Pastor Edward Brouwer 9-9-18 Wisdom’s Way: Our Work
Wisdom’s Way: Our Work
We are wrapping up a series from the wisdom of Solomon and we’ve looked at what the Scripture’s have to tell us about Godly wisdom in relation to our hearts, our friends, our time, talent and treasure, and today we are looking at our work. All true wisdom from above starts with trusting God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And that is especially true about our work because in many ways the work that we do defines who we see ourselves as people. It speaks of our meaning and purpose in life. It gives us identity. Solomon delves into many topics with pithy sayings and observations and scattered throughout are truisms about work. Today’s Scripture reading is a compilation of various proverbs about work.
Read Proverbs 6-6-11 and selected verses
When we talk about our work, various things come to mind. Most of us think of our professional careers but for our purposes today we look at work as anything God has called you to right now–whether you are a veterinarian or in finance, whether you are a student or are retired, teacher or operating a business of some sort. I’ll first look at the problem of our work and then how the gospel speaks into our work.
When it comes to work we can have a tendency to go between two extremes: from lack of diligence in our work (what the Bible calls sloth or laziness) to being workaholics. Work is sometimes looked upon as a necessary evil. And sometimes it’s tough. Work can be dangerous to our health. It can be frustrating because of the people you work with, for example, you may feel overworked and burnt out, and sometimes you are cheated. Why does work so often seem like a drudgery? Because work is tainted by sin. However that’s not the way God intended to be.
In the Garden of Eden, before the Fall, God gave work to Adam and Eve. He placed them in the garden to tend it and work it. Imagine the joy of naming the animals! That work was intended to give them meaning and purpose and joy. But then our first parents rebelled against God and a curse was placed on their labor. You would plant a crop but you’d have to deal with the thorns and thistles! God said “you will wrestle in your work and from the sweat of your brow you will eat: and then you die. You will dig in the dust and then you yourself will become dust. Kind of depressing, but that is the fruit of our thinking when we think we know better than God. So sin fractured the created order: sin corrupted our work.
That sin manifests itself in many ways. The first way we’ll look at is that we can become lazy in our work. “No body else seems to care around here so why should I?” Or maybe you are in a job that you don’t really love but it pays the bills. So you just “phone it in”. Hey we’ll cut corners and nobody will be the wiser for it. Your heart isn’t really in it so you give it the minimum required effort. The Bible says that the one who is lazy in their work is akin to him who destroys. That shoddy work is bad and leads to poor results. Like the person who doesn’t follow the architect’s blueprints. I recall a story told to me by my uncle when I worked with him in construction back when I was in High School. They were pouring a concrete floor. The team decided that it was not necessary to lay a certain amount of gravel. When the architect got wind of what happened he demanded that the floor be jackhammered and done properly. “He who is lazy in his work is brother to him who destroys.” We can all relate to times when we have been lazy in our work, but the opposite can also be said. Sometimes we become workaholics. Why is this?
There are many reasons for overwork. In the US many millions of hours of vacation and time off are left on the table because we don’t want to be seen as slackers. Let’s say, your work environment puts a premium on production. We work overtime because we’re afraid that our coworkers might get that promotion that we want. Or maybe you are a perfectionist. You put in those extra hours because you have this impossibly high standard for yourself. But perfectionism can lead to burn out. Or maybe your work is an escape from problems in other areas of your life. You don’t want to deal with plumbing problems at the house or a house full of children who are pulling on you. Or maybe you have marriage problems and work becomes an easy reason to avoid the hard work and emotional energy that is required to keep a marriage strong and meaningful. I think of Solomon and his search for meaning. He launched building programs, sought fame and power and glory. And what did he say about this? In Ecclesiastes 2:11 he wrote: Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
You see, my brothers and sisters, as wonderful as our work can be, work was never intended to bear the weight of our souls. What is the correction for our soul?
Solomon directs us to little creatures. Ants of all things! Surely we are smarter than ants! Well maybe not! Have you ever observed an ant farm? Those glass cut throughs that help us see what is going on underneath? Ants, together as a team and without an apparent foreman, gather in summer so they have sufficient reserves for the lean months. Good advice! Plant your crops in season, and then build your barns–as Solomon puts it in another place! There is a way in God’s creation that requires us to prioritize. I love the illustration in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 habits of highly effective People. Imagine he writes, that your work comprises 3 piles of materials: rocks, pebbles and sand. You are required to fill a box neatly and to the top (your day) with these items. If you throw in the sand and the pebbles and then the rocks on top, it won’t fit. But if you place the rocks first, then fill in the gaps with pebbles and finally strew sand on top (which fills in all the small gaps) it fits! So too with our work. Begin by prioritizing. This needs to be done first, then that and finally the last piece. What does that look like in your work? If you are a student it means being diligent, doing your homework in a reasonable amount of time, getting the rest you need. In Ecclesiastes 12:12 Solomon says essentially “much study is weariness to the flesh!” If you are in the middle of childrearing it means giving proper attention to the physical, emotional and spiritual development of your child (and that as a grandparent you offer to join your children in helping them achieve that). What if you are in a stage of life where you feel you can’t work like you used to? Give what you can. Whatever our work as believers, gospel living means cooperating with God in Christ through the power of His Spirit. It means finding our security in Christ and finding our delight in Christ.
How can we walk in this kind of work? Because of the work Christ has already done for us. We don’t need to find our purpose in our work alone, because we have found our purpose in living for Christ. Our identity is not drawn from what we bring to the table, it is what Christ has done for us in the incarnation—what He brings to the table. Christ restores the proper perspective of work in us because in him we are a new creation. Now that we are in Him our lives, our work, everything that we are called to do is beautiful because Christ has redeemed us. Paul describes this to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5. God’s work was to reconcile us to Him in Christ—and now He has entrusted to us this ministry of reconciliation. Now we see our work through the light of the gospel—that our work is to be ambassadors of the gospel of peace. Let me give an example. A few years back there was a documentary done entitled “20 feet from Stardom”. It’s about back up singers for major bands. Most of us don’t know the names of these singers, indeed rightly so, because their job is to support the lead singer. In an interview with one singer she said “I am most happy and delighted in my work when my singing supports and adds to the excellence of the song of the lead singer… I don’t want to stand out, in fact I am doing my job best when I am not noticed—that my singing enhances the song and focus on the lead.” I wonder how that perspective can inform our work. That Jesus is the focus, that our song adds to His song of grace and love and salvation to a dying world and that our lives, indeed everything that we are called to do, is rooted in our identity in Christ. As you go about what you are called to this week, whatever that may be, may that gospel identity define who you are and all that you do.