Earnest Effort—When Is It Blessed by Jehovah?
“LET me go, for the dawn has ascended.”
“I am not going to let you go until you first bless me.”
“What is your name?”
“Your name will no longer be called Jacob but Israel, for you have contended with God and with men so that you at last prevailed.”—Genesis 32:26-28.
That intriguing dialogue was the result of a remarkable demonstration of athletic agility by 97-year-old Jacob. Though the Bible does not describe him as an athlete, he wrestled, or grappled, all night long with an angel. Why? Jacob was deeply concerned about Jehovah’s promise to his forefather—his heritage.
Many years earlier Jacob’s brother Esau forfeited to him the right of firstborn in exchange for a bowl of stew. Now word reaches Jacob that Esau is approaching with 400 men. Understandably anxious, Jacob seeks confirmation of Jehovah’s promise that his family will prosper in the land across the Jordan River. In harmony with his prayers, Jacob takes decisive action. He sends generous gifts to the advancing Esau. He also makes defensive moves, dividing his camp in two and transporting his wives and children across the ford of Jabbok. With strenuous effort and many tears, he now exerts himself further by grappling all night with an angel so that “he might implore favor for himself.”—Hosea 12:4; Genesis 32:1-32.
Consider an earlier example, Rachel, Jacob’s second wife and first love. Rachel is well aware of Jehovah’s promise to bless Jacob. Her sister Leah, Jacob’s first wife, is blessed with four sons while Rachel remains barren. (Genesis 29:31-35) Rather than give in to self-pity, she keeps entreating Jehovah in prayer and takes positive action in harmony with her prayers. As her ancestress Sarah did with Hagar, Rachel brings her maidservant Bilhah and offers her to Jacob as a secondary wife in order that, as Rachel says, “I, even I, may get children from her.” * Bilhah bears two sons to Jacob—Dan and Naphtali. At Naphtali’s birth Rachel declares the extent of her emotional effort: “With strenuous wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister. I have also come off winner!” Rachel is further blessed with two sons of her own, Joseph and Benjamin.—Genesis 30:1-8; 35:24.
Why did Jehovah bless the physical and emotional efforts of Jacob and Rachel? They kept Jehovah’s will in focus and cherished their heritage. They prayed earnestly for his blessing in their lives and took positive action in harmony with God’s will and their own petitions.
Like Jacob and Rachel, many today can testify that diligent effort is required to receive Jehovah’s blessing. Their efforts are often accompanied with tears, discouragement, and frustration. One Christian mother, Elizabeth, recalls the earnest effort it took to get back to attending Christian meetings regularly after a long absence. With five little boys, an unbelieving husband, and a 20-mile [30 km] drive to the nearest Kingdom Hall, it was a challenge. “Trying to get to the meetings regularly required a good deal of self-discipline, which I knew was good for me and for my sons. It helped them to see that this was a course worth pursuing.” Jehovah blessed her efforts. Of her three sons who are active in the Christian congregation, two are in the full-time ministry. Rejoicing in their spiritual advancement, she says: “They have surpassed me in spiritual growth.” What a blessing for her earnest effort!
Earnest Effort That Jehovah Blesses
Putting forth earnest effort and working hard surely have their rewards. The more effort we put into a project or an assignment, the more satisfaction we receive in return. This is how Jehovah made us. “Every man should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God,” wrote King Solomon. (Ecclesiastes 3:13; 5:18, 19) To receive a blessing from God, though, we must make sure that our efforts are properly directed. For example, is it reasonable to expect Jehovah’s blessing on a life-style that relegates spiritual matters to a secondary place? Could a dedicated Christian hope for Jehovah’s approval if he accepts employment or promotions that would mean regularly missing faith-building association and instruction at Christian meetings?—Hebrews 10:23-25.
A lifetime of hard work in the pursuit of a secular career or material prosperity will not necessarily mean that one will “see good” if it is done to the exclusion of spiritual things. Jesus described the consequences of misdirected effort in his illustration of the sower. Regarding the seed “sown among the thorns,” Jesus explained that “this is the one hearing the word, but the anxiety of this system of things and the deceptive power of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22) Paul also warned of the same trap and added that those who pursue a materialistic course “fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin.” What is the antidote for such a spiritually ruinous way of life? Paul continued: ‘Flee from these things and rest your hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment.’—1 Timothy 6:9, 11, 17.
Regardless of our age or how long we have served Jehovah, all of us can benefit from imitating the earnest effort demonstrated by Jacob and Rachel. In their quest for divine approval, they never lost sight of their heritage, no matter how frightening or frustrating their circumstances might have been. Today, the pressures and difficulties we face may be just as frightening, frustrating, or even depressing. The temptation is to give up in the struggle and become another casualty of Satan’s assault. He may use any of the means at his disposal, be it entertainment or recreation, sports or hobbies, careers or material prosperity, to achieve his designs. Desirable results are often promised but seldom realized. Those who are deceived or enticed to indulge in such pursuits very often find that they end largely in disappointment. Like Jacob and Rachel of old, let us cultivate the spirit of an earnest contender and prevail over Satan’s machinations.
The Devil would like nothing better than to see us resign ourselves to defeat, feeling that ‘the situation is hopeless. There is nothing that can be done. It is no use.’ How vital, then, for us all to guard against developing a fatalistic attitude, thinking ‘nobody loves me’ and ‘Jehovah has forgotten me.’ Succumbing to such thoughts is self-destructive. Could it indicate that we have dropped our hands and are no longer contending until we receive a blessing? Remember, Jehovah blesses our earnest effort.
Keep Contending for Jehovah’s Blessing
Our spiritual well-being depends to a great extent on our appreciating two basic truths about our life as a servant of Jehovah. (1) No one has a monopoly on problems, ailments, or difficult situations in life, and (2) Jehovah listens to the outcries of those earnestly appealing to him for help and a blessing.—Exodus 3:7-10; James 4:8, 10; 1 Peter 5:8, 9.
No matter how difficult your circumstances or how limited you may feel, do not give in to “the sin that easily entangles us”—lack of faith. (Hebrews 12:1) Continue to contend until you receive a blessing. Exercise patience, remembering aged Jacob, who wrestled all night for a blessing. Like the farmer who sows in the spring and waits for the harvest, patiently look for Jehovah’s blessing on your spiritual activity, no matter how limited you may feel your activity is. (James 5:7, 8) And always bear in mind the psalmist’s words: “Those sowing seed with tears will reap even with a joyful cry.” (Psalm 126:5; Galatians 6:9) Stand firm, and remain in the ranks of the contenders.
^ par. 9 Concubinage was in existence before the Law covenant and was recognized and regulated by the Law. God did not see fit to restore the original standard of monogamy that he had established in the garden of Eden until the appearance of Jesus Christ, but he did protect the concubine by legislation. Concubinage logically worked toward a more rapid increase in the population of Israel.