Monday, September 7, 2015

Work Isn’t Just About Money

Like Little Boy Blue in this Rock City depiction,
many of us are taking today off work.

Today marks another Labor Day, when many of us opt to not labor. But not everyone, thank goodness.

Law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency and medical personnel, and the military will be working, because issues of safety, health and human well-being never take a holiday. We can all go to our favorite restaurants and retail stores as well, because eating and buying never seem to take the day off. For workers in those establishments, Labor Day’s just another day. If you spend the day at a theme park or a professional ball game, labor won’t be optional for the ticket sellers, concessionaires, ride operators and performers.

As for the rest of us, ranging from mail carriers to office workers to road construction crews, we can pause, enjoying a long weekend. It might be a time for revisiting the value of work, beyond getting a paycheck and covering our financial obligations.

We hear a lot these days about unemployment and underemployment, and they are serious concerns. Especially if you’re among the unemployed or underemployed. Being able to enjoy a day off from work means you have work from which to take a day off.

But Labor Day should be more than just a day for honoring workers. It should also be a day for celebrating work’s intrinsic value. Because it’s not a curse; it’s a blessing and part of our calling as men and women created in the image of God. The first chapter of Genesis describes how God worked, creating the entire universe and then narrowing His scope in creating the earth, everything in it, and finally His prize creation, humankind.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

But in making us His image bearers, God delegated some responsibilities to us: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it…. I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food’” (Genesis 1:28-29).

God wasn’t about to provide everything we needed on a silver platter. We would have to put forth the effort to gather it. After the Fall – the sinful disobedience of man – work because hard. But just because it’s difficult, sometimes a real pain, that doesn’t mean it’s not important in God’s scheme of things.

As the apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In other words, for each of us the Lord has a divine “to-do list,” not to earn His love and favor, but to serve as the instruments for what He desires to accomplish – through us.

And as we do His work, God wants us to do it His way. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

There’s a line of thinking, even within evangelical churches, that “secular” work is somehow a necessary evil, a rung or two below that of a pastor, Bible teacher or missionary. However, the Scriptures don’t make such a distinction. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul writes, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” And he’s not directing his admonition to the clergy and seminary students.

Sadly, many people find work a relentless, distasteful grind, a way to put food on the table and keep bill collectors at bay, but nothing more. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could find jobs we truly enjoyed? That’s a topic for another day perhaps, but recently I came across a quote from an old friend that might be helpful.

The last Charlie “Tremendous” Jones was an engaging, high-spirited motivational speaker who found a positive slant for almost everything. He offered this observation about the daily duties we call “work” or labor:
“Don’t try to get a better job; do a better job. Do a better job, and you’ll have a better job!”

Wise words. Rather than leaning over the fence or staring out the window, yearning for the “greener grass” on the other side and imagining what it could be like working somewhere else, it might make a great difference to fully commit to the jobs we have, do our best where we are, and then possibly discover what we have to do isn’t so bad after all.

And who knows? If we really do our jobs well, maybe someone will notice and reward us by offering an even better job. It’s not unprecedented. So, happy Labor Day!

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