Tuesday, September 02, 2008

In Praise of Hard Work

I'm not sure how it happened but somehow the idea of working hard is not in vogue anymore, at least not in some Christian circles. Perhaps it's a response to the countless men who unwisely compromised their families to climb the corporate ladder. Or maybe it's just a trait of contemporary, suburban Christian life where keeping the 40 hour work week is a mark of spirituality.

For the modern Christian, commitment to hard work is somehow at odds with spiritual maturity. Yet, that view seems to be strangely out of step with the Puritan work ethic. It seems to me that a biblical worldview, the kind held by Christians from a different time, didn't shy away from hard work but rather embraced it. In fact, some of the most godly men in Christian history were marked by both spiritual depth and productive, hard working lives.

Here are a few examples -

Charles H. Spurgeon was remarkable in his work ethic and productivity. Besides his regular duties as pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, he found time (with the help of two secretaries) to answer over 500 letters week. He wrote numerous books including the Treasury of David, a seven volume commentary on the Psalms. He also published a monthly periodical called The Sword and the Trowel. In his relatively short lifetime, Spurgeon founded a Pastor's College (now called Spurgeon College) as well as the Stockwell Orphanage. His perspective regarding hard work was captured in this advice to young pastors -
"We are all too much occupied with taking care of ourselves ... We shun the difficulties of excessive labour.”

John Wesley, the Methodist founder was a prolific preacher. Traveling on horseback, he preached 2-3 times a day. He too, wrote several books and yet found time to found orphanages and charities. By the time of his death, he left over 135,000 "members" of his ministry with over 540 itinerant preachers, forming the basis of the "Methodist" movement.

George Muller, a contemporary of Spurgeon, spent much of his life devising "large and liberal things for the Lord's cause". As a pastor in Bristol, he preached three times/week. He also founded five orphanages, which cared for over 10,000 children in his lifetime. George Muller is rightly known for his faith toward God but he was also a remarkably hard worker.

There's no doubt that these are unusually gifted and godly men but they're also examples of hard work. Just a couple of things to remember when it comes to work -

1. Work shouldn't be defined as simply in the context of a career or paying job. What my wife does in taking care of our family, homeschooling our boys offers as much opportunity for her to engage in God glorifying work as my job offers me. When we mow the lawn, keep order in our lives, fix up the home, discipline our children - that's work too.

2. We may work and may live productive lives but that offers no basis of righteousness before God. It is truly all of grace. Whether we're working hard or not, our basis of approaching a holy God stems from Christ and His finished work on the cross.

How do you think about hard work? Do you embrace it or shun it? How do we think about hard work biblically?


Sam Van Eman said...

I admit that I'm inspired by people like these and want to follow in their footsteps. But ever since I read an article about Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision and Samaritan's Purse, I see tragedy more than success.

(Note: Had I read the article before becoming a husband and father, I would have seen success more than tragedy.)

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks referencing the article - it's a sad reminder of how the pursuit of something that seems so good can end up so wrong.

Where do you think Bob Pierce went wrong? What are some of the traps to avoid?

Craver Vii said...

Work fascinates me; I could sit and watch it for hours. ;-)

I don't remember where I heard that, but it's always made me laugh.

I think less people today know the meaning of hard work compared to a couple generations ago.

Every Square Inch said...

craver, you always bring a smile with your comments

Ted M. Gossard said...

I was chagrined to hear a brother who is a team leader in a work place say that he doesn't believe in working hard, but in working smart. Of course he probably has a very valid point, and it needs to be seen for what it is in context. But what Scripture calls us to is to put our whole selves in what we do out of love for God and of our neighbor as ourselves. To work hard so as to win the respect of outsiders, to do all as to the glory of God.

I love your examples here. The two hardest workers I've known are my own mother (and my father was no slacker) and my father's mother. They both lived through the Great Depression and they exemplified/y well Proverbs 31. I also think of John Wesley's mother, Susana. Without her there would have been no John and Charles. To read about that is fascinating.

I do think there needs to be a balance between work and rest. And like anything else, work can end up becoming idolatrous, as we become devoted to some end in it other than God himself and his glory, along with using our gifts to secure his provision for us and our families in our work.

Ted M. Gossard said...

ESI, I've tagged you. Please don't feel obligated, though.

Every Square Inch said...

Ted - your comment about rest is true - we all need rest...God made us to need rest...it's humble to acknowledge that we need rest.

What do you think about sam van eman's reference to the Bob Pierce article - an article about a leader who worked so hard, he burned out and left a trial of tragic consequences?

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

ESI - as much as I know Craver's comment is Craver being Craver and bringing a smile to our faces, I find that this is pretty much what I'm doing right now - staring at my work instead of doing it. I realize that it is, in part, a response to the strange job situation of a terminal contract with the "but we want you to stay if..." comments - and yet now having that in writing. It also is partially due to not knowing what I want to do or what I should be doing. But at the end of the day, its just summing up to not working - or at least not working well enough or even enough. So I find this post to be of great encouragment - and conviction - we are called to work hard - to study to show ourselves approved. So, thanks for posting it!

Craver Vii said...

I'm not claiming to have a perfect work ethic, but don't you just love it when you get behind a project that you are totally engrossed in? If it's physical, you tap into reserves of energy for strength and speed, and if it's mental, you find all kinds of creativity or temporarily perfect memory.

Real Live Preacher said...

I think the work ethic as as much in vogue today as ever. A certain percentage of people are lazy. Always have been, always will be. A certain percentage have a good, solid work ethic that is not all-consuming and leaves time for leisure, rest and play. Always have been, always will be people like this. And a certain percentage of people make a god out of work and work themselves and their families to death. Workaholics. Always have been people like that, always will be.

It's a question of where you stand and what you need to hear. Some people have to be taught to rest. That is a spiritual lesson. Some need to be taught to work. That too is a spiritual lesson.

Every Square Inch said...

RLP - I agree that there have always been people who shun work because of laziness, people who are consumed by work and people who strike a good balance.

But I think in recent years, there's been a view perpetuated in Christian circles a low view of hard work - that working hard, being engaged with your work is incompatible with being a good husband, father and committed Christian.