Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Work

What if God Blessed You?

One of the many questions Christians face (especially young Christians) is, ‘What career path should I take?’ Or, ‘What kind of work should I get into?’

There are lots of good ways to think about that and lots has already been written. One of the more helpful thoughts is an old one from St Augustine: ‘Love God and do as you please.’ Surely, if true love for God is the root, he argues, whatever comes as fruit cannot be evil.

There is one more consideration, however, that I think should be a part of the conversation. And it is this: What if God really blessed your work?

I mean, what if God actually did abundantly beyond what you could ask or imagine and your work prospered wildly? If everything you started finished well and everything attempted was successful, what would it look like?

If God blessed your labour beyond your wildest dreams with fruit a hundredfold, what would be the benefit to the world? What would the blessing be? Would the world be better off? How so?

As God’s children, we’re called to be his agents of blessing. We’re called to be salt and light. We should be leaving the world a better place than we found it. So why not let that be part of the conversation when we’re considering our career choice?

If we are going to be doing something five days a week (or more!) for the rest of our lives, why not at least ask if the end result we’re labouring for actually blesses God’s world?

Photo Credits.

A Neglected Way to Love

Today I read 1 Thessalonians 4.11. My first thought was, ‘I wonder if this is the most forgotten-about command of the New Testament?’ This is how it reads:

… aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you…

How many church conflicts, how many rumours, how many hurt feelings would have been prevented if we listened to this command? How many times have we pursued busyness, noisiness, and in our boredomophobia-driven society pursued activity at all costs? And what is the net result? More stress, more tiredness, more strenuous relationships.

When I consider the cost of not trying to live quietly, of not minding my own affairs, and not being content to simply do my job, I see that it’s clear how Paul connects this to brotherly love. Immediately before these commands, Paul says,

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another… . But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly…

In other words, this command to live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work hard at the job God has given you is an enactment of brotherly love. When you keep your nose out of someone else’s business, you’re loving them. When you are not a back-biter or a gossip, you are loving other people. When you stick to your job and stop being a busy-body (in the church and out of it), you are loving others.

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Sleeping While the Kingdom Grows

My family just returned from a couple weeks of vacation. It was a glorious opportunity to play, to sleep, to relax, to read good books, to spend time together — in short, to rest. What a blessing to be able to experience something of the balance that God intended when he established the rhythm of the universe in creation: day and night, work and rest.

It is one thing to preach about this harmony in Genesis 1 (as I did a few months ago) and another thing completely to experience it. God ordered his creation in this way, work and rest, and it continues to function in the same way through all the generations of humanity.

I’ve been thinking, however, about the need for continuing this balance on a micro scale (day & night, week & weekend), as well as on a macro scale (work 49 weeks & get three off). It seems to me that failure to attain true and meaningful rest in the midst of labour is one of the main reasons why pastors burn out so frequently.

It’s not hard to see why. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the pastor’s work is never really finished. There is always more to study, more people to meet with, more to pray about. Things are never organized enough and long-term vision has never been developed enough. That’s to say nothing of the constant, urgent demands on a pastor’s time because of genuine problems in people’s lives.

So pastors often do what the world does. We read time management books and strategize. We come up with systems to ‘get things done.’ We work harder and harder to be more productive in the hopes that we’ll somehow attain that ever-elusive moment of rest when everything is finally done.

But it’s never done. And that’s the thing. If we wait for things to be finished before we rest, we’ll never rest. And we simply can’t sustain that. And that’s not the way we’ve been designed to live.

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The Myth of the Perfect ________

There was a time when I thought a lot about what I won’t be like ‘when I get older’. In my younger years I would look at my parents or older people in my church and see all the ways I wouldn’t be like them. In Bible college and seminary I often thought (if no consciously, then subconsciously) about how so many pastors had compromised and failed and how there were no excuses for them being the way they were. I wasn’t going to be like them.

‘When I’m a husband / pastor / father / homeowner / (fill in the blank), I will do it differently…’.

Underlying thoughts like that is a failure, I’ve learned, to recognize the fallenness of the world. There’s a myth being perpetrated by the devil and the world — a myth gladly accepted and amplified by my sin nature — that I, unlike every human, will do it right. It’s a temptation for young people everywhere and it is one of the reasons why I think people wait longer to get married, to settle in a career, to have children, etc. The myth is this: If you look hard enough and wait long enough, you find the perfect spouse. You, unlike your friends, can find the perfect car. The perfect house. The perfect ________.

Though far from perfect, thankfully, our house is in better shape than this one.

But here’s the thing: no wife is perfect. No husband is perfect. No house, car, job, or anything else is perfect. It’s all broken. This side of the new creation, everything will fail us and disappoint us.

But quite apart from being a discouragement (though it may sound depressing), I’ve found it to be actually quite freeing. As soon as I realized that it is ‘okay’ for my house to not be perfect, I didn’t need to it justify me any more. When I stop and remember that it’s ‘okay’ for my family to not be perfect, it frees me from comparisons and the desires to compare and compete. For those still looking for a husband / wife, it is freeing to know that no matter how long you wait and how carefully you choose, you’ll still get a fixer-upper of a spouse. That’s life.

What’s been so freeing for me in this is that it gives me the ability to just simply enjoy things for what they are. I can enjoy my wife without worrying about how to ‘fix’ her flaws (which more often than not are my fault anyway). I can enjoy my house without worrying about making it ‘perfect’ (since it will never get there anyway).

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that we don’t pray and labour for God’s perfect kingdom to come and to work in this world. It doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be holy as he is holy. It doesn’t mean that I don’t labour to wash my bride with the pure water of the word (or accept challenges and corrections from her). It doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard to raise my children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But realizing that the notion perfection of anything this side of glory is a myth is freeing when I feel the pressure to perform or achieve up to a standard I simply can’t attain.

All this also helps me to appreciate my parents and those older in the faith as well. They haven’t attained perfection, and some of the flaws I observed were accurate. But now I understand and feel a little bit more of why they’re not perfect… because I’ve seen it in myself and in my world.

I hope that as I age I continue to find balance between striving for perfection and finding perfect rest in the perfection to come. When I find this balance, I find it enables me to, as someone has said, ‘work like an Arminian and sleep like a Calvinist.’ I like that.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

Subduing My Realm

** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

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According to Chandler

A little while ago I wrote a post about some sermons on manhood from Matt Chandler. My reflections for today, on being a man, are largely taken from the content of the first sermon in that series: Defining Masculinity. If you are a man or know a man, I highly recommend you give it a listen.

Farmer & Field

Chandler helped me by setting our identity as men in the creation account of Genesis 1-2. As he describes the narrative unfolding, he details how God creates the whole wild world, with a beautifully ordered garden (Eden), then places man in the middle of the garden and says, ‘Now make the rest of the world like this.’

Obviously there’s more to the story than that, but the simplicity of that perspective was helpful for me. He laid out the inner competitiveness and creativeness and ambition in man (which drives the rat race the whole world ’round) within the framework of ‘subduing’ and ‘ordering’ and ‘ruling over’ the created world. That’s what we were created for, and that’s what drives us as men, whether we know it or not.

The trouble, of course, is that in Genesis 3 man didn’t keep his world in order, but allowed chaos and disorder to rule (beginning with his own relationship with his wife when he abdicated his authority position when she was being tempted). The result of Adam’s disobedience is that now the whole world falls into complete disorder (including his own heart). All is subject to futility.

His work will be hard, and filled with failure. But he is still called to it nonetheless. And, as Chandler draws out, even the futility becomes evidence of God’s grace to us as the futility of our work is what drives us to call out to God for his mercy in the gospel.

A Guiding Framework

What has been so helpful to me is the guiding framework that this gives to my life as a man. As a man, I am charged with bringing order to my world. I must subdue my realm. So when I don’t know what to do, what decisions to make, what direction to take for my family, or my church, I fall back on this thought: I cam called to set all things in order. All things that are under my charge should be under my control.

And when I lack motivation to mow the lawn, discipline my kids, make things right with my wife, or make peace between relationships in the church, I remember that it is the calling of a man to subdue his realm, to put all things in order. Yes, there are challenges, frustrations, and failures, but having this simple, unifying direction for my life has been helpful.

The Big Biblical Picture

Of course this is all very simple. And yet, somehow, I spent the first 30 years of my life not really having the penny drop.

God created the world and ‘ordered’ it. He commanded man, his ‘son’, made in his image, to bring all things under submission to him. But after the first Adam and every man after him failed, a second Adam, the True Image of God had to come, to inherit all authority (Matt 28.19-20), and by his death and resurrection to have all things subjected to him. The end of this creation will come …

when [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor 15.24-28)

So the beginning is Adam called to subdue his realm, but failing. The end of the story is the second Adam reigning over all things, subduing even death — the greatest enemy. And we men are called now to live in the in between, still living with the futility of the curse all around us, but called by God to bring peace and order as we reign with Christ and bring his rule to pass, even now.

From cover to cover the Bible calls me to subdue my realm. That sounds like a manly challenge. May God give grace to make me faithful and diligent.

Ants in the Kitchen

This morning I saw ants in the kitchen. I won’t say where… but it wasn’t it my home (thankfully!). My first thought, naturally, was disgust and repulsion. I saw them crawling all over a little section near the back of the counter and shuddered. I can’t stand when ants get inside.

Since there appeared to be no Raid around, I decided to ignore them. Besides, they weren’t near the coffee mug I had brought in to wash in the sink, so they shouldn’t really bother me. But then, when I started to wash my mug, I looked down and there was one of those little pests, crawling around in the sink! Without a second thought I filled my mug with water and sent that ant a-swimming down the drain.

About 10 seconds later another thought hit me. Proverbs 6.6-8 says this:

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

I remembered that and began to think this: How hard must it have been for those ants to get in here? I’m sure they’ve worked really hard for a long time to get where they are! And who told them to? No one, of course. They have no leader, no boss, but they are wise and work hard as long as they can, for the sake of the cause. 

But here’s the thing: What is it really worth? If an ant is found in the wrong place at the wrong time he gets trapped, sprayed, poisoned, or washed down a sink. He loses everything… for the sake of gaining pretty much nothing. But for his cause, he was willing to work–and to work hard, at that!

That was a good reminder for me this morning to get going with the day’s work. How much more do I have to work for! I actually have a Master who will call me to account. And unlike the ant kingdom, the kingdom of Christ really is worth dying for.

How much more shameful, then, if one of those little ants out-works me today…

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