Saturday, April 5, 2014

Workin' hard or hardly workin'?

This weekend I attended a conference entitled "Your Work: More Than a Paycheck" at Irving Bible Church, hosted by The Table (a ministry connected with Dallas Theological Seminary). Here was the premise of the conference:
"Work is not a necessary evil. It is a holy pursuit. Humanity, being in the image of God, is meant to be creative and manage our world. Yet it often seems that our daily responsibilities either become a god themselves or just serve as a distraction from serving the Lord. Work is not a product of the curse; rather it is a sacred call from God Himself!"

The theme connected with me on a deep level, as I want to believe that my job - the thing I spend so many of my waking hours on - has meaning. Not just meaning in terms of financial provision (though that is a great blessing), but that there is true meaning in my work.

One of the first subjects addressed was the theology of work. The first speaker pointed out that work is not a result of the Fall. Many of us (myself included) zoom right past Genesis 2 when we're frustrated at work and hone in on the result of the Fall:
"Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life....By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen 3:17b-19).
However, we've missed the opening act! God modeled meaningful, quality, excellent work through the act of creation. Then, He presented Adam with his first task: to name the animals. Genesis 2:19 says that God formed the earth-bound animals, as well as the birds of the air (and I believe we can assume Adam watched in amazement). Then, check out the second half of the verse:
"He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name."
We also have the blessing of God spoken in Genesis 1:28, where He ordains that man should "fill the earth and subdue it," ruling over the animals. The Bible specifically words this as a blessing from God, so we should view the opportunity to work as a blessing.

There are countless references to work in the Bible. The historical references, which describe role models of good work ethics, are outlined in passages like the Genesis references, Ruth 2, Esther 10:3, and both books of Chronicles, just to name a few. Then, the wisdom literature spells out the results of work (Prov 12:11, 14:23, Psalm 127:1-2, Ecc 11:6). Finally, the New Testament provides points of application for how we can approach work with integrity:
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Colossians 3:23-24). 
"...and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody" (1 Thess 4:11-12).
"Do everything without grumbling or arguing..." (Phil 2:14-15).
In a world that puts profitability and success at the forefront of our thoughts (and performance reviews), it is both encouraging and challenging to see the Bible list strong character traits as primary goals.

Even more challenging to consider is the fact that we may not see the results of these good goals in our lifetime...which in no way diminishes their value but heightens the importance of an eternal perspective.
The question we must consider as we decide how to pursue our work (ethically and with integrity OR with ease and short-term gain in mind) is this:
Are we willing to do the honorable/difficult/right/principled work for an outcome we may never see? To toil now, during our lifetime, so that others can reap the blessings (rewards)?
To do so requires us to set aside instant gratification and personal gain, and rather turn our sights to the eternal. It demands a humility that enables us to set ourselves and our pride aside and recognize that we may not receive credit for our work now, but know that it honors God. He ordained it, anyway, and it is His praise we seek.

Think about all the people who did not see the fruits of their labors (Hall of Faith). It's hard for me to really grasp the fact that these people worked so hard and with integrity for results they never witnessed because I get the benefit of reading about them. I read their story, and I read the outcome that occurred decades or centuries down the road, but in this life, they never knew.

What about my life? Can I accept the perspective that I may not see the result of my work before I die? It's hard to think that way because I want to know that my work has purpose.

It all comes back to trusting the Lord. Plus, we are all continually learning how waiting on the Lord produces good fruit in us. This passage encourages my heart:
"...For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:3-8).
So, is work more than just earning a paycheck? I hope so. I hope that my interactions with people mean something. I hope that my goal of working with excellence, whether on a menial task or a report that goes to the CEO, means something.

But if I work for the Lord and not for man, then I know it does.

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