Now that January is in our rear-view mirror, we are approaching the time of the year when our New Year’s resolutions come crashing down around us. In fact, according to Strava—a social networking app designed to help people track their exercise—that time has already come and gone. In a study of over 800 million user-activities in 2019, Strava found that the majority of people abandoned their resolutions on January 19, which they appropriately named “Quitter’s Day.”
As funny as that may be, we all know that this is no laughing matter. Over 90% of Americans who set New Year’s resolutions end up breaking them shortly after making them. Why is it that, with the best of intentions, we consistently set New Year’s resolutions only to abandon them within a few weeks of getting started? What are we missing?
While there are any number of articles available on the internet aimed at trying to help us diagnose and remedy this problem, many of them boil down to one overarching issue: after only a few weeks, we come face to face with the realization that there is no magic pill and that keeping our resolutions will take plain, old fashioned, hard work every day consistently over the course of the year. Each year we think things will be different. We think that something new will help us be victorious this year—some new technology or exercise or approach. But each year we are overcome by the ordinariness of what is required to keep our resolutions. We come face to face with the prospect that all the special opportunities and technologies in the world really don’t matter all that much. We’re looking for something extra-ordinary when what is actually required of us is incredibly ordinary—hard work, discipline, and perseverance.
These are three things that we tend to struggle with, both inside and outside of the church. For that reason, I am hoping to spend the next few weeks examining these issues one by one to see what the Bible has to say about each of them. And I will start with hard work.
The first thing that needs to be said in connection with the topic of hard work is that God has made all of us to work. We see this from the very beginning of the creation account in Genesis 1-2. For instance, in Genesis 1:26 and 28, we read that God created men and women to be “fruitful and multiply” and to “subdue” the earth and “exercise dominion over” it. And in Genesis 2:15, we see that Adam and Eve were specifically placed in the garden “to work it and keep it.” We also know from Genesis 3 that sin doesn’t overturn our mandate to work. It only ensures that our work will be more difficult. Adam and Eve, and all who come after them, will work until they die (Gen. 3:19), but that work will now be filled with opposition (Gen. 3:16, 18), pain (Gen. 3:16, 17), tension (Gen. 3:16), and perspiration (Gen. 3:19)—all as the result of sin coming into the world.
One of the things this means is that all work after the Fall of Adam and Eve will necessarily be hard. I think this is an important reminder as we begin to think through what the Bible says about hard work. We live in a day in which popular ideas like YOLO (you only live once) and carpe diem (seize the day) influence the way we think about the limited amount of time we have on this earth. We need to remember that God hasn’t created us for idleness or for fun; He has created us to work, and to work hard. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have fun while we work or that we can’t have any fun at all. Those things are certainly appropriate. It is only to say that God hasn’t made us for those things. He has made us to work.
In 1 Corinthians 10:31, the apostle Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This verse gives us a helpful structure to think through the Bible’s teaching on hard work. It presents us with at least 3 realities: (1) that we are to work hard at everything we do; (2) that we are to work to balance all the responsibilities God has given us; and (3) that we are to work with integrity in everything we do. We’ll look at each in turn.
When Paul says that we are to “do all to the glory of God,” one of the things he means is that we are to do everything in such a way that it gives God glory. This is a similar idea to what he says in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (see also Eccl. 9:10 in this regard). The word “heartily” here can be literally translated “from the soul.” The point is that we are to do everything we do with all our soul involved in it. We are to give all of ourselves to everything we do. The idea of an athlete, a sports team, or an employee being “all in” is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination. The apostle Paul was calling Christians to live this way from at least the middle of the first century AD.
If you and I are not “giving our all” at everything we do, we are falling short of what the Bible is calling us to do. And while we must always remember that God’s grace covers over all our shortcomings and failures, we are, nonetheless, called to continue to strive to live the life God wants us to live. One of the things this means is that we do nothing halfway or half-heartedly. We are never to adopt a “punch-the-clock” mentality toward the work God has entrusted to us, where we do the bare minimum required just to get by. We are to give our all to every task we take up, and, when we do so, we make God look significant or weighty to everyone around us (remember that the OT idea of glory is heaviness or weightiness). That’s the first thing we learn from 1 Corinthians 10:31.
But we also need to remember that Paul’s command to “do all to the glory of God” highlights the fact that you and I have been given many different responsibilities from God. We are not called to work at only one of those responsibilities “with everything we’ve got.” We are called to give everything to all of them, which implies balancing the many different responsibilities that God has given us at the same time.
The formula for success in any given endeavor is relatively simple: work hard and sacrifice everything else. The divorce courts are full of successful people who have learned well the formula for success and applied it in their lives. But that is not what God is calling His people to be and to do. He is calling us to balance many different tasks and responsibilities—to pursue excellence in them all, not just in one. That is incredibly hard. It certainly has been a constant battle for me over the years. Just ask those closest to me. In trying to juggle work, writing, teaching and preaching, marriage, family, rest, church involvement, health, and friendship, I haven’t always done “all to the glory of God.” I have inevitably become imbalanced in one or more of the areas I have mentioned. But, again, that’s where God’s greater grace comes in. It frees us up to do better at the juggling act that He has entrusted to us, because we know that we can never out-sin God’s grace. The reality of that juggling act is the second thing we learn from 1 Corinthians 10:31.
The third and final thing we learn from this passage is that we are to work with integrity in all that we do. It is true that we are to “do all to the glory of God,” but this doesn’t mean that we are to do anything and everything even things that run counter to God’s law. We can’t lie, cheat, or steal, for instance, and think that we are giving glory to God so long as we do these things with all our might. No, what we do matters, and the way we do them matters as well. God isn’t glorified by our cutting corners simply to get ahead or by our using any and all means at our disposal to achieve positive end results. God is calling us as His people to give our all to everything we do but to act in a Christ-like manner as we do it.
Giving our all to everything we do isn’t super-splashy. It isn’t complicated and doesn’t involve some new technology or exercise program. And it definitely isn’t easy. It’s downright ordinary and unexceptional. And, let’s be honest about these things, it’s a grind, a long-haul fight. I think that this is exactly why so many of our New Year’s resolutions fail within the first few weeks. We see the grind; we know how hard it’s going to be; and we think that the splash or the technology or the newness will help us endure the grind—only to discover within a few short weeks that we were wrong. None of these things help. In the end, it is still hard. And that is what makes this kind of life exceptional. When we can live this way, other people take notice. They notice the God whose name we bear, the God who strengthens us to go all in on all things, the God who bears us up on eagle’s wings so that we can “run and not be weary” and “walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31). And that is a life worth living!