Thursday, October 29, 2015

Unashamed workman

God grant me a disciplined mind, an awestruck heart, calloused hands, and a tamed tongue, for it is with such that men are to praise you!

I often hear Christians talking about careers, and it usually sounds something like, “We need more Christian politicians!” or “we need more Christian professors in our universities!” or “We need more Christian film makers!” or “We need more Christians in entertainment/media,” or “Christians need to  really need to take back the arts!” The reasoning always seems to be that these are the things that shape culture, and so if Christians are going to shape the culture we need to actively seek out places in the fields of influence so we can reach the culture and change the world.

These are all fine trades, and I am all for having more Christians in these trades, especially if it happens by us sharing the gospel with those already working in these fields and them coming to Christ! With certain moral boundaries, I would generally say that all work is good work and so these fields are no worse than any others and it would be great for people working in those fields to repent and believe in Christ and remain in those fields! That would be awesome! But biblically, I can’t find anywhere that says it’s more and more of our children to actively pursue positions in these fields. Heck, historically I can’t even find any evidence that it’s an especially good strategy! The world certainly honors and loves these fields, and God has seen fit from time to time to powerfully use His people in such roles, but by in large God has chosen to do things different than the world expects to draw attention to Himself rather than to the men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

“Not many of you” of course means that some indeed were, and it is okay to be a Christian Governor, Senator, Professor, Scientist, Comedian, Musician, or CEO. If you are serving there while remaining faithful to God, to His commands, and to His people, that is great and there is no shame in that, and I pray He uses you there mightily to do great things! But generally speaking, more often than not, that isn’t how God has chosen to work in the new covenant kingdom of Jesus Christ. He chose to found it with a group of fisherman and tax collectors, house wives and healed beggars and shepherds who live in the fields with their sheep. The opposing authorities were amazed at the disciples boldness and clear biblical teaching, not because they were formally trained scholars, but because they weren’t! The early documents we have from shortly after the time of the New Testament show that the great scandal of early Christianity was that Christians were taught by butchers and tanners and weavers, and that many were coming to Christ on the bold testimony of common women. Sure, even in the early years Christians had their philosophical scholars like Justin and had politically influential converts even in the very household of Caesar, but by and large the faith was made up of people who “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12) and who “do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:12b). The picture is simple, honest daily work, often at manual labor, paired with virtuous, humble, and generous lives. In fact, the simple generosity was key, as Paul elsewhere wrote:

“He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need." Ephesians 4:28

It is interesting that we are not only commanded NOT to steal, and instead to work for what we need. That much we might expect. But the command says something different than that. Instead of just the absence of stealing, it commands quite the opposite from stealing, actually. Even our honest work is not for ourselves, but SO THAT we will have something to freely give to others in need! Our labor is not for our own gain, but for the purpose of our brothers. Industry, simplicity, and generosity. It is the pattern to which all who are in Christ are called. Brothers and sisters, let's show the world this better way!

The purpose of our work then is not first and foremost to gain audience and influence and change the world through the greatness of our reach, but to work hard, live simple, give extravagantly. God blesses with the increase. It is for us to honor needful labor that the world does not honor, to do it with commitment and integrity, and love our neighbor enough to meet his needs, be they physical or spiritual. Be about some every day trade, but with a godly diligence and character. As one of my favorite figures in American history, George Washington Carver, once put it “Learn to do common things uncommonly well; we must always keep in mind that anything that helps fill the dinner pail is valuable.” Jesus taught us that one who wishes to be great in the kingdom must be his neighbors servant, and that the first shall be last and the last first. It is the common tradesman and worker, who the world sees at the bottom, who often has the greatest potential for virtue and Christian greatness. Normally such greatness goes unseen by the eyes of men, but often God sees fit to draw from exactly such a pool some fisherman or tent maker to be a world renounced preacher of his word. John Bunyan was a man of little formal education who made his living mending pots and pans in 17th century England. He was also a devoted Christian pastor, evangelist & author who, though writing from prison for preaching without a government license, penned one of the most influential written works of all time. "The Pilgrim's Progress" has been translated in over 200 languages and has aided in the transformation of lives the world over for hundreds of years, including my own! God doesn’t work the way we would, and He does mighty things through simple means. 

I have known cattle ranchers who travel the world in their slow seasons strengthening missionaries and preaching the gospel. I have known water treatment plant managers who quietly reach and disciple their coworkers and support local outreach with their wages for decades whose impact the world may not see, but through whom untold lives are forever changed. I have known UPS drivers who open their homes to college students and teach them the bible while their wives prepare them meals, who freely work on people’s cars and in their homes just to be of help and to display and have opportunity to share and proclaim the word of God. I have seen programmers work out arrangements with their companies so they can work remotely while moving to Africa to help orphans, delivery men spending their time on street corners giving our tracts and bibles, concrete layers pastoring churches, and countless others whose hard work at common jobs coupled lives devoted to God, to their families, to the church, and to reaching the lost have had a greater cumulative impact than could possibly be fathomed. When we realize that it’s not about us, but about what God is doing through His people as a whole, a quiet life of diligent labor, generous giving, and sacrificial devotion to a local church community becomes an awesome thing that is sadly becoming all too rare as we far too often barrow the values of the world to calculate how we can “have the greatest impact” and with the best of intentions avoid being united together as the kind of radically different people that God desires to glorify His own name in using to make Himself and His gospel known

It’s not easy, and it simply can’t be a life lived in our own comforts and given to our own amusements. Theodore Roosevelt put it well when he said, “I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil" The world won’t get it. The world shouldn’t get it. As Francis Chan says, "Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers." But in fact, God blesses such a people. God blesses such a life, and so such a life lived for Him is used by Him and accomplishes His goals, reaping great reward in the age to come, and THAT is where our rest is! Remember, we are people here in sojourn, as if resident aliens in a foreign land until our Lord comes again to consummate His kingdom, and only then does our Sabbath rest and our time of greatness come, for then we will reign with Him!

If you're still prior to the "deciding on a career" point in your life, you've got two good options. 1.) Find something productive that you particularly like doing and through sacrifice, hard work, discipline, and a willingness to put other things aside for it, get good enough at it that someone is willing to pay you to do it. 2.) Find something that people need and will pay for and through sacrifice, hard work, discipline, and a willingness to put other things aside for it, get good enough at it that you don't hate doing it anymore, can take a certain pride in it, and as a result will get paid a premium for doing it. The former sounds more pleasant than the latter, but is actually the harder road. Either way though, it requires hard work and sacrifice for something to finally "come naturally to you." Don’t spend your life trying to find some one special thing you’re great it, but rather pick some needful thing and get great enough at it to make an honest living, then live on less than make and give plenty away, and make sure to guard your time for family and the community of faith. 

If you’re already in a career, be content with it! Unless it is driving you to sin or harming your responsibilities to family or your connection to your church, work hard at it and start thinking about how to simplify your life and maximize you’re giving. Come up with ways for you and your family to serve your church family and reach out in local ministry. Maybe volunteer regularly at a homeless mission or pregnancy resource center, or go down town and hand out tracts, or mow the lawns and clean the yards of the elderly families near your home who can’t do it themselves any more. Use some of your vacation days to go on mission trips or join a disaster relief team. Read the bible to your kids daily and talk about what it means so they carry it with them when they get older. Realize that in so doing, you are joining the ranks of countless great saints of old, some whose names we know, many whom we never will, who did such things and through whom God changed the world, and is changing it still. Let’s show the world a better way.

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.  

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