Monday, September 5, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Labor

No, I'm not going to give you my perspective on the birthing of a child ... frankly my dear, "I don't know nothin' bout birthin' no babies!" Yes, I have two yet I know next to nothing of being in labor.

No, I'm talking about Labor Day. As long as I can remember I thought Labor Day was a celebration of HAVING work after the Great Depression. It turns out, Labor Day has been around for longer than that. Labor Day is actually a celebration of the achievements of workers in the United States that came about as a bit of a reactionary move after some pretty horrific riots around the turn of the century. That is ... the 19th to 20th century.

Shows how much I know. I suppose it is a little embarrassing, confusing, and frankly slightly controversial (what can I say? I'm a Texan the general attitude I've grown up with towards the labor movement and unions in general is ... conservative) to teach about what Labor Day means. For me, growing up, it meant no more white shoes, the return of suit jackets and sport coats for the men in church, and school starting. Yes, I'm young but I'm of that generation-less portion of the population that is lost in the cracks between distinct generations. And I think most of us like it here.

It has always been a weird "Oh, its a holiday?" holiday for me. Even though it has been close to three years, I never got out of the public service mindset that there is no such thing as a holiday. I know plenty of people even now who have no special plans at the lake or parades to attend. It wasn't until a few days ago that I even realized Tim was off work! We're celebrating by going together as a family to see Shelby's gymnastics, because they must find it an odd holiday as well and are still open.

You know me, I started wondering what the Bible says about labor ... the kind of labor we are celebrating today. Work and human achievement. Can we find our purpose in bettering our country?  Is finding something you love really the answer to living a happy life?

Days of training where shooting up a car was all in a day's work? Of course I loved my job.
Days where being torn apart by an attorney while wearing a suit was my job - what have I gotten myself into???
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.  
- oft quoted but true author unknown
When I was still working, I had a job I loved. When we were doing training that involved shooting up a car? Of course it was fun! But it was still work. Sitting on the witness' chair was not fun. If we are doing God's will for our lives, does that mean it won't feel like work? Is a labor of love the opposite of "work?"

"I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind... There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother; yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked "And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?" This too is vanity and it is a grievous task." 
- Ecclesiastes 4:4, 8
Ok, so labor for the sake of achievement is empty. I think most of us know that, even if we find ourselves falling into that pattern. It is safe to say that most of you reading this are among the rich even if you don't feel like it. Even if we do have dependents.

"Unless the Lord builds the house,They labor in vain who build it;Unless the Lord guards the city,The watchman keeps awake in vain.It is vain for you to rise up early,To retire late,To eat the bread of painful labors;For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep." 
- Psalms 127:1-2

The church where I first learned it isn't only serving when it is hard, serving can be fun.
This was taken on a mission trip ... I was "laboring" ... looks real tough huh?
So if we are laboring for love, for God ... does that mean it never feels like work? Am I doing it wrong when I love my daughters all day, when I try to teach them right and wrong, and at the end of the day feel like collapsing into bed rather than giving Tim a high-five and celebrating a job well done?

 "And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves." 
- Luke 10:2-3

That doesn't sound like smooth sailing to me. While we work to His harvest as a labor of love, it is still a labor. You've likely seen this one as well:

"If you are still alive, then you haven't completed what you were put on earth to do." 
- Andy Andrews
Not a quote from the Bible, but I feel very applicable. We are here to DO something. We aren't just here to be. Many of the references to labor in the Bible are verbs, action words. Paul considered his labor, his work, to have been a failure when believers in the church in Galatia began to turn back to idols:

"I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain." 
- Galatians 4:11

Just because we are laboring for God and not for man; riches, achievements, pats on the back ... we don't get excused from work. And if your current calling "feels" like work it doesn't mean you've missed the mark. What barometer can we use to know if we labor for God or for ourselves?

Motivation. What motivates you to go do what you are doing? Fame? Fortune? Prestige? You might want to have a check-up with the great physician on that heart of yours. If your motivation is love, Biblical, serving love; even when it is heartbreaking, backbreaking, exhausting work - you are probably still working for God. And only you can determine that.

"constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father ..." 
- 1 Thessalonians 1:3 

"...so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts." 
- 1 Thessalonians 2:4b

 Work done in love can still be work. The Greek word for labor used in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 is "kopos" which can also be used as the verb "trouble." If you are troubled because of love, it is the right kind of trouble to be in.


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