rolling up one’s sleeves and getting to work

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

It’s easy to exist in kind of a limbo in which one is trying to figure out what’s really going on in the world and why, what the best approach to address perceived problems is, etc., etc. That can go on and on, never ending. There’s no end to different opinions and what one can read on so many subjects.

God gives us work as a blessing. Not to be burdened down by it, but to give oneself to the task at hand. And to receive the pleasures of life as well. I like the balance we find in Scripture, and specifically in the book of Ecclesiastes. Work can be a helpful distraction and a tonic in itself from becoming serious in a way that’s not helpful for oneself or anyone else.

The text suggests that too much reflection is not be healthy for one’s well being. We do the best we can, but we’ll never get it all figured out in this life. We should work hard (Ecclesiastes 9:10), then relax and enjoy. Then do that all over again.

All of this a blessing from God. And especially so in and through Jesus.

 

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a benefit of slowing down

Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:6

Life is busy, sometimes quite demanding. We have automation nowadays, but that only increases expectations of more efficiency at less cost. And with that comes pressure to make it work. But I think a lot of that pressure we impose on ourselves. And that’s related to all our other expectations to succeed and even excel, to be better than someone else, to uphold our own imagined high view of ourselves or our ability, or the reputation we’ve gained.

When you read the book of Ecclesiastes, that’s all poppycock. Just a waste of time, effort, literally a passing breath. The text above tells us it’s better to have less with tranquility, rest, or quiet (compare NIV with NASB and NRSV from link above). It depends on how one translates it, but the idea is essentially the same. Putting one’s whole heart and life into something doesn’t mean what we’ve thought and maybe been taught: to run ourselves ragged.

This is not at all downplaying the importance of hard work and diligence. But it’s saying that we need to do so out of heart of tranquility, rest and quiet. And I think for most all of us, certainly for me, that means we have to slow down. Part of slowing down is not only physical, but inward. We pause, become more thoughtful. We pull out the stops here and there when need be, but we’re willing to shut the operation down rather than try to do what is barely manageable, if at all.

When we refuse to slow down, expectation builds to maybe do better, or keep up what often amounts to a brutal pace. Or we have other expectations, like being better than someone else at this or that, or persuading others that we’re right and they’re wrong, whatever. The list could probably go on and on.

Instead we will do much better if we learn to slow down, be satisfied with something less than before, which actually will become something more. Our tranquility can help others. Our expectation is always from God, not from ourselves. And it’s God’s work, whatever God considers important. Oftentimes that will be a change of heart in ourselves which comes only in stillness and rest as we look to God.

It’s a learning process, not something we can step into easily overnight, but something indeed that we need to do. The same problems exist, but we can now engage them more prayerfully and thoughtfully in faith. And find the rest meant for us in and through Jesus.

relaxing in dependence on God

The Sabbath is an institution in Scripture rooted in creation and in covenant. It finds its fulfillment in Christ; we find our Sabbath rest in him. But that doesn’t nullify our need to rest well physically from our labors. In fact I think that’s a part of learning to rest in God. As I think Martin Luther once said, he had learned to sleep well in the confidence that God is running the world, not himself.

For me this is important given the pressures and responsibilities I face, not to mention the ongoing concerns. True of us all. We need to learn to relax in all of life, dependent on God. Certainly easier said than done.

Do we believe that God is at work in our lives all the time for our good and the good of others? If it all depends on us, we will fall short for sure, or never be able to reach the goal. But if while we seek to be faithful, God is in the process toward completing his perfect work, then we can rest assured in him, that he will take care of it all.

God is present to help us in all our weakness. What we need to do is simply trust him, continue in faith so that we’re faithful. And not think for a second that the outcome depends on us. We do need to be present in faith to share in the blessing, but it’s God’s work. In and through Jesus.

faith is found in daily life

It is always good to get some rest from the normal wear and tear. Jesus seemed to practice this regularly with his disciples though at times it seemed hard for them to come by.

Although I’m not altogether fond of the monastic notion since it seems like “laypeople” might be regulated to a secondary status as far as holiness is concerned, I will say that the monastics are far from being inactive. They may especially be punctual at religious activities such as reading scripture and prayers along with chants together. But they are also known for work in productive activities not just for them or the church, but for the community.

Faith is found in daily life, and in all the responsibilities of life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed in a “worldly holiness” by which he meant a holiness derived from God in the midst of being fully engaged in the world. And by that he meant something like in all the responsibilities along with the sense of call from God one has.

In this we have to be careful not to leave our sense of call from God behind, or that what we’re about is something holy. At the same time we need to be careful not to abandon that call, just where we can find holiness from God, because holiness is meant to be lived out in real life, in the common ordinary responsibilities of life, along with what special callings God gives us. In and through Jesus.

gaining new strength

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

There are times when we’ve simply had enough. When our strength has reached the end, and there’s nothing left. Well, we need to get our rest, for sure. But as God’s people we need to find strength in God.

We’re called here in Isaiah to wait for, hope in, or trust in God. That as we hope in him, we’ll find our strength. Strength for the day to finish our tasks. To do God’s will by God’s grace and enabling.

When we’re at a loss with no strength, that’s the opportune time to wait on the Lord to give us the strength needed. God will give that to us as we hope in him as Isaiah tells us clearly here. In and through Jesus.

trusting in God at all times

Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Psalm 62:8

There are times which especially seem to test our faith in God. Somehow our belief in God’s goodness can correlate with whether or not things are working out as we might expect. Even when in this life, we can be sure that often things will not.

God’s goodness is above and beyond circumstances. And God’s goodness and greatness go together. So that regardless of the mistakes we make, and less than the best choices, and even grievous sins along the way, provided we repent, or try to learn from our mistakes, and even when we fail to, God remains God. Life remains an existence in this broken, sin-cursed world. We can’t expect either to change. Just because God is great and God is good, as scripture says, doesn’t mean that life under the sun in this present existence will not be without its difficulties, disappointments, and indeed dilemmas, not to mention dangers, along the way, as scripture says.

We’re called to trust in God at all times, which often is not easy for us in the midst of our trials and own weakness. But that’s God’s call to us. And an important part of that is expectations. God is always great and always good, and will be at work in everything for our good, as we trust in him, and live according to his will. But all the rest, including we ourselves, is limited at best, and flawed to the point of broken, at worst. It is healthy to realize both, clearly evident in scripture and life.

So God is great and good, and life under the sun has difficulty mixed in with goodness, and will have its problems all the way through. We are called to trust in God at all times in this existence, and to pour out our hearts to him in prayer. With the promise and reality that God is our refuge. It is God to whom we go, and in whom we trust. And we need to do so, just as the psalm tells us, to find our rest in him, no matter what. In and through Jesus.

finding rest only in God

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”

Psalm 62

Yesterday I was thinking a little on the psalm before this one, on how we’re to appeal to God in prayer to help us when we’re overwhelmed and in need of knowing what to do. The psalm that follows, today, to me speaks of finding rest in God. When it’s all said and done, no matter what else the case, simply resting in him.

We rely on many things to give us something of “the good life,” whatever that is. Scripture does speak of a flourishing that touches every part of creation, and in a way especially for the heart of God’s creation, those made in God’s image: humans. And in all this brokenness, no matter what, we can begin to experience that as well. A rest, a true rest in God, yes, in God alone.

It’s important to consider the entire psalm and not just the part on rest. God wants to give us rest in him, but never apart from God’s will. And the matter, it seems clear from the psalm and the rest of scripture, is over what we trust and put our hope in. Anything less than God is a false rest which will prove empty in this life and the end. But we have to want that rest. If we do, in Jesus we can find it.

We’re to trust in God and put our entire hope in him. So that we can find rest in God alone, who is our true and final rest. In and through Jesus.