Thursday, January 17, 2019

Work and Trust

"The Lord helps those who help themselves," said no Bible verse ever. However, we are encouraged to work "as unto the Lord," which implies a certain amount of energy and dedication.

I was at a conference once where the speaker said that our job is to put in the work; the results are up to God. He was talking about writing, but I think you could apply that to just about any kind of work. This sets up two connected concepts: that of us "doing our part" and that of God doing His, and it's easy to see how the old saying people helping themselves can creep in. But that's not what these concepts are really about, and it doesn't take much life experience to know it. Someone might toil and toil and never benefit from it the way indicated by the saying, and another person might seem abundantly blessed in their labors. The saying is obviously not true, or at least, it's not always true. But there is a practical kernel of wisdom underneath that husk of nonsense: if you don't do anything, nothing will happen.

The connection between us working and God taking care of the results is a connection is far more biblical than the way we talk about it might suggest. Our job is to show up and do the work before us. Why? Because it's the work God has given us to do. Our cheerful, careful labor glorifies God. If we sit around and don't do anything, or don't do it well, God can certainly use it (and many times he does for the sake of his name, his people, or his kingdom), but the work we aren't doing or aren't doing thoughtfully does not bring God glory. Why should he bless it? On the other hand, our hard work does not obligate God to bless it in the way we would want, with material or other forms of worldly success, and sometimes he withholds those things from us. That doesn't change anything because, unlike the old saying, a biblical theology of work is not transactional; we owe it to God to work as for his glory, but he owes us nothing. Any benefit, worldly or spiritual, that we gain from our work, whether well or poorly done, is at his good pleasure, for our ultimate good and his ultimate glory.

This is not a subject I've thought much about over the years, and maybe that shows in my analysis. But I've been thinking about it lately. Since I am working for myself now, as an editor and writer, I have been trying to figure out how to get into a disciplined mind frame, what work to do when, and which projects to focus on. As the last few months have gone by, those things have started to work themselves out or become evident, as the case may be. My work hours aren't quite regular from day to day, but the number of hours I put in has evened out considerably. I've figured out that I enjoy writing at coffee shops and other locations, but editing and other business tasks are best done at home. And, to my mind most importantly, I have focused in on a specific project, which has broadened in scope since I started to give it more attention.

The problem is, I'm trying to transition to a point where I am making a living on my writing, and I have no idea if this project will work out financially. Writing involves an enormous amount of time and work over a long period of time before you find out if it will bear financial fruit, let along before you get paid. And yet, I'm sinking all this time and effort into this project that I don't even know if I'll be able to finish.

So I've been thinking about work and trust. I don't know what God has for me - none of us do. But I know he will never leave me or forsake me, so I can work hard - I can spend my time and energy on this project - and I can trust God with the results. I can trust that God will bless my efforts and that I will get some financial return for all the work I put in. But if that doesn't happen - if the whole falls flat and I never make a dime on it - I can trust that God will provide for my financial needs in some other way. And I can trust that somehow, the time and energy I spent on that project were not a waste. For "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

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