Is Your Hard Work Displeasing To God? It Just Might Be…

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Is hard work unspiritual? Let’s ask it another way: can you depend on God and at the same time work hard towards a goal? And what about hard work’s fraternal twin, planning? Is it unspiritual to have a ten year growth plan for your church or your business? Consider what James 4 says:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16)

There’s both a warning and a command here. The warning is simple: when you say, “Tomorrow I will go to New York and sell all my stocks and make a profit,” you have no idea what tomorrow may actually hold. It’s a form of boastful arrogance. But notice the command. It’s not, “So stop planning New York business trips.” Instead it’s a command about how you talk and how you think about your plans. Even such seemingly mundane, worldly things as business trips must be done in awareness of the sovereignty of God. If the Lord wills, you will do such and such.

So back to our original questions. Is it unspiritual, a sign of a lack of dependence on God and an arrogant, boastful heart, to plan and work hard to do business or make a profit? James gives us a conditional answer: not necessarily. What matters is how you plan, how you do your hard work. Let me suggest two ways to both work hard and work humbly.

In all your hard work, remember God is your Creator. Hard working, ambitious people like to confront challenges, analyze them, and overcome them by effort. That’s not a bad thing,– the apostle Paul was all for hard work (see 1 Cor. 15:10 and Col. 1:29)! And it’s especially a good thing when the goal of your hard work is something godly: a job that provides for your family, a nourishing sermon for your church, a business product that meets your customer’s needs. But remember this: successful hard work requires a set of favorable conditions over which you have no control. Here’s what I mean.

Can you guarantee you’ll sleep tonight? How about tomorrow night, and the next? How much will you accomplish this week if insomnia strikes night after night? Three, four, five sleepless nights will completely change your productivity – and you can’t guarantee sound sleep.

Or think about a relatively insignificant area like training for a race. I recently spent eight months getting ready for a race. One day during a trail run I slipped and almost twisted my ankle. I caught myself and wasn’t injured, but I realized in that moment that one loose rock could have derailed all my training plans. The blogs that sell you e-book training plans never mention that!

We could multiply the examples. The list of things that A) we have no control over, and that B) can completely change our plans and hard work is limitless. What does all this point to? We are not our own creators. We didn’t cause our hearts to begin beating, and we can’t keep them beating. We are not in control. But God is. He keeps us, cares for us, sustains us, watches over our going out and our coming in (Psa. 121). That’s what it means to say “It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psa. 100:3). From the tiniest loose rock to the most grievous health challenges, God is in control. If he allows hardship, it will be for a good purpose. But our lives are in his hands, not our own. So plan and work hard towards your plan. But remember as you do that God is your Creator.

In all your hard work, remember God is your Redeemer. This is the antidote for those moments when you’re tempted to survey your accomplishments and think what a valuable Christian you have been for God. Good thing he picked you! Sadly, if we’re honest, at some point we’ll all have thoughts like that. When you do, ask yourself this: if the blood of Christ didn’t cover your parenting, your sermon, your business achievement – would it stand up to the scrutiny of the infallible Judge? Could you stand before the throne of Almighty God and say, “This is free from sin, error, or defect – search away!” Even asking the question reveals how ludicrous a suggestion it is – but asking will deflate the balloon of pride like nothing else will. Don’t stop working hard because your works are tainted by sin. That would mean stopping all parenting, all ministry, all business! But don’t stand boastfully on your accomplishments, either. Remember, God is your Redeemer – and if your good works aren’t redeemed, they’re worse than worthless.

Remember God is your Creator. Remember God is your Redeemer. And then do what he’s called you to do. That’s the road to dependent, spiritual hard work.

Photo by LaurPhil

Crushing Your Goals…God’s Way

I’ve read too many books about achieving goals, accomplishing tasks, and being more productive. Some authors say you should shoot for the stars when setting goals. Other authors say you should have low, reasonable expectations. Some say that if you write your goals down, you will unlock the positive energy of the universe, which will then flow through you (I’m not making this stuff up). Others go so far as to recommend writing out your own obituary. All the books have titles likeCrushing Your Goals!, Be An Elite Achiever!!,andThe Principles for World Domination!!!(these authors really like exclamation points).

And the truth is, these books have helped me to achieve some of my goals. I ran a half-marathon. I’ve written a few books. I exercise regularly. I did pretty decent in college. Hurray for me, sis-boom-bah, big honkin’ whoop. Not really. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I was able to do those things. But I’m beginning to realize that there’s a big difference between simply achieving goals and achieving goals in a manner that pleases God.

It really is possible to achieve almost anything if you put your mind to it and are willing to pour all your energy into achieving your goal. This is how morbidly obese people lose 200 pounds, mailroom employees become corporate executives, and total nerds found companies like Apple and Google. It’s also how people memorize entire books of the Bible, create freakishly awesome youth ministries, and write Christian books.

But there are two ways to achieve a goal. The first way is by relying on your own strength. You will pull yourself up by the bootstraps, kick down all the doors, and suplex anyone who gets in your way. When you accomplish the goal, you get the glory. That is not God’s way of achieving goals. Unfortunately I’ve taken this path far too often.

The second way to achieve your goals is in humble dependence upon God. In Proverbs 16:3 it says:

Commit your work to theLord,and your plans will be established.

Godly goal crushing begins by committing the goal to the Lord. It begins by saying, “Lord, I want to do this for your glory. I realize that I can’t accomplish anything truly good without your divine empowerment. Help me.” Godly goal crushing begins by humbly praying over our goals. It begins by lifting our goals to the Lord and saying, “Lord, I hold this goal loosely. If you want me to achieve this, help me. Otherwise, thwart me.”

  • “Lord, help me lose weight for your glory, so that I can be healthy and more effectively serve my family. I want to do this in a manner that pleases you.”
  • “Lord help me get good grades for your honor, not mine. You have given me a mind, help me use it to bring you honor.”
  • “Lord help me attain this position at work in a way that pleases you. Guard me from selfish ambition. Guard me from the temptation to advance my agenda above your agenda.”

It’s quite possible to achieve good, moral goals without pleasing the Lord one bit. I’ve done this too many times to count. But, if we commit our goals to God, and work at them in humble dependence upon God, he will be honored. If we work in our own strength, we get the glory when we achieve the goal. If we work in God’s strength, he gets the glory. Today, tackle your goals with God’s strength.

How Do You Plan?

Due to an insanely busy week which involved me reading large chunks of Systematic Theology, going to DC, and joining a secret club of ninjas, I no longer have any brains left for blogging. So today I want to for your help.

Here’s what I want to know. Recently I’ve been trying to grow in planning. I want to learn to diligently plan my days and weeks so that I can more effectively serve my family. In essence, I want to learn to organize my life more efficiently. My question for you is: how do you organize?

What tools and strategies do you use to organize your weeks, and your finances, and your fellowship, and your spiritual disciplines? How do you attack the week before it attacks you? Please help me out here. Point me to some good strategies, tools, articles, etc.

God’s Plan or My Plan?

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 1:11)

Very much of the time I live unconsciously thinking that the world pretty much revolves around me.

Much of the time Im thinking about what I want to get done this afternoon, what Im going to do this Friday night; who I need to call; etc. Often I unconsciously believe that my plans are really the most important plans on earth.

In reality, my plans are not important at all, especially compared to Gods plan. It is Gods plan for the world that matters. Gods plan is to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory. Gods plan is to bring multitudes to himself through his Son. Gods plan is that his name will be great among the nations and the incense of worship will ascend in every place from redeemed people delighting in him. Thats what really matters to God.

Its important to plan, but we must hold our plans loosely. I personally am a bad planner. Ive struggled with planning and organization all my life. I tend to set unrealistic goals like, Learn Spanish and Klingon this month. Jog 500 miles this week. Learn to love my dogs. Read 3 books a day. Eat 800 grams of fiber and drink 6 gallons of water daily, learn to make Wedding Soup and use Maritime signal flags.

I start off the week with a flourish, learning some important phrases in Spanish, such as Donde el-bathroom-o? and Donde el coffee shop-o?. Then I jog a half-mile, choke down some oatmeal and flax seed and a glass of waterIll have to learn to love my dogs later.

By day 2 of my week Ive given up on all my goals and decide to spend the rest of the week watching television.

Actually, Ive gotten a little better at planning over the years. But even when all is going according to plan there are always interruptions - unexpected calls, a ride I need to give one of my children, someone in need who stops by. Can you relate?

Our plans are important only as they fit in with Gods big plan. If our plans arent fulfilled it doesnt matter. Only Gods plan matters. If we spent more time thinking and praying about Gods plan than our own wed be much more joyful. Lets be more concerned about Gods plan and rejoice that hell fulfill it, even if he doesnt fulfill our plans.

photo by jurvetson