Many times, Christians use unfortunate language when talking about our jobs. For some reason, we have often called work that is not for a church “secular work;” in much the same way that we call music not done by “Christian” artists, “secular music.”
When we call work “secular work,” we imply that it is somehow inherently unspiritual. However, when we read our Bibles, we see that God created work before man fell into sin. Work existed before the ministry existed. Work, while it may be difficult, is a good thing created by God. Every good and honest work to which we give ourselves is spiritual work.
We often struggle to find meaning in our work and often struggle with the desire to do our best at our jobs. God knew the difficulties we would have with work in a post-fall world and talks a lot about work in his word. Solomon preaches the virtue and benefits of hard work in his words to his son in Proverbs.
To teach his son about the value of hard work, Solomon takes his son to the unlikeliest of places. He tells him to look at the ant and learn from him. (Proverbs 6:6-11) In doing so, Solomon gives us four important pieces of instruction about the work we do.
Be Humble in Your Work
Foolishness in one area of life always bleeds over into other areas of life. The fool is often wise in his own eyes and believes himself to be something he is not. Therefore, the foolish man would be astonished to read “go to the ant” about his work habits. The man who is convinced that he knows all he needs to know is instructed to go learn from one of the smallest visible insects.
Arrogance creeps into our lives and does untold damage without our realizing what has been taking place. We start to think out work is of a better quality than it is. We treat other people with contempt because we think they aren’t up to our standards. We speak harshly to others when they don’t perform up to our expectations and we look at many important tasks as being beneath us.
We need to hear Proverbs’ reminder to humble ourselves and not be wise in our own eyes. When we do, we become open to learning about areas where we need to grow. We start listening to other people’s opinions because we recognize our areas of weakness. We are patient with other people’s failures because we know we need them to be patient with us and we work hard at even the most menial of tasks, looking to Jesus who humbled himself throughout his life on earth.
Be Industrious in Your Work
Solomon points out that the ant doesn’t have any chief, officer, or ruler. We might object that there’s a queen every ant is working for, but when you see a line of ants moving, you do not see the queen driving them. The ant has a job to do and works at that job with prodding from no outside force. The ant knows that winter is coming and gathers everything that the colony needs to survive while the weather is still good.
We care about producing good work because we bear the image of God and inhabit the world that he made. When he gave us the mandate to fill the earth and subdue it, he called us to take what he had created and to make it into things that would help the other people made in his image to flourish. Our work matters because it serves the people God created and is an act of love for our neighbor.
In addition, Paul said we do our work “heartily, as for the Lord.” God gave you whatever work you are doing in his providence. No matter how thankless or insignificant it may feel or seem in the moment, when we apply ourselves and work hard, it brings glory to God. Therefore, we should expend every possible effort to learn how to work hard and smart for the honor of the Lord who gave us the work we do.
Be Awake in Your Work
Solomon taunted the lazy person in verse 9 when he said, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard?” Throughout Proverbs, Solomon showed the foolishness of giving too much time to sleep and not enough time to work. He pictured the sluggard as turning back and forth in his bed like a door on its hinges. The lazy person sleepily refuses to work.
Many of us might be tempted to think that laziness has not infected what we do because it feels like we never get enough sleep. However, our lack of sleep rarely flows from our commitment to our jobs, but from a commitment to our distractions. If Solomon lived in our day, I cannot help but wonder what he would say about our digital devices, endless sporting events, and addiction to our distractions.
How many of us do not thrive at the work we do because we are either constantly distracted, or spend too much time watching television at night, or drag our families through too many extracurricular activities? While work should not rule our entire lives, we should think about how our lives outside of our work impact the quality of our work. Lose the digital distractions so you can enjoy real, quality free time and get enough sleep at night.
Enjoy the Rewards of Your Work
Solomon cautioned his son that want would come upon the sluggard. In an agricultural society with no social safety net, the person who did not work truly did not eat. If he was not diligent to plant in the spring, there would be no reward in harvest time.
If the lazy experience lack because they neglect their work, then in a general sense, we enjoy rewards and benefits from our work. I say “in a general sense,” because we should always read Proverbs with Job in mind. In a perfect world, the honest prevail and hard work leads to good wages, but we live in a fallen world and things don’t always work out according to plan. Sometimes hard workers make little while the lazy appear to thrive.
We enjoy more rewards than simple compensation for our work. Just as God saw the work that he did in creation and said it was good, so we get to delight in work well done. We get to experience the satisfaction and joy of seeing the fruit and reward for the labor we do. In addition, at the end of a good day’s work, we go to bed with a clear conscience and a tired body, knowing we have done all we can do for that day.
In the end, the cycle of work and rest reminds us both of what Christ has done and what it means to find life in him. When Jesus came to earth, he gave himself to the work he came to do. “My Father is working until now and I am working.” (John 5:17) He worked until he finished and then he sat down at the right hand of the Father. Just as Jesus rested from his work, we rest from the toil of trying to please God by our good works by finding rest in the finished work of Christ. And now, finding our rest in God’s Son, we give ourselves fully to the work he called us to do until we enter our eternal rest.
“The Best Quotes from God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life“
For Further Reading:
Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller
Do More Better by Tim Challies
What’s Best Next by Matt Perman
Deep Work by Cal Newport