Because yesterday was Labor Day in the United States, I want to share some thoughts on the blessings of work.
No, that’s not a misnomer. Work is a blessing.
The modern construct of labor had its origins in the labor union movement of the 19th century, specifically the eight-hour day focus, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours of free time, and eight hours for rest.
All three are important, but work is being given a bad rap these days.
Do you whistle while you work? Here’s my take on the blessings of labor.
Whistle While You Work–The Blessings of Labor
I was talking to a thirty-something friend of mine recently who told me he didn’t like his work. In fact, he blurted out, “You’re an exception to the rule because you’re doing what you want! (missions). Most of my friends hate their jobs.”
His frustration was easy to understand. I know folks who share his view. Many are not doing their “first love,” but grinding out a living to put food on the table and pay the bills. My friend once hoped for a career in music–but how many musicians can support themselves by singing?
Many people, over a lifetime, obtain jobs that probably don’t maximize their talents. But should that sour their entire attitude toward work?
I think not. Work is a blessing–in manifold ways. And our attitude about it determines everything.
Let me share seven truths about human labor that make it a blessing. I hope they challenge you to love your work, no matter what season you find yourself in (and it changes over a lifetime).
- Labor is an essential part of our human creation.
It’s not true that work is a solely the result of the Fall (when Adam & Eve sinned, and everything got harder on earth). Our first parents were placed in the Garden of Eden–an incredibly beautiful paradise–for the following purpose:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).
The Bible uses different words to describe these original jobs (“tend,” “cultivate” etc.) but they all contain the basic idea that human beings were made for labor. In fact, before the Fall, God gave to people what theologians call the “dominion mandate.” We were created to work, care for, improve, and develop the world God made with our labor and intellect.
Here’s the command in Genesis 1:26-28 (from The Message):
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
We do all the above through the various elements of work.
- Harder labor is one of the consequences of the Fall.
Not labor per se, but harder work (Genesis 3:17-19). When Adam & Eve sinned, God chose to change the earth’s climate and resources to restrain the growth of evil. There is nothing worse than selfish people in paradise. God was forced to alter the beauty of the original world to put roadblocks in the way of self-centered behavior.
If all of us didn’t work for a living (at least eight hours a day), we’d already be experiencing total hell on earth. In fact, the more Americans choose the government dole over good old jobs, the more chaotic our nation becomes (think of Antifa and all its unemployed “kids”).
- Labor develops character & discipline.
This explains one of the greatest accomplishments of work: it teaches us to live by our will and not by feelings and whims.
After a year of college, I worked for a cement contractor in the early 1970’s. We got up early, traveled long distances to jobs, hauled rebar and forms across difficult terrain, and sweat like crazy in the hot sun. I remember groaning some mornings when the alarm went off and my arms and legs stilled ached.
But I learned to get out of bed and do it. God was teaching me through physical labor to live by willpower (and His grace) and develop the vital qualities of discipline and perseverance that I would need in all areas of my adult life.
If “character is destiny” then hard work is a major conduit for your dreams.
- Our labor should fit the talents–but not always.
It’s wise for young people to discover their God-given aptitudes early on (relational, mechanical, analytical, etc.) and seek out work that uses these skills. But in early life, we take what we can get. Flip burgers. Paint houses. Babysit. Do anything that pays to save and get ahead.
With wise planning and discipline learned from working, we can eventually either fit into or entrepreneur a career more in line with our skill set. But that takes time, a willingness to work two or three jobs, and thus lay a foundation for future employment.
Yes, some spend their lives in vocations not their first choice. That’s okay because God uses many circumstances to do his work in our short lives on earth.
- Labor can be done with joy–if you choose it.
Your attitude about everything (including God) determines much of your life. Joy or happiness is not primarily a by-product of circumstances–it is a choice of the will.
Brother Lawrence, an 17th century monk, and author of The Practice of the Presence of God, served as a dishwasher in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. He learned to love his “lowly” work by finding God’s presence and pleasure in it.
I remember serving as a dishwasher at a YWAM school in Germany. The other guys on our team loved to sing, so we belted-out four-part barbershop harmony as we cleaned the pots and pans. Dozens of students sat in the foyer just to listen to us while we worked. (Don’t try this in every job unless you get permission.)
Think of the example of the “Seven Dwarfs” who “whistled while they worked” in the coal mines of Disney imagination. You can find joy (God and meaning) in anything you do.
- Labor should never be abusive.
I’m grateful that labor unions were used to stamp injustice during the early part of the Industrial Revolution. Child labor, sweat shops, and fourteen-shifts are not “taking dominion.” They abuse our fellow human beings for selfish gain. That’s not labor–it’s slavery.
Good, old, hard work (with reasonable limits) must always be a choice.
- Labor is eternal (being fruitful and productive in God’s Kingdom).
For most of my life I’ve worked twelve-hour days by choice (now with an afternoon “rest”). I love many aspects of my jobs. I also dislike certain functions (I reserve the word “hate” for sin or evil). But I know that good, clean hard work is preparing me for eternal life–both to get there and what I will do in glory.
Heaven will be filled with marvelous labor and fellowship in God’s presence.
Don’t let modern-day narcissism chill your idea of labor. Whistle while you work and prepare for eternal productivity.
In the New Jerusalem–where worship, work and joy will all unite.