April 2017 – Fans of Louis Armstrong or Frankie Laine may recall the song “That Lucky Old Sun” and its refrain:
Good Lawd above can’t you know I’m pinin’
Tears all in my eyes
Send down that cloud with a silver linin’
Lift me to paradise
Show me that river
Take me across and wash all my troubles away
Like that lucky old sun, give me nothin’ to do
But roll around heaven all day.
Everyone has felt this way at some time, whether in an office as an adult or as a child cleaning a messy room. Work is hard, and it sounds so pleasant to have “nothin’ to do but roll around heaven all day.” But is this what God wants for His people?
In the Bible, people’s lives were filled with physical labor: Ruth, Esther, Nehemiah, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, and so on. Whether laboring in a stranger’s field, navigating the politics of a pagan kingdom, or persevering in prisons to reach lost souls with the gospel, men and women of faith were no strangers to work – because the work of the Christian is directly connected to the work of God.
Dr. James Hamilton Jr., professor of biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, asserts that mankind was created for work from the beginning. In his book Work and Our Labor in the Lord, he explores how biblical authors viewed work.
“The creation of man and woman,” he writes, “is accompanied by a blessing and a task, a charge and commission. Man was not created for passive observation of the world but for an epic task, a worldwide venture. Work is therefore built into the created order, right from the start. God gave man stewardship of the land and all life on it. All tasks man undertakes in God’s world can be seen in relationship to that original commission.”
Working in ministry
It is by looking to the God of work that Christians find both the call to be laborers in His kingdom and the way in which God wants His people to work. The Great Commission given to the church has been a call to many Christians to enter into ministerial labor. This kind of gospel work goes beyond ministering to someone’s soul and extends to physical needs as well. One Christian who has answered this call to ministerial labor is Steve Tybor, co-founder of Eight Days of Hope.
“Eight Days of Hope is a very unique ministry,” Tybor told AFA Journal. “It is a grassroots, interdenominational effort. We are called to help families after a disaster when they have nowhere to turn. A tornado or a flood comes to their area, and they might not have any insurance or the means to take care of themselves.”
Tybor and Eight Days of Hope spend eight days in an area after a disaster helping the locals, but their motivation is much more than to simply help those in need.
“Last week I was in Hattiesburg, Mississippi,” said Tybor, “and a family was living in a tent. They had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. Volunteers from Eight Days of Hope showed up, and they helped clear off the property, salvaging what they could.
“I asked the homeowners very simply, ‘Why do you think these volunteers came from Ohio and New York and Washington state to serve a town outside Hattiesburg?’
“They answered, ‘We saw Jesus this week.’ That’s why we do what we do. We will help people rebuild a house. We will help them get back on their feet. But spiritually, just bringing some joy and hope to those who are feeling hopeless is a priceless feeling both for the homeowner and the volunteer.”
Working where God has you
On the other hand, not all Christian work is ministerial. Besides working with Eight Days of Hope, Tybor also serves as vice president for a manufacturing company. With one foot in a ministry and the other in a for-profit corporation, Tybor sees no need to approach one job differently than the other. Both are opportunities to follow and glorify Christ.
“Many years ago I asked somebody to pray for me because I thought God was calling me to full-time ministry,” said Tybor.
“And he said ‘Steve, God’s got you right where He wants you right now. He wants you to minister as you lead that corporation. You have the chance to touch the lives of hundreds of people. Perhaps they need encouragement, prayer, someone to listen to their challenges, someone to love them.’
“Whether I am wearing my ministry hat or my corporate hat, I am a follower of Jesus. I am going to follow Him no matter where I am, either in the workplace or on the mission field.”
Many Christians are not in positions of authority. Many work ordinary jobs, which can sometimes feel menial. How should a Christian with this type of occupation think of his or her work?
A man who understood that all work was an opportunity to serve God was Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite lay brother in the mid-1600s. Having joined the monastery in Paris, it was his task to work in the kitchen and repair the monks’sandals – a menial occupation by the world’s standards. But even in his lowly position, Brother Lawrence never felt estranged or left out from the great work of God.
“It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God,” he said in The Practice of the Presence of God, a collection of quotes from his teachings. He understood that the Christian’s labor did not always have a measureable impact on the world. Most of God’s workers are quietly laboring in the periphery of history, quietly tending to the business God called them to. Whether it is by building homes for the homeless, raising a child in the knowledge of God, or repairing sandals, a Christian’s work is holy work, because it is directly related to the great work of God.
Working in eternity
The old song “That Lucky Old Sun” yearned for a heaven where there would be no work, where one could be lazy and “roll around” all day. Nothing could be farther from biblical reality. Mankind was created for work.
“God built us to do something,” writes Hamilton, “and in the new heavens and the new earth we will be liberated to do the work for which God fitted us when He formed us in the womb. … In such a place under such a King, we who were created to work will finally be doing what we were made to do.”
Work and Our Labor in the Lord by Dr. James M. Hamilton, Jr., is available at Crossway, part of a series of books called Short Studies in Biblical Theology
Every Good Endeavor by bestselling author Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf
theologyofwork.org – a website that provides Bible commentary, articles, and other resources that examine the Christian perspective on faith played out in work