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Eight Convictions about Work and Bo Martin's 19 Months of Unemployment (Part Two)

Posted in Bible, Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Discipleship, Fellowship, Life in the Church, Relationships, Work

Yesterday we posted part one of this discussion, looking at five convictions regarding work and how these relate to unemployment. Bo Martin has generously offered to share his perspective as well as one who faced an extended season of unemployment.  As I said yesterday, these apply to the stay-at-home mom as well. She needs to know that her mothering is not her only calling (#6), that there is inherent blessing in this hidden life of service (#7), and that she needs rest for the sake of serving at her best (#8). The temptations about her real identity and anxiety certainly speak to her as well (#9).

Here are convictions 6-8 with a ninth point added about temptations for the unemployed.

6. Work is not our only work.
One idea that helps us find some work-life balance in a 24/7 world is by grasping the notion of "vocation." A vocation is a calling that we have from God, and we all have many of them. I am vocationally a pastor, but I have other vocations as well: husband, father, son, brother, friend, citizen, church member, even soccer coach. Each of these vocations has certain obligations given to me by the Lord. I am called to be appropriately faithful in all of them. This idea helps us answer the question, "Am I working too much?" If my obsession with work means that I am doing nothing in these other vocations, then I am working too much. The issue is not the number of hours on the clock (though that is a real factor), but it is my inattention to my responsibilities. These vocations have different priorities. My vocation as a volunteer soccer coach is nowhere near that of being a father. But still, I am a volunteer soccer coach and I want to be as good a one as I can within my other callings.

To the unemployed: I believe this is an area that could be powerfully edifying to the unemployed. Unemployment addresses only one of your vocations: paid work. But it doesn't touch your many other vocations. In fact, you might be in a position to do things in these other areas that you haven't been able to before. Prayerfully consider your calling in these other areas and ask the Lord how you can use this unique season.

Bo Martin: You have to draw a line in the sand with looking for work. Resist the temptation to do it day and night. It takes discipline to say I'm going to stop at 5 o'clock and go to my other job—care for my family, go to home group, etc. It's key to make a job-search schedule. It's also true that unemployment opened up other opportunities with other vocations because my schedule was flexible. I was able to help the family more. You could volunteer somewhere.

7. Simple work is part of living a godly Christian life.
One freeing principle that the Bible gives us is that work is an important part of a simple Christian life. We don't need to be on the mission field or in full-time ministry or giving a fortune to charities to have our work be meaningful to the Lord. It simply is. Paul gives a compelling word to all of us:

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thess. 4:9-12)

Unemployed: This passage can certainly feel discouraging, but there's a critical word to see here: "aspire." Paul says "to aspire to…work with your hands…and be dependent on no one." The assumption here is to make it your goal, your pursuit, your intention. Don't quit or presume on others. So, being out of work is not what is dishonorable or unrighteous, but being someone out of work who is "dependent" on others without aspiring to change their situation does become unfaithful to this text. Also, see under #9 below about being in need.

8. Rest is to be part of the rhythm of work.
To be a biblical worker we must know how to rest. God has created time in such a way that it is broken into weeks, and he has established for us a Sabbath principle of resting one day out of seven. God himself takes a Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3 and then commands Israel to honor the Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11. It is true that the Jewish Sabbath becomes the Christian "Lord's Day" in places like Hebrews 4, Romans 14, and Colossians 2:16-17. Yet, having some break from our work remains important for us. It provides physical and emotional rest. It allows us to recharge in our souls. It gives us more time to spend with the Lord and in corporate worship. It gives us time with our friends and family. Without rest we can get so ramped up from our work that when we actually are with friends and family our mind is still thoroughly engaged in work. We are there, but we aren't there at all. The Sabbath brings us back to the place where people are people again and not projects.

To the unemployed: It seems that the unemployed need a Sabbath for the same reasons as the employed. Looking for work can be consuming, frustrating, discouraging, and depressing. A Sabbath can give us faith and hope and rest in a way that will empower us for the week ahead.

Bo Martin: Amen. You need to compartmentalize and make a schedule. Build into that schedule time for rest. While you're looking for work, let the rest of your life stay pretty much as you were. If you try and look for a job 7 days a week you really will go crazy.

9. Three Temptations in our Unemployment
There are three temptations that seem common for the unemployed. The first is the temptation to not ask for help or to feel bad about needing it. Related to this is Ephesians 4:28: "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need." You might be thinking, "I want to do this, but I can't figure out how!" One thing to note here, though, is the last phrase: "anyone in need." One of the ways that God provides for people is by the employed being generous to those "in need." Chances are, for most of your life you have been on the giving end of this. But now maybe you are the one "in need." It's okay to be in need. All of us at one time or another are in places of serious need. God wants us to be humble about this and ask for help when we need to. It is true that being "in need" should not become an excuse or license to be presumptuous. But there is nothing dishonorable about a Christian being in need and asking another Christian for help. That is what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

Bo Martin: Having gone through this, I have a greater appreciation for God's plan. Paul says, "Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness" (2 Cor. 8:14). It's a good thing to be in need. It generates humility. It lets us know that it's not our paycheck that provides, it's God. It generates selflessness for those who have prospered, to not be greedy with what he's given. When we're blessed we need to ask whether God has put us in a position to bless others. Paul says again, "You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God" (2 Cor. 9:11)

A second temptation is to equate work with worth. That is, if I have a good job with good pay, I'm worthy. If I have no job, I'm unworthy and should be ashamed. But it's always wrong to build your identity on work. Unemployment is a great time to re-build your identity on something real and lasting: What the Bible says about you.

You are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26ff.), predestined from eternity past (Eph. 1:3ff.), being preserved for an eternity with God (Eph. 1:13-14), each moment of every day is ordained by the hand of God (Ps. 139:16). Further, you are made for his glory (Isa. 43:7), and should live your days in good works (Matt. 5:16) and seizing gospel opportunities (Col. 4:5-6). Build your identity on these. These remain true and fixed whether you are employed or unemployed.

Bo Martin: That's a real temptation. It's a great point to rebuild your identity on something real and lasting. For me it really was about God's plan. I could have all the ability in the world and still be unemployed. We need to find our worth in God alone. It's not about me having some certain title; it's what God wants for me. If he wants me to be unemployed, that's what I'm going to be.

A third temptation is an obvious one, namely, the temptation to anxiety. But God speaks to this directly in Matthew 6:25-34. "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or "What shall we drink?' or "What shall we wear?'….But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." The point of this passage is that a God who takes care of sparrows and wildflowers will certainly take care of you. He will never fail to provide for you. He might use other Christians. He might use a government program. Maybe a relative. Lord willing, he will bring a source of income your way, but in all of this it is God providing. How he provides is up to him; that he will provide is the truth we need to trust.

Bo Martin: The sovereignty of God is so much more real to me now. Jerry Bridges' Trusting God was huge. I wrote those Scriptures down and read them over and over again. Some days the clouds were heavy and I'd go back and read them again. I'm grateful for that. Just to know it and understand it. God used it to reveal himself to me in great ways. That's been a great thing. It was hard, but I wouldn't trade it. That's how we always look back at hardships. Wouldn't want to go through it again. On anxiety: When you're looking for a job, there are a million people telling you what to do. Everyone is telling you 50 things to do when you go to the interview or application. It really helped to know that God is going to accomplish his will. I don't need to be anxious. No one can change that. Really did bring peace. In job interviews, God is sovereign over what I said, what I forgot, what I should have said, what I didn't say. You can really wind yourself up in knots. Daniel 4:35 is a great verse: "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" No one can stay his hand, so just relax.

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