We are all familiar with the slogan “hard work pays off”. I certainly am. Perhaps it is a byproduct of growing up watching American TV shows and their depiction of families in pursuit of the American Dream; the idea that if you work hard enough, you can have anything you want. Assimilating this message in my childhood, I worked hard to impress my parents, teachers, hockey teammates and of course… girls. In my high-school and university years, hard work allowed me to excel in my schoolwork, earn scholarship money and eventually get a good job. Lately, with the responsibilities of fatherhood only days away, I’ve found myself working hard in an attempt to provide a life of prosperity for my growing family. Hard work seems to have followed me (and it is probably why I’m still working on this blog post at 12:30am).
I think it safe to say that having a strong work ethic is considered a good attribute to have. At the same time, most of us probably desire a prosperous life for ourselves and for our families. Lots of us are even willing to put in the effort to attain it. In fact, those who do are generally esteemed within our society. But is working hard to gain a life of prosperity how God wants us to spend our time and energy? It is a question I have been thinking about quite a bit lately.
Opinions in the church
Opinions within the church seem split on the issue. Looking at Jesus’ words to the young rich man, some consider personal wealth to be a hindrance to their spiritual walk. Others insist that since God will provide what they need, they need not devote time or effort to pursuing material gain. On the other end of the spectrum are the prosperity gospel churches who purport a name-it-and-claim-it philosophy of personal empowerment that expects, even demands, God to dramatically improve their earthly situation if they only tap into His power.
I believe something a little different
Let me begin by saying I have no issue believing that God wants us to enjoy our time on earth. He clearly created us with the senses and emotions to experience His creation to the fullest… and IT IS AMAZING! So while I don’t buy into the ideals of self-deprivation, I am distinctly aware of placing too much emphasis on attaining parts of the creation (wealth, possessions, friends, love) over the Creator as the pursuit of those things can skew the treasure of our hearts. What I do believe in is the doctrine that I actually read in the Bible. It is just a bit different than the interpretations discussed above. You see, mine starts with fearing the Lord.
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
– Psalm 128:1-2, ESV –
So I can hardly claim this as “my own” as it is the psalmist who tells us that the one who fears the Lord and follows His ways will be blessed. Well, blessings are nice. We often pray for blessings for people so they must be good. But what kind of blessings are we talking about? In this case, if we follow and obey His ways we will get to eat the fruit of the labour of our hands.
What does that mean?
First off, God doesn’t promise endless riches for following Him like prosperity preachers do. At the same time, He also doesn’t tell us to abstain from working hard and enjoying the things of this world either. Essentially what He does say is that we will receive exactly what we are due for the labour we have done. So work hard at your faith, work hard at your friendships, work hard at your job, work hard at managing your finances and you will get to eat the fruit of that labour. No more, no less. In fact, God seems pretty fair about the whole thing.
Is it ok to pursue earthly goals?
To me it seems clear that the answer is yes, but only when you start with the fear of the Lord. See, in its simplest sense, fearing the Lord means that you are in reverence of God’s authority over your life. If you really fear the Lord, your heart will never stray towards treasuring the creation above the Creator. You will mange your money well, you won’t covet your neighbours possessions or steal, lie and cheat to “get ahead”. When you are truly fearing the Lord, you can work as hard as you want in pursuit of any earthly goal you may have, be it to have lots of friends, have a million dollars in the bank or retire at age 55. None of those become a problem because God knows your heart is locked on Him. When you approach it this way, not only are you going to reap an earthly reward commensurate with the effort you put in but God says you will be blessed in the process!
So hard work does pay off
I am always amazed, but less and less surprised, each time I discover something I thought was human wisdom turns out to have been written in the Bible the whole time. God’s word is clear, if we put Him first and work hard at the rest, His blessings will fall upon us. So it looks like the “hard work pays off” adage from my youth is true after all; just perhaps not in the way I originally thought. Maybe it just needs to be stated a little better… How about: Hard work pays off – when you start by fearing the Lord. Tweet!