After a recent sermon I knew of a major change it needed even before I left the stage. Usually it takes at least a few hours, sometimes a couple days. When I preached on God's view of work from Ephesians 4:28, I knew I needed to address in a more helpful way those who were unemployed or under-employed. This post gives me a chance to do that.
I mentioned in the sermon that I would post here the 8 biblical convictions about work that I listed. This seems like a good opportunity to address the unemployed as well.
To give it more of a personal touch and to check my own thinking on the issue, I asked Bo Martin to comment on what I say below. Bo went 19 months without a job before God opened a door for him to work at the church. Before that he was a CFO for Steel Dynamics and had 18 years of experience. But in the providence of God he endured an extended season of unemployment. God used Bo's time in the wilderness. Most importantly, as you'll see below, God revealed himself to Bo in powerful ways. I hope you are as encouraged as I was in hearing about it.
John McLeod pointed out a second addition that was needed. A stay-at-home mom can sometimes feel schizophrenic about whether she is working or parenting. The truth is, it's both. But God's word about work certainly speaks to her. To take the five convictions below, (1) her work is certainly work. (2) It is work given in the Garden of Eden--corrupted by sin but always a part of her calling. (3) She is called to be a diligent home-worker. (4) She is to do this first and foremost for the Lord. And (5) in eternal and profound ways, she is certainly loving these little "neighbors" as herself.
Here are five convictions about work. Tomorrow we'll post a few more.
1. Work is…Work
Right off the bat we need to acknowledge the obvious. Work really is work. God told Adam he would eat "by the sweat of your face…till you return to the ground" (Gen. 3:19). This hasn't changed. Even Jesus needed to rest because his labor was real labor (John 4:6). A sinless heart does not change this essential fact. So, if work feels hard, that's because it is.
To the unemployed: When you lack a job then looking for work or making yourself more employable is your work. That is the job God has given you in this season. And like the above point mentions, it is truly work. It is far more difficult than actually holding a job because the emotional and spiritual battles are far more intense and persistent.
Being unemployed truly is work. It's a lot more difficult than holding a job. With a job you get in a routine. But when you're looking for a job, you're always asking, what do I do now? The battles really are more intense, like you said.Bo Martin
2. Work was always part of God's plan.
Though work is harder now because of the fall, work has always been a part of God's plan. He said to Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion" (Gen. 1:28), and God placed Adam "in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it" (Gen. 2:15). That is work. Sin did not bring work, God did. I believe this is why it is so emotionally and spiritually challenging to be unemployed or under-employed. God has made us to work and our souls are troubled when we are not.
To the unemployed: One of the real battles for the unemployed is the feeling that you are less of a person because you lack a job. You have an instinctual sense that you were made to work, but you can't. There are two sides to this. One is to remember that your work is to look for work or make yourself employable. A second side is to know that being a worker is not the deepest and truest thing about you. You are a person made in the image of God according to his design, and all of your days are in his sovereign hand. See point 9 below.
Feeling you're less of a person because you lack a job, that's a real temptation. For me, what kept me sane was resting in the character and plan of God alone—nothing else. Not finding my identity in a job or anything other than God. I'm his. I'm made for him. He gives me a job, he takes it away. In his sovereign plan, he's going to give me a job and not before. It will be at the right time. I saw a lot of guys just beat down. Verses like these were so helpful: "No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD" (Prov. 21:30); "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps" (Prov. 16:9).Bo Martin
3. We are to work hard.
Not only are we made to work, but we are called to work hard. Throughout the Proverbs we hear exhortations like this one: "The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied" (Prov. 13:4).
To the unemployed: The application for you is that not only are you to look for work, but you are to look for work diligently. This does not mean in an obsessive, maniacal way, but it does mean to explore every lead, turn over every rock, explore every connection, refine your online resume, and do all those little things that can make a big difference.
At times looking for work can feel like you're beating your head against a wall, but the strength to persevere comes from the knowledge that God will open a door and no one can stop him.Bo Martin
4. We are to work for the LORD
The next point has to do with our motivation: We are to work hard for the Lord: "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:23-24). We work because God has commanded us to work, but also we work for God and his glory. We are "serving the Lord" when we serve our employers and our clients. This doesn't even mean that we are necessarily evangelizing in the workplace. Just doing our jobs with integrity, prayer, and a desire to please God is inherently honoring to God. Of course, evangelize when you can!
To the unemployed: You can apply Colossians 3:23-24 to your present situation by honoring God in your attitude, in prayer, and in your responses to different circumstances. And in your diligence to look for work you, too, "are serving the Lord."
Bo encourages the unemployed to “View each day as one where God has a plan. Seek to serve him in your job search. Rely on him. The result comes from him. You can finish the day knowing that you did his plan today. We're serving him. He provides. You can do the looking, but God must do the providing.”
Fight to go forward in faith, trusting God’s plan and provision.
5. Work is a way to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Work is also a way to "love our neighbors as ourselves." Gene Veith even says in God at Work that, "The purpose of vocation is to love and serve one's neighbor." A car salesman loves his neighbor by selling him a good car that meets his needs—not a lemon, but also not a Cadillac when they can only afford a Yugo (look it up on Google). A carpenter loves his neighbor by treating customers honestly and also by doing a job that meets their needs—not necessarily doing it "perfectly" and charging them a fortune, but doing an excellent job that meets their needs. Of course, sometimes work provides evangelistic opportunities and we love our neighbors that way, but even if our workplace doesn't give us those chances, we can still love our neighbors as ourselves.
To the unemployed: Loving our neighbor means that we are motivated to find a job so that we are not a burden to our neighbor. Further, it means having a heart of service even when we are tempted to think only about ourselves and our situation.
As much as possible, continue to serve in the church and outside of the church. It's easy to crawl into a dark hole and say, "I'm not doing anything right now." You hurt yourself and your neighbor when you do this. It's probably the exception that people aren't looking like they should. They don't want to be a burden. The bigger struggle is to keep serving in areas other than looking for work.Bo Martin