The Spirituality of Hard Work

What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”
If you can’t be a pine on the top of a hill

Be a scrub in the valley—but be

The best little scrub on the side of the hill,

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.

If you can’t be a highway just be a trail

If you can’t be the sun be a star;

It isn’t by size that you win or fail—

Be the best of whatever you are.

And when you do this, when you do this, you’ve mastered the length of life.

Martin Luther King, Jr. , The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life

This quote from “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” is among the many I heard while listening to the vinyl recordings of Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches housed in the Boston University Library. It is an extraordinary visualization of what the scriptures teach about the value of hard work. Hard work has lost some of its luster but none of its value.

In truth, our capacity to work hard can only be sustained if we understand the spirituality of hard work. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. is visualizing in “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” which you can listen to here. He is talking about spirituality when he describes work as being significant not because of the title we are given, or status we carry, but the person we are. He is talking about character which is the human manifestation of spirituality.

Colossians 3:22-24 is the biblical truth supporting the power and importance behind the spirituality of hard work. Here, slaves are instructed to find their dignity even in subjugation, because in the midst of oppression by their masters, God was valuing them for who they were, not who man had made them to be.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. [23] Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, [24] since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:22-24 NIV

These words and thoughts are of critical importance for Christians in this Digital Age. Our “always-on” connection to the internet can lead us to mistake activity for productivity, the fatigue of being entertained with the fatigue of hard work, or the anxiety of information overload with the stress of taking responsibility. As a result, we can carry with us a constant weariness, yet when we look at our lives, we feel we are not getting anywhere.

“The Spirituality of Hard Work” is about understanding the definition and benefits of hard work, and perhaps most importantly the fulfilling motivation for living this way. Focused on God, understanding our purpose, and seeing our daily work ethic as an expression of our faith is what being spiritual is all about.

This does not mean we fail to have fun or enjoy ourselves. In fact, when we declutter our lives from fruitless investments of energy and effort, we become more efficient, which means we get more done in less time, leaving us free to enjoy what the procrastinator can only dream about.

The Scriptures provide us with a depth of insight into the value and practice of hard work, so let’s dig in and embrace “The Spirituality of Hard Work”!

The Spiritual Energy of God

Jesus: I am the path, the truth, and the energy of life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

John 14:6 Voice

When we walk with God in life, then His energy works through us. God enjoys working His energy and power in us as we do our work (Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 3:20, Ephesians 4:16). Rather than become engulfed in the tedious boredom of work, or in staggering weariness, remember and visualize you are not working alone; God is working in and through you to His glory.

First Thing First or Working Smart

Put first things first. Prepare your work outside and get it ready for yourself in the field; and afterward build your house and establish a home.

Proverbs 24:27 AMPC

We can work hard without working smart, which usually leaves us with a bitter taste about the subject of hard work. Proverbs 24:27 teaches us that we need to make priorities, plans, and preparation for work to pay off.

Embrace Delayed Gratification

Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.

Proverbs 10:4 NIV

In my reading of Scripture, both lazy and diligent people work. The difference is the lazy quit working when they see no immediate result. The diligent keep working, confident that in time the vision of life they imagine will come true.

Don’t Avoid, Be Afraid, or Become Apathetic

I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; [31] thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. [32] I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: [33] A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— [34] and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.

Proverbs 24:30-34 NIV

Three emotional triggers stop or keep us from working. They are described in this passage as ‘sleep, slumber, and folding of the hands to rest.’

Sleep is motivated by the desire to avoid the stress and pressure of responsibility. Slumber is being afraid to start because we don’t think we will be able to finish. The folding of the hands to rest is the inevitable apathy that occurs after sleep and slumber have grown from being temporary emotions to becoming a persistent, habitual response to life.

The best way to defeat avoidance, being afraid, and becoming apathetic is to understand they are driven by emotions – many of which are irrational – and then choose to pray.

The Transformative Power of Prayer

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

Nehemiah 6:9 NIV

Nehemiah saw the dream God laid on his heart come true, because he relied on prayer to make his hands strong enough to keep working. Whatever takes the wind out of our sails to keep us from working at our dream, it is at those moments we must return to God just like Nehemiah and ask him to ‘strengthen our hands’ until what we imagined by faith becomes a reality.

Remember The Purpose of Hard Work

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. [12] Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NLT

Our work inspires. More than talking or trying to look the part of a Christian, it is our daily hard work that brings credibility and legitimacy to our faith. When we work by faith, relying on prayer and being aware that God is with us, then people who see us see Him.

“The Spirituality of Hard Work” is about getting beyond the humanism of work. Placing less emphasis on human effort, strategy, wisdom, or talent, but instead experiencing the purposes of God being fulfilled in whatever we do. This brings the energy of God into whatever we do, keeps the profound nature of His purpose at work in us alive, and allows our character to give people a right vision of God that will inspire them.

So, why not throw off those feelings of anxiety, burden, and boredom? Let God show you the importance and power of whatever you do by working hard so He can bless you.

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