An insignificant event from many years ago keeps coming to mind. It was a denominational gathering of ministers and others that, of course, involved a hearty dinner.
At the conclusion, the facilitator asked everyone to encircle the room, join hands and sing: “We’ll work till Jesus comes, and we’ll be gathered home.”
There was no need to turn to number 608 in The Baptist Hymnal. The words were familiar to all in attendance.
But a curiosity about that line — penned by hymn writer Elizabeth Mills — revisits me on occasion. I wondered then and now: Why work?
We could sing: “We’ll rest till Jesus comes.” Or hike would be good. Or laugh or contemplate.
We could study or explore or sing or just talk with, and help, one another until that unknown climatic moment.
Of course, the hymn’s larger focus is on an eternal resting place. So, the idea seems to be to work hard now in order to rest for eternity.
One can imagine that those whose daily existence relied on hard, physical labor would envision and yearn for a place of lasting rest as central to their heavenly vision.
And the Bible does speak a good bit about work and laborers — as well as designated rest. In fact, the creation accounts have God modeling such an approach.
The Protestant work ethic certainly got wedged into my life. The worst thing that could be said about someone during my upbringing was that he or she was lazy.
I do laugh, however, at how each aging generation tends to cast aspersions of laziness on the ones that follow. Like we didn’t know lazy people back then or that there are no motivated people today.
A commitment to responsible and rightly prioritized work is not a perspective I’m willing to discard as irrelevant even when overstated a good bit. Productivity has its own reward.
Working toward something creative and helpful is worthwhile. There is much satisfaction in experiencing what has been called a “good kind of tired.”
As with everything in life, the key is in the balance. Somewhere between slothfulness and what the late pastoral care pioneer Wayne Oates coined as “workaholic” behavior is that balance of using one’s gifts productively while allowing time for needed restoration, recuperation and re-creation.
There was a time when Jesus’ return was so repeatedly predicted as immediate that some people were packing their bags instead of being productive. A resulting bumper sticker jokingly proclaimed: “Jesus is coming back. Look busy.”
However, it seems wise to ask ourselves what we want to do or become before Jesus comes (should that happen after millennia of waiting) — or, perhaps more likely, before we exit this world by natural means — and we’ll be gathered home.
One response could be to follow some kind of “checklist Christianity” that defines discipleship according to someone else’s ideas of religious devotion. Authoritative leaders abound who eagerly tell their followers how to believe, vote and act — in service to the leader’s ideals and goals.
And the Christian label gets stuck on all kinds of things — including untruths, injustice, violence, discrimination and selfishness. So different ways of being “Christian” in some minds are aplenty.
Or one might consider what not only Jesus said and did but also called his followers to be and do.
None of which, by the way, had anything to do with assuming power over others, demeaning or discriminating against those considered outsiders, or putting one’s own interests over the common good.
Interestingly, many professing Christians scour the biblical texts for justification for their hostilities and even hatred while overlooking what Jesus said (even when it is printed in red) so clearly.
He spoke quite often from lakeshores and riversides, hilltops and deserts, obscure villages and fishing boats, a wedding venue and a nearly vacant well, synagogues and an upper room, grainfields and hospitable homes, an olive garden and a cruel cross.
He called for being generous without drawing attention to oneself. And forgiving others as graciously as God forgives us. And choosing God over money — and love over legalism.
Denying one’s self-interest in order to extend grace and mercy to others considered outside of social bounds was a favored topic. He even suggested going the extra mile when needed.
He admonished his followers not to act out of fear and anxiety about an uncertain future but to trust God. And to avoid false prophets whose vineyards bear bad fruit.
In particular, Jesus summarized all the laws and prophetic teachings into a two-fold command to love God with all one’s being and those purported outsiders as if they are good neighbors.
Then, teaching those commands to others was his final charge.
There’s plenty to fill our lifetimes. Yet, surely the best things to do till Jesus comes are the things Jesus said to do.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.