This is part three in a series discussing Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. If you missed the previous parts, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.
In this installment I want to talk about Buchanan’s view of work. This may seem like an odd discussion for a book about restoring Sabbat in our lives, but Buchanan argues (correctly, I believe) that “[b]efore we appreciate God’s gift of rest, it is vital that we appreciate his gift of work.” He reminds us that in Genesis, the difficulty of work is the product of the fall. I think it is also helpful to remember that God works to create all that is, and then we are told that He rested. This is before the fall! The story of creation is reminding us that this cycle is natural. Work and rest must be in balance. How can we enjoy rest if we hate work? I know that a rough week at work often carries over and ruins my ability to enjoy a restful weekend. And how enjoyable can Sunday be if we are dreading Monday morning, and a return to work? The more we appreciate our work, and keep a godly attitude about it, the more we can really appreciate the rest God has called us to on our Sabbath. Buchanan later says:
In order to keep the Sabbath well — to embrace the rest of God — we need a right view of work. Without a rich theology of labor, we’ll have an impoverished theology of rest.
That is saying a lot, but I think he is right. There are many biblical passages, especially in the New Testament epistles, that remind us of the fact that we are called to serve God where we are, in whatever God has called us to. Even Paul himself continues to support himself in his tent-making vocation while traveling the Middle East spreading the gospel. Clearly, he valued the nature of working with his hands, and didn’t think that beneath an evangelist of his renown. This is an important idea in the consideration of Sabbath. We should be doing something that we feel God calling us to. If what we do to earn money is legal and morally acceptable, we should be able to find ways to do the work for the glory of God. If we do not feel like what we do is worthy of God’s calling, we should ask ourselves why. We should also ask God to help us view our work, and our co-workers, through His eyes. “How can I please You through my work?” or “How can I show others the power of Jesus through my actions, attitudes, and words?” These kinds of questions and prayers can help to transform the mundane, tiring work of our days into acts of devotion, or what Buchanan refers to as Sacraments.
For me, in my teaching, this calls for a different attitude about faculty meetings, grading papers, under-achieving students, and many other tiring activities that seem to drag me down. I need to watch my attitude, and my words. Does my attitude match what I believe about the importance of my work? Do I love my students as Jesus would, and attempt to offer words that would help and motivate them, rather than condemn and attack them? Do I treat each paper that I am grading as a valuable chance to offer correction and encouragement on the journey of learning? Do I see the paperwork requirements as a chance to serve those in administration that need the information to complete their work in ways that honor God? I wish I could say that I always do these things well, but far too often my energy sags, and I find excuses to do less than I should. That is a shame, and falls short of what God calls me to as an educator.
Sometimes though, I do get it right. I hope that I get it right more than wrong, but there are days I wonder. Then something happens that restores my faith in what God is able to do through me, despite my short-comings. I recently received a reminder of this from a former student via facebook. She posted the following note on my wall:
I’m in a grad program where I have to write a math autobiography in which I include “powerful teachers” in my life. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote:
“The last teacher who had tremendous influence on my mathematical career and experience was a professor in college who taught statistics. Statistics was a difficult subject for me, as it involved a great deal of memorization of formulas and their connections to one another. I did not succeed as much as I would have liked in that particular class, but the professor made the end result something to be proud of. He was constantly giving up his free time for extra help and giving students as much guidance and aid as possible. He had high expectations, but they were reasonable ones. He was a professor who pushed me to be the best I could, giving as much help as he could along the way, but in the end, made me aware that the accomplishment was all my own.”
So thanks 🙂 (and side note- I STILL have both stats binders 😉
When I first read this, I got tears in my eyes. Was this student the best stats student I’ve ever had? No. She admits as much in the paragraph above. But she has become one of the most memorable because she responded so well to my encouragement. I have more than my fair share of students who have offered their thanks to me over the years. Maybe God just knows that I am prone to second guess myself, and wonder how effective I really am, so He sends me extras. It doesn’t really matter to me. I know that I am blessed to be able to do my job. Teaching at Messiah is where I am called to be at this point. God is certainly using me here, and for these reminders I am very grateful. Now, I am not one who believes that God would be less pleased if I worked somewhere else, and wouldn’t use me there. (maybe that should be a post at some point …) I believe that to say that we are in the wrong job is simply an excuse not to do our proper duty to worship God where we are. We should worship by doing excellent, praise-worthy work where we are, and then pray about whether a move to somewhere else is something God wants us to do, or not. If so, GO! But if God is not calling you elsewhere, perhaps you have missed His call to please Him where you are.