Let's be honest: Work's a pain sometimes. A drag, a nuisance, a source of stress and all the rest. That might be work that's paid or stuff I have to do at home. In both spheres my lot in life is waaaaay better than many people's. I'm constantly challenged to be thankful. But at least with that challenge I know what to do – thank God for stuff and stop complaining.
There's a broader challenge in the way I regard my work. I've a habit of thinking there's something more satisfying, or more meaningful, just round the corner. I even (gasp) sometimes think about how many years remain in my working life. But scripture challenges all that fair and square, because in at least two places it suggests that every job or task should be and can be done “for God”. Here's the first:
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.
And here's another:
Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.
I kind of get the impression that “working for the Lord” isn't reserved for vicars and missionaries.
I'll admit it's tempting to conclude that it's just a bit of psychology to kid yourself – pretending that some job in an office, factory, home, supermarket, kitchen, garage or school is serving God so that Christians can feel better. A possible interpretation of the phrase “as though you were working for the Lord…” is “even though you're not really”. But I don't think the rest of the verses leave room for that. I think it's more like, “remembering that you're working for the Lord”.
So yesterday I hung out some washing then spent over two hours hoovering and washing my car. In a couple of days I'll have to do some more washing. In a few days the car will no doubt be dirty again on the outside and in a few weeks there'll be so many stones in the driver's footwell you'd never know I'd cleaned it. Cleaning things is like that; the effects don't last. Yet, somehow, if I offer that labour to the Lord it pleases Him and I put myself in line for “an inheritance”. So I did.
Years ago I did a time management course where they taught you to distinguish between “maintenance” tasks that just keep things going and “progress” tasks that bring improvement or innovation. Naturally the idea was to minimise maintenance and focus on improvement. Even the church likes to talk about “moving from maintenance to mission”. It's true that sometimes the stuff I do is going round in circles in a pointless way or “keeping the lights on” where really they should be allowed to go out! It's good to question what I spend my time doing. But guess what? Even so-called “improvement”, “innovation” or “mission” tasks and projects can seem, or may eventually be, insignificant or fruitless and will ultimately be forgotten.
I'm beginning to grasp that what matters most is (surprise, surprise) my heart attitude behind the work. I have to ask for the Holy Spirit's help with choosing what to do, how to do it and all the rest. Then I have to remember that it's Christ I'm serving – whether I'm stacking chairs after church, pulling weeds out of the garden or running a software upgrade project. And then I need to offer it all to Him.
I'm big on life having “meaning” and “purpose”, but It's no good me searching for it by trying to assign a “meaningfulness” score to every activity in life. That way lies anxiety, discontentment and disappointment. No; God's plan is clearly that I should do what I do, where I am, with what I've got and what I'm called to – and offer it all to Him, moment by moment.
I'm big on life having “meaning” and “purpose”, but It's no good me searching for it by trying to assign a “meaningfulness” score to every activity in life.
And that's the challenge facing me. While I like to think of myself as quite bright I've not cracked this after more than thirty years. Not so bright now, eh? But this isn't about intelligence; it's about surrender, faith and allowing Christ to transform my stupid thinking.
Excuse me while I go sweep up in the garden…