(Note: I wrote this article and posted it on my blog before my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession was published by WestBow Press in February 2018. This critical topic was later included in the book. I invite you to check it out. This article was also published on the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University blog and the Coram Deo blog.)
“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. (Plus, I was meeting 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.
I know that far too often I procrastinate doing those unpleasant tasks even though they in fact may need to be done sooner than later. Unfortunately, in some cases, I don’t get to it until many years later. 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).
Thankfully, Jesus actually had something to say about procrastination. All of us probably struggle with reconciling with a brother or sister we have offended or who has offended us. Knowing this, Jesus said in Matt. 5:23-24 that we need to quit putting it off: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” This is a way of loving our neighbor, and as such, is equally important as loving God. It is a priority matter that should be dealt with immediately. If we do not do it, it makes our worship of God empty.
Another biblical way of looking at facing 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). For example, there will come a time when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. This is a quite unpleasant task, whether we are dealing with the impending death of a loved one due to serious illness, 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). In humility we develop a servant spirit, which is highly valued in the Kingdom of God.
Finally, I think Christians understand Jesus’ basic teaching that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). But, do we realize that when we work we can actually do both of them at the same time? When I mow my lawn, I am sacrificially loving my wife, my closest neighbor, which is something God specifically commands me to do (Eph. 5:25). Jesus said that if I truly love God, I am to obey His commandments (John 14:15). When I choose to submit to the Lord and do this unpleasant task with all my heart, I am loving God and my neighbor.
The next time you have to do an unpleasant task, you might want to see it and tackle it from a better biblical perspective.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.