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On Hard Work, Prayer, and Grace

08.30.17 | Christian Life | by Jim Essian

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    “My Father is working until now, and I am working,” (John 517). God is a hard worker, and we’ve been called to labor likewise, as a worker approved (2 Tim. 2:6, 15). Ministry is laborious, but not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58).

    The Christian’s labor is infused with Kingdom purpose. Whether vocational ministry or neighbor-loving “secular” work, the Christian is compelled to work harder than his unbelieving coworker, and for nothing less than the glory of God as his aim.

    But should hard work for the Christian and hard work for the unbeliever be different? Should the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus inform and affect our hard work? What's different?

    Jesus shows us. And Paul helps too. 

    JESUS’ WORK ETHIC

    Jesus was the most efficient worker there ever was. “For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise,” (John 5:19). Jesus’ sinlessness and corresponding righteousness mean he never wasted a second in disobedience outside of God’s decreed will. He was perfectly effective.

    Jesus accomplished much. Jesus was a teacher, a healer, an evangelist, a preacher, a polemicist, a miracle-worker. And he had time for recreation too. He spent so much time with friends and at weddings that the hyper-religious monikered him a drunkard and a glutton, friends with rebels and cheats.

    Of course, his greatest project, his purpose set like flint, was the cross. There he proclaimed his work finished. Effective, efficient, sufficient.

    There seemed to be but one sleepless night, one time where he took his work home with him and struggled. It was a garden night, and his soul was troubled. It wasn’t the task that troubled him.

    How did he do it?

    How did Jesus work hard and efficiently? Simply, the answer is prayer.

    Which if we’re honest, we hard-workers are prone to neglect prayer.

    Jesus got up early to pray. Jesus neglected more work to pray. Jesus meditated on scripture and prayed to resist the temptation of other work that could distract him (Matt. 4:1-11). Prayer kept Jesus in the Father’s will, the work that mattered. Prayer clarified his objective. Prayer is a reminder of the cosmic scope of the Kingdom and Kingdom work. Even the one night he brought his work home with him, he spent it in prayer.

    Paradoxically, slowing down to pray makes us more effective and compels us to work harder, since prayer refocuses us. 

    PAUL’S COMPULSION

    Jesus’ work ethic through prayer redirects us; Paul’s fuel for work will drive us.

    “I worked harder than any of them,” (1 Cor. 15:10) Paul declares. Paul’s claim on the Apostle of the Month award is easily missed in the midst of this great chapter of the bible—but don’t miss it.

    You and I have a tendency to be motivated by all sorts of low-octane fuels: people-pleasing, fear of man, fear of failure, works righteousness, success, crowds, fame, money—it’s exhausting. Paul’s fuel was grace:

    “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” —1 Corinthians 15:10

    Grace fueled Paul’s hard work!

    The laws of people-pleasing and success are paralyzing. But grace propels.

    Gracious saints work hard; indeed, they work harder than anybody. But they do not trust in their work at all—they trust in the grace that God gives them.

    SLOWING DOWN TO WORK

    What might it look like if you slowed down to work better and harder? If prayer redirects our work and grace fuels it, what if you scheduled regular meetings with the Father and experienced his grace?

    In the morning, I read, pray, reflect. Center your life again on Jesus through his word. Pray through the day. Reflect on his continuing grace. Then get after it.

    After lunch, I set a reminder on my phone to go off at1:00 pm that just says “reflect/pray.” Take a minute to reflect on the morning, repent where needed, receive grace again, pray about what you need to do in the afternoon.

    On my way home, I have another reminder go off at 5:00pm. Take the time on your commute to reflect on the day, thank God for his grace, and prepare yourself for the work of family, community, mission you have that evening.

    At night, I thank God for his enduring grace. Pray for the work you have tomorrow. Sleep to the glory of God.

    Unless the LORD builds the house,

    those who build it labor in vain.

    Unless the LORD watches over the city,

    the watchman stays awake in vain.

    It is in vain that you rise up early

    and go late to rest,

    eating the bread of anxious toil;

    for he gives to his beloved sleep. — Psalm 127:1-2