Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Work well done?

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all to the glory of God.  Colossians 3:17

I don’t know what it says about me, but I’m always interested to read the obituary column in the paper. What did people who have recently died do with their lives?

A few days ago one of the entries was about the man who invented the Hawaiian pizza - that’s the one with ham and pineapple. He was eighty-two.

My immediate response was to smile and even be a little scornful: “Eighty-two years and all he had to show for it was a bit of fast food! What a claim to fame!” Followed by: “Surely these obituaries ought to be about ground-breaking scientists, or leading politicians, or brilliant artists? But a pizza-cook...! Oh, come on!”

But it wasn’t long before I began to feel guilty about my patronising attitude. On any Christian basis, it was simply wrong.

We all need food, and if someone comes along and creates a new variety what’s wrong with that? Good for him!

What matters about a life - any life, including yours and mine - isn’t so much what you do with it (assuming, of course, that it’s legal and not in any way contrary to Christian faith), but how you do it. I remember an old song which contained the line “It ain’t what you do but the way that you do it”, and though this wasn’t exactly the point the song was making, I reckon it’s not a bad summary of the Christian attitude towards work.

Yes, we need the scientists, the politicians, the artists. Of course. But the Bible tells us that even the most ordinary, trivial task can be done for the glory of God. Says Paul: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all to the glory of God”.  And the key word there is “whatever.”

The poet George Herbert wrote: “Teach me, my God and King,/ In all things Thee to see,/ And what I do in anything/ To do it as for Thee...” He went on to say that even a servant with the attitude “for Thy sake” “Makes drudgery divine;/ Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, /Makes that and the action fine.” The key words there are “all” and “anything”.

As I said, not everyone can be a great scientist or politician or artist. And in Christian circles, not everyone can be a missionary, a Bible-teacher, an evangelist or a preacher. God needs people too who can fix cars or work computers or clean offices or deliver groceries.

One of the reasons Martin Luther rebelled against the corrupt church of the middle ages was that it treated a certain type of human being - the priesthood - as superior to everybody else. They were the ones who had a “calling” from God. No! said Luther - each and every one of us is a valuable instrument in the hands of God, however humble and ordinary our occupation may be. And he came out with one of his greatest sayings: “A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God.”

You might, of course, feel that if you are a Christian perhaps you could aim for something a bit more important, a bit less marginal, than the man in the obituary; after all, how many types of pizza does the world actually need? And, yes, you’ve got a point there.

But the essential point holds good. The question to ask is not “Did that man only invent a new pizza?” but “Were his pizzas good quality? Were they made from healthy ingredients? Did he charge a fair price for them? Did he treat his staff well? Did he pay them a fair wage, and give them good working conditions?”

And it’s exactly the same for us. What matters about me is not mainly “What do I do with my life?” but “Am I honest, and kind, and compassionate, and generous, and forgiving? Am I Christlike? Do I do to the very best of my ability what God has called me to do - whether that is preaching brilliant sermons (if only!) or cleaning people’s windows?”

You may feel that your life’s work is little more than drudgery, to borrow Herbert’s word. And that may be so. But even drudgery can be done in either a God-glorifying or a grumbling spirit. Many of the first Christians, remember, were slaves - not much “job satisfaction” there! Even drudgery can be a “calling” from God.

So if the prospect of your tomorrow seems a bit grim and tedious, well, you’re in good company.

Adam was a gardener. David was a shepherd. Amos (I love this!) was a shepherd and “a tender of sycamore trees”. Peter was a fisherman. Jesus was a wood-worker.

And so it is that in God’s eyes our routine daily tasks are of infinite value.

Lord Jesus, help me to glorify you in everything I do, say and think. Amen.

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