The upcoming Labor Day weekend gets me thinking about, well, labor. The truth is that labor is a gift from God. Labor is not the consequence of sin but rather the toil associated with labor. Yet, for the believer who lives under the providential care of God, labor can be rewarding, productive, and God-glorifying all at the same time. Labor is an opportunity to put our God-given skills and gifts to work. Labor gives us the prospect of making a contribution to our world. It gives us occasion to put God's glory on display as we work as more than mere men-pleasers. At the same time, labor provides for us an avenue by which we may serve others physically and spiritually. Of course, in order to serve others in both capacities, we must see our labor from God's vantage point and embrace the reality that our physical labor can and should be used to help persons move toward Christ.
By way of example, how should a Christian physician respond to one who suffers from chronic pain? The truth is that pain is a reality and there are physiological issues that cause pain. At the same time, pain is often the result of or at least exacerbated by "inner" or spiritual problems. Can anger, bitterness, and a general feeling that life is unfair contribute to the misery one experiences when she has a physical problem? The answer is "yes!" Is life unfair? Again, the answer is "yes!" But, the real question is this: do we deserve to have a life that is fair? Answering this question properly, along with a number of others, can help us get some unexpected relief from pain and help us in other areas that may surprise us.
In his book, True Competence in Medicine: Practicing Biblically-based Medicine in a Fallen World, Jim Halla, M.D., asserts that the real issue is whether we are living like atheists or those who understand that God is our environment. In other words, life is unfair because of the fall, we do not deserve a life that is fair, and all of life is lived in connection to God and His providence. When we recognize these foundational principles, we will respond to our pain very differently than we will if we fail to recognize them. If we hold to a biblical worldview, we know that we will suffer as a result of our fallenness, that we deserve our suffering, that God is gracious to give us relief from our suffering in so many ways, and that God is using even our suffering for our good and His glory. Our bitterness toward our circumstances will turn to a rest in God and His providence in our lives.
The point that Halla makes is that we must view our occupations as theological endeavor. Though addressed to Christian physicians, all believers will glean insight from his approach. For Halla, "The overriding principle in any endeavor is faithfulness to God. This book challenges every Christian physician to act upon the truth that the delivery of medical care is at the core a theological issue which should bring honor and glory to God." So it is in any profession.
Don't miss the concept of theological endeavor. By way of summary, Halla begins with an actual patient case study of Mary. She presented with chronic fatigue and pain. She was on medication for both but described her life as overwhelming. She felt as if she was in a black hole with no hope or relief in sight. Depression, anger, and bitterness had overtaken her.
Halla took her pain seriously, treated her as a whole person, gave her exercises for her physiological problems, and then gave her "pain papers" he had written to help her think about issues related to pain and how to view them. He entered the patient encounter as a theologian, was able to develop rapport with her, and guided her to a biblical view of her circumstances which ultimately gave her a bright outlook and some pain relief. She moved from acting like an atheist to acting like a Christian in response to her plight.
Halla points out that Mary, like many of us when we look at our circumstances, was a poor theologian. All of life is theological. We are either good or bad theologians as we look at and react to the providential circumstances in our lives. The issue for believers is whether or not we are looking at life in the context of God's environment, that is, living as if God is completely sovereign over all things, including our difficulties.
Halla also notes that we are either good or bad stewards. We must understand that in terms of health, we have an inner person and an outer person and the two are connected. In other words, we are bipartite. We have a physical body and we have a spiritual nature and the two affect one another. Our reaction to physical problems can either help or exacerbate those problems.
By way of application, all Christians must enter their encounters as theologians. All believers must bring a biblical worldview to bear upon their service to others both in the performance of their duties and in the direction they point those they serve. Our employment, vocation, labor, and/or encounters at the core are all theological issues through which we must bring glory to God. What is proper for the Christian physician is proper for the Christian attorney, banker, teacher, construction worker, electrician, etc. There is no doubt that certain professions require more conversation or specified counsel from the practitioner to the one seeking service than others. At the same time, as we are able to do the work God has called us to do, not only do we do it for His glory, but, insofar as we deal with people and have opportunity to meet some kind of need for them, we must do so as theologians with God-glorifying goals in mind.
How can we do such? It is quite simple to apply Halla's counsel to our respective fields of endeavor. Regardless of who you are, if you are a Christian, you can implement these values into the everyday ebb and flow of your life.
First, make a commitment to approach your vocation and/or interactions with others as a true, biblical theologian. That does not mean that you must study the latest systematic theology text book. However, it does mean that you will have to become familiar with the Scriptures and how to help others with them. God requires such from us anyway.
Second, make a commitment to approach the one you serve as an opportunity to minister God's truth to him. You may not always be able to help someone for any number of reasons. But, the issue here is mindset. God puts opportunities before us that we routinely miss for a lack of awareness or even for a lack of realization that we are here ultimately to do just that: minister God's truth to those whom God places before us.
Third, make a commitment to really listen, interpret what is being said to you through the lens of Scripture, and develop God's perspective clearly in your mind. As you put what people say into biblical categories, you will have a platform from which to proceed and a direction in which to go as you begin to move them toward God. The Christian doctor will help persons deal with pain and illness in a way that glorifies God. The Christian attorney or banker will help persons deal with individuals' legal or financial matters in the same way.
Fourth, make a commitment to direct your counsel toward the individual's heart. This commitment will confront persons in the right place as all of life relates to issues of the heart before God. Further, individuals will be enabled to do more than cope with problems or put sound financial principles into practice. They will be moved toward victory as they deal with their problems, finances, or home improvement before the God who loves them and is working sanctification into their lives.
As we embrace these principles and make them part of our everyday thinking, we will not only truly help others and glorify God, but we will be more effective in the work we do. Labor is a gift from God. If we treat it as such, as theological endeavor, and as the means through which God gives us opportunity to serve others physically and spiritually, we will be more fulfilled as we see God actually working through us in ways that we perhaps could not heretofore imagine.
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Dr. Paul J. Dean is the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greer, SC, and hosts a daily, live, call-in radio talk show: "Calling for Truth." He serves as the Director of Applied Ministry at the Greenville, SC extension of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors. Paul speaks at several conferences throughout the year and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. He is married and has three children.