Finding Meaning in Work


I aspire, as I’m sure you do, to instill in my sons a strong work ethic. To take seriously the call of the apostle Paul: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

God has called us to work hard, to put our all into everything that we do, doing it “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” In the context of Colossians 3, Paul is describing the marks of the Christian life, the list of things we are to “put on” after we have “put off” sin. A strong work ethic, a life which moves away from inactivity or laziness, should be a distinctive feature in the life of every follower of Christ. This call to work hard is sandwiched between two commands for us to express thankfulness to God. Without extrapolating too far, I think it’s safe to say that God has given us the privilege of working: that even though the work we do may not be fulfilling to us, it is a gift from God to be able to work, to accomplish and succeed. Work is a gift.

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To be frank, I don’t always (or often) recognize that. Perhaps, like me, you’re in a job that’s got nothing to do with your training or abilities, that is seemingly menial or insignificant. A job that just (sort of) pays the bills. A job that you do just because, well, you need to work.

How do you give thanks for that?

At the beginning of time, when God first created the world, He instituted work for man: tend the garden, see to it, work the ground. I can only assume that this work brought satisfaction to Adam, the first man. I can only imagine the feeling of accomplishment he experienced after a day of labor, tending to the garden in which God had placed him. Of course, Adam and Eve sinned, and work became difficult, even painful, for mankind.

Maybe you feel that difficulty every day of your work life. Maybe your work seems trivial, or your circumstances stifling. Maybe your job isn’t enough to cover your bills each month. Take heart; you are not called to be successful, or to be fulfilled by your work, or even to enjoy it. Only to offer it to God. To work at it with all your heart, as working to the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes, that is a small comfort, or perhaps no comfort at all. But if Scripture tells us one thing throughout its entire narrative about work, it’s that God rewards faithfulness. To the one who is faithful in the small things, He entrusts the greater things.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about work in the past few years is this: No work is meaningless. Even if it’s cleaning pools, finishing basements, being a security guard (all of which I’ve done), or something else that doesn’t display significant results. No work is meaningless.

That is, if it is rendered to God. If it is done for His glory, seeking His ends and how He would use us in whatever situation we find ourselves. God is not concerned with the title of our position; He is concerned with the position of our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7).

One final note, something that hit me only yesterday. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He looked at His work and declared it good. The results of His work were good: they were worthwhile and significant. Do you know, fellow father, that no matter our jobs, we can say the same thing for our work? When we strive to bring God the glory through our work, when we work without complaining (Philippians 2:14), when we offer our work as a sacrifice to God…

We can look at the most difficult, or insignificant, or overwhelming task, and say that it is good.

 

Lessons Learned From a Family Missions Trip

Family Missions Trip
I’m not sure why it takes me leaving the country to make everything in my brain and heart line up correctly, but it does. I get out of whack here in the US– or, at least, my priorities do. I get into routine, comfort, and expectations for what I believe should be normal, and it all goes south. And impressively fast.

For the past three years, I have taken one or both of my boys on a trip to Honduras to serve with a ministry that we love and support. When I step my foot off of the plane in Honduras, I remember with my very heart what it means when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I get to smell, touch and see those who are (by all the world’s standards) poor, but yet very, very rich in what matters. That is something I want my boys to experience as well.

I want my boys to see that they don’t know hunger. As we step out of a van into trash, human waste, and decay, they see a child about 11 months of age. No shoes, no diaper, and a tattered shirt, waiting patiently in line to receive a meal from our team. Possibly the only meal that has not been retrieved from someone’s trash in quite some time.

I want them to know, and I want to be reminded, that I become impatient if my meal takes more than 15-20 minutes in a restaurant. To think that I flippantly say, “I’m starving” if I’ve gone more than about 4 hours without a meal. Yet, this child waits patiently, not complaining, and with a smile on her face. Grateful. I want to be and I want my boys to be hungry like this for Jesus. Hungry to always know our need for Jesus.

I also want our boys to feel. I want them to feel the joy of seeing other believers who love Jesus with a fire and passion that I want them to have. I want them to feel the happiness of a boy who does not carry our last name on his birth certificate, but who has his name branded on our hearts. A boy who knows how to embrace life with arms wide open despite abandonment that left them empty not so long ago. I want them to feel the sorrow of so many that stare into hopelessness day after day.

Finally, I want them to be humbled. Humbled by a God that would come down to this earth so that this would not be the end. That created a way for us to live for something beyond ourselves. To give a purpose, a hope, and a future. To have them come undone so that they might come together with a one-track heart and mind.

I know that taking your family to serve in another country is a big commitment of your time and your money. I also know that there is plenty of work to be done in our country as well. But I do think that there is great value in a father showing his son that men must be champions of service. That is better modeled than discussed.

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.” –C.S. Lewis

What lessons have you learned from serving with your kids? How has it shaped their worldview?

Sharing the Glory of the Mundane

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I sometimes look around me and wonder how in the world I can communicate a concept to my sons. I have a great batch of guys here, two adults and four younger sons, and I am humbled and delighted by the men they are growing to be, every one of them. God has blessed our efforts to raise them to know their Savior and their duty, and to embrace them both.

But there’s something I recognize in myself that I never expected when I was younger, and no one ever really spoke to me about. Like most young guys, I had visions of the different roles I hoped to play. The childhood dreams of military glory and academic honor moderated to the actual achievements of a decent education and an honorable four years as a lieutenant.  My late-high school decision to pursue an engineering degree led to a useful twenty years in government and industry service, before striking out in a different direction as an entrepreneur (and occasional consultant) – not as chief engineer of a large industrial site, but as CEO of a tiny company of my own.

More intriguing than those kinds of vision changes—after all, who hasn’t changed careers or employers, or recognized their boyhood fantasy wasn’t the stuff of reality—more interesting to me is the change I found in my daily outlook.

When I went to college, my parents gave me a monthly allowance for incidental expenses—a massive $100 a month. Yes, it was a few years ago, but not that long ago. It was sufficient for someone of conservative tastes living in the dorms. I remember my dad remarking, a bit wryly, “You know, I think you have more disposable income here than I do.”

No way, I thought. Dad was always truthful, but surely that couldn’t be accurate.

As an adult, I realized that he was probably right. I’d still like a hundred dollars a month to just spend “however.” But what I never expected was that as an adult, I would look at that and say It’s okay. I would consider the money we had tied up in our house, groceries, taxes, electricity, and say, “It’s the cost of being a grown-up and having a family, and I accept it.” I would see a more affluent friend and not envy the BMW he drove to work, but admire his new 15-passenger van instead.

Recently I read an article by a professor at Liberty University, arguing for the value of marriage as a cornerstone of our adult lives – not a capstone, to add once we achieve our career plans and financial goals, but as a foundational part of our lives that we build upon with those other dreams and aspirations. One phrase leaped out at me: she spoke of learning “to luxuriate in the quotidian.” In other words, we discover satisfaction, and really, delight, in the everyday duties and responsibilities of marriage and family. I never expected that, but I’ve found it to be true. And that is an idea I hope I communicate to my sons—sure, dream, aspire, work hard for noble and ambitious goals, but realize that at the end of the day, there is a treasury of happiness in the simple and profound calling of husband, father, and householder.

Take Aim and Release

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I recently had the amazing opportunity to listen to a challenge from Dr. Duane Litfin. If you are not familiar with the name, he is the President Emeritus of Wheaton College, and brought some great reminders to me in his presentation.

We read from Psalm 127. I have to admit, I had never taken the whole chapter as a single topic, but after hearing this, I felt compelled to share.

You see, I find myself challenged with the notion that my day-job needs to matter. From what I have read in management literature, I am not alone in this. We all need to have a sense that we are not just wasting our days and that we will come to the end of our lives wondering if we really made a difference.  Here is what the Psalmist had to say…

1 Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves. 3 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. 5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. (NIV)

I have never really connected verses 1-2 with 3-5 before. Solomon was passing along some wisdom that really struck home with me. It is not an accident that he starts by saying that the Lord needs to be in the center of the work, but then he wraps it all up talking about our kids and the blessing they are.

Solomon was really onto something here. I have always said that my definition of success in this life is that my grandchildren are serving God. Regardless of where I work, and what I do, my first, and most powerful, field of influence is my children.

C.S. Lewis once said “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”

How much of the daily work I do is outdated the moment I finish it? Is my career really all about things that no one will know about, or care about, decades from now? I contrast that against the generations before me, and the generations that come after me. My dad does not have much in the way of material possessions, but he did leave me and my siblings a legacy to follow: A passionate legacy of living a life with God unashamedly.

Am I looking at my kids as a blessing? Many days – yes. Some days I forget and need this reminder.

Am I intentional in how I aim their lives towards the Lord? I need to be more so. When I am not placing a priority on my children, and their need for seeing who God is, it is because I am guilty of placing too much emphasis on other endeavors. Endeavors that, regardless of how noble, pale in comparison to my role as the father, mentor, leader in my home. My boys need to see the God I serve. They need to know that I am here for them. They need to know that true manhood is experiencing a personal relationship with the God of creation.

Disclaimer: I often refer to myself as a Jack of all Trades, Master of None. May I learn to be a Master of One Trade – Dad.

Know your role!

Know Your Role
One of the key ingredients to being a strategic and intentional dad is teaching our boys to apply biblical truth to everyday life. I have often found that life as a follower of Jesus gets fuzzier the closer it gets to real life. As fathers, we must understand that we must fulfill three primary roles in the discipleship of our boys.

Dads must be primary teachers.

A father’s goal for his boys should be to root their identity in the existence and glory of God. Far too many times, I parent as if God doesn’t exist. We should never allow our children to believe in a God who is distant and uninvolved. That means we must make it abundantly clear that God is with us in the mundane, ordinary tasks of the day. Our boys must see us glorifying God in all areas of our life. We must seek to embed the story of our sons in the larger story of God.

Dads must be primary counselors.

A father must realize that he is the negotiator in a house full of sinners, of which he is the worst. God’s plan for the family is to be a picture of redemptive community. In order for that to happen, fathers must lead their families in gospel-centered conflict resolution. Our sons must see a godly example from us on how to talk with another, serve one another, make decisions, and deal with differences. We must make sure that we do not give into surface solutions rather than dealing with our son’s heart.

Dads must be primary coaches.

Great coaches prepare, model, and adjust. Dads must prepare like coaches by parenting with the end in mind. We must know our “personnel” and prepare them to be people of hope even in the midst of a fallen world. We must also parent with a humble awareness of our own sin. Last time I checked, I don’t recall Romans 3:23 saying that just our boys sin. Boys must hear from their dads that only through Christ can we truly experience freedom from the things with which we struggle. The hope of the gospel must be the constant theme in the life of our family. Finally, we must be willing to adjust and make sure that we never let the minor trials of life take our mind away from the major issue at hand, casting and modeling vision for our boys about what it means to be a godly man.

These three roles will play a critical part in how we teach and shape the worldview of our sons. My prayer is that we all take each role seriously and that we strive to glorify God through the way we invest in the lives of our boys.

What role do you find the most difficult? What methods are you using in your house to fulfill these roles?

 

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Hey dads, feel like crashing a party? Our sister site, the MOB Society, is hosting a Facebook party TODAY at 3pm EST.

Why would you want to crash that? Here’s why:

It’s all about giving HOPE to those who need it most. This party promotes the Mother’s Day Special going on right now at MOB. Not familiar? Head here for all the details about this great project to provide meaningful, noble work for women who have been trapped in the sex trade. We need your help to spread to the word about this project!

Need another reason? Enter the giveaway at the MOB society site today, and you’ll be entered to win a great Mother’s Day gift for the BoyMom in your life.  The package includes a Freeset bag, bag of coffee beans from Avodah, and a copy of Hope for the Weary Mom.

See ya over there, Party Crashers!

 

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Whose Problem Is This?

Every week my wife and I face situations where we must help our boys learn the responsibility of the choices they make. Believe me, there are plenty of opportunities with three boys around. The challenge is allowing them the freedom to make decisions and walking them through the consequences. Some of the choices they make are good and beneficial, while others are not and create messes. When this happens, our job as parents is to help our boys “own their messes.” This was especially difficult when they were younger because we didn’t like to see them fail, feel pain, or lose out. Sometimes it was just as easy to solve it myself and move on.

Either way, we came to realize that our approach was not working for two reasons. One, our boys’ messes eventually became our messes, even if we had nothing to do with it. Two, it became apparent that our boys weren’t learning for themselves how God designed them to grow into maturity. The day my wife and I figured this out and implemented a different plan with our boys, a surprising transformation took place in our home. We breathed a little easier, the arguing diminished, and the communication of what was expected of them became much clearer.

Here’s an example. Each of our boys has chores around the house. Each of them knows what is expected regarding when and how the chores are to be done. Recently, the chore of taking out the trash went “unattended.” It was overflowing and was smelling something awful. Now, how did I used to handle this? Yell, fuss, belabor the point of how it needs to be done without me always having to give reminders…interject some threats of punishment, and then send him away.

How do we solve this issue in our home now? I calmly called for my son, asked for his cell phone, told him the trash was not taken out by the time we both agreed upon, and informed him he would get the phone back at a later time. No yelling, threatening, or arguing. I know it seems too cut and dry, almost too easy. Rest assured, it doesn’t always go smoothly; but it does create the results we want for our boys.

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Below are a few things we did that laid the groundwork for this kind of environment in our home. I also added, in italics, how these points applied to the “taking out the trash” situation above. Know that it will take time, diligence, and even courage to establish this kind of environment, so be patient and graceful. Remember the goal…heart connection.

1)    Make the expectations clear for both of you. Mutually agree upon who is responsible in each situation, especially when something doesn’t go right. (My son understands that the trash cannot get to a point of overflowing AND/OR be constantly reminded to do something he already knows to do)

2)    Offer them “real” choices. Not just a choice between what you want them to do and don’t want them to do. That’s a set up for failure. Offer two options where either one will work for you. Help them understand the benefits and consequences of not choosing either of the options. (If I don’t allow my son to have some control in how he decides to do his chore, then he might feel like he has no ownership—choosing the day, time, or way empowers him with responsibility. Having a cell phone is a privilege that requires responsibility in other areas of his life.)

3)    If they choose “poorly” (kids who push the envelope will do this) be prepared with a plan of what YOU will do to still make it their problem. What I mean is this: consequences breed ownership, ownership breeds responsibility. (On occasion I get push back– you know, a little attitude. I respond to this by saying some of the greatest words a parent will ever learn: “I’m sorry you feel that way, but that’s not my problem.” This keeps the problem where it should be…on its creator. If I get more attitude I encourage them by saying, “I understand this is hard for you, but I think you’re fully capable of figuring this out. If you need help with that, let me know.”)

4)    Guard your heart! It’s easy and tempting to become frustrated, desperate, or even angry. Keeping our emotions in check prevents the situation from escalating any further. Just as God is long-suffering with us when we are figuring out life, we need to be the same with our kids.

Teaching our kids (especially boys) to create solutions for their problems without us deciding for them is one of the best gifts we can give to them while they’re in our home. Doing this with sanity and patience can only come from the Holy Spirit’s power working through us. If this is a challenge to you or you have questions about this topic, I invite you to share them with me.

http://chadssmith.com/

It’s No Cake Walk

Hey Dad,

Greetings from vomit-central. I’m typing away on an iPad from my bedroom where my kids, Cal (6) and Maggie (8), have been quarantined and are eating popsicles and watching videos. I’m on duty because my wife doesn’t do body fluids…if she’s forced to she is prone to adding to them.

Up until last night we have been stomach flu-free. All that changed so quickly. And now here we are hoping we’ve stemmed the tide before we have an all out epidemic.

No Cake Walk

That’s just part and parcel of being a dad. It’s always something. Last week it was another something. I ‘caught’ one of my children…or better yet God placed me in his path so he would get caught.

We both knew right away that this was going to be a big deal. He tried to deny it, but I knew he was guilty and so we didn’t give him much room to dig any deeper. It wasn’t one of those things where you can just yell and chastise…it demanded more involvement than that. It required me to talk, probe, understand, and pray. My wife was indispensible and deeply involved as well.

It wasn’t very fun, but we made it through and I find myself so thankful it happened and was uncovered. Still, I hate those times. I would much rather smile though parenting, pop in a video, eat pizza, and have good memories. But that’s not the way fathering works.

Sometimes it’s not much fun…like when you’re emptying another trash can full of puke at 3:30 in the morning. But that’s what being a dad is all about. It’s hard, stinky, messy, and terrible. But our children need us as much when they’re heaving up…stuff, as when they’re caught in sin. It’s why God gave them to us. And in a way…I like it. I like being a dad.

You should too, my fellow father, because you’re doing something big!

You da dad,
Todd

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Balancing Hard Work and Talent

“You know, I really don’t like it when they use the word ‘prodigy,’” my 15-year-old said, just out of the blue, one afternoon.

He had been watching a news story about a young boy who had uncanny technical skills. “People were calling him a genius and trying to bring him to America to study,” he explained, “but I think there was as much hard work as there was ‘native genius.’ I think we make too much of ‘giftedness’ sometimes.”

I thought he had a good point. There’s no question that God gives certain gifts and talents to people, from the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12, to the ability to make wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). I have a son with a natural musical ability; another who is able to handle animals; one who has a scholarly bent. The Bible says that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father …” (James 1:17), and we can (and should) rejoice in the generosity of the Lord who gives His gifts to men.

But while we might enjoy  God’s gifts to us, the Bible warns us to keep these things in perspective. A strong man may rejoice to run his race (Psalm 19:5), and that’s okay – he’s delighting in God’s gift to him–but he’s not allowed to boast about it.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise [man] glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty [man] glory in his might, Nor let the rich [man] glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, that I [am] the LORD … ” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

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That’s a problem we need to face: too often, we receive these gifts from God, then imagine that we somehow created them ourselves. Or we think we’ve identified the seeds of greatness in our children, and secretly whisper, “He got that from me.”

And that’s what my son was pointing out. On the one hand, a person with a real giftedness is simply enjoying the generosity and providence of God. “For who makes you differ [from another]?” Paul asked the Corinthians. “And what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 12:7). A true gift is not earned or deserved, so there’s no room to boast. All the glory is due to the person who gave the gift, not the one who received it!

On the other hand, too much focus on “genius” and “gifting” of this sort can also be an excuse for our own laziness. Maybe we look at an athlete’s form and say, “I could never be strong and graceful like him, because he has a natural athletic gift”-both of which may be true statements, by the way-and then we continue in our hearts to say, “and since I’m not a natural athlete, it’s no big deal that I’d rather sit on the couch than exercise my own non-gifted body.”

Or we look at the class leader and say, “He has an intuitive grasp of this subject; in short, he’s a genius. And since I’m no genius, I don’t need to feel uneasy that my failure to do the homework and my lack of study might have something to say about my disappointing grades.”

For that matter, the truly gifted person may be weak in crucial areas. I was proud as could be when I received an academic scholarship for the college I had chosen. Although I thought it was challenging at the time, looking back I realize I was able to breeze through many of my high school classes because I liked to read, I had a good memory, and I could write reasonably well. What I didn’t have were good study habits, or the self-discipline I would need to really excel in college. Oh, I was able to make it through the university with decent grades, but I realized before I left that some of my friends who weren’t as “brilliant” as I had once imagined I was were learning more-and scoring higher-because they took the talents they had and built on them, rather than relaxing in the head start they’d been given.

They knew how to work, and they knew it better than I did. Instead of the prodigy I had hoped I might be, I ended up feeling more like the prodigal who wasted many opportunities that had come to his hands.

So that’s the tricky balance I want to teach my sons: to rejoice in the gifts which God has given, to praise Him for His generosity rather than puffing themselves up with unrighteous pride. But while accepting the honest truth that they are good in one skill or another, I want them to see whatever gift God sent as their call to work just as hard as the next guy-or even harder–for God’s glory.

They Should Feel Pain

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Our boys need pain.

My guess is that you know this already. You sense it like you sense directions and don’t need maps (don’t run too far with that analogy within earshot of your wife).

When I address this topic with moms, I usually tame down the rhetoric a bit in order to deflect their concern over the fact that I just said, “Our boys need pain.” But with you fellow dads, I think I’m just saying something that you instinctually believe, but live in fear of saying.

It’s not difficult to spot the areas of culture where the lack of healthy pain for boys has manifested itself. Our sons are growing up in a world where the concept of working hard to achieve things is actually offensive to even mention. Because mom and dad (or just mom, in an unfortunate trend)  sheltered them from challenge, they think all of humanity exists to serve them. They don’t think they have to work hard for the chance to have a good job, a nice house, or an excellent wife.

Nonsense.

Those good things are fought for and won, not handed to you.

God told Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28 that they would need to be fruitful and multiply (no problem there) and fill the earth and…wait for it…subdue it. That means work. Work itself is very healthy. Think about that moment of satisfaction when you worked hard to achieve something and you realize you just achieved it. As men, we rightly find a great deal of our identity in our work. How long does it take you when you meet a new fella to ask him, “So what do you do?” There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not advocating works-based salvation here; just recognizing a healthy male trait.

In a culture where everyone gets a first place ribbon in the race, we as dads must hold the line and teach our sons about reality. Reality is that there are winners and losers. Sometimes you are the winner and get the reward. Sometimes you are the loser. Yes, the loser. Their time spent in pain as the loser can teach them some of the most valuable lessons in life. They will simultaneously learn humility and rebounding. 

Working hard and experiencing pain brings growth and forward momentum. The basements of parents everywhere are filled with boy-men who always had things handed to them, like phony first place ribbons, and then balked at the first sign of challenge in the real world. Hence why many of them are on the couch in mom’s basement doing nothing but playing video games- not out of necessity, but out of pure cowardice and laziness. Video games are great. Maybe mom and dad’s basement is a safety net needed for a season. But safety nets are not permanent homes, and video games are not jobs (unless you literally have a video game job, in which case it’s pretty cool).

I have never heard of the woman who, when pressed for honesty, wanted to be married to a lazy coward. Some girls are deceived by the same culture that deceives our boys, that gives them a desirable image of a weakling who wants nothing but roses and sensitivity. Women realize this is a lie when they see that the weak, sniveling coward they married doesn’t have the you-know-whats to love them with passion and selfless dedication. We are told in Scripture to give ourselves up for our wives. As in, suffer and know pain in her place.

We must raise sons who are, to use the title of Stu Weber’s classic book, “Tender Warriors.” A warrior only becomes known as such when he has seen battle and known pain. When he has gone through an initiation into manhood that was hard and left him somewhat scarred.

So let’s teach them. Let’s show them these three principles: See battle. Know pain. Be a man.

Fist bump.