Work and Rest

Many people may feel that work is a nothing but a curse that was imposed upon man as a punishment after Adam and Eve sinned and ate the forbidden fruit in the garden.

It is true that man’s work became frustrating and difficult as punishment for what Adam had done, but the concept of work, in and of itself, is not the concept of a curse but of something divine. How do we know this? Scripture repeatedly uses the word “work” to refer to God’s act of creation:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 2:1-3)

Work was not the only thing that became more difficult during the fall. Relationships and childbearing were also cursed. Of course, this does not mean that society should refrain from relationships or from childbearing anymore than from work. Rather than seeing these things as curses in and of themselves simply because they are often difficult or frustrating, scripture would have us see them as beautiful opportunities to join with God in creation.

Genesis seems to emphasize the fact that work is divine in the way that it repeats the word “work” multiple times to describe God’s actions, but scripture is equally clear about another important part of life: rest. All throughout scripture, the Sabbath rest is emphasized and reemphasized and is specifically applied to all people.

Many of us who do indeed look at work as a curse have no problem seeing rest as divine. But as with all things, we must of course strive for balance in our lives. The book of Proverbs gives us plenty of warning against resting too much and too often:

“How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest’—Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:9-11)

Some of us want to do nothing but work, and we have to be reminded of our limitations and our need to step back and recuperate and see the bigger picture from time to time. Others of us want to do nothing but rest, and we have to be reminded that while our work here is often cursed with difficulty, it is in reality a sharing in the work of God as He created this world and sent us out with a commission to “fill the earth and subdue it.”

May we all do some work, and get some rest, this week.

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Work Hard for God

The relationship between faith and works is an important Biblical concept that may require diligent study to understand. Paul states clearly that we are saved “not as the result of works,” whereas James insists that “faith without works is dead.” I have thought and written plenty on that subject before, and there are many resources available for those who want to understand what scripture has to say about faith and works.

But there is another, closely related subject that we may not think much about. We might call this subject “our efforts” versus “the grace of God.” This is an important subject because for many of us, once we understand that we are saved by God’s grace rather than earning our salvation through our own efforts, we start to feel that it is somehow wrong or disrespectful to God for us to put forth personal effort. After all, if God is to get all of the glory, then we should not be putting any emphasis on our own efforts, right?

In reality, when we try our hardest and do our best to serve him with diligence and effort, it is often in that very moment that God’s grace is truly working in us. Paul said “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

Peter tells us twice in the first chapter of his second epistle to “apply all diligence” in the specific growth we seek in our Christian walk. Those words convey the idea of “making haste,” or as we might say, “showing some hustle.” In other words, do not just sit around waiting for lighting to strike. Get started. Show some effort. God will work through you.

The English Standard Translation of Peter’s words literally says “make every effort.”

In the first chapter of his letter to Timothy, Paul gives this instruction: “I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

Timothy had a gift, just as every last one of us has a gift from God. It is time for us to kindle that gift afresh. And we need not be timid about it. God’s children can work each day with power, love, and discipline. If you need an engraved invitation, it is already there in the words of scripture.

Maybe we feel like if the effort comes from us, then it takes the credit away from God. But just as Paul’s exceptionally hard work was rightly seen as a manifestation of God’s grace, so every good thing we could ever do, think, or say, is credited directly to the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

So work hard for God. Rely on Him for strength, look to Him for guidance, and give Him all of the glory. But work hard while doing it.

Everyone Can Do Something

You may have heard the saying, “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” This was certainly true of the Hebrews who had returned to Jerusalem from exile and were led by Nehemiah to rebuild the broken walls.

The entire third chapter of Nehemiah lists family after family and details which section of the wall each family worked on. When it became apparent that the people needed to be vigilant against military threats while they did the work, they divided up responsibilities and worked twice as hard.

Nehemiah says, “I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.  When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: ‘Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.’”

No individual family in Israel could have rebuilt the wall or protected the city in the meantime. It was only possible because so many individuals stepped up and did their part. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Sometimes, like Elijah when he despaired before God that he had failed as a prophet, we feel like we have to do everything ourselves or face utter failure. The truth is that if we each do what we are individually capable of, God’s kingdom can thrive and grow.

At other times, we may feel that whatever we can personally contribute to the kingdom is so insignificant that it is essentially worthless. We must be reminded of what Jesus said about a poor widow who gave two small coins to the Lord: ‘Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.’”

The job of Elijah was not to singlehandedly restore God’s nation to righteousness all on his own. He simply had to be faithful and do his part, and God would raise up 7,000 others to help him. The job of the poor widow was not to climb the corporate ladder and give large sums of money each year to charity. She simply had to live her own life and use her own resources in a way that glorified God.

No single person who reads this article can fix the whole world or do all of the work in the kingdom. But each of us can live our lives in a way that makes the world a better place. We can use our lives as votes for justice, righteousness, and truth. We can treat others the way that we would want to be treated.

In the parable of the talents, the man with only one talent did not get in trouble because he only had one talent. He got in trouble because he did not use it.

Maybe you are good at talking to strangers and acquaintances about God, or conducting Bible studies. Maybe you have a gift for speaking the truth in love and holding your brothers and sisters accountable when they stray. Maybe you are good at preaching or teaching, or at encouraging others with smiles, kind words, food, cards, visits, or phone calls. Maybe you have a passion for acts of service and charity. Maybe you can give a lot of money.

Maybe some days you do not feel like you are good at any of those things. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics. But what God asks of us, and what He asked of the families mentioned in Nehemiah, and what He asked of Elijah, and of the poor widow with the two little coins, is that we just do what we can. If we all do that, great things will happen.