Full-Time Christian Ministry
Psalm 127:1 & 2; Psalm 128:1 & 2
Psalm 127:1 & 2
A song of ascents. Of Solomon.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Psalm 128:1 & 6
A song of ascents.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in obedience to him.
You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
The CEO of an international firm hired a promising young man named Zach to fill a newly created position. The required a loyal, hard-working person who could be trusted to follow company policy in developing a recently released product. It was soon apparent that the young man, as capable as he was, needed someone to help carry out the company's plans. The boss sent an equally competent woman named dawn to assist him. As in any new business venture that has to be built from the ground up, the two employees had to fulfill a wide variety of duties ranging from administrative roles to the smallest of details. They enjoyed a great deal of freedom on the job - except for one restriction. They were not to open a specially marked envelope that the boss had put on top of the filing cabinets. One day while dawn was working by herself, a representative from a rival company dropped by. He noticed the special envelope and asked about it. Dawn told him what she knew. The visitor put on a skeptical expression and made it sound as if the boss was afraid Zach and Dawn might learn more than he wanted them to know. Soon Dawn was convinced that perhaps the boss was withholding vital information from her. She retrieved the envelope from the top of the file cabinet and peeked inside. What she saw was a real eye-opener. When her co-worker Zach came back to the office, she convinced him to look too. Later that day, the CEO showed up for a surprise visit. somehow he knew what they had done. With tears in his eyes, he said that they would be demoted, their pay slashed, and that they would be relocated to a workplace where vicious competition and "headaches" would be the norm. (Martin R. De Haan II. How Can I Find Satisfaction in My Work; Christian Living: Employment, Grand Rapids, MI: Radio Bible Class, 1991, pp. 4 & 5.)
Do you recognize the story? It’s actually a parallel story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. A common misconception is that work is somehow a part of humanity’s fall into sin. The thinking often is, ‘If Adam and Eve hadn’t messed up their perfect world, we – their descendents – wouldn’t have to work. The truth instead, is that work is something that God created and declared “good along with the rest of creation.
You’ve heard the humorous saying, “I like work. I can sit and watch it all day.” But most of us don’t have that luxury. We can’t afford to spend our days lounging by the poolside, sipping lemonade, and watching the gardener trim the bushes. But more significantly, I doubt too many of us would find such long-term inactivity to be satisfying for very long. It wouldn’t be healthy for us, either. Our bodies are designed for activity and, believe it or not, we were made for work.
The way that God created us is that our sense of personal worth is closely connected to a feeling of accomplishing something purposeful with our lives. Unfortunately, the introduction of sin into the human story made a lot of work to be drudgery and filled with problems. The good news about the work of Christ is that He died and rose again for us, not only so that God would provide a place for us in heaven, but also that we have been provided with a sense of fulfillment here on earth as live for God.
We’ve been looking at the Psalm of Ascents through this Hub series. We’ve looked at themes like trust, forgiveness, and hope. Psalms 127 & 128 show us a very different look at what it means to be a child of God. In these two psalms, we see the ordinary realities of life given extraordinary significance. In our journey of life, it is comforting to be reminded from these two psalms that the so-called routine matters of life, such as home, work, community, and family, are blessed and affirmed by God. Especially important in the opening verses of both of these psalms is the divine importance of work.
I gained my Bachelor’s degree at a Christian liberal arts college. My classmates and I experienced a blend of students who were pursuing a wide range of career choices. There were those of us who were seeking training for vocations in medicine, teaching, business, as well as in the church. At the time, I was pursuing a teaching degree, and it happened a few times that I got into a conversation with someone about what they wanted to do after they graduated. It was irritating, occasionally when someone piously said, “I’m going into full-time Christian ministry.” The implication was that somehow what the rest of us were studying, and the vocation we were pursuing was not quite as important or holy as what they were planning to do. I got into the habit of responding to people like that, “Oh, I’m going into full-time Christian ministry too: I want to be a high school teacher.” That usually shut them up.
The opening of Psalms 127 & 128 paint a very different picture: They tell us that all of our labor reflects an opportunity for the dedication to ministry for God. Even in the mundane. Even in the everyday, ordinary, daily routine, we are children of the King, divine, holy employees, working on behalf of the God of the Universe. How do we put our work into divine perspective?
Let’s name a few ways:
1) Know who you are really working for.
Psalm 127 reminds us that unless God is a part of what you do, it is ultimately all in vain. Psalm 128 reminds us that blessings come to our labors if we entrust ourselves to the LORD. So the first step in keeping our work in its proper perspective is to recognize that ultimately, we are working for God. We may have to report to a boss or a manager or a supervisor, but remember, God is your boss’s boss, your manager’s manager, and your supervisor’s supervisor. If we keep that in mind, our attitude toward our work situation will be transformed.
Colossians 3:23 encourages us to do our work, “as to the Lord.” This changes our perspective on things, doesn’t it? When we realize that we are really working for God, we will have a more productive and positive attitude toward our work situation.
As spirituality author, Richard Foster writes: “The goal of work is not to gain wealth and possessions, but to serve the common good and bring glory to God.”
2) Know that your work is a witness to what you believe.
The world is watching. Your co-workers, your clients, your constituents are watching you. They see the way you act; they hear the way you talk. There’s a divine opportunity woven into your work that makes it possible to share your faith in real and concrete ways. So often people outside church have a difficult time relating to the truths of God shown in the Bible. These folks have questions and struggles, and then they see you at work: They see you as the reliable, dependable one who shows up on time, does a good day’s work, and can be trusted. They observe you with the cheerful, upbeat demeanor, they see you at break, giving thanks for your food before you eat, and when the time is right, they hear you share your faith.
It isn’t always possible, or even appropriate at work to talk about your faith, but through your actions on the job, people will see what you believe – it will be evident by your actions. Do you pray for your employer and co-workers, and clients? If you don’t, let me encourage you to do so. Pray for the people you work with and for the work situation in which you work.
Do you have a difficult boss to work for? A story appeared in Executives’ Digest about a company sponsored first-aid seminar. An employee was asked by the instructor, “What’s the first thing you would do if you found you had rabies?’ The employee immediately answered, “Bite my supervisor!” Well, tempting as that may be, a better plan is to pray for your boss. Let’s put God on the job with us at work!
Pray for yourself too, that you will do a good job and present a good witness by your work. Through our godliness at the workplace, we bring more of the Kingdom of God into our places of employment.
3) Know that your work is an opportunity to grow.
Hopefully, you are taking advantage of any job advancement opportunities available to you, but there are other ways to grow in the work place. A human resource director was taken aback by an applicant’s salary request, which seemed rather high. “You certainly expect to be compensated well for a beginner.” “Well sure,” the applicant replied, “work’s a lot harder when you don’t know what you’re doing.”
But outside of growing in your on-the-job skills, there are numerous opportunities to grow spiritually at work. Have the frustrations, responsibilities and pressures produced bitterness and despair in you, or have you used he difficulties to help you become a better worker and a more Christ-like person?
Some opportunities might be to learn and grow in patience, diligence, or a more loving attitude.James 1:2-4 says: "My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing." Ask God how your work situation can become an opportunity for your personal growth.
4) And last, we need to know how to keep work in its place.
How much time do you spend working? If you were to add up the hours you typically work, plus the commute time to and from work, plus the time you spend thinking about work when you’re off the clock, you might get a picture of someone whose work is their life. Who are you outside of work?
Scripture teaches us that we need to keep all aspects of our lives into proper perspective. Work is a necessary and God-ordained part of our lives, but it should never become the central focus. When work becomes our primary source of fulfillment and when it squeezes our all other aspects of life, when work compromises our ability to be involved in family, church and leisure pursuits, then work no longer is in its proper place. Psalms 127 and 128 remind us that our work and our labor is an important part of our lives – but also that it is only a part.
We’ve been considering what the Bible says about work, and I’ve been speaking to those of you who do report for work each day. But what about everyone else?
Let me say a few things to the rest of you:
-Young people: Does this talk about work have anything to do with you? You bet it does!
Whether you work at the grocery store or earn money doing some other, then do it well – just as if you are working for God – because, you are. But also remember, right now in your life, school is your “job” – so do that well too. Be the best student you can be and give honor and glory to your Lord. Some day, you are going to be working full-time – remember to do that future work to serve and please God.
-Mid-life people: Some of you work, but don’t get paid for it. all of us have some other non-employment work to deal with (house work, family needs, yard maintenance, etc.), the same principles about God-centered work applies to these areas as well.
-Retired people: Some of you are at the back end of work; you put in your time and are now reaping the benefits of your labors. Does this mean that you’re finished with working? Not a chance.
Society needs your wisdom and expertise. You have a unique opportunity to volunteer. You are needed as prayer warriors; clock yourself in to pray. e encouragers…
A September 4, 1995 issue of U.S. News & World Report article told of Audrey Stubbart, who was born in Nebraska in1895 and lived for twenty-eight years in Wyoming, where she reared her children. She moved to Independence, MO and worked for eighteen years as a proof reader for religious publishing company until mandatory retirement at age sixty-five.
Her strong work ethic led her to employment at a local newspaper, where she worked full-time again as a proofreader. At the time of the article, at age 100, Audrey was still working. Each year on her birthday, she makes the same speech at the newspaper: “‘Thank you for keeping me alive. If I couldn’t come to work, I’m sure I would have died.’ I’ve got too much energy, too much ambition, too much get up and go. I have to have something to do.” God calls us all to come to work, and to work for the Lord’s glory all through our lives here on earth.