in praise of work

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

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

There’s no doubt that work can be overrated where I live. Or should I say what we call work? Long hours, whether “blue collar” (like what I do) or “white collar” is the norm, maybe even especially so the latter. The expectations for production, achievement and success only seem to become more and more, not work as God intends. And against greed and graft, of course. But work necessarily is a large part of our lives. Not to be overdone either, but the way in which we provide for our family and ourselves and bless others. Not to be despised.

Work was intended in creation. God works. “The Fall” resulted in difficulty in work, up against the curse imposed on creation, including on ourselves. Yet work continues, and just as we can be blessed, so can the work of our hands.

I often find work therapeutic, helping me get my mind off something troubling or worrisome. Instead having to focus on the task at hand. But I’m not referring to work that is unmanageable, and stretching us beyond what we can achieve and endure. We are limited, and there can be a breaking point. And we indeed need a Sabbath rest, or break from our work. Not just every day after the work time or shift is done, but at least one day at the end of the week, where we can do not only other tasks at hand like house and yard work, but where we can actually just rest, relax and enjoy.

Work especially in collaboration with others, yes in my line simply with others, can be a good exercise in teamwork, in helping each other, each of us stepping up, learning from another, letting others learn and do well while we step back in supportive roles. So many interesting dynamics possible and really at play in work. Developing relationships there which hopefully help both ourselves and others toward the most basic relationship of all: with God. But in the meantime hopefully more and more doing our work in the way God works. In and through Jesus.

needed rest

A David Psalm

God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

Psalm 23; MSG

This well known, treasured psalm refers to the gamut of life, all of it. I would like to consider one part of it: Our need for rest.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.

Away from the pressures of all the responsibilities of life, not to mention all the drama and trauma which inevitably impacts our world along with the world at large, we need those escapes, even getaways, but I’m especially thinking of simple rest in whatever form that takes for us. We need it daily, but it’s good to have a special time of rest set apart once a week, as in the Sabbath Day of old. And it’s good to have seasons and times when we simply rest.

The portrayal of the Lord’s shepherding of us here includes this so that we can say it’s a necessary element of life. All too often we continue on day after day, and even through weekends in a more or less frazzled state, not catching our breath, but rather gasping for breath. That is not the life God intends for us.

Instead we need to accept the good shepherd’s shepherding of us, his sheep. Together as his flock, as well as what that means for us as his individual sheep. After that we’ll be ready for what lies ahead until the next needed rest comes.

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

In and through Jesus.

the importance of sleep and resting in God

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to[a] those he loves.

Psalm 127:2

We recently received a picture of a baby in the most peaceful looking sleep you can imagine: idyllic, almost like angelic. It reminded me of how we need to rest in God. I’m reminded too of when Martin Luther equated sleep to faith that God was running the world.

For our physical well being alone, sleep is vital. Maintaining our circadian rhythm is important, as well. We need to go to bed and get up basically around the same time, while maintaining a healthy number of hours of sleep. I like to take naps when I can. All of this becomes more evident as we get older. We can’t do some of the crazy things we did when we were younger, or if we do, we learn that our body just can’t take it like it used to.

Getting our needed sleep or physical rest as we see in this psalm can be an expression of faith in God. We hurry, scurry and worry about this and that and everything else. In this life there is often no end to that. When God would have us do something much better. Learn to rest in him.

Of course this doesn’t mean at all that we skirt our responsibility, or that we don’t have legitimate concerns. But in all of that, we learn more and more to depend on God. And know in the end that our ability, even our effort, and the outcome all depend on God, God’s faithfulness in the end, and not our own. We thankfully are not God. Indeed we can rest in God and need to do so even when we’re awake. Helping us to get the sleep we need. In and through Jesus.

relaxing/resting in God

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

We really need to learn to rest in God. And with that, as we might put it today, to learn to relax in him.

This is, mind you, in the real world. A world of conflict and trouble. Something I want to learn is to somehow rest in God in the midst of everything. To do that much more, much better, really to just begin to do that as a habit of life.

I say habit. We actually can’t control our experience. But we can do certain things. We can pray to God that he would help us there And I believe what we do as well as refuse to do can help us experience more of God’s peace. We shouldn’t give into fear, or thoughts which are disparaging of ourselves, of others, of life in  general. Instead we must submit all such to God, even as the psalmist does here. Trusting that God will help us. That can and will make a needed difference I believe, if we hang in there in faith and practice it, however imperfectly that is. In and through Jesus.

I want to add that some of us may need counseling and medication. Though I currently have not been doing either, I have in the past. No shame in that, and could actually help some of us to calm ourselves down, and practice trusting in God.

Jesus’s invitation to all (to be discipled)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I really want to emphasize in this post that this is an invitation to us from Jesus. To all of us who are weary and tired, down and out. This is an invitation to us, open for us, but not forced on us. So the door is unlocked so to speak, but we have to open it. Or like in the image we read in the letter to the church in Laodicea, Jesus knocks on the door, but we have to open it.

This is an invitation to be with Jesus, and to be discipled, that is taught, mentored, directed by him, imbibing his tone, content, something of his very life.

In response we need to take the step and wait. Jesus will begin to take over, but we have to remain committed to this new relationship. It is one of following Jesus. And considering the yoke, doing what he is doing. In and through him.

unlearning our striving

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

In Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this passage, Jesus invites us into “the unforced rhythms of grace,” learning that. It’s in terms of a yoke, like oxen yoked together, Jesus carrying the load. But who also says that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

It is a discipling relationship. We get to learn from the Rabbi, but that kind of learning wasn’t like what we ordinarily think of as education. It was living with Teacher and learning their way of life. Learning to see life as they see it, and act as they act, live as they live.

This is something we choose to accept, but then it depends on the Lord taking us on, and fulfilling the promise he makes here. None of this is anything we can do. And yesterday I heard someone making the point that we have to unlearn our own striving. How we think it all depends on ourselves, our effort. And imagining God rewards that. A big part of the American way, and seemingly what most evangelicals actually believe. And that fits in perfectly with the attitude in all of life that might and success are what matter. But not at all the truth or reality found in Jesus. But hard for us to break away from, so ingrained in us, even from childhood.

No, instead we need to learn straight from the Lord himself the unforced rhythms of grace. Something only he can teach us by the Holy Spirit. And learn to live more and more in that. In and through Jesus.

 

trusting God moment by moment

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

It is one of the hardest yet most important things we can do, to seek to live in the moment in dependence on and rest in God. There are so many factors which make this challenging. We can be weighed down by past failure, present circumstances, and seemingly dim future prospects. Of course if we’re just looking at the troubles apart from faith, then we’re sure to be overcome with fear or whatever we do to deal with such situations ourselves. But when we turn to God with the determination to trust and obey in the moment by God’s grace just as the psalmist does, we’ll find God’s help. And hopefully we’ll become more and more steady, as we learn to find our rest in him. In and through Jesus.

the rest between Jesus’s death and resurrection

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Luke 23:50-56

What’s called Holy Saturday in church tradition has no narrative in the gospels except the mention here that the women who saw Jesus’s burial after which they prepared spices for the burial, rested on the Sabbath.

It was a time of shock, of sudden change. The disciples, well hidden, afraid of the Jewish leaders must have been wondering what to do next. That Sabbath was surely a time of reflection, maybe just catching up on needed physical rest after all the peril and trauma of the previous days.

One thing for sure, whatever was going to happen for any good in keeping with what Jesus had told them all depended on God. Everything hung in the balance at that point in time. There was nothing they could do. Their hopes or anticipations were gone. At least they had to wonder.

Remarkably, especially looking back on it, the gospel was being portrayed right before their very eyes, and they were being taken through that experience. They had seen their Lord and Master suffer, be crucified, and die. Now all was at a hushed standstill.

We do well to reflect on that moment and pause there. Unlike them, we know the final outcome. But the more we can put ourselves in their place, the better. Jesus is dead. We need to leave at that for now.

 

the rest the Lord gives

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3a

It’s interesting that the Lord takes the initiative here. I’m reminded of Jesus’s words, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31b). I think the main meaning is what we might call soul rest, but surely there’s physical rest as well as spiritual rest (Psalm 127:2). Certainly Jesus’s words to his disciples were for their physical rest, as well as spiritual.

Quietness is also a part of the picture here. We’re off somewhere without all the noise of a busy world, even without what noise we like, music or whatever it might be. And we’re off some place where in the silence we can hear God’s voice (1 Kings 19:12). I like music playing most all the time, if I don’t have something else on. At least I like less volume than especially in my younger years, but silence, no. But even I find silence valuable because it seems to awaken in me more of a sensitivity to and appreciation for the Lord’s voice. It’s not like we can never hear God’s voice above all the noise. And music might actually help us that way (2 Kings 3:15-16, and note that the psalms are often set to music along with other passages in Scripture). But being silent and finding quiet can help us hear God’s voice, and is also restful in itself.

And the Lord refreshes our soul. That probably means something like renewing our strength (see NET Bible footnote and parallel versions). The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the NIV means “life” or an individual person or persons. Times of rest should be times of refreshment when our strength is renewed. A kind of restoration to face life again with anticipation, ready for the long haul or whatever awaits us is surely in the cards here. We can see from the rest of Psalm 23 that all of life is pictured. So that this blessing is meant to prepare us for such, as we continue under the leading and care of the good shepherd. In and through Jesus.

 

 

do the next “good work”

…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Sometimes we live what we imagine is a necessarily frazzled existence. We fly by the seat of our pants in what amounts to essentially unmanageable situations at times. And can live there for a time or longer.

What I think God has been teaching me lately is to relax more, and simply go to the next “good work” God has for me. And when I think of good work, I’m not thinking of anything big at all. Just a bunch of little things, which in themselves may seem insignificant, but put together can mean a lot. Actually meant to be part of one’s life. God has done a good work in us, so that we might do good works for others.

I little know what might be next, but I take whatever I believe has been assigned to me, and try to do it the best I can. That doesn’t mean I’ll just take anything and everything. Of course I’ll do all within the sphere of my responsibility. But there are extras on the side we might try out, and find that although we might be able to do it, it just isn’t something that we resonate with, perhaps even disliking it. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to like everything that comes our way, which we have to do. But we need to differentiate between those things we’re called to do, and what we’re not actually called to do, but are for someone else.

So for me, late in my life, this is a breakthrough of sorts. Simply relaxing into my next “good work,” doing the best I can at it, before I do the next “good work.” With rest in between, in part finding my “rest” in all of this. In and through Jesus.