Labor Day is one of those special American holidays that we all enjoy. We mark the end of summer by it, though fall doesn’t begin for several more weeks. This is the time we get back into our non-summer routines and school is now in session for most students and teachers. It is also a time for one final long weekend.
In the liturgy of my own church the benediction from yesterday’s worship said it well:
In the name of Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son, let your labors be for the glory of God and for the common good.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Mary’s son, let all of your living be for love.
In the name of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, let our labor not be for a paycheck but for a world changed by God’s love and justice.
May God, Creator of the universe, maker and shaper of all things, bless you labor as well as your rest. May the Son of God, the son of a carpenter, bless all of the work that you do. May the Holy Spirit, ever working for the new creation, bless your service and keep you in God’s purpose, now and forevermore.
I am reminded, by such a solid and theologically based expression of prayer, of just how weak my own childhood tradition was in handling the question of work done by Christians. There were at least three examples of this that are common to evangelical Pietism. (1) Work is only a means to an end, make money so that you can pay the bills and serve God in other ways. Many Christian conservatives still teach this in various forms. (2) Labor unions, and various expressions of work solidarity, are wrong. Christians should submit to their employers in such a manner that all efforts to improve working conditions are seen as a waste of time, if not outright rebellion. (3) Work is entirely secular, thus far less important, than ministry, mission or evangelism, which are all seen as sacred.
Don’t you think that the liturgical benediction expresses a much better approach to labor and rest?
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Amen. In my experience, another example is that work should be some type of 40 hour job with regular hours, or if somebody is in business for themselves, it should be a traditional type of business that operates on some 9 to 5 or 40 hour format. People who do business on their cell phones at 2am to other time zones who “never seem to be doing anything” are usually the hardest workers for thier own business, yet receive the highest level of suspicion because the pietists cannot understand their work.
I used to think that secular work was just a necessary thing only. You had to do it to pay the bills and support your family, but you had to keep looking for ways to get out of it so that you can do God’s work more. To me work was something you do for yourself, but gospel work was something you do for God and so minimize your work. But this way of thinking left me joyless about work. I had to work in order to support my famuiy and pay the bills, but I would feel joyless and condemned for not giving enough time to ministry. And when I did have more free time I really didn’t do more work of God anyways. I just had more time to pursue my own interests and sleep. I ended up feeling useless working and feeling useless not working. What was I to do? I discovered my problem. I was taking the sacred out of my working for a pay check. I now accept secular work as part of God’s will for my life. I try to preach the Gospel with the time God allows. I am a lot happier. I find meaning in my job and I learn many spiritual things. I even reach out to fellow employees. I feel connected to the community. I find opportunities to reachout ot others. I no longer condemn myself for doing what I must do. One needs to view his job as the will of God, unless God clearly convicts your heart otherwise.