Isn't it interesting how often we speak of being a breadwinner, and yet when Christians pray the Lord's Prayer, we're saying bread isn't something we win. Our bread is a gift. "Give us this day our daily bread." But at the same time, for many of us, the way God gives us our bread is through our work.
I want to be very clear that when I talk about work, I'm not just talking about people who are out in the workplace. I read a study that said the skills set required of an effective modern homemaker out in the workplace would be worth in excess of $70,000 a year. That ought to give some spouses bargaining power.
Dr. Tony Campolo is an internationally renowned speaker, and while Tony has spent much of his life traveling around the world speaking, his wife, Peggy, has chosen to stay home and pour herself into raising their two children, Bart and Lisa. Peggy Campolo finds that when she travels with her husband, she's often in conversations with some of the most impressive and sophisticated people in the world. And sometimes she said she would feel intimidated and even perhaps question her own self-worth. And so her husband said to her, "Well, honey, why don't you come up with something you could say when you meet people that will let them know that you value what you're doing and think it's important?" Well, not long after, they were at a party, and there a woman said to Peggy Campolo in a rather condescending tone, "Well, my dear, and what do you do?" Tony said he heard his wife say, "I am nurturing two Homo sapiens into the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might become instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia God envisioned from the beginning of time." The other woman said, "Oh, well, I'm just a lawyer."
Believe me, if you are a homemaker, you have work. If you're an active volunteer in the community, you have important work. If you're a student--oh, my goodness--you have piles of work. If you happen to be a retired person who serves in your church, you do work that makes your church all that it is.
The Christians of Thessalonica decided to opt out of the work force. For what they believed were deeply spiritual reasons, they decided to abandon the routines of daily life and just wait and pray for the second coming of Jesus. Well, word got back to the Apostle Paul, and that scrappy little tentmaker who worked his fingers to the bone to support his ministry was not amused. He dashed a letter off that said, "Fine, if you don't work, you don't eat." No daily bread for you.
Let's listen to the words of the Apostle Paul to the church of Thessalonica in Second Thessalonians 3:6-13.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother or sister who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule, "If a person will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is right.
You may recall the classic Disney movie "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go!" they sing as they sling their pickaxes over their shoulders and with joy and purpose in their faces off they march to the mines, singing "Hi ho! Hi ho!"
You've probably also seen the bumper sticker that says "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go." What propels you out of bed in the morning? Is it "Hi ho, hi ho" or is it "I owe, I owe"? Is work a blessing or a curse?
In the Bible, work is one of the most Godlike things a person can do. In Genesis 1 we see a working God who makes the heavens, the earth, the mountains, the rivers and the trees, the forests and all things living and breathing. And then God says, "Let us make man in our image." As a working God, I will create a working creature -- a human being -- and I will give him and her dominion over the works of my hands.
Jesus of Nazareth carried a lunch bucket to work. He was a carpenter. His disciples would rise early before dawn to drag smelly nets through the water to catch fish in the Sea of Galilee. When the Pharisees criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, remember what he said, "My Father is working and I am working still." In 1 Cor. 3:9, we read, "We are God's fellow workers."
And so the most Godlike thing you and I can do is to get up in the morning and go to work. That's one reason the unemployment rate in society is a spiritual issue. The reason welfare is so insidious is not that it costs too much. It is because welfare runs counter to everything necessary with a human living a happy, satisfying life.
I believe that we can spend our money on schools and jobs or we can spend our money on police and prisons. You know, my grandmother was right. An idle mind is the devil's workshop. To work is a blessing. But more than that, we need work because work is how we fulfill the image of the Creator in our lives.
Sometimes a word is worth a thousand pictures. And so it is with that word vocation. It's a Bible word. It comes from the word kaleo meaning, literally, to call or summon by name. We believe that God calls us to our work. This is the very heart of what I want to share with you. Among Christians, there are myriad occupations, but there is only one vocation. The one vocation all of us share is to faithfully serve Jesus Christ every hour of every day. And next to that one vocation, all of our occupations don't matter very much at all.
There's a marvelous passage from the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 7 in which Paul radically relativizes our occupations in light of our one vocation. Here's what Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:21:
"Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you although if you can regain your freedom, do so."
In today's terms, we might think Paul is saying, "Were you a parking lot attendant on the night shift when you became a Christian? Do you intensely dislike your job? Well, if you can get a better job, be sure and do so. But don't get so agitated about your occupation that you lose sight of your vocation which is to love and serve Jesus Christ every moment of every day."
I love the conversation a pastor friend of mine had with a new member of his church. A young woman was joining, and he asked her, "What do you do for a living?" And with a sly smile, she looked at him and said, "I am a disciple of Jesus Christ secretly disguised as a legal secretary." Isn't that wonderful? I'm a disciple of Jesus Christ carefully disguised as a carpool mom. As a financial advisor. As a bank teller. Or even as a McDonald's hamburgerologist. The attitude we bring can change almost any occupation into the call of God. For whatever our occupation, our one vocation is always to be a servant.
Mother Teresa was once asked by a reporter one day, "What is your biggest problem?" Mother Teresa answered with one word: "Professionalism." She said, "Here are these servants of Jesus who care for the poorest of the poor. I have one who just went off and came back with her medical degree. Others have come back with registered nurse degrees. Another with a master's in social work, and when they come back with their degrees, their first question always is, "Where is my office?" Then she said, "But you know what I do? I send them over to the House of the Dying where they simply hold the hands of dying people for six months, and after that, they're ready to be servants again."
Whatever our occupation, our vocation is to be a servant. And, you know, that's even true if we're unemployed. One of the most stressful times in life is when you're between trapezes, when you've let go of one job or been let go and there's nothing else that's come along, and there you hang-in mid air. It happens so often these days that people have so little control over what happens. A consultant comes into the office and says, "I can save you 300 jobs." And the next day, 300 people are looking for work.
I remember once sitting with a single mom named Diane. Diane had just been let go because of a restructuring in her organization. When she came to see me, it was obvious that she'd been crying; her face looked like a lost battle. We prayed together, and she came to see me after that several times. But over time, an amazing thing took place. Diane began seeing her unemployment as the vocation to which God was calling her for this chapter of her life. At one point she came into my office and her eyes lit up, and she said, "Vic, I've got it!" She said she wanted to have a job fair in our church gymnasium, and Diane went out and she organized a humongous event that brought in experts in job placement, potential employers and people looking for work. I'll never forget standing there on a Saturday morning watching our church parking lot fill up as hundreds and hundreds of people came, along with news reporters and TV cameras. That night I remember watching a local television news that featured Diane on camera describing the event. And, best of all, Diane got a job that day! Best job she'd ever had-of course, in public relations as you might imagine. That was her great answer to the prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread."
I love that word daily because it suggests the logistics and hassles and struggles and stresses we face on our jobs. I remember one night several years ago getting a phone call during Monday night football from a young man in my church at that time who said, "Vic, I think I may kill myself." Now that's one way to get an instant appointment with your pastor! I rushed down and met Scott at his office and there he unburdened and talked about his drive, his obsessiveness, how his relationship with his father had made him into the person he was, and how his single ambition had always been to start his own business. And now fueled by this drive and anxiety that drove him, he had gone into 18-hour days and then all-nighters with mega doses of coffee, and still that business was hanging by a thread. It turned out that Scott had come to so identify himself with that business that if the business went down the tubes, Scott was going right down with it. And I'll never forget it-Scott sitting there holding his big athletic hands and saying, "Vic, it's like there's this big invisible hand that's got me by the throat, it's dragging me down, and I can't get loose."
For a lot of complex reasons, it seems, Scott had put his business way up at the top of his life, where God is suppose to be. I tried to help him see that if he were to put God up at the top of his priority list, where God belongs, he would have a freedom even to the point of placing his family ahead of his career, and then to place his business third. When I pray "Give us this day our daily bread," I'm entrusting to God all the anxieties surrounding my job, all those what-ifs, oh-mys, that knot in the pit of my stomach. I say, "Lord, I now give it to you as I live in the freedom of my birthright as a child of God."
I'm so thankful that Scott did not kill himself, but, quite to the contrary, through daily surrender in prayer, Scott got a handle on his anxiety, and he came into a whole new life of freedom from worry.
It's like God is a parent who gets down on the rug with his kids and helps us to piece together that complex jigsaw puzzle of our lives. And, so, because work is a blessing and work is a calling, and work brings God's daily help into our lives, now we must give our very best to the work we do.
I read something once that absolutely dumbfounded me even though it's an obvious no-brainer. And that is, only in the 20th century did people begin seeing the top of the Statue of Liberty. It was only after the invention of airplanes that people saw the top of that great statue. And so the sculptor in the 19th century would have had no way of anticipating people seeing the top of Lady Liberty's head, but have you noticed the exquisite detail and the painstaking artistry? He used the same care up there as he did finishing off her face, her arms, and that torch which he knew people would be seeing every day as they sailed up the bay. When I read that, I thought what a picture of how Christians ought to do our daily work. Our boss sees the top of the statue. As the Apostle Paul says, we are to do all things heartily, as unto the Lord.
One of the greatest scenes in any movie comes from the movie "Chariots of Fire." On a grassy knoll overlooking the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, Eric Liddell is in a conversation with his sister who challenges Eric's decision to put mission work on hold as Eric tries for the Olympics. Eric says, "But, Jennie, I know God made me for China someday, but he also made me fast. I feel his pleasure when I run."
Aren't there moments in your work when you feel God's pleasure? Haven't you felt the tingle of his presence, say, when the fresh ink is on that sales agreement or maybe it's when the light bulb is lit up over the head of every student in your class, and they got it, or when you made your case before the jury or you have successfully tracked down that dreaded virus in a company computer-the pleasure you and I feel when we get it right, when we hit it out of the park, nail it, or whatever term we use for good old sweet success--Friend, that's God's pleasure if we have done it for Him. Even the most menial job done well gives God glory.
Eric Liddell's father goes even further. He says, "Aye, and ye can peel a spud to the glory of God, providin' ye peel it to perfection." Jesus put it this way, "So let your light shine that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
Someone once wrote these beautiful words:
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your own heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit.
Work is love made visible.
My friend, may you love your work and may your work be love. May you hear God's call: It's time to go to work!
Would you pray with me?
Our gracious God, we thank you for the work that you give us to do with our hands, with our minds, with our hearts. We especially pray for those who are in difficult jobs, those who are without employment. We thank you, Lord, that you are involved in the daily stresses and strains and hassles and problems of finding and doing the work of our lives. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.