Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Four Letter Word

Work, for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling,
Work ‘mid springing flowers; 
Work when the day grows brighter,
Work in the glowing sun;
Work, for the night is coming, when man’s work is done

Our “dirty” word for the day is: work. 

Work has become a dirty word in our culture.  People focus on small things, silly things, childish things.  What used to be praised is now disdained, and vice-versa. 

People used to praise those who were frugal and had a strong work ethic.  Nowadays we are unashamed to be silly

We’ll spend a fortune to go to a music or comedy show, but spend little to help the poor.  We waste hours online in “social” media, but spend very little time studying to improve ourselves.  We will waste thousands of dollars so that we have way too many shoes (they’re “cute!”).  We praise people who have a nice skin regimen, and disdain someone whose hands are calloused from hard work. 

Now a mattress and covers indoors isn't good enough.  Now we “need” box springs, memory pillows, individualized, adjustable beds that support each individual bone in just the right way.  If we can’t have this, we are no longer able to sleep.  We can’t park or navigate a car without electronic “assistance.” 

If you have the latest, fanciest phone or watch or computer or TV, you are seen as successful.  Learning how to live simply is no longer “cool.”  The word “diva” is no longer seen as a shameful thing … now women want to be treated like shallow, silly “princesses” or “divas” and do so without the slightest embarrassment.  Men now spend more time fooling with their hair than they do building something useful.  The days of a man being someone who can grow things, fix things, care for things or even run a shop or business … those days are gone. 

And God forbid anyone should ever break a sweat doing anything other than play. 

“On the plains of hesitation lie the bleached bones of millions who on the verge of victory
…sat down to rest, and while resting – died.”
- Adlai Stevenson

“While you sleep, someone else is practicing”
-Herb Alpert

One expects worldly people to spiral down the whirlpool at the bottom of the toilet, after all, it’s all they have.  “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” or – “Carpe diem” – these are the mottos of the lost.  But should Jesus’ disciples be like this? 

Church services have to be exciting, have just the right kind of music and sermons and cool people to be attractive.  Other groups attract loyal followers by insisting on maintaining traditions and staying loyal to their particular brand of religion.  But where is the group that encourages us to do the hard thing?  To grow, to work, to learn and to become more self-sacrificial?  It does not exist.  The opening lines of this article are the words to an old song.  The publisher of that songbook no longer includes songs about work, because work is a dirty word in our culture.  Work isn't fun.  “Christians” no longer find joy in working for their Lord.  Except very few full-time pastors, almost no one goes to bed tired from helping others.  No one “does without” or misses a meal or tolerates hot or cold temps or (*gasp*) would spend time alone, without constant human contact.  And if we happen to take time to read … we read anything but the boring, hard bible. 

These days the only hard-working soldiers are “prayer warriors.”  Really?  Someone who prays is now a “warrior”?  Yup, we’re just that pathetic. 

It’s a small wonder that we can no longer endure hardship, forgive a wrong, or rejoice in struggle for the kingdom.  We do nothing to try to become strong and durable.  If you have been a gluttonous, lazy bum for years … it’s unlikely you’ll be able to run a marathon tomorrow.  Shoot – walking an inclined treadmill now counts as exercise. 

Solomon wrote:
Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise.  
Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer & gathers her provision in the harvest.
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 & your need like an armed man.

A worthless person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes ….  Therefore his calamity will come suddenly; instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing.
(Proverbs 6:6–15)

Again: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come on you like a thief.”  Let Solomon’s words rattle around in your head for a moment.  Is this you?  Do you tell yourself that you “just need a little rest”?  Are you and your friends mostly silly, or mostly serious – pushing each other to work hard and find joy in your work? 

And one of the most horrifying words in scripture is there at the end, too: “worthless.”  Solomon’s description of a worthless person is weird to our ears - but we’d sum it all up with an emoticon
A silly, shallow, useless, worthless, pointless, steaming pile of “nice.”
Useless – worthless – a waste

While one who is useless or worthless isn't necessarily “mean” or “wicked” …
Still: one who is useless or worthless is never praised by God!

Jesus compared useless people to “unsalty salt” in the SOM.  The same sentiment is expressed throughout scripture. 

Ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but:
… if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.   (Hebrews 6:7–8)

 “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper,
‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’
And he answered and said to him,
‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”  (Luke 13:6–9)

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.   
So then, you will know them by their fruits.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  (Matthew 7:16–21)

Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered. (Matthew 21:19)

Work is a good thing.  Being able to work hard and work well is praiseworthy.  It’s a virtue.  Anyone can sit around and act the fool to entertain or charm others, but very few people of this generation will ever know the joy of a hard day’s work.  For many of us, the hardest thing we ever did was get through school.  Something millions of people do every day, but we make a big deal out of it as if it were something special. 

Nowadays we thrill others by posting online, or ‘pinning’ a picture of a pretty thing, or tweet our love for food, shoes, or a celebrity.

Consider in your own mind Paul’s words:

“We urge you … to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:10–12)

Or consider these words of Jesus (remember him - the one people boldly call “Lord,” but refuse to obey?) 

“We must work the works of Him who sent me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”  (John 9:4)

How many times in Matthew 24 & 25 did Jesus say that we should “get ready” or “prepare” with a sense of urgency, but also be ready for the long haul?  But then we’re too busy bickering over Jesus’ second coming and/or “rapture” to actually look at the stories Jesus told about work. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Scriptures are full of praise for hard work.  Laziness, silliness, gluttony, shallowness … these are indulgences of a wealthy culture – a decadent people who are no longer ashamed of things that used to be seen as pathetic.  How can disciples of a crucified Savior now be just as silly and lazy and self-indulgent as the world around them?  Is the only difference between us and the world the fact that we (supposedly) have higher morals?  Good grief. 

Work is good.  Working hard is better, and working hard and with wisdom is best.  One who learns to work hard for the Lord is doubly blessed:
“Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

I've been rediscovering the joy of work, and I want to encourage you to find it, too.  More than that, I hope you’ll learn to start praising your friends who have a great work ethic. 

“Industry, prudence & frugality” used to be seen by people as virtues.  They’re still virtues, but for some reason people don’t encourage their brothers and sisters to work hard, and learn to love their work, and to find satisfaction in being able to work hard.  But for disciples, this is exactly that which brings fruit! 

So … find a way for you and your friends to start praising each other for work.  Encourage a work ethic.  Praise those who can make a pair of shoes last for years, instead of someone who has zero discipline and races out for every “sale,” as if there were anything at all praiseworthy in that behavior.  Praise those who teach their children to be hard workers and clever and to be able to resist the silly temptations put in our pathway by advertisers bent on getting our money.  Look for ways to make the world a better place instead of eliminating wrinkles, zits or having the right tattoo.  Be an agent for growth and strength in your group rather than being constantly lowered to the lowest possible level of fear, pettiness and lack of character. 

Working is a privilege from God 
Work while you can
Learn to love work –
And support this attitude among your fellow disciples!

There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?
(Ecclesiastes 2:24–25)

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in the grave.
(Ecclesiastes 9:10)

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, Who will render to each person according to his deeds:
   To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but
To those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
(Romans 2:4–8)

“…appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:12–13)

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