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The Christian Life & Work: Working It Out

15 Oct

If you’ve ever tried to get in to some sort of exercise after a long season of being stagnant, then you’re probably familiar with all the aches and pains that accompany a new routine. Sore muscles, thirst and hunger after a workout as your body sweats out the fluids and needs more fuel to burn, the temptation to give up after just a few days, and all the mental warfare that goes on in one’s mind about whether or not it’s worth it to keep on going or to just quit since it’s easier to eat what you want and sit on your couch instead of hauling yourself to the gym or giving up a precious hour for a run or workout, are some of the difficulties you’ll face.

At the same time, if you are really determined to reach a goal, whether it is weight loss or just overall fitness, those challenges, although they may be hindrances at times, will not ultimately set you back. I’ve seen it at times in my own “athletic” life and in the lives of others around me who’ve wanted to get in shape and have shown incredible determination and perseverance in order to get where they want to be. Sacrifice of time and of favorite foods and meals, the prioritizing of plans in order to make sure that every day involves some form of exercise, beating the body into submission in order to make it accomplish what it needs to. It’s hard work and it takes an incredible amount of commitment. No one looses 50 pounds overnight, nor can they increase their stamina after a few 5 km runs. Sometimes it takes months, even years to get where you want to be.

Then there are others who at the first sighting of a McDonalds are off the track and back to their old ways. Getting up early and going out for a run or heading to the gym are not easy things in the dead of winter when it’s -10 degrees and your warm bed is calling you. Trust me, I know what it’s like to be there too.

Maybe we all fit into one category or maybe some of use fit into both at different times. Some of us have the ability to look at a task head on and just dive into it without looking back. For most people though, I suspect that tackling difficult challenges doesn’t come without the desire to quit and give up at any sign of difficulty or challenge. In the Christian life, work can feel the same way. Last week, I was sharing about the difficulty of Christian athleticism when it comes to carrying out the jobs we’ve been called to do, and how often we look at the responsibilities we’ve been given and rather than taking them on, we want to pass them off to someone else who’s better and more able than we are. But if we’ve reached the point where we see areas where we want to grow and we have a goal in mind, whether it be a mom who wants to learn how to better plan meals and cook good food for her family, or a dad who wants to learn how to lead his children with Scripture, or a student who’s trying to get a handle on the whole university thing, we can’t get where we’re going without a game plan.

Being real with ourselves and our weaknesses is, I think, the first place to start. If you decided that you wanted to run a marathon but hadn’t put on running shoes since Terry Fox in 8th grade, then it wouldn’t be a good idea to set out on day one expecting yourself to go much further than a kilometer. Thinking that you can accomplish a huge feat after a day or two of exercise is not only unrealistic but it sets you up for failure and disappointment. The same goes for any type of work or responsibility we’ve been given that we want to learn to do better at. Taking a gourmet-cooking magazine that calls for ingredients you’ve never heard of and requires hours of time may not be the first place to start when setting out to try to conquer the kitchen. This doesn’t by any means mean you can’t get there, it just means you have to work it out so that in time, you’ll be able to do what you set out to do, once you’ve built up the skills and abilities you need.

To use a personal example, one area I’ve struggled in is my personal devotions. It’s something that for years I’ve wanted to be more consistent with, and each time I’ve tried a new Bible reading plan or set a time to wake up every morning, I’ve gone on for a while and then some life change or new set of circumstances comes along and I find that I’m once again struggling to maintain consistency. I get discouraged and then give up for a while.

Recently, my husband and I decided to start reading just one chapter of the Bible each day together. My mom and dad had just been telling us that they’d really been enjoying their time together in the Word every morning and that it was really encouraging and helping them because it was an opportunity for them to come together and focus on a small portion of Scripture, as well as giving them enough time to pray together. They’ve been reading a chapter a day and are all the way to Ruth! Serge and I have never done devotions together. Here and there, we’ve read and prayed and we will sometimes listen to a sermon together, but it hasn’t been something that we have done consistently as a couple. When my parents shared their idea, we thought to ourselves, “Why don’t we try that?”. We’ve both struggled to find ways to read the Bible consistently, and we’ve both found it challenging to tackle plans that tell you to read even four chapters a day, finding that skipping from one part to another often left both of us forgetting the majority of what we read. So, two weeks ago on an early Monday morning, the alarm rang at 6:00 am. I’d like to say we got up then, but we didn’t. It wasn’t till around 7:00 that we hurriedly hauled ourselves out of bed and tried to quietly make our way to the kitchen so as not to wake up Emma, and then we spent about 30 minutes reading and praying. It was great. And the days that have followed have been equally encouraging. Some days we’ve gotten up on time, others have been more rushed, but one thing we both have said to one another is that this is something that is working and helping us both. It hasn’t been as hard to get up with a partner, as it was to get up alone. Rather than dose off mid-sentence while reading, I have someone else to listen to and someone else to keep me awake. And reading one chapter has been more than manageable. It sounds like nothing, but when you start making yourself feel like reading the Bible is a competition or chore, or you begin comparing yourself to others who are able to read ten chapters a day, every day, then you can easily feel like you’re a failure when it comes to being a student of the Word. But that’s not what God has called of us. He desires that we come know Him, enjoy Him, and abide in His word. One chapter mediated on and prayed over, is better than trying to check off a list of several just for the sake of saying you’ve read a lot.

My point is this. Tackling a new task, or trying to grow in any area of our Christian life and work is going to bring us face to face with reasons to feel like failures and make us want to give up. Rather than looking at the mountains we are trying to conquer, I think that wisdom would have us begin where we’re at and build our stamina, one small step at a time. We need to work things out. Concert pianists don’t get there overnight. They spend years in private practicing before ever making it out on stage. An excellent cook doesn’t learn kitchen skills by watching the Food Network. She puts her head to the plow and slowly, one meal at a time, works on building her arsenal of abilities. Christians who want to be better students of Scripture don’t need to feel inadequate because they aren’t able to understand Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. They need to ask God to help them understand His word, one verse at a time, one chapter at a time, using resources that are helpful to them in the place they are at, rather than looking at all the things they don’t know and feeling discouraged because of that.

How about leaving off with a word of encouragement right from the Lord? Proverbs 16:3 says “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.” Isn’t that a comfort today, that in committing to Him whatever work He’s given us to do, He will strengthen and enable us to do it? If our plans are His plans, meaning we are seeking to glorify Him and do all things as unto Him according to His word, then we have nothing to fear. We can begin, knowing very little or even nothing, and God will give us wisdom as we seek it, and enable us to do all the good works that He’s called us to do. That is one of the best things about our Heavenly Father; He never requires of us anything that He will not by His own strength working in us, enable us to do.

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The Christian Life & Work: Passing it off

1 Oct

Last week I was supply teaching a gym class of grade 10 girls. I love gym and I love teaching girls. After all, I was just like them only 12 years ago! Yikes. Actually, I wasn’t exactly like all of the girls in your typical gym class. I enjoyed (still enjoy) sports and looked forward to gym more than any of my other classes. But I still remember that 95% of the girls in all my gym classes didn’t feel the same way. Since gym was mandatory up till grade 11, most of the ladies were unenthusiastically forced to run, dribble, kick, and “compete” in all sorts of sports that they would by no means be drawn to naturally. I loved laughing with and at girls who thought sports were just times to braid hair and catch up on the latest high school gossip. Most of my classmates were good-natured and didn’t mind that they looked ridiculous when they would take aim at a soccer ball and send it flying about five feet in front of them, or when they’d try to play floor hockey and end up looking like they were flailing about with an out-of-control stick. It was all in good fun!

Not much has changed. Gym for girls still looks about the same. I was standing by trying to “coach” them as much as a supply teacher can, by giving them pointers like “Bend your knees when you’re standing at home plate”, or “No one is running, you need to come back and help your goalie!”, or “You’re going the wrong way, turn around and shoot in the other direction!”. The funny thing I noticed is that even without much desire or skill, there’s one thing that most of the girls still did. They’d look to the one or two players who were clearly more talented, and try to pass off the ball (or responsibility) to them. As soon as a girl who wasn’t that talented found a ball had come her way, rather than try to do something with it herself like control it and move up the field, she’d quickly look for someone else with more confidence and talent, and do her best to pass it off. It was a funny thing to watch. I couldn’t help but be amused at how natural it was to not want to take responsibility for the job that was given to them in the moment, but to look to someone else to take over for them.

Without turning this into an overly-analyzed metaphor, I was reminded of how many of us can default into the same response when it comes to our relationship to work as Christians. Paul uses the farmer, athlete, and soldier metaphors to paint a clear picture of Christians as workers. All three connote a commitment to a job, a disciplining of the body and mind, and hard work. Just taking a look at the idea of being an athlete, we can see that there’s a lot that doesn’t come naturally but needs to be worked at in order for real accomplishments to be reached. Yes, there are obviously naturally talented people who don’t have to work as hard to see results in athletics, but regardless, in order to be considered a professional in any sport, a lot of work needs to go into achieving that goal. Hours of practice, tryouts for teams, a disciplined diet and workout regimen, rejection, passing up of other lucrative opportunities, suffering and recovering through painful injuries. Athletics are not for the faint-hearted. Its no wonder that in grade 10 girls’ gym, there’s not much of a desire to have your body pummelled by balls when at the end of the day you don’t really view yourself as much of an athlete at all.

But as a Christian, we don’t have that option. We can’t “pass off” our work to someone else or just decide that we’re not really athletes. Maybe we feel like we’d rather be fans, cheering on the sidelines, or the water girl/boy that goes along with the team, but never really makes it onto the playing field. This isn’t saying that those jobs of cheering and water-girling aren’t important, but it is to say that no Christian is called to be anything less than athletic when it comes to how we run our race of faith.

We don’t all have the same jobs and responsibilities but this doesn’t change how we are to perform. Some of us are moms and wives; others are husbands, workers, pastors, children in school etc. Each one of us has jobs to do and carry out that require us to flex our muscles and develop our skills, learn more about our jobs, and do them well. We are not given the option of passing off our duties to someone who’s better, or more interested in doing them than we are.

Take for example being a mom with small children: If you didn’t grow up in a home where your mom cooked meals for you every day, or played creative games and sewed your own clothes, you might look out on your own situation and at times feel intimidated and overwhelmed by Pinterest pressure and the incessant updates of what everyone else is doing with their kids on Facebook. Someone else’s two-year old just learned the entire alphabet, and another lady has knit six sweaters and matching blankets for all her kids, for Christmas, in August! You are a failure. Or at least that’s what it may feel like when you think about whether or not you’re doing a good job at your job. In fact, maybe you feel like you weren’t cut out for this work. Maybe you just see a sea of talented people out there, doing tons of talented things and you can’t seem to make Kraft dinner without it tasting soggy and bland. Or, maybe you don’t even feel like a failure, so much as you’re not even interested in doing any of those things! You’d rather be lounging on the sofa with a good book, or hanging out with friends at the local Starbucks. Here are several possible responses, depending on how you look at your job and responsibilities. One: wallow in false guilt over an uninformed understanding of what your job is and how you are supposed to fulfill it. Two: decide that you’ll never be better at cooking, house-keeping, caring for your children, and just find ways to avoid doing those jobs by buying pre-made food and sitting your kids in front of the TV for long periods of time so that you can soothe your guilt with some online aversions. Three: Keep on doing what you like most, not bothering to ask yourself whether or not you’re being disobedient, lazy, or indifferent to the job you’ve been called to do. Four: Stop, repent from ungodly attitudes, seek God’s word for wisdom and clarity about what you are to be doing, and then learn how to do it well.

I’ve been guilty of numbers one to three many times. But I also know that number four is the only right answer, and when I do that, things change. I’m not a natural at many things. In fact, when I started out cooking for my husband when we first got married, we’d laugh after I’d made dinner, because it had taken me about four hours and I’d dirtied almost every dish in the kitchen. I’ve still got lots to learn, but things have gotten better and cleaner. I know that when I read the Bible, I’m called as Christian to work hard at all I do, and to do it well as unto the Lord. I know that I’m a wife and a mom. I’m also a member of my local church. I’m a daughter and daughter-in-law. I’m a friend. In all these categories, there are things that I need to learn more about and do better in. Even if I’ve failed or don’t have much talent, I need to learn more and do whatever it takes to become “athletic” in those areas. I forget who it was but I think Edith Schaefer (the infamous encourager of making your own furniture out of things like a used leather saddle- seriously who does that?? I love Edith) said that when you don’t know how to do something like sew, pick up some books, read a lot, take a class, and learn. Her advice is true to all of us in any station or situation in the Christian life. We are not allowed to panic and pass our ball off to the next person who’s better at doing what we’re called to do, or just pass our ball off to no one. We can’t say to ourselves, “Well, no one ever showed me how to work hard at school and develop good study habits, so I just won’t try very hard.” or “I don’t know how to lead my family with Scripture since no one did that for me growing up.” or “I just don’t like working at a job, I’d rather spend my time relaxing at home.”. Our weaknesses and struggles with sin are all opportunities for God to show His strength working in us. In 1 Corinthians Paul reminds his readers that not many of them were wise by the world’s standards when they were called to the Lord. We are those same people- not many of us have knowledge and understanding, but by God’s grace we can and will grow. He will enable us, but we also must exert ourselves and learn to flex our muscles and see areas of weakness, lack of talent, and failure, as opportunities for God to do good things through us. Thank God we’re not trying out for a team, and thank God we don’t have to win His approval. All the hard work will be worth it, for the opportunity to show others a testimony of faithfulness in this lifetime. We work because He’s already approved of us because of His Son, and we do it because we love Him and know that in running our race faithfully, we’ll one day receive a crown, a real prize that we can lay at His feet.