October 1, 2012

Doing "Whatsoever"

Recently, I came across a reference to a familiar verse in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Immediately my mind went to my father. If you were acquainted with Bob Green, you know he was a hard worker.

When I was ten years old, Dad went to work fulltime for the church in the maintenance department. However, even before he was on the church payroll, he was always occupied with jobs that came his way—both in the work of the Lord and in helping individuals who had problems that a good mechanic could assist with. Did your furnace go out? Bob Green was the man to call. Your car isn’t running right? Ask Bob to take a look at it; he’d probably be able to figure out the problem. Water heater leaking? Need input on an air-conditioning system? Is there new duct work to be installed, or some electrical work to be done in your branch church? It seemed there were always needs, but I never remember Dad showing the slightest hesitation in undertaking a task.

In the Ecclesiastes verse, Solomon instructed his hearers to work industriously because once a person passes from this earth there will be no more opportunity to do so. A similar instruction is found in the New Testament, in Paul’s words to the Colossians: “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23).
Notice that both the Old and New Testament admonitions use the word “Whatsoever. . . . ” I am struck by the fact that this word is absolutely inclusive. While we are still young, we figure out that some tasks we have to do are enjoyable and others are . . . well, less enjoyable! As a school-age child, I liked to “surprise” my folks by making them breakfast. (Actually, it probably wasn’t much of a surprise, because I suspect there was a fair amount of clanging and banging that went on as I pulled out a bowl to mix biscuits, a knife to cut the grapefruit, and a pan to fry bacon.) However, I was not nearly as enamored about cleaning up the kitchen after completing a breakfast-making project. When my grandmother was staying with us, she would always offer to do the dishes because she said the dishwater warmed up her hands. And I was always more than happy to let her!

As an adult, there are still jobs that come my way which I enjoy doing, and others that are less attractive. No doubt that is true for all of us. Could Solomon really have meant tasks that are mundane or repetitive? Does “whatsoever” encompass the unexciting, or the jobs that interrupt our pre-planned schedule? I think it does, and I believe the clue to how to keep a positive attitude is found in the Colossians verse. What a difference it makes when we consider “whatsoever” we do as an act of service to the Lord! Suddenly, the ordinary takes on a bit of a shine, the mundane becomes purposeful, and the optional becomes enriching.

As I continued to ponder this, I thought about the types of tasks that might be included in the phrase “Whatsoever thy hand findeth . . .” Most commentators agree that the word “findeth” references tasks that are obvious and close at hand. They suggest that we do not need to look for some grandiose task or important ministry to do for God. Perhaps God’s plan is for us to speak to the children on our street rather than to address the teeming millions in China.

However, I wonder if “Whatsoever thy hand findeth…” doesn’t also include assignments that we were not looking for—perhaps they found us, rather than us finding them! I believe God purposefully places opportunities for service in our lives, but those opportunities might not always be ones we would have chosen for ourselves. We may feel that we are not sufficiently qualified to undertake them. In fact, we may feel that surely God must have made a mistake! The One who knows us so well must realize that we could never get up and speak in front of that big group of people . . . or teach a class of energetic high-schoolers . . . or give our testimony at a mission meeting . . . or . . . . Still, we get back to that word “whatsoever.” Sometimes God gives us tasks to do for Him that we don’t feel really align with our natural inclinations or abilities.

We repeatedly see in Scripture how God used “ordinary people” in extraordinary ways.

When we look at the people in the Bible who were called to work for God, we may have a tendency to think that they were kind of spiritual super-heroes. We assume that the prophets and apostles were supremely talented, amazingly accomplished individuals, so naturally God could use them! However, when we study their lives, we find they were much like us. They were ordinary! Yet we repeatedly see in Scripture how God used “ordinary people”

A preacher in our organization years ago used to say, “God’s callings are His enablings.” We can find plenty of support for that statement in Scripture. When we say, “That’s impossible,” God’s Word says, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). When we think, “I can’t do it,” we can remember Paul’s statement, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). When we conclude, “It’s just not in me,” God says, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

My dad was never one to seek the limelight, and I am quite sure that he was far more comfortable dealing with projects than with people. However, the work God gave him to do was not limited to mechanical challenges. For years, he and my mom carried on a ministry among the seafaring men who visited our city. Not only were these men strangers to my dad, but they often spoke and understood only limited English and came from entirely different cultural backgrounds than his.

Was it easy for Dad to step out of his comfort zone and labor in this way? I suspect it might not have been, at least at first. But he did it as unto the Lord, and I know that God gave him a real love for this outreach. Dad not only visited hundreds of ships over the years to invite men to church, but he also invited them to our home, on picnics, and on countless outings around the local area. In time, my folks had “sons” around the world who looked to them as spiritual parents in the faith.

Finally, I thought about the verb “do” which appears in both the Ecclesiastes and Colossians verses. “Do” indicates action! Let’s be careful not to waste our allotted time here on earth. We want to be sure that we do not go through life spending the greatest part of our time and energy on what we want, or what interests us. Those aspects of life are fine in their place, but may God give us a vision of the work to be done for Him! May we find it in our hearts not to procrastinate, not to wait for a better time, not to expend just a minimum amount of effort, or to engage only in what is convenient. Rather, let us do “whatsoever” we can in the service of the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—making each task a true work of the heart!

God knows each of us individually, even better than we know ourselves. He knows what calling we are best suited to do. We may not be called to preach like Paul the Apostle, but we all have a role to fill in the Gospel. Time is short, and we need to serve God the best we can while we have the opportunity.

Dad was one of many who have lived by the perspective that every act of service on this earth is an act of service unto God, and that can be our way of living as well. Let’s make sure that we apply ourselves wholeheartedly to every opportunity God gives us, whether large or small. We want to live and work with eternity in view!

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