“LET ME BE EMPLOYED BY THEE OR LAID ASIDE FOR THEE,”
Today’s Scripture Reading
3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
We want to feel useful to others. We want to feel productive. We want to know that our talents, skills, gifts, and strengths are being used to their fullest, so we can continue working and contribute positively to the mission of God. It's really quite simple -- human beings were created to work, subdue, rule, serve, and keep.
Genesis 1:26 says, "Then God said, 'Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all crawling things on the earth.'" You'll notice the words take charge, as they illuminate the fact that we are created to subdue and rule. Genesis 2:15 says, "The LORD God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it." In this verse, you'll notice that God settles human beings in the garden for two reasons: "to farm it" and "to take care of it." When God was establishing the foundations of life on earth, God directed humans to be productive by partnering with God to take care of the earth. Long before Genesis 3, when humans make the selfish decision to try and snatch God's authority, God presents a mission opportunity for humans to partner with God to keep the earth whole.
In Genesis 1-2, God passes on the human beings the authority and responsibility to care for creation. We don't possess the authority; we hold it -- like a parent who gives the keys to a car to the teenager for a quick trip to the store. The teen holds the keys for a while, but the keys, along with the car belong to the parent. The role of the teen is to take the responsibility seriously and to steward the owner's possession. This passing on of God's authority to care for creation is not a license to impose our own will on it or abuse or misuse the land in some way, but to make sure that creation thrives.
Because of this meaningful task of stewarding God's creation, our hands are to remain active. We've been directed to diligently take charge of, farm, and take care of God's good and beautiful creation. This is why humans feel the need to be productive -- we've been designed to work. This is also why, in part, God instituted the Sabbath, to take our hands off the work and to rest, remembering who and what sustains us -- God.
"Let me be employed by thee" is a way of praying, "I want to be active for you, God. I want to use my talents, skills, gifts, and strengths to be productive in accomplishing your work." To be employed by God is to be engaged, eventful, and used by God for God's good work in the world. Praying this part of the prayer is a way of letting God know we want to be productive for God's purposes.
The opposite of being employed is being laid aside or unemployed. This is a much harder part of the prayer to pray. To be laid aside is to be idle and fruitless. I know no one who wishes to be laid aside. However, I know of many who, for various reasons, are unable to be as productive as they wish they could be. Chronic pain, depression, disability, and aging are all factors that play into this reality that all of us become, at some point in our lives, less productive.
A few days ago, I received an email from someone I used to work with. This person shared that due to a decline in sales, his business was no longer able to keep him employed. He was reaching out to me for networking purposes, wondering if I knew anyone who was hiring. He described leaving on good terms, with a deep respect for the owners of the business who, for well over a decade, had kept every promise they had ever made to him, including monthly paychecks, reimbursement of business expenses, commissions on going above and beyond sales quotas, and end of the year bonuses. In his email, my friend wrote, “The more generous the owners were, the more I loved them. The more I loved them, the harder I worked. The harder I worked, the more results. The more results, the more generous the owners were. It was a wonderful partnership... and now, it is all gone.”
This is tough stuff. As I write, the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on every aspect of life. The emotional, financial, physical, relational, spiritual, and social aspects of everyday life have been upended. The unemployment rate in the United States is somewhere in the double digits and rising. People are being “laid aside” left and right, and our country looks more like it did in the Great Depression era than it does the swelling economic position of a few short months ago.
My friend, like so many other people I know, is reeling and trying to figure out what is next. After over a decade, he is finding his way again and having a very difficult time. He said, “The hardest part, Chris, is that I worked so hard for so long now that I have no idea what to do with myself. I am bored out of my mind. I feel so useless and inadequate.”
To pray, “or laid aside for thee,” could very well mean we are waiting for what is next in our lives while doing so, like my friend, we feel useless and inadequate. We likely could struggle to find meaningful activity -- the kind of activity in which we find purpose and feel like we are positively contributing to something bigger than ourselves. Being “laid aside” for God can very well be a form of suffering, of being made low.
To pray, “or laid aside for thee,” is recognition of at least three things. First, it is God's good work in the world, and we get to participate in it. Second, our gifts aren't merely for our own good; They are for the good of the world and, therefore, we are employed at God's discretion to accomplish God's work. Finally, to pray, “or laid aside for thee,” is a humble recognition that regardless of active or idle, productive or unproductive, God determines the path of our labors. In doing so, God originates our position as employed or laid aside. In the end, to pray, “let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,” is a commitment to honor God, regardless of the conditions and circumstances of our life.
Does my desire to be productive get in the way of following Jesus?
In what ways am I intentional about caring for God's creation?
What would you say is the main idea of this part of the prayer?
As we use our hands to serve you, God, remind us that we were made to take care of creation and to use our unique gifts, talents, and strengths to serve your purpose in this world. If we are laid aside, help us to wait patiently and expectantly. Amen.
Take a walk outside in nature and make a list of three observations of God's creation. Listen for sounds, smell a flower, watch water flow, or pick a leaf off the ground and observe its intricacies. If weather permits you to be outside, you can be productive by picking up trash and discarding property.
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