On Labor Day Weekend: Can your work bring you closer to God?

September 4, 2015

work-and-faith-cross-flame-690x353A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino*

Large portions of our lives are spent at work. Some go to an office each day while others labor outdoors. Some work in 12-hour shifts to provide our food, keep us safe, and heal our wounds. Others travel near and far to sell, build, consult, and transport products and people. Still others teach children, cook meals, clean, and provide other services for our communities.

No matter the nature of the work, our jobs are an opportunity to serve Christ every day. The Bible instructs us, “Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 CEB).

How we work

Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, had a legendary work ethic. He traveled hundreds of thousands of miles on horseback, preached tens of thousands of sermons; and, oh yes, started a global movement, to which United Methodists are heirs.

Wesley was famously fruitful in his labors, in part because he was disciplined, but also because of his conviction that his work was part of God’s greater plan of redemption.

Some of Wesley’s admonitions about work are published in our United Methodist Book of Discipline and read at each ordination service. Wesley tells us to be diligent, punctual, and not so much in debt that we are an embarrassment (Book of Discipline para. 336). He preached that we “ought to gain all we can,” but not work at the expense of life or health. He said that we should not throw our precious talent away, “in the sea.” Then after we have provided for ourselves and family, Wesley goes on to say that we should give all we can (Sermon 50: “The Use of Money”).

Serving Christ in our work is not defined by what our job is, but by the way we do it. This includes the motivation and character out of which our work flows.

If we radiate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the fruit of the Spirit—we are attending to God. We can do this in any occupation.

Lynette Tanyaradzwa Regede shares this message with the youth and young adults she serves as an advisor in the Harare West District of the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Describing her job, Regede insists, “It’s not about having money.” Instead, she invests herself in others, a trait she passes on.

“I was with them in camps, sports, choral competitions and all activities,” she remembers. Those times “gave me an opportunity to be one-on-one with them, to know them outside the church premises and to observe when their guard was down.”

Regede reports that many of her former students are now “in all disciplines: pastors, lawyers, doctors, teachers, artisans, engineers and different officers in government departments to name a few, and I feel humbled to have them in my life.”

Our work affords us opportunities to give ourselves for the sake of others, and to show that there is more to life than the acquisition of money and things.

Relying on God to get us through difficulties

In Matthew 11:29 Jesus tells us to take up his yoke and learn from him. What many of us don’t know is that Jesus is inviting us to take up his training yoke, which is different from the usual yoke farmers use.

When a farmer plows, the normal yoke ensures that the load is shared equally between two oxen. However, when the farmer wants to train a young animal, he employs a training yoke. This yoke is designed so that the young ox learns from the more experienced one who carries the entire load. The only thing the young ox has to do is walk beside the senior animal. So Jesus is saying to us, “Just walk beside me. I’ll carry the burden. I’ll provide the power. I’ll guide you down straight paths.”

When we bear heavy loads or are faced with seemingly impossible tasks at work, we have God’s promise that Jesus will not only be there with us; but, in his graciousness, he will carry the load.

Jerry McGuire is the chief financial officer of a family-owned construction company. He began attending church for the first time 14 years ago, at Desert Spring United Methodist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“One of the big things I’ve gained, having spent a long time in business without God or the church, is coming to a realization for myself—and hopefully to share with others—of how much more there is to life.”

When an economic downturn deeply affected Las Vegas and McGuire’s work became extraordinarily difficult, he leaned on his faith.

“We were focused on residential work,” McGuire says of his company, and “they basically didn’t build houses here for 4 years.” During that time, “I would think about other people… How are they making it through every day?” McGuire remembers. “I couldn’t imagine it. I don’t know how I would’ve done it.”

“To know that you have a higher purpose, or you’ve got gifts, or you’re called to do something else that’s just not for you but for other people,” he explains, “that was very important.”

McGuire uses his gifts to do things for others at work and in the church. He serves as lay leader of both his church and the North District of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, positions he deeply values.

Giving all our labor to God

We might be tempted to separate our work into categories—some tasks for God and other just work. The Bible calls us instead to do everything to the glory of God.

As the U.S. prepares to celebrate Labor Day, we give thanks for all who work and recommit ourselves to do our jobs in ways that glorify Jesus.

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him at jiovino@umcom.org or 615-312-3733.  Freelance writer Kathy Armistead contributed to this story.