’ve embarked on an important mission, a praiseworthy project, or a lifestyle of service. And then, you’ve seen it all crumble, your work amounting to nothing.

Projects are cancelled, friends bail, prodigals flee, houses flood, money is lost, bankruptcy is filed. Perhaps you’re the one struck down, your health and vigor taken.

At these moments, we feel as if we’ve labored in vain and spent our strength on nothing. Our work feels futile, our gifts and calling wasted, because seemingly nothing came of it.

This is the wounded place, the broken spot that aches. We wonder what might have been. This wakes us in the night. We can’t seem to let go, no matter how hard we try.

Jesus knows exactly how we feel. He felt it, too.

The opening verse from Isaiah occurs right in the middle of a conversation before time began. In this passage, God the Father and Jesus the Son, the foretold Servant, talk together. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah reveals their words, thus preparing the Jewish people for what had been hidden in plain sight - their coming Messiah, the prophesied One who would crush the serpent’s head.

They expected a king. But, they were to receive a Servant, One whose goal was to meet their deepest unknown need, the need for a right relationship with God.

The speaker in the opening verse is Jesus pre-incarnate, God the Son before his human birth. This section of Isaiah reveals the foundation for our understanding of the Trinity.

When the Father detailed his mission, the Son revealed how he would feel as a human man carrying this burden. Being God, the Son foreknew that the Jewish nation would reject him as their Messiah. Before he was even incarnate on this earth, he predetermined how he would handle the emotional turmoil of living in a human body during their rejection and during the broken intimacy with the Father that he would experience while on the cross.

The entire verse reads:

“But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength on nothing and vanity; YET surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God’” (Isaiah 49:4 ESV).

When I read these words during my Bible study, I wept. Jesus’ words pierced my heart, capturing exactly how I feel in my own struggle and how I should react. He sympathizes with us in all of our weaknesses. He’s been tempted in all things as we, but without ever sinning. As an eyewitness, Peter tells us how it looked as Jesus lived this out:

“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, BUT continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23 ESV).

No matter what happened, the Lord Jesus committed himself, his rights, and his reward into God’s hands, knowing all were secure there. Here is his “not my will but yours be done,” the knowledge of God's all-seeing eye and flawless justice removing any temptation to retort, fight, fear, or answer in kind.

To Jesus, only God’s opinion matters.

Do we feel the same?

Jesus’ actions are our provision and our example for managing heartache and loss. Jesus’ obedience puts within our grasp the power to resist sin in whatever trial or injury. How?

Entrust yourself, your rights, your reward, and your situation entirely to God.

The Son set this course from before time, so that he could fulfill his task of bringing us to God. As a result, God answered him:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV).

Because of Jesus’ servant heart, his trust in God, his willingness to spend his earthly life in what felt like vanity, and his yielded commitment to allow himself to be killed to expunge our sins, the gospel went out from the Jewish people into the wider world, and even to us.

We are the happy recipients of his selflessness. By his kind empathy and grace, with his own Spirit indwelling us, Jesus enables us to respond rightly and sees us through every trial. What a wonderful Savior!

“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted” (Isaiah 49:13b ESV).


Melinda Viergever Inman and her husband Tim have been married forty-one years, parented six children to adulthood, and so far, enjoy six grandchildren. Currently, they are in the membership process at Crossings.  You can follow Melinda's writing on her BLOG and you can find her published Christian Fiction HERE.

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