From time to time I reflect on a song I happen to really like that relate to the desire of believers to have God tell us “well done, good and faithful servant .” Having sung the song at least a couple of times before, I suppose it is worth pondering why it is that I like this song so much. For one, the song relates to the loving care and provision of God despite the weariness that we feel in life, with the promise of a better world to come. I have reflected on this song in a variety of circumstances, in gratitude, in days after nights plagued by nightmares, and in thinking of the song as a fitting close to a life, even if most people would probably assume that someone like me has at least a few decades of life ahead.
Today, though, my reflection on this song was prompted by the comments of a friend of mine who wanted to know how it was that believers could know that God would tell us well done after the course of our lives. This is, as one might imagine, a less than straightforward matter. Psalm 88, for example, gives the account of Heman the Ezrahite’s struggle with years of depression and suffering. Here was a man who was unquestionable blessed by God and someone who has an eternity of happiness to look forward to, however unpleasant his life was. Likewise, 1 John 3:19-22 gives us a complex picture of how we are to know that our lives and our service are pleasing to God: “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” This passage encourages us to trust that God knows our hearts and knows whether or not we keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight. The desire to do what is right combined with the knowledge of what is right suggests that no matter how our anxious heart may remind us of our failings, we can have confidence in God’s mercy as graciousness towards us.
There are two contrary tendencies for us to avoid. The first is to be confident that we our ways are pleasing to God without obedience. To be sure, God loves us whether or not we are good, but those whom God loves He rebukes and chastens and if our lives do not reflect the holiness that God requires, we can expect some discipline. Rather than a sign of hatred, though, this discipline is a sign of God’s love. If God did not love us, He would not care how we behaved, and would be entirely indifferent to our faults of character and our wicked conduct. The second contrary tendency we must avoid is more common to those of us who are plagued with anxiety, and that is the despair that we are too wicked and broken for God to love. This is a common concern, as we face the brokenness of our world and of our lives. As I have mused before : “As human beings, we are broken in body, in mind, in heart, and in spirit. We are broken by our sins against others, and by the sins of others against us. We come from broken families, we suffer through broken marriages and broken relationships and broken friendships. We are broken by diseases and ill health, broken by the sins of our fathers and mothers, broken by the sins of our children. We are broken by what we do, what we say, what we write, and what we think. We are broken by the horrors that our eyes have seen and that our minds have dreamed, and broken by the absence of what we have dreamed of and what we have longed to see. We are broken people in a broken world, sometimes broken in few ways and sometimes broken in many ways. Some of us scarcely enter this world before we are broken, and some of us live a long time without seeing ourselves as broken at all. Yet God is a master potter, and we are His clay, and He has called many broken jars to serve Him, and in His loving hands to be molded and shaped anew in His image, so that we may be broken no longer, and so that we may encourage a broken world that healing for our brokenness is to be found in His hands.”
The task of God with people facing these tendencies is quite distinct. Those who are confident in God’s love but not obedient towards Him need to be broken enough to call upon His gracious forgiveness and to repent of our wicked ways. Yet others are so anxious that they are broken reeds on which no weight can be put. Even the pressure of ordinary life is too much to be borne. And so with these people God must bind up the wounds and encourage strength so that such believers may be able to carry their own weight and help to bear the burdens of a world that will be rebuilt with the same loving hands that put us back together. It is the experience of knowing the loving care of God and being made whole that will make us the sort of people who can be compassionate with the broken when it is time for these anxious and fearful souls to face their Creator and judge, in despair that they have done too much to ever find the home that they long for. Having been given eternal life and enjoying that home in the world to come, we will be in the place where we can encourage others just as we were encouraged during the course of our own difficult lives.
 See, for example: