At the beginning of creation, God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). It wasn’t an arbitrary command like, “Do this or else,” but more like a simple statement of fact as in, “This is the way things are.” It’s like God said to the fish, “Here is the water. Swim!” (Genesis 1:22).
Being fruitful, being productive and increasing what we have, is the template for our existence. We were designed to do this. It’s what we do.
To achieve this, God gave us dominion over His creation. That is, He gave us the means and authority to take ourselves and the created world and put it to good use. He then gave Adam a starting point, the garden of Eden, which Adam was to nurture and guard.
God’s purpose and design in all this was that our labour would result in happy rest, just as God’s labour in creation resulted in His happy rest.
But we waxed fat and kicked. Somewhere along the line, we turned all of this upside down. Our mandate, as we wave our kids off at the gate day by day is, “Have fun.” We’ve put pleasure and happiness as the framework of our existence and then kick and complain and wonder why we are miserable.
But we are miserable for the same reason that a fish out of water is miserable.
We are like the woman who despises children and so chooses career in her youth, and then complains bitterly of her loneliness in old age. We are like the man who shaves his beard with an orbital sander and then wonders why he is in pain. He’s in pain because that’s not what orbital sanders are made for.
The commission to be fruitful and multiply did not cease when man fell into sin. Adam was to continue his labour, only now, that labour would involve struggle. Pain would accompany our fruitfulness (Genesis 3:16). Thorns and thistles would henceforth accompany our productivity (Genesis 3:18-19).
When God cursed the ground our circumstances changed. But the framework for our existence did not. The man who puts happiness, (or comfort, or pleasure) before productivity will likely get neither. But the one who puts productivity first will likely get both.
And so Solomon,
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? (Ecclesiastes 2:24)
God has so shaped the world, and mankind, that our daily joy is to be found, not simply at the end of our labour, but in the labour itself.
Happy is the woman who gets the housework done. Happy is the man who mows the lawn. She will find increase who feeds her children and he will multiply his cattle who builds a fence.
There is a direct correlation between the time we waste Googling for reruns of Neighbours or playing Candy Crush, and our misery.
We were born to work. We were made to be productive, find joy in our daily labours and multiply what we have. It doesn’t matter how big or small the work is. It doesn’t even matter if we make money from it. Multiplication is a blessing and something good happens to us when we dig a hole, bake a cake, rewire a transistor radio, fix a gate, or mend a shoe.
Comfort, along with pleasure, is a dodgy business and those who are consumed in the pursuit of these things as a means of living, find them increasingly elusive. They are chasing after the wind.
People set happiness before all things for an obvious reason. Nobody wants to be miserable. Nobody wants to suffer. But struggle and suffering are part and parcel of a fallen world. The question is, over what things are you willing to suffer?
Would you rather suffer for telling the truth, or telling a lie? Would you rather suffer the frustration of teaching your son to ride a bike, or the frustration of trying to work out how to load Foxtel onto your smart TV?
Would you rather suffer obesity because you were lazy, or a blister on your thumb because you were learning to play Bach on the violin? Would you rather suffer a hot kitchen because you were making a cake for a friend, or a hot head and a sleepless night because you spent the day making and eating a dozen melting moments for yourself?
And so Jesus came into the world. Not labouring for Himself but for the joy of others. This was the joy set before Him. Happy, fruitful and productive labour for this world’s joy and gladness. Labour that terminated in happy rest for Him, and all that follow Him.
Our labour may not always be grand; it may often be unseen by others. But it is seen by God. Better to be a street sweeper by night than to live as lazy, unproductive princes by day.
May we learn to work for our joy, rather than sulk and demand it, and may God bless the work of our hands.