Sunday, August 16, 2015

Work

Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken to you about how God runs His creation. We’ve looked at a couple of aspects of that. Today, we’re going to look at another. So, from Genesis 2.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2.1-3)
What catches your attention here is the theme of rest. God worked for six days, and now He rests. The idea of rest is important, and we will get to it - but not today. Instead, we’re going to look at what the idea of rest assumes. We’re going to look at work. God rested because He worked. He calls you to rest because He calls you to work. God runs His creation expecting people to work and then to rest. So, let’s take a look at work.

Let’s start with a question. Why should we work? The good church answer is that we are to work because we have been commanded to. Isn’t that what’s going on with God’s gift of dominion and His telling Adam and Eve to work and keep the Garden? He commands us to work so we need to obey, right?

Well, yes - but. The language of obedience has come to be heard as something that is boring and burdensome. It’s about some rule that we have to keep. So, let me say it differently. God calls you to work so that you can be creative.

Consider Adam. He was called to be a farmer. What might that look like for him as the first farmer? It would include discovering things about plants and what they need to flourish. It would include experimenting, trying different ways to get them to flourish. It would include lots of opportunities for creativity. And, as time went on and Adam enjoyed some success at this new thing called farming, he would experience satisfaction. And that would feel really good.

So, you see, his obedience to God’s command to work would be an opportunity to be creative, to develop what lay hidden in this new creation. And out of that would come a sense of being satisfied at what he had done. These would be the fruit of his obedience.

But that’s not all. There would be another result from all of this. There would be a sense of awe at God. As Adam discovered more about how creation functions, he would be struck by God’s wisdom in how He made it and runs it. So, you see, Adam’s creative obedience would result not only in satisfaction but also awe that shows as worship.

So, it’s true that God commands us to work. But don’t think of that as boring and burdensome. God commands us to work so that we might be creative, satisfied and full of wonder at our Creator.

Now, all of that sounds wonderful. But it also sounds like I’m describing life on another planet. It’s just a fact that for your average American, work isn’t about creativity and satisfaction. And to suggest that it results in worship would make no sense even to most Christians. There is a reason for that. Sin. Sin has entered the world and fouled everything up. So, now, work is cursed. It has been cursed by God. We’ll see that when we get to chapter three. What farmers now have to look forward to isn’t creativity and satisfaction but rather thorns and thistles and frustration. And we have all had at least a taste of that. When sin entered the picture everything was affected.

As a result, people these days work for all sorts of wrong reasons. Let me offer a few examples. One reason people work is money. Few will say that they want to get rich. What they will say is that they just want to live comfortably. So, they work a job that is anything but creative, a job that brings little satisfaction, if ever. And they do this for the money and the comfort that they hope that it will provide. That is not what God had in mind when He commanded work.

Here’s another bad reason to work: to gain approval. This is one particular place where students can falter, whose work has to do with learning. Why should they put effort into that work? Why should they do well at learning? For many, it’s to gain approval. It might just start with getting that gold star, but it can lead to getting some fancy award that results in lots of approval. So, forget creativity, forget satisfaction. So, working hard hitting the books is all about feeling good about yourself because of what others will think of you. And this isn’t limited to students.

Then, there are those who will say that they need to work so that they can provide for their families, and they justify that reason by saying, ‘If I don’t provide, who will?’  Though it sounds good it’s actually a bad motivation. The pressure to provide can crush a person if he fails to do that or make him proud if he succeeds. Our hope is not in our ability to provide but in God’s promises to provide. A person’s job is simply a tool that God will use to provide for a family. But if God decides to take that job away, He will still provide. It’s just that He will use some other tool. So, even the seemingly good reason of providing for one’s family is a wrong reason to work.

All of this helps to explain the Gospel. Jesus has come to fix this mess. He has come to restore work to its original purpose of being an expression of creativity that will be satisfying and result in awe-filled worship. So, how does He do that?

He does that on two levels. Here’s the first. Jesus frees His saints from having to give in to those wrong reasons to work. Working for money and the comfort that it promises is working to serve an idol. And idols will always let you down. Jesus can free you from that so that you can serve the one true God who makes it possible to be creative and satisfied. He has also freed you from the need for approval because He has made sure that the Father always approves of you. And because of Jesus, we are promised whatever provisions we need for ourselves and our families. That pressure is also removed.

So, a question to ask yourself: why do you work? That involves the job, schooling and also working in the home. Is your work an expression of creativity that results in satisfaction and then worship? If not, can that be changed? I think that it can be, at least to some extent. But understand that changing that will be hard. We live in a culture that works for all the wrong reasons, and it imposes all of that on you. Jesus can bring change, but it will be slow and it will be difficult. Examine yourself for the reasons you work and see where you need to be changed. And then make that something to pray about, to repent of. Remember the goal: creativity that leads to satisfaction and ultimately to worship.

Seeing the difficulty of change leads to the second level that Jesus works in. Jesus brings about change by fixing the culture. We are ensnared by these wrong reasons to work because of the things that our culture values. It values money and the comfort that it promises. It looks for approval in the wrong places. It burdens people with a sense of obligation that can destroy. That is a major part of the problem, and Jesus intends to change it.

How does He do that? Sometimes He tears everything down so that it can be rebuilt. He did that with Nehemiah and Ezra. Because of the rebellion of Israel, the nation was torn down. Jerusalem was destroyed. But after a while Nehemiah and Ezra show up. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of the city, and Ezra rebuilt the religion of the people. Jerusalem was being rebuilt, restored.

It seems to me that our culture is in the process of being torn down. This is something we deserve. If I’m right about that, we should be preparing for the opportunity to rebuild. And a part of that includes restoring a proper sense of work to our culture.

This has much to say about your children. The time to rebuild will not happen in my lifetime. The culture will not have hit bottom yet. But it may occur within the lifetime of my grandchildren and their peers. One thing they will need if they are going to be able to rebuild is a biblical understanding of work. The point of work is about creativity and satisfaction. It’s about reasons to be amazed at God and thus to worship Him. They need to be taught these things.

So, instead of asking them ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ we should ask, ‘What is it that God is calling you to do?’ or ‘How do you think you can be creative in His creation?’ And we can help them think in those terms by helping them to see what abilities God has given to them, where they are creative, what kinds of activities give them satisfaction. And we need to help them to see the amazing ways that God has made all of this and how He runs it. There will be many differences in doing this even in the same family. And that’s because different children have different abilities and interests. That means that you need to educate each one somewhat differently, according to what he or she is good at and is interested in. You help them in this by also showing them that because of the Gospel they don’t need to work in order to get enough money for a comfortable life. They don’t need the approval of others. They don’t need to worry about providing. They are freed from these things because of Jesus.

Now, to be sure, this is taking the long view. It may well be that the time to rebuild won’t occur even in my grandchildren’s lifetime. But we need to train them in these things so that they can pass them on to the next generation so that they can rebuild our culture.

God runs this creation by commanding you and your children to work. But His purpose in this is not to bore and burden you. By your work you can be creative and find satisfaction. Your work can fuel your worship. We’re a long way from how it’s supposed to be but, by God’s kindness, we can make progress in this generation as well as the next.

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