anything worth doing comes at a cost

I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.

2 Samuel 24:24b; NRSVue

If we’re going to do anything at all, we need to really do it. Not try to get it out of the way. I’m thinking of any necessary task, but especially of prayer. And to do something right comes at a cost. We’re to do that out of love in response to God’s love to us and as an expression of our love to God and to others. We’re willing to do what it takes to really do it. That involves time as well as not skating through it as fast as possible. Slowing down and really endeavoring to do it right.

In the case of David here, he refused to be given a place to make sacrifice, insisting on purchasing it. This is one of those many scripture passages which stand out to me. A reminder to us that we’re to not shun what requires a part of our very selves, and to do that out of love. In and through Jesus.

just don’t do it (and do what is good)

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence, and excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is blind, suffering from eye disease, forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

2 Peter 1:3-11; NRSVue

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence but much more now in my absence, work on your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13; NRSVue

Grace in Christ enables us to do better. And when I say do better, I’m referring to breaking longstanding patterns of behavior in ourselves, especially in thoughts, attitudes, actions and words. This may sound very much dependent on ourselves, self-help, works of the flesh including our own self-effort. But strictly speaking, it’s not that at all. Grace in Christ by the Spirit from God underlies it all. We can do nothing apart from that grace extended to us in Christ. But within and through that grace, we can indeed make necessary and radical change. Some things might take hold overnight, but other habits we have may take days, weeks and more to be resolved. The important thing is that we’re heading in the right direction.

We need to stop ourselves in our tracks and say, “Enough is enough.” And not tolerate what we know is wrong or unhelpful, even when we’ve justified it and had good reasons for it in our own minds. God’s call in Christ is radically different, calling us to something much better, putting love for God and others at the forefront, with all humility and gentleness. What is being referred to here certainly includes everything. And it involves even something like a strategic mindset on our part, planning and catching ourselves when we either do the old thing or are about to do it. Being upfront about it. Yes, working on what God is working in us both in terms of willing and doing what is right and good.

In and through Jesus.

roll up your sleeves and get to work

Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:10; NRSVue

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58; NRSVue

There’s a huge contrast between Qoheleth’s down in the mouth, dire outlook on life and Paul’s take in light of the gospel of Christ and specifically the resurrection of Christ. Qoheleth basically tells his (or hers, but likely his) audience to give it all they’ve got, because this life is it. Work ends here, so you might as well give it your all, along with fully enjoying the simple gifts God gives, even though really “all is vanity.” Paul makes the point in the quoted passage from his first letter to the Corinthian church that if this life was the end, then what he and others with him were doing would make no sense at all.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

If I fought with wild animals at Ephesus with a merely human perspective, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

1 Corinthians 15:19-20, 32; NRSVue

Paul is telling us that all we do now matters both for this life and beyond. It’s the work of the Lord, and what Paul was referring to was specifically the work he and others with him were engaged in: the service of the gospel in sharing the good news of Christ and seeing churches planted. And what a sacred work that is! But all of our work as unto the Lord, all of our works are actually sacred, no matter how mundane it may seem.

That sadly enough doesn’t mean that every job out there is good, or sacred in and of itself. We may want to find work that provides legitimate services to people, even if such services would be of no interest or use to us. Most or at least a lot of work fits in that category. We’re especially blessed if we do work which provides something needed for this life, and perhaps for the next as well.

Not only our actual work, but how we do it is of sacred importance to God. Are we doing it more and more out of the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30)? Are we seeking to do all out of love for God and for others? Are we seeking in everything to be pleasing to the Lord?

We need to roll up our sleeves, and set ourselves to fulfill whatever tasks we have, what is set before us. Letting our light shine in that way, that others may see our good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). In and through Jesus.

being preoccupied with Jesus and his teaching and vision, along with a complaint about the industrial revolution, and encouraging words about Mary and Martha

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Especially in the past, there’s been many a discouraging word about Martha from this passage, along with encouraging words for Mary and those like her. I’ve noticed a redress to the point where you almost think the passage must surely be somehow exonerating Martha, and not giving the Mary there, the appreciation she deserves.

I think a careful look at John 11 along with this passage will help us appreciate both women, that they were both faithful followers of Jesus. Martha seems to have more of an assertive, take charge personality, while Mary seems more laid back, and more withdrawn. We probably side with one or the other, or see something of both in ourselves.

The problem with Martha which I think is evident in this passage is that she gets so preoccupied with necessary things, that she loses sight of what is altogether the most necessary. And as much as I can easily be withdrawn like Mary, which isn’t necessarily bad, I find too that certain matters can easily take up my complete attention to the point that I’m totally preoccupied with them, and not with the Lord.

That said, I want to say a word of praise for Martha. She surely was a master at what she did. She probably knew how to make up a meal and had the gift of hospitality with a flair. And when you think about it, that served Jesus and his disciples, along with whoever may have joined Martha, and her siblings Mary and Lazarus, very well.

Nowadays it sometimes seems that people change jobs and interests almost as often as clothes. While older folks like me tend to stay with one thing, the younger folks are much more flexible, which in itself is not bad. But for both what can be missing is really becoming good at something, and I mean good in the sense of decades of experience.

But for us who have done basically the same thing for decades, often it’s in terms of the Industrial Revolution in which work was depersonalized in most difficult, even dangerous work, or simply doing one simple thing all day, and all of that for a paycheck from an employer which all too often saw the bottom line as the only thing that mattered. But people were more than happy to do the same thing day in and day out to get what might have been a relatively good paycheck and benefits especially during the heyday of the unions. Essentially gone were the times when people specialized in this or that. With mechanization on an assembly line, it could all be done exponentially faster. Jobs were plentiful in those spaces, so that the breadwinner, normally always male, would get their job, and stay in it. Not only accepting the boredom, but enduring what was rugged, rough, even dangerous work, if it deserves to be called work. And oftentimes probably not living as long as a result. Even though we now live in “the post-industrial age,” we can’t assume that manufacturing jobs are of the past. Worldwide they are present, and still the backbone of much of what is going on in the business sector. All that to say, I think we tend to not even appreciate the gift of individuals like Martha as people once did, and don’t forget that Jesus was a carpenter, and surely a master at it.

The point I want to make here is not: Be like Mary and not like Martha. It’s more complicated than that. Instead whatever we not only have to do, but get to do in life, we need to in everything be preoccupied with Jesus, and with Jesus’s teaching and vision he cast. That is what should be our main preoccupation, even as we continue on day after day with the occupations and responsibilities we have.

And this is to be our preoccupation every day. For some reason I can easily slack off on weekends, and let up in that. I think it’s because there’s an element of rest from the busy and often hard workweek, and a kick back and relax kind of mentality. And we need some of that, indeed regular rest, even a weekly sabbath of sorts. But somehow within all of that we need to purposefully keep our Lord and his teaching and vision before us. Not only to help us, but so that we can find where we fit in our Lord’s vision along with everyone else. In and through Jesus.

give it your all

Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

We should not care to be in anything halfway. We’re either in fully, or not in at all. That should make us think twice about a lot of our commitments, really any commitment. After all, we can only do so much anyhow. And if the good set forth and our desire match, or necessity comes upon us within basic commitments we humans have, then we need to follow through.

The words of Qoheleth here are within the framework Qoheleth sets throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, that life on the face of it is absurd, that we should enjoy what is given to us, here: give it our all, but realize that in the end it is a fleeting, meaningless, and ultimately vain endeavor. That is, life “under the sun,” in this present existence. The one who ends the book points us to the fear of God and obedience to God’s commandments in light of God’s judgment to come.

We have to sift through this book, finding the wisdom present in the midst of a much less than idyllic view of life, rather down in the mouth. But there are some bright spots throughout, along with most memorable ones. And this is one of those moments where some light is shone in the limited canvas of Qoheleth.

We need to give it our all. Whatever it is we’re to do, set in front of us. Hopefully with wisdom, not chasing our tail so to speak, or running ourselves ragged. Understanding what we’re to do and what we’re to leave alone. Pursuing this course day after day, along with some special times of rest and rest throughout. In and through Jesus.

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.

do the best you can, but from God

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Galatians 6:4-5; MSG

Our days, weeks, and lives are full of things that need to be done. Some can be left undone, but others require our attention and simply have to be done. God gives us the tasks, and however mundane they may seem, we want to do it all to God’s glory, which means we want God to receive all the praise in what’s being done, so that in a sense our work is simply serving others for the praise of God. I think that point is evident from what follows from Paul* in this passage:

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

Galatians 6:7-10; MSG

We need to press on, not in our own strength and wisdom, but in the help received from God by the Spirit. This is ongoing, over time, but something we should be intent on each day. God will help us. We just keep doing it, whatever task is before us. Knowing that amazingly enough we’re involved in the very work of God. Along with others in and through Jesus.

*Here, Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Paul.

“incremental”

The word “incremental” has become an important word for me at work. It probably is not hitting the precise meaning, or the way it’s used, but I see it as meaning little by little, to add up to making work easier for me and others. It’s not like I’m trying to slough off of hard work, but making it manageable, and being willing to relax more when things don’t work out, even when mistakes are made. But to keep pushing on this direction.

I used to work full tilt, kind of trying to do something of this, but with more of an accent on working hard. I still work full tilt, but in a different way. Now it is more thoughtful in terms of trying to keep myself relaxed and through that example, to help us all do the same. So that others aren’t stressed out, beginning with the fact that I’m not stressed out. Of course I can’t handle how others do their work, but hopefully my example can rub off on others, if it’s really helpful. And part of my goal is to make everyone’s job easier, so that they can concentrate on what’s in front of them, to minimize the extra they have to do.

This is making a world of difference for me. I keep thinking of the word, “incremental.” I have it firmly in my memory, finally now, or so I think. But my first thought as far as my work is concerned is to do it little by little, in manageable chunks, even if that means more movement on my part, which it inevitably does. And trying to avoid being in a hurry, insofar as that’s possible. I find the hard work is in a sense easier, certainly easier to manage, and therefore less stressful. In fact there seems a fallout in stress, none or not much at all. Kind of a part of my goal, to avoid undue stress beyond just the normal minimal stress each part of the job requires.

Add to that just lately, I realize I won’t entirely achieve this, so that I have to depend on others to pick up where I can’t. So learning to relax, even when I can’t always achieve “incremental” as I intend to. But making it my first priority as far as the nuts and bolts of my work is concerned; to do so incrementally, little by little, with plenty of room to get things done comfortably. Something I consider clearly to be a needed help of wisdom to me from God. Sometimes in God’s generosity, a kind of wisdom given to anyone. And for us “in Jesus”, it is always in and through him.

do well in your calling (whatever it is)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

I remember decades back hearing someone say that if their job was a milkman, then they would want to be the very best milkman around in fulfilling their calling to God. Wasn’t it Martin Luther who suggested that whatever our work may be is at least our current calling from God? I think you can make a case for that in Scripture, of course provided that the work we’re doing is not something that is contrary to God’s will.

The context is actually addressed to slaves. One needs to look at the entire New Testament to understand the nuance provided in the truth and power of the gospel eventually undoing the entire institution of slavery. But in the meantime, Christians found themselves in what probably was less than a desirable life for many of them, not something they would have likely chosen for themselves, at least not over the long haul. But the word for them is to be wholeheartedly faithful since what they were doing was not merely service to their master, but actually service to Christ.

How much more true is that for us who are in jobs and perhaps life circumstances that we find less than agreeable, certainly not what we would aspire to ourselves? And with that comes the temptation to let down, despair, at least struggle since what we’re doing is so far removed from what we would like to do. But that’s when we need to settle ourselves down, and prayerfully look to God to do well in the place and responsibilities we have. Not to despise what might seem mundane, wearisome, or of little consequence to us. But to prayerfully do as well as we can in the grace God gives us.

We remember what Christ did in becoming one of us, and then in the humble life he lived, as well as the death he died. All of that to many would seem a waste, or at least falling short of the ideal for living or blessing others. But that is precisely where God’s blessing came, in the most humble of places. We need to remember that, and do our best even in what seems a secondary task. Trusting God will use that in whatever way God chooses, to his glory and for the benefit of others. In and through Jesus.

 

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.