When Faithful Obedience Feels Futile

“Why do we need to wash the dishes? They’re just going to get dirty again anyway.” Perhaps your kids have asked you this. I remember making the query to my mom (probably on a night I was supposed to wash dishes). Of course, we understand that what feels pointless to a kid saves us from sickness, mold, and general grossness. But sometimes we have the same question about righteous living: “What’s the point? It doesn’t matter what I do anyway.” At times obedience feels futile, like shoveling snow in the middle of a blizzard. Everyday acts of faithfulness often go unnoticed and unrewarded; if they are noticed, nothing changes in the world anyway. So what’s the point? 

If you feel this way, you’re not alone. A couple of psalmists had the same battle. King David wrestled with the prosperity of the wicked in Psalm 37, as did the songwriter Asaph in Psalm 73. But it’s another king, just as faithful as David, but less well-known, whose story can help us when our faithful obedience feels futile. 

A Faithful Example 

Crowned at just eight years old, Josiah inherited a kingdom devoted to idolatry. His father and grandfather had done their best to make Judah look like a pagan nation: they desecrated the Temple, built altars to every conceivable idol, and even sacrificed children in the fire to appease the god Molech. But Josiah would change all that. You may know that his reign was marked with reform and revival—a nationwide housecleaning to restore the Temple and eradicate idolatry from the land of Judah. But maybe, like me, you lose track of which king reigned when. In Josiah’s case, the timing is very important. 

Josiah was basically Judah’s last king; those who would follow him would essentially be puppets of the Egyptian and then Babylonian empires. After Josiah, the kingdom was finished—and Josiah knew it all along. God told him His plans explicitly: 

“Because they have abandoned me and burned incense to other gods in order to anger me with all the work of their hands. My wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.” (2 Kings 22:17)

Because of Josiah’s obedience, God would delay His judgment until after the king’s death. But no more. Judah was finished. The wheels for its destruction were in motion, and they would not be turned back. 

If ever there was a time to give up on doing right because it was just pointless, this had to be it. Josiah knew that no matter what he did, no matter how righteous he was, he could never deliver Judah from the wrath of God. But he was faithful anyway. 

Forget about Outcomes 

Faithful obedience feels futile when we’re focused on outcomes. Children who grow up to fear the Lord, a neighbor who turns to Christ, a relationship that experiences reconciliation, a church that sees revival—all outcomes that please and glorify God—are too weak to fuel faithful obedience. 

Josiah, it seems, didn’t fixate on an outcome. In fact, he already knew that his nation would go into captivity despite his obedience. Yet he obeyed. 

Would I still obey if I knew . . .

  • That my kids would turn their hearts away from God? 
  • That my church would splinter in hurtful division? 
  • That my neighbor would slam their door in my face when I mentioned the name of Jesus? 
  • That the broken relationship would never be restored? 
  • That I would lose my job despite my good work ethic and integrity?

Faithful obedience must fix its eyes on the one sure and steadfast outcome, undeterred by all that happens in the interim: the King will reign forever and ever.

The dominion [of the Messiah] will be vast, 
and its prosperity will never end. 
He will reign on the throne of David 
and over his kingdom, 
to establish and sustain it 
with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. 
The zeal of the LORD of Armies will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:7)

Writing to believers suffering for their faith, Peter encourages them to “set [their] hope completely on the grace” that would be brought to them at the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). We must obey with an eternal outlook, knowing that our labor is not in vain—even if it feels so today. 

Unlock your gaze from the outcome of today or even tomorrow and obey with eyes fixed on the King who rules and reigns today, tomorrow, and forever. 

Fear God and Tremble at His Word 

Faithful obedience feels futile when my view of God is small and His Word weak. I easily lose sight of His immensity, infinitude, transcendence, and holiness. Though I hold in my hands words breathed out by God Himself—the only truly living book in all of the universe—my response to it becomes blasé, passé, unimpressed. 

I don’t know who taught young Josiah about Yahweh, but someone must have done a very good job because the king of Judah feared God and trembled at His Word. In the process of repairing the temple, Josiah’s workers found a copy of the Law. Though Josiah knew about Yahweh and His law, he apparently had never read it for himself. When he heard it for the first time, his response was anything but nonchalant. He tore his clothes and immediately sent messengers to inquire of a prophet if there was anything he could do to stop the wrath of God from raining down upon them (2 Kings 21:11–13). 

Even after he found out that God’s wrath could not be quenched, Josiah continued to obey because he served and feared the one true God. . . . 

  • The God who laughs at the wicked.
  • The God who holds the hearts of kings in His hand. 
  • The God who says goodnight to every star by name. 
  • The God who counts every snowflake that falls to the ground. 
  • The God who tells the ocean where to stop. 
  • The God who knows every word I speak before it hits my tongue. 
  • The God who has never not existed. 
  • The God who speaks into the darkness and creates light.
  • The God who breathes into dust and makes humanity.

Obedience to this God is never futile. He sees, He knows, He cares. No act of obedience goes unnoticed. In fact, He takes special notice of those who fear Him and His Word:

This is the LORD's declaration. 
I will look favorably on this kind of person: 
one who is humble, submissive in spirit, 
and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)

Perhaps you’re disappointed by the simplicity of this post. It’s not rocket science or deep, heady theology. We often long for a complex solution to what feels like an impossible question. But sometimes the simplest answers are the most difficult. 

When faithful obedience feels futile, look to eternity and fear God, trusting that He is still on the throne. 

Stories are powerful. They’re a part of who we are. You’re a part of the gospel story God is writing, and Revive Our Hearts is a part of your story too. Become a monthly Revive Partner today to be a part of the next chapter. Learn more at ReviveOurHearts.com/partners.

About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at biblestudynerd.com.

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