work

Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, Psalm 113

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 10:8-10.

Many of these later chapters in Ecclesiastes contain proverbs. Some are similar to those we find in the book of Proverbs; others are unique. Here in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, we find a few proverbs related to work. Verses 8-9 tell us that virtually every job has some kind of hazard to it. Whatever you do that brings income and blessing to you and your household can also harm you if you’re not careful. I believe that is the point of these proverbs. Solomon’s point was not just to observe that occupations have dangers to them. It was to warn every worker to be careful. If you spend a lot of time around pits that you’ve dug, or stones that you’ve quarried, or logs that you’ve split, you can become indifferent to the dangers they pose to your life and health. When you stop respecting the power of these things, you can get lazy with your safety habits and possibly injure yourself. A wise person never cuts corners on safety in his work; instead, he respects the inherent power of the things he works with and is careful to do his work safely.

Verse 10 pivoted to another aspect of work. That verse reminds us that you have to work much harder with inadequate tools than you do with proper tools. The person who says, “I don’t have time to sharpen this ax; there are too many trees to cut down!” is a person who doesn’t appreciate the power of well-prepared tools. Instead, according to the third line of verse 10, “more strength is needed.” That is, if you don’t understand the power of the right tool, YOU’LL be the one applying the power with your arms. The final line in verse 10 says, “but skill will bring success,” and this line suggests that this verse is about more than just sharpening your ax. A sharpened ax is literally more effective; it is also a metaphor for a more skillful way to work.

There is no virtue in using a handsaw when a circular saw is available. There is no virtue in churning your own butter (unless you like doing that for some weird reason, or think it tastes better) when you can buy a stick or a tub inexpensively. There’s also no virtue in learning by making mistakes when you could learn from others. A wise person is one who is trying to learn how to be more effective in less time at whatever he is attempting to do. God created you with the ability to learn and with the ability to think about your work creatively and innovatively so that you can be more effective and efficient at what you do.

The Bible is a book obout God, not about time management, business best practices, or personal success. But it contains helpful information about these subjects because God cares about you and wants you to be effective and productive in addition to being honest and ethical.

Are there any areas of your work, or life in general, where you’ve been careless with safety precautions or where you’ve been working with a dull ax? Maybe it is time to stop working harder and start working smarter, just as God created you to do.

Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96

Today the Bible passages we’re scheduled to read are Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96.

This devotional is from Proverbs 24. It is also reposted from 66in16.

It is tempting to choose the most comfortable option. Today's reading gives us two Proverbs that caution us against this easy choice. The first proverb is 24:27: "Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house." I visualize this piece of wisdom going from Solomon to his newlywed son. As the young couple begins to embark on life together, they dream of having a home of their own. Using the property subdivided by his father, the young couple faces a choice: spend their time and whatever money they have building a comfortable starter home on their new land or live with ma and pa for a while as they work the soil, plant the crops, and tend to the weeds. After the process of starting their farm has begun and the growth of the crops looks promising for their first harvest, then they can start working on a home of their own. No one really wants to live with their parents and it's more fun to build a house than to plant a field. But the field will produce income. It will get you started in life financially. It will provide for you in the future. If you build the home first it will give you your independence and a comfortable start to your life as an adult, but it will also drain your finances and delay that first harvest. It is far wiser to put productivity over comfort in the short term so that you can be more comfortable in the future but that takes a disciplined approach to life that probably does not come naturally to most people.

In a similar way, verses 30-34 describe the ease of laziness. If a farmer skips one day of planting, is the crop ruined? No, but it is easy to let one day off become one week off; our legitimate need for rest can snowball (v. 33). We feel as if we’ll be able to work better tomorrow if we rest up today. That may be true; it may also be a way of rationalizing our procrastination.

I lived most of my childhood as a procrastinator. I came home from school and told myself I would do homework or study for my test after I ate a snack. Oh, but Scooby Doo is on, so I’ll watch that just to relax for a few minutes. It’s going to be dinner time soon so I’ll get busy after that. You get the idea. I created habits of laziness in my life. By the time I was in seminary, I was turning in papers at the last minute after an all-nighter. I got decent grades but in my heart I knew I wasn’t doing my best work or getting the most out of the opportunities God had given to me. Eventually I learned to build some disciplined habits, but even today if I deviate from those habits, the old sin of procrastination is ready to slither back into my life.

But what does any of this have to do with God? These are wise bits of knowledge and helpful for productivity but couldn’t we have learned them from somewhere else? Why did God encode them into his holy word? One answer is that these productivity problems—seeking the easy and comfortable way and allowing laziness and procrastination to take over—are spiritual problems. They are manifestation of a heart that wants to disobey God. God created the world to respond to the diligent work of humanity. He gave us everything we need to provide for ourselves but we have to obey his laws of sowing and reaping, of prioritizing investment over consumption. Our faith in Christ should lead us toward a productive life because we have faith in his commands and know that when we obey his commands and work with diligence God will provide and bless us.

Exodus 31, Proverbs 7, Psalm 79

Today’s readings are Exodus 31, Proverbs 7, and Psalm 79.

This devotional is about Exodus 31.

At times in my life I have heard people make negative comparisons between “secular” work and the work of the ministry. For example, one successful businessman said he’s just “building a bonfire” because 1 Corinthians 3 talks about a man’s work being either “gold, silver, and precious stones or wood, hay, and precious stones.” I don’t think he was interpreting that passage correctly but his interpretation was that saving souls, teaching the Word, and building up Christians was work that would last for eternity while everything else would just burn up.

The previous chapters in Exodus described the tabernacle and all the furniture and tools that the priests would need to minister before the Lord. Here in Exodus 31:1-5 we read, “Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” This man Bezalel was a godly man; he was filled with God’s spirit, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. But he had other gifts, too, ones that are not usually connected to godliness. Those gifts were “skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” Where did he get these skills? They were gifts of God which probably means that he had some natural ability in these areas. Where were these gifts honed? Making bricks and tools and other stuff as a slave in Egypt. For the first time in his life, this godly man had the opportunity to use his “secular” gifts for the Lord’s work. But was this the first time in his life when his work mattered?

No.

Read that again: No. This was not the first time in his life that his work mattered. The rest of his work life was not “building a bonfire” at all. The same is true for you, no matter how you earn your living. The work you do as a Christian matters whether or not it is done in secular or sacred contexts. Here are some reasons why:

  1. God created us to work and to make skillful and practical use of this earth an the resources in it. In Genesis 1:28 God commanded Adam and Eve to “...fill the earth and subdue it.” In Genesis 2, before Eve was even created, verse 15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Working the garden and taking care of it was God’s will for Adam. The curse on Adam when he sinned was not that he would have to work but that his work would be hard (Gen 3:17-19). When Bezalel or you do work that makes good use of God’s creation, you are doing the will of God and that matters.

  2. Doing “secular” work develops skills that can be used in “sacred” contexts. That’s what’s happened to Bezalel. If you’ve ever used anything you’ve learned in your profession to help our church or some other ministry, you’ve been used by God to serve him.

  3. Doing “secular” work gives you the opportunity to develop godliness in your life. Working in a frustrating world (because of the curse of Gen 3) and with frustrating people gives a beleiver the opportunity to develop the fruit of the Spirit. It can teach you to love the unlovely, have joy when things fail or disappoint you, be at peace when there is turmoil around you and so on. Note that in our text, Exodus 31:3, God described Bezalel as a godly man. He was “filled with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge.” That godliness was cultivated as a slave in Egypt, using his skills to serve godless men. It was hardly a waste of time, then, given the difference it made in his life.

  4. Doing “secular” work pays you which supports your family and, through giving, it supports God’s work financially.

I put the word “secular” in quotes throughout this devotional for a reason. I don’t really think there is a true distinction between “secular” and “sacred” work. Please do not consider your work futile and unimportant. It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home parent, a CEO, an assembly line worker, a brain scientist, or a pastor. What matters is that you are faithful to do what God calls you to do and to cultivate Christlikeness as you do it.

Exodus 30, Proverbs 6, Psalm 78

Today’s readings are Exodus 30, Proverbs 6, and Psalm 78.

This devotional is about Proverbs 6:6-11.

Ants are disgusting creatures who have no business being in my house.

That said, they are remarkable workers. There are some time-lapse videos on youtube that show how hard they work to break down large food items for their colony. Some of the items, like a grapefruit, are huge compared to the size of one ant. Working together diligently, however, they can pick the whole thing apart in a few hours.

Here in Proverbs 6:6-11, Solomon encourages that “sluggard” to think about the hard work of ants. A sluggard is foolish because he his lazy. The first thing Solomon encourages the sluggard to notice about ants is that they don’t need a boss. Verse 7 says that it “has no commander, no overseer or ruler.” This sounds like a dream life to many people; a life with no boss, no authority. If a lazy person had no one in authority over him, he would do nothing productive all day, day after day (vv. 9-10). An ant, however, “stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” Each one works hard to provide for the colony even without a supervisor.

The point here is that the sluggard needs to learn how to be productive without external supervision or discipline. Many people will do nothing unless they are told to do it but a wise man will learn to work diligently without supervision to be profitable and prepared for the future. The foolish lazy man, by contrast, is warned that “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”

Many people are hardworking in most areas of life or lazy in most areas of life. Many of us, however, work hard in some areas while neglecting to work hard in other areas. We may be productive employees, even without much supervision, but we’re lazy about managing the money we make. Or perhaps we’re diligent about physical fitness but not about our spiritual lives. What area in your life should you apply wisdom to be more ant-like?

We would also be wise to teach our kids to be self-starters and diligent without supervision. These are essential skills for success in our world and very rare. Encourage your kids to work on that term paper for a little while every night instead of trying to do it all in one weekend or--worse--one caffeine-fueled all-nighter. It will serve them well all the days of their lives.

You might enjoy watching this brief video about ants: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgtepw39NX4

Proverbs 27:14-27

Today we’re reading Proverbs 27:14-27.

If you leave your ice cream bowl on the counter, it will warm up to room temperature and melt. If you leave your coffee on the same counter, it will cool off to room temperature as well. Left alone, things drift toward mediocrity. That’s how the world works.

It’s also how business works. In verses 23-27, Solomon urges farmers to pay close attention to their flocks and herds (v. 23) because things that are valuable decay without routine maintenance and careful attention (v. 24).

Likewise, if you pay attention to things that are valuable and cultivate them, you will prosper (vv. 25-27). These are helpful instructions for us to consider as we come to the end of 2017. Are there areas in your life that you’ve stopped paying attention to? Anything that is drifting, coasting, lacking your attention? Whether you realize it or not, those areas are drifting toward mediocrity or worse. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that much of life is like a garden. It doesn’t need constant, intense attention, but consistent, proper attention. If something is wilting but hasn’t died yet, you can often restore it with the right kind of attention. Take a few minutes now and think about your walk with God, your personal health and growth, your family, your work, and anything else that comes to mind. What in these areas needs attention? What kind of attention and how much? Learn what “the condition of your flocks” is, then “give careful attention” to them. They will pay you back benefits in the future (vv. 25-27).

Ephesians 6

Today’s reading is Ephesians 6.

This chapter began by continuing to specify what it meant to “walk in the way of love “ (5:2a) for children (vv. 1-3), fathers (v. 4), slaves (vv. 5-8), and masters (v. 9). The rest of the chapter encouraged believers to prepare for spiritual battle (vv. 10-20) and gave Paul’s final greetings. I want to focus on part of Paul’s instructions to slaves. In verse 6b, Paul encouraged slaves to work “as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” Then he repeated the point in verse 7 when he wrote, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people....” These were helpful instructions to people stuck in a bad situation. Neither Paul nor the church at Ephesus had the political power to end slavery and Christ’s mission was not to reform this world’s kingdoms but to save people for his coming kingdom.+ Slavery was a fact of life in a world dominated by the Roman empire but Christians who were slaves could act differently because of their faith in Christ. Although they were in an unjust situation that they could not change, they could change their hearts toward the situation. Instead of cursing their masters, producing as little as possible, and stealing if they could get away with it, Paul urged them to think and work differently because of their faith in Christ.

Instead of doing the work slaves do reluctantly, fearful of being beaten but with little positive motivation, Paul encouraged slaves to “serve wholehearted.” That is, “Act like you want to be there doing this work.” What would motivate someone to do that? Not their human masters who may have treated them like they were animals. Instead, they should act “as if you were serving the Lord, not people....” That attitude makes work, even if it is dull or difficult, an act of worship. The master may not notice or care but God does! Verse 8 says, “because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.”

Do you believe that God sees every act that you do for his glory? If you are taking care of an ill relative, mopping the floors of your employer after the work day is over, showing kindness to someone in the office who isn’t kind on their own, God sees it. Or if you’re faithfully entering data into a computer, steel into a machine, or baby food into your infant’s mouth, it matters--not because it will change the world in some way but because it is done as an act of worship from your faith in God.

If you’re facing a tough day at work today, let these words encourage you and guide you.

+Though Paul recommended freedom for slaves in 1 Cor 7:21b, Philemon 10, 15-16.

2 Thessalonians 3

Today we’re reading 2 Thessalonians 3.

When I was growing up my pastor used to frequently say, “Some people are so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthy good.” That might be an apt description of the Thessalonians. The things Paul wrote about in 1 & 2 Thessalonians indicate a church that was focused on end time events--the coming of Christ, the arrival of the man of lawlessness, and the final judgement on earth were all topics Paul discussed in these letters.

Here in chapter 3, however, he urged them to pray for the spread of the gospel through his work (vv. 1-2). While it is good to be looking for the Lord’s coming, Christ has charged us with work to do here until he comes--namely reaching people for Christ and discipling them to obey him. Paul was more than willing to teach about the end times, but he wanted the churches to remain faithful in prayer for the gospel to keep growing.

In the meantime, it is possible that some of the believers in Thessalonica had quit working and were living on charitable giving from other members of their church (vv. 11-12). This might be because they were so convinced that Christ would return any moment that they lost motivation to work. Or, perhaps that was unrelated to their interest in eschatology. Regardless of the reason, Paul must have heard that there were loafers in the congregation. He wrote this chapter, therefore, to remind them of his own example and teaching when he was in Thessalonica (vv. 7-10), to instruct the unproductive people to get to work (v. 12), and for the obedient people in the church to be wary of the disobedient and unproductive members (vv. 6, 14-15). These strong statements remind us that the Christian life is more than words; it is truth lived out in a holy and productive life. God created us to care for and make productive use of the earth. Now that, in Christ, we are seeking to be obedient to the Lord, we must realize that living a productive life is part of God’s will for us. These passages apply to those who are “unwilling to work” (v. 10), not those who are unable to work. Other passages of scripture show us that homemakers are living productively, so this doesn’t mean everyone must be in the secular workforce. Still, there are some believers today who could work or do something productive who instead are “idle” (v. 6) and even “busybodies” (v. 11). This chapter calls all of us to put our faith into practice by providing for ourselves and our families.

I think it goes further, too, and reminds us of our need to be good managers of what God allows us to produce. So many of us Americans are building mountains of debt and we’re one financial setback away from dependency. Are you working productively? Keep it up. Are you living below your means and preparing for the future? That’s what God wants us to do, too.

Proverbs 12:1-14

Happy Saturday, read Proverbs 12:1-14 if you’re keeping up with our weekend reading schedule.

Some of the greatest fortunes in world history have been created by great ideas. The idea that a person should be able to use a computer by looking at icons on a screen and clicking on them with the mouse was a great idea. Bill Gates made a product called Windows based on that great idea. By selling Windows to the world, Gates went from being a very successful, very wealthy man to being the wealthiest man on earth.

It’s important to realize, though, that Bill Gates did not come up with the idea of Windows. Apple had created the Macintosh which used the same concept and even introduced the mouse to the mass market for the first time. But Steve Jobs and the Macintosh team did not create that idea either. They licensed the idea from Xerox, the copier company, who had computer engineers researching and prototyping all kinds of technologies that Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, and other technology companies have used to create wealth. Xerox missed out on all that wealth because they had great ideas but did not put the work into making those ideas into products.

The point of this story is that ideas are powerful but only if they are translated into successful products through hard work. By themselves, ideas--even great ideas--are worthless. That’s right, worthless. Patents and licensing have been created by lawyers to give ideas some value, but licensing a good idea to a company is difficult and not nearly as productive as making a successful product from a good or great idea.

Here in Proverbs 12:11 the Bible teaches us this lesson in proverbial form. It says in verse 11b, “...those who chase fantasies have no sense.” These are the dreamers, the “crazy ones”* who have lots of interesting ideas, even some innovate and useful ideas, but they never do the work involved in making that idea into a product. By contrast, according to verse 11a, “Those who work their land will have abundant food.” Who gets the benefit of a great idea? Someone who is willing to put the work into making something productive.

Maybe you have a great idea or you think that you will prosper because you’re a Christian or because you’re a nice person or because you are brilliant, or whatever. All of those things can help, but nothing can substitute for the power of dedicated, applied effort that we call work. So, if you have a great idea, do what it takes to turn it into a great product. Even if you have an OK idea or no idea at all, working faithfully and productively on someone else’s ideas can help provide for you. That’s what you do when you take a job, so be the kind of employee who “works their land” (v. 11a).

Matthew 9

Today we’re reading Matthew chapter 9.

Jesus accomplished a remarkable amount in just 3 and a half years of ministry. Not only did he save the human race from eternal destruction, he left behind a committed group of people to spread that message around the world. In addition, he taught truth in memorable ways so that both his words and his methods of instruction are still studied today.

A man like this must have worked a hundred hours a week or more, right? Maybe. The gospel writers certainly didn’t tell us that Jesus took vacations. But he lived in an age before machines, so he didn’t ride a plane, a train, or an automobile. Instead, he walked everywhere he went. You and I would consider that a waste of time, but that’s what he did. Jesus also lived before electric power so the things he did happened mainly from sunrise to sunset. This means that he took time to rest on a daily basis.

Going further, we never read of Christ being in a rush. He was always on the move, but never in a hurry. Although he was aware of the time of his death, he never worried about the clock running out before he accomplished what he needed to do. Yet he was aware of the great needs around him. As we read today in verses 35-36, Jesus busily taught and healed but there were so many people with needs and Christ “had compassion on them” (v. 36). What was his reaction to this? It had two aspects.

First, Christ called the disciples to pray (v. 38a). Instead of thinking that he had too much to accomplish to spend time praying, he himself withdrew frequently to pray and he called on the disciples to pray in response to the great needs he saw around him.

Second, Christ prayed for workers (v. 38b). His solution to the vast needs around him was not to work more or pick up the pace of his labor but to ask God to multiply the number of laborers. This is wise. Who can accomplish more--10 men working 50 hours a week or 500 men working 10 hours a week? The math is easy; multiplying workers is far more efficient and effective than working longer at a frantic pace.

Like everything Jesus did, we would be wise to follow his example. When we’re too busy to pray, we’re doing it wrong. When we try to get more done by working more hours at a breakneck pace, we’re doing it wrong. This is true in all of life but especially and more importantly in ministry. Wherever you’re serving the Lord, if you feel overworked and burdened by God’s work, it’s time to start asking God for helpers. Then, when he provides them, take time to train them well then use them wherever they can make the greatest impact for God’s work.

This is my mission for 2017 as your pastor: to do less ministry myself and more praying for and training God’s people. Want in? I’ll be talking more about this soon....

2 Kings 2, 2 Thessalonians 2, Daniel 6, Psalms 112–113

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 2, 2 Thessalonians 2, Daniel 6, Psalms 112–113. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Daniel 6.

The Babylonians who conquered Judah have given way to the Medo-Persian empire, yet Daniel remains influential even in the new administration (vv. 1-2). In fact, Daniel was so good at his job that King Darius intended to elevate him over all everyone but Darius himself (v. 3b). When the other administrators heard about this, they were jealous of Daniel and sought to catch him in some kind of misconduct (v. 4a). Verse 4b says that “they were unable to do so.” Why? “…because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (v. 4d). Did you catch that? Not only was Daniel not corrupt, he was not “negligent” either. This means they could find no responsibility where he failed or refused to do his job. 

That’s quite a statement. We all have responsibilities we like and those we dislike. If you’re like me at all, doing the stuff you like to do is easy but it is also easy to neglect the stuff you dislike doing. A busy man like Daniel would have had an abundance of excuses, too, for why he couldn’t do what he disliked. He could blame his busy schedule, the people under him for being incompetent, or trying to prioritize his work. But the men who wanted Daniel indicted couldn’t find any area to accuse him. As followers of Jesus, this is something we should aspire to as well. Since we are working as to the Lord and not to men we should, of course, be honest and upstanding but we should also be so conscientious that even the things we dislike doing are done carefully and faithfully.

Not only is it remarkable that these men could not accuse Daniel of corruption or negligent, it is remarkable that they KNEW they could get him if they could make his faith illegal in some way. Daniel was faithful not only in his work but he was faithful in his walk with God. The men who were out to destroy Daniel knew that they could get him in trouble if they could make prayer against the law (vv. 5-13). If someone were looking to accuse us, would they go to our devotional life as the sure-fire way to trip us up?

You know the rest of the story as it is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Daniel was supernaturally protected from the lions (vv. 14-23) and eventually his accusers were brought to justice (v. 24). The result of all this was a decree from Darius commanding the people to fear Daniel’s God (vv. 25-28). He trusted in the Lord completely, consistently, devotedly and the Lord delivered him even in a hostile culture to his faith. May God give us the same desire to be faithful and careful in our work and to be devoted to reading his word and praying daily, filling our minds with his truth and living obediently to it.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.