According to the Huffington Post, the average American, over the course of their lives, will spend 13 years, 2 month or 4,821 days working.
To the rare person who loves their job, these numbers are gratifying. To the rest, it may bring on a depression. That’s a lot of days. How should we approach all of those days?
Some of us work in order to live.
“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live.”
We put in the hours at the office so we can pay the Netflix bills for nights at home. We clock in Monday morning so we can live a little on Friday night.
The Proverbs present a different way of looking at work.
In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.
In the Proverbs, work is not a four letter word, but a gift and key piece of the good life.
The first thing we see is that all work, all strenuous labor is worthwhile.
Studies at school. Chores around the house. Hobbies like woodworking or knitting. Putting up walls or edging driveways at the church. Building a home with habitat for humanity. Preparing a syllabus to help adults achieve a GED and a new start in life. Designing an overpass. All strenuous work creates a profit.
What kind of profit?
Influence and Autonomy
The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
Goods to Share
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.
The rich satisfaction of strenuous work was a much loved theme of earlier generations.
“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
“No man needs sympathy because he has to work, because he has a burden to carry. Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
The Roosevelts thrived on the thrill of work. The satisfaction of achievement. Of pushing out into new boundaries of ability and knowledge. Of redeeming your time and having something to show for the hours you have lived. Of feeling the usefulness that comes from sharing the fruit of your labor with a loved one or someone with less than you.
In the Proverbs, and in these former generations, work is not a necessary evil, but a necessary expression of our very nature.
The famous painter Vincent Van Gogh described his experience of that nature in a letter to his brother.
“One must work and dare if one really wants to live. I repeat, let us paint as much as we can and be productive, and, with all our faults and qualities, be ourselves.”
– Vincent Van Gogh
When the Proverbs call us to a life of effort and labor, the call is not like one from a dour, octogenarian lecturing you about your duty to be a better human being.
It’s an appeal to live a good and satisfying life.
But what if our experience of work has not been that satisfying?
Work does not always seem to bring satisfaction, wealth or autonomy, does it?
Sometimes we must use our labor in the service of others who are motivated by greed and treat us as a resource to be used up for their gain.
Sometimes we must use our labor in work which has been divided up into repetitive and monotonous tasks in soul-sucking environments.
Sometimes we work in loneliness, without appreciation or recognition.
Sometimes we work with other workers in a state of tension and conflict.
Sometimes we are stuck in work unsuited to our personalities and abilities.
Sometimes work is terrible.
Work, like every aspect of our human existence, is not experienced in the purity of its original goodness. God worked to create the cosmos which he handed to humanity to mold and shape for our joy and for God’s glory. Yet the rebellion in the garden twisted our humanity and we now experience alienation and futility in our work. The good news is that Jesus came to do his own work to redeem our fallen humanity through the cross. In Christ, we experience a recreated humanity and restored relationship with God through our work.
Because of the work of Christ, we no longer have to work in alienation and futility. All work has meaning because all work is an opportunity to serve and glorify God. All work done for God will one day experience an eternal reward of glory.
“Work is not, primarily a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties… the medium in which he offers himself to God.”
– Dorothy Sayers
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
When the reformers rediscovered the gospel, work once again took on this immensely satisfying meaning.
“If you ask an insignificant maidservant why she scours a dish or milks the cow, she can say, ‘I know that the thing I do pleases God, for I have God’s Word and commandment.’ God does not look at the insignificance of the acts but at the heart that serves Him in such little things.” “To serve God simply means to do what God has commanded and not to do what God has forbidden. And if only we would accustom ourselves properly to this view, the entire world would be full of service to God, not only the churches but also the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop, and the field of townsfolk and farmers. “In this way a man could be happy and of good cheer in all his trouble and labor; and if he accustomed himself to look at his service and calling in this way, nothing would be distasteful to him. But the devil opposes this point of view tooth and nail, to keep one from coming to this joy and to cause everybody to have a special dislike for what he should do and is commanded to do. So the devil operates in order to make sure that people do not love their work and no service be rendered to God.”
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown