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"Work: Blessing or Curse"

(Genesis 1:26-31)

I hate my job! I can't wait to retire! Others say, "I love my job!" I can't see myself doing anything else! And still others say, "I hate my job" and then two days later, "I love my job."

Today we celebrate Labor Day and specifically look at the question of whether work is a nasty four-letter word and God's curse on us, or is work actually a gift given to us by God.

To help us we turn to the Old Testament reading this morning from Genesis which describes the sixth day of creation and humanity's role and authority in God's creation.

I suggest in these five verses God is making it clear that one of the reasons we were created was to work. Statements like, "Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it." "Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground," support this assertion. Ruling over the earth and its inhabitants, and having babies is work; it's hard work.

You know as appealing as snoozing in a lounge chair indefinitely may be, we were not created to simply lounge around and do nothing. Adam and Eve lived in the middle of a garden, at least for a little while, surrounded by all types of animals, birds, fish, trees, flowers, and edible plants. They were told to care for creation. What a job!

They needed to be farmers, ranchers, and botanists. Not only did they have to keep these created beings alive, Adam and Eve also had to establish an environment in which they could grow and thrive. And this was work.

In Genesis 2:15 it reads, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it."

Notice when God's charge to Adam and Eve came. It comes before Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. It comes before sin enters the world. It comes before Adam and Eve try to hide from God.

Work is not a God-given curse; it's what God designed us for. Clearly we're not to be couch or pew potatoes, we are to bear fruit, and good fruit at that.

But to fulfill God's command do we have to work all the time, do we have to be workaholics, do we have to work at jobs we can't stand or aren't gifted for? The answer is No!

Also, notice God, when creating the world didn't work every day and he seemed to be very satisfied with his work calling the results "good" and "very good." And then God goes on and provides an example for us by resting on the seventh day. You see God doesn't command us to work continually; God wants us to work productively, and with a fruitful purpose.

In general we live in a pressure and stress filled lifestyle. As Christians we read in 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you," but then don't follow this biblical advice. In our Gospel reading today Jesus says, "Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you restůMy yoke is easy and my burden is light," and yet we continue to load heavy burdens on our back and carry them around ourselves, essentially ignoring Jesus' offer to us.

This type of work is not what God had in mind when he told us to be fruitful. God designed us to be productive, but sometimes we misunderstand his intent. We build our dreams, identities, and hope around our activities. We have become human "workers" rather than human "beings." We've got the whole idea of "work" and "being" backwards.

God's intent for us it to be in balance with being fruitful and with being at rest. We need to secure who we are, based on what Christ did for us on the cross and the promises we have that we are loved and accepted by God. We really have to stop living an obsessed lifestyle so that we can gain the acceptance of others by what we do.

This truth is never more evident than at a high school reunion, especially the 10 or 15 year reunion. I remember attending my 10th high school reunion 18 years ago. Some people spent hours and hour's bloviating over how successful they were, what kind of car they were driving, and so on. Have any of you experienced this kind of reunion?

Now there are some folks who absolutely can't stand their jobs. I have a couple of friends in this situation. But they feel they can't make a change because they don't have the training to do what they world really like to do, and they have families to take are of and bills to pay, and still others are really locked into their jobs because their retirement benefits are tied to the number of years worked for a specific company or organization. I understand this reality and so does God.

But this type of living and this reason for living is not what God intends for us. Scripture reveals the pattern of life that God created us for. We can see this pattern in the lives of Adam and Eve before the fall, and we see it lived out by Jesus himself.

On the sixth day of creation God created humans in his image. This conjures up the idea of a reflection in a mirror, or a picture reflecting the likeness of someone. But the word image in the Bible is not meant to be used this way. Perhaps a better word for image is imprint or impression.

God left his imprint on us when he created us. We have an imprint on us that only the hand of God can leave. Yet from the fall of Adam and Eve forward we have been pulling away from the touch of God, trying to replace his imprint with a myriad of insufficient impressions.

Living a fruitful life is being like God, reflecting the image that is within us to be care-givers, producers, and parents.

In the cool of the evening, God walks in the garden he created. He wants the company of Adam and Eve. Remember Adam and Eve had been working all day. Now God invites them to come away from their work and rest with him. These verses seem to imply that this was a regular event, since Adam and Eve knew it was God walking about.

God makes himself visible and audible each evening so that Adam and Eve can feel connected to God. God gives us a reminder that he cares deeply for his children and wants them to take some time away from their work to be with him. Again, God wants us to draw a proper balance between work and rest. This balance is how it's meant to be between God and humanity, since the beginning of time.

For those individuals who are caught in jobs and can't change for the reasons I mentioned earlier, maintaining a balance is still critical. If you find yourself trapped in a job you don't like, but can't make a change, I suggest you need to spend more time at rest with God. The answer isn't easy, but the burden can be lightened. Again, you need to find the proper balance between work and rest.

Since we are designed to work unemployment becomes not only a physical issue but a spiritual one as well. When a person is unemployed they have fallen from the God-given purpose to lead a productive life. This is why people struggle so much when they lose their job. Not only do they struggle with being able to provide for their families, the focus of productivity and fruitfulness in their lives is lost; it's no wonder depression and feelings of poor self-worth can follow loss of employment.

But let me also say at this point that being productive and fruitful does not just mean simply working for a wage. There are many people who are productive and fruitful but don't receive a penny for what they do: volunteers in schools, charities, those helping with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and so forth. And let me also say that parents and grandparents, who stay at home to raise their children, and other similar jobs, are being very productive and fruitful.

Also, God's intent is not that we work for the sole purpose of receiving a wage. God expects us to use our God-given gifts and abilities to work for the greater good of humanity. Productivity and fruitful does not mean lining our pockets with money or buying the biggest houses and cars we can.

Soccer parent illustration about hurricane victim.

Now let's consider retirement. Well there is no such thing. When you leave a job voluntarily after spending many years working, it's often times not long before you feel something is missing in your life. No amount of lounge chair snoozing, television watching, golf, and fishing can replace the need and desire to be fruitful. This is why so many people who are retired actually go back to work in some way, for example volunteering in the schools or by becoming more active in their local churches.

If we stop all productive activity in our lives, we are moving away from our God-designed calling. We cannot live as God intended if we are not being productive and fruitful.

The truth is work only becomes curse-like when we work for the wrong reasons: status, material wealth, power, and the like. In other words working for reasons counter to God's will and the teachings of Jesus.

If we are working to be productive and fruitful in ways pleasing to God, we are blessed and we are fulfilling our intended purpose. Therefore, work is not a curse, it's a blessing, and the truth is if you find a job you love you'll never work a day in your life. Amen

Read other messages by Pastor Wade