For Such a Time as This

I just learned that no less than eight states have cities by the name of “Providence”:  Rhode Island, Utah, Maryland, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Alabama, and even Missouri.  I was born in one of them.  It is a very important word to me personally.

This word was the focus of chapter nine of R. Paul Stevens’ book, Work Matters: Lessons from Scripture that I have been reading during my lunch hour at work.  What I read today really struck me.  I’d like to share a bit of it now.

Stevens declares confidently: “At some time or other every one of us feels that we are in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing. . . We’re tempted to think that if we were only somewhere else or doing something else, we could be useful and deeply satisfied.  But the reality is that God has a providential purpose for our lives right where we are.  And the Creator has been involved behind the scenes, as it were, in all the details of our everyday experiences as well as in our life-long work trajectory” (p. 72).

The Old Testament saint that best illustrates “providential work”, as Stevens titles his chapter, is Esther.  As he begins to unpack the narrative, he asks several relevant questions, the first one being: “Can God work through a pagan empire?” (p. 73).  The answer is, of course, a resounding yes.

When Esther is informed about a plot to eliminate the Jewish people in the land, her uncle Mordecai tries to persuade her to intervene on their behalf.  He knows that God will inevitably deliver His people once again, with or without her.  But because she was chosen by the king to be his queen, Mordecai makes this bold statement that is the central point of the story: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).  Wow!  Those words give me chills.

Stevens poses that for us, just like it was for Esther, our jobs can be seen as providential.  He has two main points to discuss about God’s providence.

He states, “First, providence means that God is involved in our work and workplace for his own good purpose.  We can see divine providence in apparently haphazard events and choices made by human beings. . . Divine providence asserts the directional and purposeful character of human history and personal destiny.  It means that God is even more interested in our life-purpose that we are. . . Such an understanding of God providential ordering of our lives should stimulate our confidence, gratitude, and faith” (pp. 75-76).

Stevens continued: “Second, providence means that where we are is not accidental.  Providence means that our birthplace, family background, educational opportunities, the talents and abilities we bring to the workplace, even our physical or emotional disabilities, are not accidental but part of God’s good and gracious purpose for us.  Esther was strategically placed to be an influence” (p. 76).

I was floored when I read the words in the second sentence, regarding providence and one’s birthplace.  As I mentioned earlier, I was born in the city of Providence.  Not only that, but I was the result of a problem pregnancy, conceived by two young college students who thankfully did the right thing.  By the grace of God, I was allowed to be born.  When I look back on my life, on the things God has enabled me to do and the family I have raised with my bride of 36 years, I know without a doubt that God had a purpose for my life.  I was not an accident.

David in Ps. 139:13-14 exclaims, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Now you understand why this topic is so important to me.  Let  me try to make it personal for my readers also.

I have a song to share.  It was performed by Wayne Watson nearly 20 years ago, but this powerful song still carries a punch and brings tears to my eyes.  The title is “For Such a Time as This”.

You can watch a performance from about five years ago on YouTube here.  Here are the lyrics:

Now, all I have is now
To be faithful
To be holy
And to shine
Lighting up the darkness
Right now, I really have no choice
But to voice the truth to the nations
A generation looking for God

[Chorus]
For such a time as this
I was placed upon the earth
To hear the voice of God
And do His will
Whatever it is
For such a time as this
For now and all the days He gives
I am here, I am here
And I am His
For such a time as this

You – Do you ever wonder why
It seems like the grass is always greener
Under everybody else’s sky
But right here, right here for this time and place
You can live a mirror of His mercy
A forgiven image of grace

I can’t change what’s happened till now
But we can change what will be
By living in holiness
That the world will see Jesus

I hope that everyone reading this knows that God has a plan and a purpose for you.  You are not where you are by accident.  He wants to use you, in big and small ways, to bring glory to Him.  Rest in that fact, and look for daily opportunities at work to speak up and be heard, with your actions as well as words.

 

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Doing the Unpleasant Tasks

“I fought the lawn, and the lawn won!”

I don’t know how many times I have said that, usually right after a tough time mowing our backyard.  This is probably my least favorite chore.  It’s hard work.  I don’t like to sweat or get wheezy.  I do not like fighting the tall grass, hoping there are no bunny nests hidden inside.  I don’t like the dust it kicks up in late summer.

I just finished mowing the backyard before dinner tonight.  I am glad it is done, but I really did not want to tackle it this evening.  I have more important things to do.  Ironically, doing this unpleasant task gave me the idea to write a short article on this important subject.  I have not addressed this topic yet, and I know exactly where to put it in the book on the theology of work I am currently writing.

So, what is your unpleasant task?  If you are a student, it might be the final you have to study for or the term paper you have put off for weeks.  If you own a business, it is probably tax season.  If you are a teacher, it might be grading papers or dealing with behavior problems.

In the interest of building up the body of Christ with a little more knowledge on what God says about how we should work, I will attempt to contribute something positive about how to think biblically about doing unpleasant tasks.

First, the thought occurred to me as I was mowing was that sometimes these unpleasant tasks are labeled as such because they contain aspects that fall into the “thorns and thistles” category.  You know what I mean.  Gen. 3:16-19 outlines the curse that God put on labor – both women’s and men’s labor.  The ground was cursed, not the humans. Work was going to be much more trouble than anticipated to say the least.  It was originally designed to be physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually challenging, but now it just makes us want to curse.  The things I dislike about mowing apply here, especially when I consider that there are thorns and thistle-like substances that still need to be weed-whacked.  And I am out of whack!

Secondly, perhaps these tasks that seem unpleasant to us are such because they fall outside our giftedness.  For example, a road construction worker might be more into abstract thinking than concrete . . .  But seriously, there are tasks that fall into the realm of our basic responsibilities that do not line up with our strengths.  Most young dads would find it unpleasant to change a diaper.  For me, it was an opportunity to spend some quality time with my daughter, sons, and grandson.  I was meeting their physical needs for comfort and cleanliness (and everyone else’s olfactory needs).  (Flashback to Lazarus, after being in the grave for four days: “He stinketh!)  It may just take some time to develop new skills or it may never be something we naturally are good at.  Yet, we must do them occasionally in order to survive.

Whatever the reason we struggle with these hard jobs, there has got to be a way to help us see these tasks from God’s perspective and figure out how to do them “with all our hearts, as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23).

I don’t think that there is a Christian alive that does not understand Jesus’ basic teaching that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31).  But, do all of us realize that sometimes when we work we can actually do both at the same time?

When I mow my lawn, I am sacrificially loving my wife, my closest neighbor, which is something that God commands me to do.  I know that if I truly love God, I am to obey His commandments.  So, when I choose to submit to the Lord and do this unpleasant task with all my heart, I am loving God and my neighbor.

Another biblical way of looking at facing and doing these unpleasant tasks with personal courage is that they, like any other trial we face, are opportunities to trust God.  We can pray for wisdom, and He promises to answer (James 1:5).  When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, a quite unpleasant task, whether we are dealing with the impending death of a loved one due to serious illness, or a sudden death due to an accident, or a peaceful passing due to old age, God is with us.  In our weakness, He gives us His all-sufficient grace and strength (2 Cor. 12:9).  At the very least, we get to develop a servant spirit, which is highly valued in the Kingdom of God.

The next time you have to do an unpleasant task, you might want to see it and tackle it from a better biblical perspective.

Business for God’s Glory

This article was adapted from my seminar on biblical perspectives of work entitled “Immanuel Labor: God’s Purpose, Plan, and Presence at Work” that I developed two years ago. Enjoy!

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Whenever I hear the word “business”, it makes me think if a short scene in one of my family’s favorite Christmas movies, Muppet Christmas Carol.  It is a flashback where the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Ebenezer Scrooge to revisit his childhood.  He sees himself as a young boy, a student in boarding school.  The Muppet character Sam the Eagle is one of his teachers.  He is talking with him, and makes a bold, yet slightly inaccurate statement: “Business, it’s the American way!”  Young Ebenezer whispers something in his ear, and then Sam restates his point in a more geographically correct manner: “It’s the British way!”

I read a great little book by Wayne Grudem, Business for the Glory of God.  I really liked his fresh approach to this topic.  It counters the kinds of thinking I had while making my own career decisions as a teenager.  Even before I became a Christian in December of 1975 as a high school senior, I had always thought that business was a worldly profession.  This led me to choose jobs in service professions (math education, ministry, and the military.)  This book helped me better understand the redemptive value of business and enabled me to respect Christians who are called into business.

Here are a couple of things I learned in this book. The first one surprised me; the second did not.

  1. Many aspects of business activity are morally good in themselves; they can bring glory to God and bless people.
  2. Many aspects of business also have great potential for misuse, wrongdoing, and temptations to sin.

Last month I finished another relevant book called Mastering Monday: A Guide to Integrating Faith and Work, by John D. Beckett.  He writes of his experience as a businessman and a new Christian that I thought was insightful. “Each day as I headed into the office, I was painfully aware that I was leaving one world to enter the other. My faith and my work were distinctly separate. I didn’t know anyone else in the work world facing this dilemma. Others who were serious about their faith weren’t in business. They were in church-related work. Once again, I was confronted by the old battle between the marketplace and ministry. . . Yet I felt that if there were such a thing as a ‘call’ to business, it was to business that I had been called. . . The Lord seemed to say to me, ‘John, you’re exactly where I want you, serving me in business. This is your calling.'” (pp. 28-29).

I imagine that many young college students will graduate next month and begin working in the scary world of business. They, and the thousands of their brothers and sisters in Christ who are employed in a business setting, will be faced with numerous ethical decision-making issues regarding profit, lending, taking risks, etc.  They may need encouragement that these things were created by God and are morally good.  They need to know that their work matters to God, and that it can be beneficial to the people who depend on the products and services they will provide.

To illustrate, let me share a few lines from a video I found on the Theology of Work Project website. It is a great example of what I have just been talking about with respect to running a business for God’s glory.

This is a lawnmower manufacturing company out of Fort Collins, Colorado, where my wife and I went to college. I love these quotes from the interview that was conducted with the owner of the company, Dean Walker:

  • “I treat every lawn mower that I’m making like Christ is going to be getting that lawn mower. I want to make sure that everything is just perfect on it to the best that I can do.”
  • “We try to live our faith. We don’t do a lot of preaching … We love people and use money, instead of use people and love money.”
  • “I have a favorite scripture that has helped me across the years. It is Philippians 2:4. It says, ‘Look not only to your own interest but to the interest of others.’”

Walker Mowers clearly exemplifies the good that Christian faith, applied in the workplace, can contribute to human flourishing.

To close, let me share this enthusiastic quote from Grudem: “Who could resist being a God-pleasing subduer of the earth who uses materials from God’s good creation and works with the God-given gift of money to earn morally good profits, and shows love to his neighbors by giving them jobs and by producing material goods that overcome world poverty, goods that enable people to glorify God for his goodness? . . . What a great way to give glory to God!”

Drilling Holes in Metal

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In the book that started me thinking biblically about work, Your Work Matters to God, by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, there is a great illustration at the beginning of chapter 3 that I do not think I have ever shared in my teaching on this critical subject.  It should be well worth reading.

In this story, which admittedly is just a story designed to make a point, they describe what they call the “Two-Story view of work.”  You may have heard or said something similar to these ideas yourself.  However, as Sherman and Hendricks will explain in more detail later, “this view sounds very noble and spiritual.  Yet it rests on some very unbiblical premises.  And it produces some very unbiblical results” (p. 43).

“Thank you for the opportunity to speak on the issue of missions, and why I think every committed Christian should be involved in full-time service to God.

“Let me share with you a little bit of my background.  Prior to attending seminary, I was a businessman involved in the sale of drill presses.  These drill presses were used in some of the more sophisticated machine shops. . . . I began to reflect on my life and what I was doing in my day-to-day work.  I became gripped by the fact that my whole life was given to a business that puts holes in metal – holes that are later filled up with screws! . . .

“Not only did this occupation seem meaningless, but the thought dawned on me that someday the whole earth will be destroyed, as it says in 2 Peter, and all the elements of the earth will melt – if it doesn’t rust before then!  The utter futility of my life as a businessman led me to start considering the ministry.  I wanted to invest my life in things that will really last . . . This led me to a very important decision concerning my career.  Was I going to have a life given principally to something as futile as putting holes in metal, or to something that would really count?

“Without question, the program of God in the world today is to save sinners and to sanctify saints.  Drilling holes in metal is far removed from that work.  In fact, if I wanted to be on the front line as a participant in God’s work, and not just a spectator, I needed to give my life work to the things that really count.  Because of these reasons, I chose to go into full-time work for God” (pp. 43-45).

I have already made the case in a previous discussion regarding this Two-Story view that it is an unbiblical perspective.  I recommend you check out my article so you can see more clearly how this viewpoint is based on false assumptions.

As much as I appreciate this fictional missionary’s call to the mission field, the conclusion he came to that worldly work was unworthy was off the mark.  To the contrary, God does in fact need people to drill holes in metal.  How do I know this?

We just visited our son in California last week on my wife’s spring break.  Guess how the airplanes we took from St. Louis to L.A. and back were constructed?  A team of dedicated and highly-trained workers had precisely drilled holes in metal, attached them to other pieces of metal with holes drilled in them, put them together with screws, tightened them, and continued the process until the aircraft was built.  We prayed for a safe flight, and God answered that prayer.  What would have happened if someone had not cared about the quality of their work?

So, yes, absolutely, drilling holes in metal well has eternal consequences!