Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ordinary Work

April 23, 2016

You know you're getting old when it's only 5:30 and the bed looks pretty inviting. A day can't start much better than seeing the smile on little Nathan's face after winning his match and a medal in his grappling tournament. After a Burger King lunch with our other grandson Ian, it was time for some yard work. Which is why I am tired. Shoveling gravel and setting paving stones from the creek is not for the faint of body. Mine is weary and sore. But our entry walk has been raised so the water shouldn't puddle when it rains, and it looks pretty good, if I do say so myself. The part nearest the house will wait for repaving until after I figure out how to get the concrete pad moved from the creek to the front door.

There is something deeply satisfying about finishing a project that I believe comes from God who when he surveyed all the creation he had made, declared it good. He then put that same character in his children so they could partake of his own joy. All my life I've believed in what's called the Protestant work ethic, which says that all work is honorable when it is done "as unto the Lord." God doesn't distinguish between religious and secular work, declaring the former to be more honorable than the latter. I've believed this all my life, but it has taken some adjustment for me to live it out now that I'm retired.

I've spent the past two years trying to figure out what it is that God has for me to do in retirement, but I'm beginning to wonder if I've miscalculated how this all works. To be honest, I've felt as if I'm somehow living beneath my purpose because I'm spending much of my time working around the house and yard rather than preaching, visiting the sick, etc. When this thinking is examined, it reveals that I'm actually relegating "ordinary" work to a place of lesser importance; that somehow if I'm not doing overtly spiritual work, I'm not doing what God has called me to do. I'm beginning to think the challenge right now is more along the line of learning who I am to be rather than what I am to do. I need to focus more on what it means for me to be a child of God - one who simply lives in his presence and for his glory, rather than one who does things for God's glory.

The other day I read again the opening words of 1 Peter, where he describes our standing before God: " those chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ." This is one of the clearest Trinitarian formulas in the entire New Testament, and it outlines how God works to transform us into the kind of people he desires us to be. We are chosen according to the Father's foreknowledge, ie. our status as his children is no afterthought; it was a part of his family plan from before time began. God the Holy Spirit actively works in us to make that choosing a reality. The purpose towards which it all moves is our obedience to Jesus Christ. None of this is tied to anything we do or don't do. It is only tied to whether or not we choose to believe it and then live out of that belief.

Living in this manner is not as easy as it might appear. We all have a tendency to fall back into the endless treadmill of proving our worth by what we do; doing the right thing, doing it right, and doing it more. When our sense of worth is tied to what we accomplish, when we get to the point where we cannot accomplish anything, our train of life begins to derail. This happens to people of faith as often as it happens to anyone. The only remedy is to receive the grace and mercy of God offered through his Son, so that his Holy Spirit can begin to move us from seeing our worth in terms of what we can do to seeing it in terms of who we are in Christ. I've known this in my head for some time; now I'm beginning to experience it in daily life as I am seeing ordinary tasks  for what they really are: opportunities to partake in God's joy in Creation as he declared it good.

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