Becoming a Trustworthy Laborer by Rev. Chris Rice
“Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.” (Duet. 8:17-19, NRSV)
Work is a gift from God. There are many definitions of work, but it is most truthful to say that work is what we do for one another and ourselves that in turn blesses God. This is the right vision for work. Within that definition we can fit the whole picture of employment or wage work, as well as service, or volunteer work, and especially household work, caring for our family.
Let’s go to the Lord in prayer, which is our purest work:
We pray for our country in this time of economic turmoil. We pray that you lead and direct our elected leaders and supply them with divine wisdom and understanding.
Together: God of mercy, hear our prayer
We pray for those in our community who have lost their jobs, their health insurance, and their homes. We pray that you strengthen them in this time. We pray that they would be restored and made whole.
Together: God of mercy, hear our prayer
We pray for our neighbors and our community. We pray that injustice will not prevail on our watch, as we hold our government accountable for their actions.
Together: God of mercy, hear our prayer
We pray that the lessons of the past guide us into a path that will heal our land of its economic woes, in a way that uplifts all. Allow your compassion and love to prevail.
Together: God of mercy, hear our prayer
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but in order to talk about work we must first talk about rest, the importance of Sabbath in remembering God. The Lord wanted his people to understand that he provided for them, so He brought them through the wilderness to test them and teach them for future generations. One of the things he did was to provide a heavenly substance for them called, manna, which means, “What is it?” (Exodus 16:25-30) And he gave them specific instructions on how to gather it to eat it.
He sent it for six days out of the week, but not on the Seventh day, the Sabbath day, the day when God rested after creating the world, the day when he told his people to cease from any labor. On the sixth day more was provided than other days, so that they would not have to go gather it on Sabbath. But sure enough, the people got up, just as they did every other day and went out looking for manna.
This story has a lesson for us. When God provides a gift and tells us how to receive it, we better listen. Work is a gift, it is not a guarantee. The problem with the American economy as we know it is that some feel very entitled to the fruit of labor not their own, while others who work very hard don’t have enough to live on. I believe that the only way to ensure that everyone is cared for is to acknowledge that work itself is a gift from God, not of our own hands.
Sabbath is a form of resistance to the belief that what I do is who I am. This is perhaps the greatest sickness within our society, and is a big reason for why people who are without housing are so stigmatized. We teach our children that the work they will someday do is what they are really worth. That is setting them up for failure, not for success. Sabbath causes us to question the very nature of success. Is success only the power to buy and sell? Sabbath teaches us that in silence, in quiet, we are simply a part of this created world. God is our creator.
The early Christians gathered on the first day of the week in honor of Christ’s resurrection. When they gathered, they celebrated the Eucharist or thanksgiving meal that he taught them in remembrance of Him. In their public worship of Christ they were celebrating his finished work on the cross and his resurrection. Our worship is an alternative to work as an expression of our being. It has become trendy these days for some Christians to say that they don’t go to church on Sunday because Jesus can’t be contained in a sanctuary.
They go surfing or hiking and say, church is inside me. But God’s word says, “Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Heb. 10:25).” To our frenetic culture worship is a royal waste of time that could be spent learning or working. But our worship is an alternative to this notion. The word liturgy (or order of service) means “the people’s work”. We gather the first day of the week to say, “Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we do in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24)
So now that we know work begins with rest, let’s face the practice of work itself. To be alive is to struggle, and work is certainly struggle. How much struggle? How much toil? We all know that some work their bodies harder at what they do. Others work their minds harder. Some people go home from a difficult day at the office knowing that their hardest work begins at home, caring for children, remodeling the bathroom, mowing the grass, removing garbage, etc.
I recently saw a documentary about the writer Jack Kerouac. He was a writer so dedicated to his craft, that he typed sentences seven or eight hours a day. But he had to work other menial jobs just to eat and stay alive. The suffering involved in his survival fueled his art, and sadly, his depression, and substance abuse.
Our work is meant to satisfy and delight us. Jack had many friends who cared for him, but we must wonder whether he ever found his way out of the loneliness of his isolation. One friend of his who was interviewed for the film said that Jack kept suggesting to him that they commit suicide together. The friend kept putting him off, until one day he finally answered, “Ok, Jack. You first.” Jack didn’t like that. Many of us have friends we hang with who we really can’t help even if we try, because each person must first become willing to take the risk of accepting help, of sharing the deepest self.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30, NRSV) That word yoke is a reference to the device they would put on two animals to have double the pulling power for the work. What he is saying is that working for Christ is a co-laboring task.
How does that work? The question arises, “How much of what I do is God’s work, and how much can I feel good about?” Well, you can feel good about everything you do for Jesus! What part do you want to feel bad about? What part do you want to begrudge giving to Him as an offering? So, you see, you are yourself God’s handiwork. You are what He has made you, is making you, and will make you. (Eph. 2:9-10, 20-21) The question is, are you sufficiently grateful?
If we look to ourselves or to our society to determine our worth we will find no answer for the problem of time, mortality, or purpose. Corporations come up with these nifty ideas like “planned obsolescence” that we learn to accept. My laptop was perfectly new when I bought it for close to $1,000. The very year that I bought it, a new line of newer faster laptops were being constructed and shelved so that I could stay up-date with the latest software.
They assure me that it’s not that what I paid for is not good enough, and I shouldn’t think at all about it becoming obsolete soon, it’s just that they’re sure their improvements will be necessary soon. This is true of printers, phones, cars, clothing, and nearly everything else manufactured for daily use. We all find it frustrating that everything is new and old at the same time, but we just accept it and live by it.
I am grateful that who Christ is determines the why of our work. Because of Christ I know my value is not in the things I purchase, but in His love which I experience in relation to brothers and sisters in Christ. I live for Jesus and obey Him because of God’s work in me which “enables me to both will and work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12) I hope you understand that life is not separated into sacred and secular spheres, church being the place for worship and employment being the place for work. Everything we are is in and for Jesus! Our work itself is a way of worshiping Him.
It is this vision for all of life that causes us to hold our government to account for the oppression of prisoners, widows, orphans, immigrants, and the destitute poor. We want God to bless the work of our hands and prosper all of us, especially those fighting the greatest personal battles. Our advocacy and protest is a way of educating the world to the way things should be, and announcing that the Kingdom of Heaven is one of peace and justice.
This vision for life means that employees deserve a just wage for their labor. When prices rise on goods and services but wages remain low, jobs become shorter term, and the cost of education goes up. How is this not unjust? In our democratic society voters have become accustomed to remaining uninformed and uninvolved. Some actually measure the lack of participation as satisfaction!
But if we were to add to the measurement of the “satisfied” the number of those suffering from a stress related illness, those with an undiagnosed severe mental illness, incarcerated persons and those on probation or parole—if we were to include the hidden ones hovelled in abandoned buildings and tents while working full time, maybe we would arrive at the truth about our democratic “satisfaction”. The “cure for what ails us” is the disease itself!
The record of human civilization is not one of forward progress, but of cyclical deceit. Many are convinced that the post-human world is already upon us. In our modern effort to make a safer, stronger, more peaceful world of justice for all we’re actually destroying the planet at a rate outside our control. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) Our worship of Jesus in everything we do demonstrates a new way of being human.
We serve a higher purpose than to simply survive in this world. We’re not just biding our time until death takes us. With our every breath we can glorify God! Every task over time can seem mundane, and we can easily bore with it. Repetition leads to understanding, understanding to application, application to tedium, and tedium leads us to distraction and taking our eyes off our purpose! The devil waits around for us to take our eyes of Christ, and then he hits us with the temptation to despair.
Just like the bridesmaids waiting for the groom’s return in Jesus’ story, we can all fall asleep. (Matt. 25:1-13) But did we remember our oil? You can expect to get tired and bored doing any task. But are you prepared? Again and again Jesus reminded his disciples to watch and pray and wait. He poured out his Holy Spirit on them and empowered them for service. And we, together with the apostles and prophets, are His making.
Our relationship with God is one of trust because of Jesus’ perfected work. To be trustworthy laborers we have to be yoked together with Jesus. He will not give up on us, as difficult as we are, if we remain in Him. We will learn anew regularly that our need is God’s opportunity. Our challenges and battles will glorify Him if we do not lose heart. The devil wants us to give up. But as we surrender what we want to Jesus, he will always be victorious.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Chris Rice