Hope When Your Work Fills You With Sorrow

By Mark D. Roberts

November 2, 2018

Those who sow with tears,
will reap with songs of joy.

Psalm 126:5


Sometimes, work can be a source of great gladness. Sometimes, it can fill us with sorrow. Depending on your job, you might love it or hate it. Or, as in many cases, you might love it some days and hate it other days.

The view of someone's feet on a wooden bridge over water.Psalm 126:5 speaks to those whose work is filled with sadness. It envisions the people of Israel as they “sow with tears.” We’re not told the exact reason for their sadness, what exactly caused them to be sorrowful. But that really doesn’t matter too much. We know that, ever since sin entered the world, our sowing—that is, our work—is mixed with pain and sorrow. In Genesis 3:16, the woman learns that she will experience pain as she does the work of giving birth. In Genesis 3:17, the man learns that he will grow food from the ground “through painful toil.” The goodness of work in God’s very good creation has been tainted by sin and its sorrowful consequences.

You know this reality, no matter your line of work. You know it if you’ve given birth or stood by trying to coach a birth mother. You know it if you’re a mother or a father seeking to raise your children well. You know it if you’ve worked on a farm, or in an office, or on an airplane, or in a store, or in a studio, or in a classroom. You know it if your work is primarily physical or if you spend most of your time sitting at a desk. Work is never perfect. Often it fills us with sorrow.

But Psalm 126:5 gives us hope. “Those who sow with tears,” writes the psalmist, “will reap with songs of joy.” In the immediate context of the psalm, this rejoicing happens when God restores the fortunes of his people (126:4). But, for us, the promise of Psalm 126 points to God’s redemption of our lives, including our work. Even when we can’t see the purpose of our labors, even when we can’t fathom the reason for our sorrow, God is at work in and through us. Our labors, if they are for God, will not be ultimately in vain. Someday, we will rejoice when we finally see that our lives and our work were part of God’s redemption and restoration of all things.

In the meanwhile, our sowing is often with tears. But sometimes, by God’s grace, we get to reap in this life with songs of joy. We receive a foretaste of the greater gladness that is to come. And we remember that God works in all things for good, for those “who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Something to Think About:

Can you think of times when your work caused you to be filled with joy? What was happening then?

Can you think of other times, when your work caused you to be filled with sorrow? What caused your pain?

How would you rate the emotional implications of your work these days? Are you in a time of joy? Of sorrow? Or, as is so often the case, are you experiencing a mix of the two?

What helps you to keep on working faithfully even when your work is difficult and painful?

Something to Do:

As you remember times when your work caused you to rejoice, give thanks to God for those times. And as you remember times when your work was a source of sorrow, share that sorrow in honest lamentation before the Lord.


Gracious God, how I praise you for being a redeeming, transforming, renewing God. Thank you for being with me in my times of sorrow. Thank you for using my suffering and even my failures for your purposes. Thank you for taking that which was sown in tears and allowing it to be harvested with shouts of joy. Thank you for the promise of your future, in which you will redeem and restore all things.

I pray today for those who are in the “sowing with tears” season of life. Reassure them with your presence. Give them hope. Give them confidence that you will work all things together for good. And if their sorrow is due not just to sin but to injustice, stir up your people so that your justice might flow down like water. Amen.


Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
From Bitter Tears to Shouts of Joy

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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