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