Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: hard work

Work and a hobo’s paradise

The Big Rock Candy Mountain was a song made famous by Harry McClintock in 1928.  Every few years, it finds its way back into pop culture; with some versions a little more cleaned up than others.  The gist of the song is a hobo singing about his version of paradise – a land of ease, described in fanciful terms.  There are cigarette trees, lemonade springs, and hens that lay soft-boiled eggs.  The cops have wooden legs and bulldogs have rubber teeth, and if you happen to get caught doing something you shouldn’t, then don’t worry about it – because the jails are made of tin and you can leave just as soon as you get there.  I think my favorite line is hobo’s boast that in the Big Rock Candy Mountains “there’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too, you can paddle all around it in a big canoe.

While it is a cute little song, no one would take it seriously when considering their eternal destiny.  However, there is one line in the song that stuck out to me when I first heard it.  Out of all the cartoonish imagery, there was one sentiment that made me think: “Wow.  That’s kinda funny and would be nice.”  Here’s the line:

I'm goin' to stay, where you sleep all day, where they hung the jerk, that invented work, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Because work is…well, “work”…right?  It’s often a pain.  We view it as some “necessary evil” that we must endure because we like to eat food and have working light switches.  Given the choice between going to work and not going to work – I’m pretty sure that 99% of us would not go.  Throw in the idea that someone, somewhere may have invented the concept of work?  Yeah…nobody would care much for that guy.

But is work really our problem?  And who invented it, anyway?

I think most Christians and Jews would place the blame solely on Adam.  After he and Eve blew it, here’s what God had to say about Adam’s curse:

Genesis 3:17-19
And He said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:

The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it.  For you are dust, and you will return to dust.

Adam and Eve sinned by eating – from here on, they would suffer in order to eat.  Notice that God didn’t hand out working assignments.  He didn’t have to explain what “work” was; instead, God said that work would now become painful labor.  While his efforts would be able to feed his family, Adam would have to contend with thorns and thistles.

We have to go a little further back in Adam and Eve’s story to find the origin of work:

Genesis 1:27-29, 2:15
So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He create them male and female

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.  Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”  God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree who fruit contains seed.  This will be food for you…

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

To fulfill these directions from God, Adam and Eve would have to do some work!  But since this was before sin corrupted everything – including the ground – what do you think their work was like?  What would you do if all creatures and plants cooperated with you and your efforts? 

Don’t think of the garden of Eden as being a little vegetable plot.  This “garden” was more like an arboretum.  So in addition to their responsibility to rule over the world, Adam was also God’s official landscaper…and there wasn’t a weed, thistle, or thorn to be found.  Imagine what a master gardener could do if they didn’t have to fight off the weeds!

This was how paradise started – not with lakes of stew and all-day sleep-fests, but with Adam and Eve partnering with God.  They worked and managed creation.  They walked and talked with God.  The land readily produced food for them.

I look forward to the day when Paradise Lost becomes Paradise Restored.  In Eternity Future, we’ll be able to live and work without sin and selfishness thwarting our efforts.  Just like we were created to do.

Keep Pressing
Ken

Pleasing others, for their good

Think of a major accomplishment in your life.  To get there, you had to work hard.  Perhaps you worked for a long time, even years.  Significant progress was made, and you know – more than anyone else – how much effort and time and worry and late nights went into finally “arriving.”

Maybe your mountain is a promotion or tenure.  Maybe it’s a high school or college degree.  Maybe it’s the applause of your peers, the community, or even your family.  We strive and work toward many noble goals in this life – financial freedom, career advancement, raising a family, business success, doing adult-things and doing them well.

Whenever we get to the point where we feel like “we’ve arrived”, there’s a seemingly innocent urge that sneaks into our minds.  While we relish the moment and reflect on the work that got us there, there is also a subtle tug to coast (just a little) and take it easy.

Now, don’t misunderstand me…rest is good.  Rest is Biblical.  God rested after six days of creation.  However, when rest is complete, we will have to make a choice – will we allow our rest to become self-indulgent, or will we face the difficult question of what to do next?

As Paul was finishing up his letter to the believers in Rome, he touched on several practical issues.  He approached these issues from two sides –  from those believers who had already arrived at maturity and those who had not yet matured.  We find that kind of mixed company in the church today also.  Here, Paul talks about the responsibility of those who have developed a strong relationship with God:

Romans 15:1-2
Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.  Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, in order to build him up.  For even the Messiah did not please Himself.

When we have a mature, developed relationship with God, it is not time to be self-centered.  God doesn’t want us to sit around being full of ourselves.  Rather, He wants us to leverage our development in a way that pleases our neighbor

And this kind of pleasing isn’t about just making them feel happy, either.  We are to purposely act for their good, encouraging them and building them up so they can experience and live out the same kind of relationship we have with the Father.

Honestly, even for someone who has walked with God for a long time – developing others is hard.  Building up a fellow believer can be really messy sometimes, it’s not a give-advice-once-and-be-done kind of thing.  In case we have any question as to what that looks like, Paul says that the model for the mature believer to follow is Christ’s example.  Jesus found motivation to continue on, complete His mission, and please His Father by looking ahead to the mission’s end result.

A few verses later, Paul points his audience toward the end result of building up their fellow believers:

Romans 15:5-6
Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a unified mind and voice.

That’s the goal here, humanity’s created purpose – to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and for us to do so with a unified mind and voice.  We who are strong and mature are to bear with those who haven’t made it yet.  Not just to tolerate them, either.  After we build them up to maturity, together we can all give God the glory He deserves.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The hard work of prayer

Paul would often tell the recipients of his letters the specific things he was praying for them.  In several instances, he would ask his readers to pray for him.  However, out of all his letters in the New Testament, only once did Paul commend someone for the way they prayed.

Colossians 4:12-13
Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you.  He is always contending for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills.  For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.

When we think of doing hard work we immediately think of manual labor.  We associate the phrase hard work with physical activities, such as digging trenches, heavy lifting, and constructing structures.  Similarly, we identify a hard worker as a person with a “sun up to sun down” work ethic; someone who is relentlessly pursuing the completion of a project.

Interestingly enough, Paul says that Epaphras works hard in his prayers for those in and around the town he was from.  When Paul wrote the letter to the Colossian believers, Epaphras was working with Paul while he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel.  It’s possible that they were as far away as Rome.

And despite that distance, Epaphras believed there was some way for him to continue to help his home community.  So he prayed.  But Epaphras didn’t just ask God to keep them safe; he wasn’t offering up a quick “God please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through” prayer request.  Instead, Epaphras prayed, and prayed hard.

When describing the way Epaphras prayed, Paul said that “he is always contending for you in his prayers”.  The Greek word for contending is “agonizomai” from which you can see a relation to our English word “agonize”.  Agonizomai was an athletic competition term, and it was used when a person had an intense struggle or fight. 

This is how Epaphras would pray for his fellow believers.  He loved these people so much, that he was willing to regularly struggle and strive before God on their behalf.  The main focus of his prayers wasn’t asking for them to be comfortable or even healthy.  Instead, he aggressively petitioned God for their maturity and that they would be fully assured that their choices were lined up with God’s desires.

Epaphras is an incredible example for us.  Whom are we willing to do heavy lifting in prayer for?  Those in our immediate family are easy ones to start with.  However, even those we are not physically close to are worth praying over.  After all, the One we pray to is near to every believer.

Keep Pressing,
Ken