Work wasn’t a stranger around our house when I was a youngster. Many hours were spent tilling the garden, hoeing the flower beds, cutting the grass, feeding the cows, fixing fences, pumping gas at the Texaco station, or being a meat-cutter at my grandfather’s country store. During Christmas break I operated a fireworks stand for two weeks, and in the summers I either worked in a peach packing shed or penned cows and hogs at my father’s stockyards. My father’s philosophy was clear if he caught me sitting on the fence or lazing around in other ways: “Off and on!” he would yell. What he meant can be translated a number of ways, but the best way I can phrase it would be, “Quit resting on your laurels and get on your feet!” Hard work was a given.
When I was a kid I wasn’t that keen on work, although I must admit the monetary gain came in very handy, plus I was always the fastest person on our football team thanks to chasing or being chased by 2000 lb. cows. I miss my Dad’s admonition to get up and get with it, “To Make Haste!” as he would put it. The value of a good work ethic is immeasurable. As much as I like time off and rest, there’s nothing like a good night’s sleep after a day of manual labor. Rest is all the more sweet thanks to the satisfaction of a good day’s work.
Certainly, I enjoyed some tasks more than others. One of my hardest lessons about work came from one of my uncles. He said that he would give me 50 cents for every bushel of butterbeans I shelled. I thought that sounded like a good deal until my fingers felt like they were going to fall off after shelling about one-fourth of what I was supposed to do. He wanted me to learn that money doesn’t come easily. He was right. There is no free ride in this world.
Work is a gift from God, to be sure, but we can’t enjoy this gift unless we put it to use. The best use that can turn any labor into a blessing is to “work for the Lord.” If I can work for the intrinsic reward of pleasing the Lord, then the extrinsic 50 cents doesn’t much matter. If whatever the menial task is done for Jesus’ sake then we can be content whatever our lot in life. That is, if we do it to the best of our ability. From this perspective, work can indeed be a gift from God. Famous artist, Emile Zola, put it this way: “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.”
Perhaps you have heard or read the story of how work makes the difference between heaven and hell. There was a man who died and found himself in a beautiful place, surrounded by every conceivable comfort. A white-jacketed man came to him and said, “You may have anything you choose – any food – any pleasure – any kind of entertainment.” The man was delighted, and for days he sampled all the delicacies and experiences of which he had dreamed on Earth. But one day he grew bored with all of it, and calling the attendant to him, he said, “I’m tired of all this. I need something to do. What kind of work can you give me?” The attendant sadly shook his head and replied, “I’m sorry, sir. That’s the one thing we can’t do for you. There is no work here for you.” To which the man answered, “That’s a fine thing. I might as well be in hell.” The attendant said softly, “Where do you think you are?”