Joy In Toil
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24
Last week a man celebrated his 101st birthday at where else? His job, where he has worked for 73 years. Obviously, he found joy in his toil. You wonder if caring for and tending the Garden of Eden was hard work for Adam and Eve. Were there thorns and thistles and weeds before sin entered the world? Or did those noxious elements in the Creation only come with the world’s fall into sin? I rather imagine that there was work and toil before sin brought a change over everything in the Creation; but the stench and result of sin made work drudgery; a wearisome, toxic labor. Before sin hard work and toil was actually a meaningful joy even if many do not believe it, thinking work is never good. Was tent-making for Paul a burden or a joy? It was definitely hard work, but he did it to not be a burden to others, to support his and others’ ministry, and to help neighbors. The young men at the PAYH do not do backflips of excitement over the prospect of toiling on the campus in the hot sun and humidity of a Southeast Georgia summer with gnats buzzing around their face and sweat rolling down their bodies.
The word ‘toil’ in the Scriptures when you see its use in context appears to always refer to arduous work which is a heavy, unlikable burden. Wise Solomon perusing the meaning of life and of work in the manner all men do asks the same question most ask, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? He goes on to give the usual outcome of such thought, “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
When reviewing my life I remember the hard work and sometimes boredom of jobs which easily dredge up for me the experience and knowledge of toil and monotonous, sheer laborious work. As early as Junior High School I worked construction jobs all the way through college to buy clothes, help my parents, and pay for school. Oh, I remember to this day digging in a pit of sucking-clay in the rain for a week on one job all by myself, and then on to something similar the next week; or, jack-hammering concrete because someone had not followed the blueprints and poured concrete with steel re-bar in the wrong place; or shoveling out of its wood forms wet-beginning-to-set concrete for hours because the forms bent slightly on a huge entry stairway of a school, and my employer was a man of integrity and had a standard of pleasing the Lord. And after finally gaining a college degree which you think might provide opportunities other than unskilled labor jobs, I slogged through the jungles of Vietnam day after day for a year with all the miserable discomfort of its environment and the constant anxiety of wondering when the next bullets would scream at you or a sudden explosion would blow yours or someone’s leg off. Toil is not absent from most of our lives, ever.
Yet the antidote for the pall of sin over toil and work, whatever it is, is stated clearly above, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. To do whatever we do, even those things others consider menial, we are to do it, and actually can do it, with excellence and genuine joy. Impossible? Foolish? Fantasy? Not so, according to the One who personally designed and made you. The essence of faith is recognizing you are not alone in your work, or just a mere lackey among a bunch of other lackeys pursuing meaninglessness in whatever you are doing at the moment, dreaming about the weekend and having “fun, whatever “fun means, and doing it all over again the next week, ad nauseum. Faith is believing He, your God and Savior, really is, and that He rewards you as you earnestly seek Him. It is believing He is present with you in your work, setting the standard for how to do it, and providing joy in that work and its outcome.
Work is never meaningless when it is done for the Lord, thanking Him for your life and purpose for living, recognizing that an inheritance awaits you by His promise; a promise which is as certain as the new heavens and new earth. And your inheritance is not just way off in the distant future; it is immediate, in the joy and comfort and support of His presence in what you do today. Faith changes your entire outlook and perception. Where misery reigns faith is lacking. Where joy is present, even in sorrow, faith is at work. Faith isn’t an illusion; it’s not a meaningless, fictional crutch existing only in the complexity of your mind; faith is a reality rooted in a promise which God backs with the proof of Himself throughout the centuries of human history, and in His specific intent of love for you in sending Christ His Son, in history, to accomplish what you and I cannot.
There is a noxious lethargy in much of our society today because work is hated and despised and avoided. For others who nevertheless still do it, work is monotonous misery to be endured, not enjoyed. Employers are under constant criticism; the pay is never enough; retirement, if it is to be, cannot come quickly enough; coming back to work from vacation is a burden; living life on the largess of the government or others and eschewing work never satisfies the longings of the human soul. It is but an existence without meaning or reward. We were made to be employed in work with a purpose to please God in whatever we do; finding joy in the most menial of tasks, because we do it unto the Lord, and not ourselves or other men. Sounds revolutionary or even gibberish, but it is basic to the makeup of the human soul. Joy in toil is the test of faith. It is a treasure to secure and put to use, with thanks to the One who calls you to work.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional