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Sharpening the blade

December 1996 | by John Chapman

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In spite of what many people think, hard work is good for you! Work is like a whetstone which sharpens the edge of a blade. If you really want to have a sharp cutting edge, then you must always do your best. Some people are good workers; others work at trying to escape work! What is needed today are people who approach their work with integrity. Such people are scarce.

Those of us who are parents must bear some of the blame for this state of things. God has said, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6). But today we find that many children have been conditioned by their parents’ example of indolent dependence upon the welfare state. They have adopted the selfish attitude that says the world owes them a living. It can take as many as three generations to break out of this negative cycle.

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Children pick up from us more than we realize. I have heard parents saying, ‘I don’t want my children to work as hard as I had to do.’ But why should we be ashamed of having had to work so hard? I do want my children to learn to live like that, and I do want to set them that example. If they hear us always complaining that our lot is so unfair, then they will think that work is intrinsically evil. What a poor example for a servant of Jesus Christ to set to his own children!

Those who make it happen

It is commonly said that there are three types of people: those who make things happen (and for a believer that can only be under God’s blessing), those who watch things happen, and those who haven’t a clue what is happening! But we must labour to make things happen. I guarantee that if you are somebody who puts a lot of effort into what you are doing you will achieve something worthwhile. For one thing, diligent people are always given a high valuation by others. Plodding reliability is worth more than inconsistent cleverness. To have had a good education is a great advantage, but if it is coupled with laziness, then that education becomes worthless. There are too many ‘educated layabouts’ around these days!

God has given us a pattern

In Genesis 2:2 it is written that God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation, but he did not sit down in total inactivity. God is always working out his purposes. He is always upholding all things by the Word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus said, ‘I must work the works of him that sent me’ and ‘My Father worketh hitherto and I work’ (John 9:4; 5:17). He also said, ‘I have finished the work that thou gavest me to do’ (John 17:4). Our salvation is a work of God, a work that was accomplished in the toils of Christ. With what zeal did the Lord Jesus Christ set about doing his Father’s will! How often must he have experienced hunger, fatigue and sleepless nights, as he wrought out our salvation. The Gospel accounts give us a staggering window into the unremitting toil that was involved in Christ’s mission.

The harvest is not mailed through to us!

To be able to get up and go to work is a great blessing. To have the health and ability to contribute positively in the workplace is a gift from God that we too often take for granted. This is why we must try to reward hard work rather than laziness. Let us aim to target help to where it is really needed, rather than rob an individual of his dignity by encouraging him to shy away from what he can do for himself. In Leviticus 19:9-10 the reapers of the harvest were told to leave some of the grain for the poor to glean. But the poor still had to go out into the fields to gather it for themselves. It was not mailed through to them and no one took it to their houses for them. The fact is that God will not bless idle hands. ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’ (Genesis 3:19). Our daily bread is given to us through our daily labour. Salvation is free, but our bread is not free. Paul said, ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The farmer must plough the field and plant the seed into the ground, and only then does God grant the increase. If the farmer does not do those things then God will not bless him with a harvest. Yes, the Lord feeds the birds, but he has so created them that they must fly out and search for their food. He will not throw it into the nest for them!

Put your back into it!

Proverbs 14:23 says, ‘In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.’ Many people long to be something, but they never become anything! Why not? Because all they do is talk about it! To talk costs nothing, but we have to learn to get down to action. ‘Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men’ (Proverbs 22:29). Have you ever worked so hard that you have felt like collapsing? That is not life-threatening! It is one of the most satisfying experiences that you can have! ‘The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much’ (Ecclesiastes 5:12). Don’t go about your work half-heartedly! ‘Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men’ (Colossians 3:23). Half-heartedness never accomplished anything but a lot of heartaches.

God said to Adam, ‘Replenish the earth’ and ‘Dress the garden.’ He did not create Adam just to take life easy. However, the view that most people have of heaven is that it is an eternal vacation. But the Bible makes it clear that we are not going to sit around on a cloud playing a harp all day! We are going to be active in serving God (Revelation 22:3).

Listen to some good advice!

‘I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down’ (Proverbs 24:30-31). This man is an embarrassment to others. None would want him as their neighbour. ‘The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets’ (Proverbs 26:13). He says, ‘My back is hurting, I can’t go out to work today’; or he says, ‘I can’t mow the grass, it’s too hot outside today.’ Such are his feeble excuses for not ‘getting down to it’. ‘By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through’ (Ecclesiastes 10:18). We cannot blame God’s sovereignty for our poverty if the fault lies in our own sloth. So I am saying to all, Roll up your shirt sleeves and get stuck in!

The harvest you have really had to work for is the harvest that will bring you most satisfaction. Do not be shooting off in all directions, but have a clear goal. God may change your goal; that is his sovereign prerogative: ‘A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps’ (Proverbs 16:9). But still keep a goal before you. Listen to C. H. Spurgeon’s words: ‘“Stick to it” is the conqueror. He who can wait and work long enough will win. Do not be above your work or your business. He is a poor blacksmith who is afraid of his own sparks,’ and ‘“Plod” is the word. Everyone must row with such oars as he has. And as he can’t choose the wind, he must sail by such as God sends him…If the cat sits at the hole long enough, he will catch the mouse.’ ‘God sends every bird its food, but he doesn’t throw it in the nest.’ ‘Never try dirty dodges to make money…An honest man won’t make a dog of himself trying to get a bone.’ And listen to Ephesians 4:28: ‘Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.’

John Chapman