An Appointed Time for Labor, An Appointed Time for Rest

an expression occurring frequently in the Psalms, thought to be a liturgical or musical direction…perhaps an indication of a pause.

First John 5:14 tells us that there is real power to be unleashed by praying through Scripture, in accordance with God’s will, and my own experiences have ben more than enough to convince me. Sadly, I still don’t do it nearly as much as I should, but occasionally I’ll take an issue I’m struggling with and write out my anxious thoughts in the form of a prayer, using a section of God’s Word that speaks to that type of situation. Ecclesiastes 3:1-12 is just one example of relevant verses that helped me finally come to grips with many difficult biblical truths – God’s sovereignty, the brokenness of this present world, the reality of pain and loss, and God’s breathtaking promise in Romans 8:28. On this Labor Day, I thought I would share how this tends to work for me, in the hope that it may help others.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (ESV)
“A Time for Everything”
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
Gracious Lord and Savior, strengthen me this day to trust You more by surrendering my agenda. You see my heart…you see the horribly-mixed motives by which I wake up every morning, take my first shot of caffeine and hastily race off to serve You…forgetting almost at once that You did not come to Earth to remove my yoke of sin and replace it with a heavier yoke of servitude (Matthew 11:25-30). The sinfulness of my own heart is revealed by my lack of belief that You – and You alone – have appointed a time for everything under the sun. Forgive me, merciful Lord, when I end my day aggravated that I did not accomplish more tasks or check more things off My Personal To-Do List. In my blindness and confusion, my list of Stuff I Need To Do To Serve Jesus has somehow morphed into a weapon I wield against those who dare frustrate my plans to serve. What a wretched man I am! (Romans 7:21-25) Have mercy on me, God, and enable me to relinquish the cleverly-masqueraded sin of pride which often manifests itself…even as I seek to serve You; somehow, I end up abusing the very people You died for.

Hebrew: "Selah"

a time to be born, and a time to die;
What does the hour of my physical death even matter any longer in light of Galatians 2:20-21? Lord, when others unknowingly stoke my sinful pride by remarking on how much I’ve changed or how well I am doing, give me the grace to confess, always, and in a manner that the other person can receive, that I have in fact not changed, but rather I have died. Because the world does not know You (John 1:9-11), it greatly fears death, seeks to deny its reality in a thousand ways designed to distract and soothe…and that fear can all too easily become contagious. Remind me, I pray, in the hour when I am tempted to fret about my health, that I have indeed already died, and the life I now live in the flesh is consecrated to your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:16-24). I will not live one-tenth of a second longer than You intend, nor will my physical body die even one-tenth of a second sooner than You have already ordained (Psalm 139:16). Breathe into me the courage of knowing that I am “immortal” right up to the very instant You decide otherwise.

Hebrew: "Selah"

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

Gracious God, thank You for considering me as any sort of co-worker in Your Kingdom (Matthew 9:35-38). Let me do the work that seems good to You, in the right spirit and in the right season. When my To-Do List is interrupted by another human being’s obvious need or broken state, may Your spirit catch hold of me before I run the enslaving gauntlet of comparing mundane tasks to human souls. Put before me always the primacy that Christ would select; give me exactly the training I need to be strong enough to say “No” to my understanding of how my day really ought to progress, and keep me mindful always that You have ordained days of heavy labor – and, in Your grace, invited me to participate – but in Your inexhaustible mercy You have also invited me to recline at table and rest from my labors. Give me, I ask, the wisdom and the humility to crucify my suffocating agenda items alongside my pride, and to respond as faithfully to Your call to rest as enthusiastically as I heed Your call to begin again to work the fields.

Hebrew: "Selah"

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

As I have already died in Christ, Father, help me to boldly oppose evil on those occasions when You allow it to be used to good purpose (Genesis 50:20) in the testing of Your people. Strengthen my hand to fearlessly and confidently battle against obvious forces of darkness when they make themselves known within the personal sphere of influence You have provided, however large or small. May I always do battle in the strength of Your power – never my own – and give all Your people the strength to discern when the hour to rise up has arrived. Help us, in our weakness, to see clearly when Your will for the moment is to rise up and “do battle.” Supremely confident in the knowledge that You have already broken the back of sin, allow us, I pray, to enter into Your battles with the knowledge that the war has already been won (1 John 3:8). Provide us with the gratitude that ought to rightly flow from knowing that You have graciously enlisted our support in the final struggles and, when the battle is won, humble us sufficiently to bind up the wounds of those who have fallen along the way.

Hebrew: "Selah"

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

Lord, You alone have appointed the times for bringing all things to their end; we need not waste even one breath wondering if the labor of our hands is “going to last” or be “a good investment.” Over and over, we watch as mighty empires come crashing to the ground…and new powers assert themselves. Give Your people, I pray, the spirit of Daniel; let us labor faithfully even as we serve “kings” who do not know You, and minister to those around us who do not want to. No power, not even that of Babylon, exists apart from your will (Romans 13:1-2). Give us the wisdom and discernment to seek the good of the cities to which we have been sent (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Do not allow us to fear the rise of any empire, but rather give us the grace to minister to the least of its inhabitants, trusting You alone to deal with the idolatry of Babylon, Rome, and ten thousand other pretenders to Your throne.

Hebrew: "Selah"

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

Heavenly Father, Your perishing world is not at all impressed with Christians who do not care for the sick and the marginalized, nor does it wish to spend much time with believers who never can trust You enough to let down their guard and enjoy the good gifts that You have given. Help Your people – help me – to recognize the attitude of heart that is most like that of Christ…and to live it out, especially crucial when “I do not feel like it.” Keep us, I pray, from rejoicing at the suffering of our enemies (Matthew 5:44), or mocking those who are so clearly lost. May You alone breathe into us mercy to share and power to serve. Help us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), yet may our homes be filled constantly with the laughter that comes naturally from trusting You with our own impressive supply of foolishness and shortcomings.

Hebrew: "Selah"

Selah and amen!

Labor Day, I believe, should also be a time when we ask God to help us see our work from His point of view. Let’s be honest; work isn’t always exciting, and when we focus only on its problems or spend our time wishing we were doing something else, we’ll probably end up resentful, angry or bored. But when we begin to see our work from God’s point of view, our attitude will be much different. We’ll begin to realize that God gave our work to us, and because of this it has dignity and importance.
Billy Graham, “Rest and Labor

Nehemiah 13:15-21 (ESV)
In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath.

Mark 2:27
And [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Hebrews 4:9
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

One Comment

  1. Jo said:

    I heard a preacher say, “You better stop and think about this.” I find it a wonderful word-expression.

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