Thursday, January 27, 2011

Proverbs 31- working hard or hardly working

As of this week, I have been without full-time employment for one year. If we had chatted before I moved to Texas, I would have told you, "I'm sure I will get a job of some sort." I did for a little while. But I felt like God was calling me to do something else full-time. I would have told you six months ago the thing I was called to do full-time was "write." Now, I would tell you the thing that I've been called to full time is "trust."

One of the main reasons I wanted to write a book about identity in Christ was because I could see all around me and within me that our culture defines itself by what we do. How many times have you seen an interaction like this?

A group of people meeting for the first time. Someone in the group will inevitably ask, "What do you do?" Someone will say, "I am an engineer" "I teach kindergarten." "I'm a nurse." "I am getting my Master's." As long as we have an answer to this question, we hold our heads high, and subsequent questions usually follow. "How long have you been doing that?" "Do you enjoy that?" "Oh, your office is just down the street from such and such." But, have you ever watched an exchange like this and seen someone respond to that question in one of these ways, "Oh, I stay at home with my children." or "I am unemployed." While the employed people responded with confidence, oftentimes someone responding in one of the ways just mentioned will turn a little sheepish and/or follow up with something like this... "but I used to be a teacher.." or "I have an interview next week." And very often the conversation ends awkwardly or changes to another subject.

Why is that? Why are we so preoccupied with what we do? Why are we so quick to define ourselves by our occupation? I think it's very interesting considering that Jesus never did that. In His whole ministry, no one recorded a single time He said, "I'm a carpenter." And I don't think that after He made statements like "I've come to seek and save the lost" He felt the need to round it out with "..but I used to own my own wood shop." Jesus always identified Himself by His relationship with His Father and with other people. But I don't think that anyone would ever consider that Jesus was not a hard worker. He taught, He preached, He traveled and He healed a lot of sick people. He was not a lazy man. He was a hard worker, on assignment from His Father.

When thinking about being a Proverbs 31 woman, I think she's got the same idea that Jesus had. It seems that her "work" is all around her. She's active in her home, caring for her family- she provides them food (v.14,15) clothing (v. 13, 19, 21) and oversees daily activities in her home (v.27)But she is also quite the little career woman. She's a saleswoman and investor in verse 16. A trader in verse 18. And a clothier in verse 24. I think that this passage holds so much encouragement for today's "working" women, and by "working" I mean all of us who are actually doing work- regardless of whether or not you are bringing home a paycheck at this particular point in time.

Let's be honest, there are a lot of people out there with jobs who "work" less than moms who spend their days changing diapers and loads of laundry. I've heard Proverbs 31 so many times as Biblical basis for working in or out of the home- people have their different angles. But who can read this and not agree on at least one thing- wherever she is- at home or out buying and selling- this woman is working hard wherever she goes.

And that's more the issue for me at this point. Let someone else argue with you about where you ought to do your work. I'm challenged by how I ought to do my work. The book of Proverbs has so many words of warning for "sluggards." Here are a few...

"The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth."

"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest-
and poverty will comes on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man."

"Diligent hands will rule,
but laziness ends in slave labor."

Every man, woman, child in Christ Jesus is called to do work. Consider Ephesians 2:10 "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." What an uplifting verse! I love it because no matter what you are doing, there is work that God has already prepared. So, if you are raising children or teaching school, solving problems, or selling shoes, God has a purpose for you. Another wonderful truth derived from this verse is that the works have nothing to do with whether or not God is going to claim you as His own. You're given the works because you are already His. You're a member of His family, and that means that you've got a kingdom-building to-do list tailored to who you are. You may not have the job you want. You may not have a job at all. But you do have work to do.

I hope that really encourages some of you. It's encouraged me in this past year, as I have not "worked" as a teacher, which is what I love to do. There is always a challenge to us to work diligently, and to the glory of God, no matter what we are doing. We wear many hats in our lifetimes, occupations and workplaces change, but what does not ever change is our charge to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. When we do that, we can receive from Him the personal works that He has created for us to do, and His power to complete them.

A challenge to you- consider who you are, and the work that God has called you to do. Are you a mother? A teacher? A grandmother? A mother-in-law? A student? How are you reflecting the truth about God in your daily tasks? Or, are you so "busy" with your "work" that you haven't even taken the time to consider that God has called you to "good works" in Christ Jesus? What if God asked your spouse, your mom, your best friend for reference for you? Would they be able to tell Him honestly that you've done your work diligently, for His glory? Or would they have to confess to Him that you've been neglectful, selfish, lazy or have taken the glory for themselves and forgotten to mention His name at all?

I'm challenged, because I know that the Proverbs woman is a hard worker, and that, in the end the Lord gets the glory. (v. 30) So, are we working hard? Or hardly working? And who is pleased with the work that we do?

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