Do I Work Or Do I Trust In The Lord To Provide?
I received a most touching e-mail message from a Christian lady. Her sincere, tender conscience had been burdened over her continuing to work toward her retirement. She felt she had no choice but to continue working until her retirement, so that she could receive the retirement benefits and income that she and her husband would desperately need in the future. Yet she had been told that she should quit working and trust in the Lord to provide for their retirement years. Her conscience became impaled on the horns of a dilemma: either she honor the Lord by trusting in him to provide for their retirement years; or, she dishonor the Lord by continuing to work for the retirement benefits they would need, which showed her lack of trust in him to provide for them.
My heart went out to this woman who was struggling with the age old question: Do I work to provide for myself or simply trust in the Lord to provide? The answer to this question is not doing one or the other but doing both simultaneously. By faith we work, trusting in the Lord to bless us with the fruits of our labors that will provide for us today and in the future.
Working to provide for ourselves does not dishonor the Lord or show a lack of trust in him. The Lord himself gave mankind work as a blessing. It gives us a reason for getting up in the morning. It provides us with the opportunity to do something constructive that will benefit others. It enables us to apply our God-given abilities in a beneficial manner that glorifies our Lord. At the same time it enables us to earn what we need. Busy hands at work engage us in a God-pleasing activity that prevents boredom, being burdened with a meaningless and purposeless life, and slipping into one kind of a sin after another. Idle hands, on the other hand, are the devil's workshop. Paul wrote: “For we hear that some among you are going about idle, doing no work but being busybodies. Now we command and urge such persons in the Lord Jesus Christ that they eat their own bread by working quietly” (2 Thessalonians 3:11,12). When we have the health, the abilities needed to work, and a vocation in which to work, we are divinely and richly blessed. If we do not think so, we need only consider what our lives would be like if we had ill and failing health that prevented an active life, we lacked the abilities to perform any meaningful tasks, and we had no job at all.
Work is a blessing that enables us to imitate our Creator God. In the beginning he created mankind in his image. As he is a rational being possessing the power to work and to accomplish his good and gracious will, so he made his creature man a rational being with certain powers and abilities to work and accomplish what is good and useful.
God gave the blessing of work in the Garden of Eden before the fall into sin. He gave Adam the task of tending the garden. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it.” (Genesis 2:15). When he created the human race male and female, Genesis 1:28 tells us: “And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that crawls upon the earth.’ ” God blessed them, and in addition to telling them to be fruitful, he told them to subdue the earth. The male's and female's subduing the earth was part of God's blessing. The original Hebrew word for subdue means to wrestle with and master. Man and woman were to wrestle with the earth and master it, making it yield its produce and bounty.
The woman, as the man's helper (ref. Genesis 2:18), was to use her God-given talents in subduing the earth as well as the man. Her unique role as the child-bearer did not limit her life to rearing children and caring for the home. She, too, in her role as man's helper, was to be busy subduing the earth. Proverbs 31:10-31 describes the God-fearing Christian wife and mother. Besides caring for her husband, children, and home, she worked as a seamstress, selling the garments she made for a profit, and purchasing and operating a vineyard. For doing so, she received her husband's and children's praise. The Lord himself holds her up as a model for all women to imitate.
The blessing of work was turned into a burdensome toil as a consequence of sin. Anyone who despises the toil of hard work should blame the devil for it, not the Lord. Because of his sin, the Lord told Adam that through painful toil and by the sweat of his brow he would have to raise his food and eat all the days of his life. Since the Lord said man must acquire his daily bread through toilsome labors, no one should think he can have his daily bread without labor and toil.
Toiling for food and the necessities of life is the Lord's will for us all. He commanded his Israelite people to work when he gave them his third commandment. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. In it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son or your daughter, nor your male servant or female servant, nor your cattle or your foreigner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. Then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11) As the Lord worked to create the heavens and the earth in six days and then rested, so the Israelites, likewise, were to work six days and rest the seventh day.
The Lord commanded us, his Christian people, to work when he inspired Paul to write, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this command, that if someone is unwilling to work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are going about idle, doing no work but being busybodies. Now we command and urge such persons in the Lord Jesus Christ that they eat their own bread by working quietly.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Our Lord has also commanded, “Let him who is stealing steal no longer; rather, let him labor by working what is good with his own hands, in order that he may have something to share with him who is in need.” (Ephesians 4:28). A quiet life of working should be our ambition and goal. Our Lord tells us, “Make it your ambition to live a quiet life, and to busy yourselves with your own business, and to work with your own hands, just as we commanded you, in order that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders and not be in need.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11,12).
To be able to work for our daily bread and afterwards to enjoy the fruits of our labors is a blessing of God. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 informs us: “Surely I have seen what is good and excellent for a man: to eat and to drink and to see that which is good in all his wearisome labor in which he toils under the sun for the few days of life which God has given to him, for this is his lot. Moreover, every man to whom God has given riches and empowers him to eat from them and to accept his lot and to rejoice in his labor, this is a gift of God. For he will not think much about the days of his life, because God bestows the gladness of his heart.”
Knowing from the Scriptures that work is a blessing and command of God, none of us should be tempted to think that working and desiring to work to support ourselves dishonors our Lord and offends him. Laziness and the refusal to work are sins that dishonor him but gladden Satan, who is always attempting to overthrow what God has commanded and is continuously tempting us to do the opposite of God's will. Our working honors the Lord when by faith we go to work to glorify him through our efforts. Colossians 3:22-24 states, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in all things, not just when they are watching you, as ones who are trying to please men, but with sincerity of heart, giving reverence to the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it from the depth of your soul, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance salvation. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Whatever our gainful employment may be, by faith we will work at it with all our heart to honor our Lord. Whether we work in a factory or office, in a repair shop or store, in governing or preaching--we will do it with all our heart to bring honor and glory to our Lord and Savior. We do so, because he has loved us, forgiven all our sins, saved us from hell, and given us eternal life through Jesus, his Son. In working according to his command we express our love for him and our thankfulness to him for his having saved us. Our working is not a result of our lack of trust but is a fruit of our faith that pleases him.
Individuals too often think that working to earn a living stands in opposition to prayer and trusting in the Lord to provide the necessities of life. They think they should only pray and trust in the Lord to provide and that he will then drop everything they need into their laps and will fill their bread baskets to overflowing without their having done a stitch of work. They are wrong. The Lord is happier with one hour of honest labor for one's daily bread than he is with a thousand prayers of the foolish lazybones, who does no work but expects the Lord to hand everything to him on a silver platter.
The Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” He taught us to pray in this manner to teach us the necessities of life come from our Father in heaven, to trust in him to provide what we need for our body and life, and to receive it with thanksgiving. His teaching us to pray for our daily bread, however, does not invalidate all the rest of his Scriptures that command us to work to earn our living. Jesus never taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread without our having to work for it as you commanded us to do.”
The one who wants to pray and trust but do no work apparently is waiting for a miracle to provide for his needs. The Lord, however, does not need to perform a miracle to do what he has enabled us to do for ourselves. When his people needed the waters parted to preserve their lives and save them from pharaoh, he split the Red Sea. When his people were in the wilderness where there was no food or water, he gave them manna from heaven and water from the rock. Once his people entered the promised land that was flowing with milk and honey, however, the manna from heaven ceased. The Israelites then had to work for their daily bread.
The Lord said that as a consequence of sin we must obtain our food by the sweat of our brow. This is how he says it will be. Thus we should not expect our provisions to come to us without our sweating for them. The Lord has said in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If someone is unwilling to work, neither let him eat.” This being his word, we should not think it will be otherwise.
The Lord could use miraculous means to feed us, if he so wished, just as he gave the manna from heaven, and as the Lord Jesus fed the four and the five thousand. Yet he chooses to work through the natural means he has established in this world. He could populate this earth if he so desired by using his divine power to create multitudes. John the Baptist said he could raise up descendants for Abraham from the stones on the ground. Yet the Lord chooses to populate the earth through the natural procreation of us husbands and wives. In like manner, to provide for us he uses the natural means of the sun and the rain that produce crops and food for all his creatures. He uses the natural means of our labor to plant and to harvest, and to work at our jobs, to provide our daily bread and the necessities of life. He has no need to perform miracles to feed and to clothe us when he already has put in place the natural means to provide us with food and clothes. Nor does he need to use his divine power to do what he has given us the power and ability to do for ourselves.
If no one worked in compliance with God's command to enrich himself, everyone would be poor beggars. Nothing good would ever then be accomplished. Charity would be impossible, for all would be poverty stricken. Chaos and anarchy would reign, for no one could pay taxes to keep the government that preserves law and order in business, and, what is more, no one would be working as legislators, judges, and policemen--for all would be lazy good-for-nothings. Homes would never be built; all would be out on the streets. The sick would never be attended to; all would be ill and disease ridden. Churches would never function, for no one would be preaching the gospel of Christ and no one would support them. All would be packed off to hell with their empty basket. Only the devil, who loves misery, confusion, chaos and the damnation of souls, would rejoice in such a world where no one worked but waited for the necessities of life to be miraculously dropped into their laps.
Laziness leads to poverty; work brings prosperity. Proverbs 13:4 states, “The soul of the lazy craves and gets nothing; but the soul of the industrious is abundantly filled.” As the Lord also said, he who does not work shall not eat.
The Lord directs us to observe and to imitate the ant. Proverbs 30:25 tell us that the ant works and stores up its food in the summer. Proverbs 6:6-11 tells the lazy bones to wisen up by considering the ant and what it does. The ant stores what it needs in the summer and gathers its food at harvest time. The lazy good-for-nothing, on the other hand, just lies around sleeping and resting. To the lazy comes poverty and scarcity. We are urged to wisely follow the ant's example by working hard at the present to lay aside what we will need for the future. Working and saving for our future needs and eventual retirement are God's will and plan for us.
Those who will not work and lay aside for their future needs, thinking they only need to trust in the Lord to provide, will have a rude awakening. When they find themselves in need and complain of their want, the Lord will say, Well, why didn't you work and save up what you would need? I would have provided for you through your labors and given you enough to set aside what you need now. You have no one to blame for your want but yourself.
By faith we work, knowing it pleases the Lord, without worrying about whether we will have what we need. According to his command we pray that he will bless us with the fruits of our labors, as we do in the Lord's Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread.” We then trust that, because he is our good and gracious Lord, he will provide what we need.
We have no reason to worry. Psalm 34:8-10 assures us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; O the blessedness of the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his saints, For those who fear the Lord want for nothing. The young lions suffer want and hunger, But those who seek the Lord will not lack any good thing.”
Matthew 6:25-34 teaches us not to worry about having the necessities of life. “For this reason I say to you, stop worrying for your life what you should eat, or what you should drink, not even for your body, what you should wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky; they do not sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they? And who of you by worrying is able to add one hour to his time of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Observe well how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin. Yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. Therefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is cast into a furnace, will he not much more clothe you, You of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or, ‘What shall we drink?’ or, ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble.”
We have something of greater concern than what we will eat, drink, and wear--the salvation of our body and soul for eternity through believing in Jesus. Rather than worry, we should learn from the birds that our heavenly Father will provide for us. They do not work--planting, harvesting and storing away, yet their Father provides for them. We are more valuable to him than the birds, and, as in their case so in ours, he knows what we need even before we ask him for it. We do not live for the purpose of working and toiling for the necessities of life. The unbelievers of the world do this. Our chief concern and purpose in life is to seek first the kingdom of God and the saving righteousness that comes from him through faith in his Son, Jesus. While seeking the kingdom of God in Christ, our Father will provide for our needs as an added bonus. This does not mean we sit back doing nothing, waiting for him to fill our bread baskets. Having been brought into his kingdom through faith in Christ, while we live and walk with him each day we work to earn our daily bread, for we know this is his plan for us and pleases him.
Simply stated: we pray for the necessities of life, work to earn them, and trust our Father will bless us with what we need for our body and life as the fruits of our labor. Let us not allow anyone to burden our conscience with the thought that our working to provide for ourselves and for our future needs dishonors the Lord and shows a lack of trust in him. For working by faith and trusting that he will bless our labors honor him.