The story of the bible starts with a God at work. He creates the universe, the heavenly bodies, the earth, seas and dry land, and then he fills the earth with all kinds of plants and creatures until finally he creates workers to rule and care for the earth under him: humans (Genesis 1:28, Genesis 2:15).
So we were made to flourish through fruitful, effective work. Of course our fall from grace distorted creative work into a destructive tension, into backbreaking, sweat-inducing labour.
As with the first creation before the fall, this is the story of God’s new creation too. We are born into a new life through a pure act of grace, not through an ounce of our own effort, and this gracious transformation makes us good, fruitful people working for God’s glory.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58
This is what our normal life as disciples is to look like. Time and again Jesus spoke of his disciples as labourers, whether as sowers, harvesters, shepherds or fishermen.
So how does God call us to labour? There are five main ways:
Sin is horrific. When sin came into this world it permeated our whole being. If God took His grace away from me I could potentially be the most evil person that had ever been.
As soon as we realise our own brokenness we’re on the road to being made whole, and our Christian walk is a journey on that road. In a spirit of humility and savouring the extravagant and unmerited forgiveness of God, we work to put our lives in order.
Then as we grow in humility we can work by helping one another out of sin, in all gentleness (Galatians 6:1-5).
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:5-8
Paul put his money where his mouth was, just read 2 Corinthians 11:23-29!
Clearly not all hardship is good as Jesus lifts our burdens and pulls us out of every kind of pit, one way or another. Work for God is supposed to be a blessing, not a curse, and if it ever becomes a back-breaking burden to us then something’s wrong (Luke 11:46).
But sometimes there’s no way around it: in this life we will suffer (John 16:33). We must realise that God is even more interested in changing us than in changing our situations- because what he wants is us. So we can pray for relief from hardship and we should certainly work to relieve others from suffering, but we must always remember to pray that any hardship we face will make us more like Jesus.
The closer we get to Jesus the more aware we will become that there are spiritual powers that stand against God.
Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Some of us have recently heard God ask us “where is your warfare?” It’s a normal part of the Christian life. Ephesians 6:10-13 shows us how we should live. Prayer is paramount in this kind of warfare.
In 2 Peter 1:3-8 Peter says we should ‘make every effort’ – earnestly and enthusiastically! We need to be earnest and focused in growing in faith, love, self-control, among many others.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:5-8
The whole purpose, according to verse 8, is to be fruitful in knowing Jesus (also see 1 John 4:7 and 2 Corinthians 4:6).
Salvation is given to us completely freely, not according to our merit or work, but only on the basis of God’s goodness through Jesus, accessessed through faith. On this basis, we are then exhorted in scripture time and again to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14), or to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24).
The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.
Starting with knowing Jesus through prayer, he then sends us out.
Jesus said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). Now, gates are not offensive weapons, rather they’re defensive. The church Jesus builds is called to be on such an offensive that even hell won’t be able to defend itself against the onslaught.
This is the great commission Jesus has given his church- to be fishers of men, labourers in a vineyard, sowers and harvesters at harvest time.
We were made to be both rulers and servants. We were made to serve, to work and be fruitful. May we relearn how fulfilling, grace-filled and creative work for God can be, and in so doing, may we enjoy the fruit of our labour for God.