Constant on my mind is the question of chronic pain and work. How do we know when to rest and when to work a little more? There is wiggle room in that continuum between too much work that it will hurt me and too little work that I will become bored and depressed.
I need rest to remind me that work does not give me value. I need rest because my body cannot live without it. I need rest to remember that works will never save or define me.
But I need work to draw me out of self-pity and depression. I need work because my body will function better if I am purposefully and carefully active. I need work to remember that God has given me gifts and capabilities in the midst of my limitations.
There is purpose to the work, but there is also purpose to those seasons of not working. This has been a harder purpose to find.
My mind drifts to many questions. Why would God give me limitations that would prevent me from serving and helping people? Why would God allow my body to crack and break just as I finished my degree, just as I found a fabulous job, just as I started really getting the hang of counseling?
Could I not do so much more for God if I was not in pain? Variations of this question will cloud my mind, even as I know the thoughts are ridiculous and prideful. God can use me or not use me as he pleases.
I know this, but some specific direction to these questions that cloud my brain has come from the great preacher Charles Spurgeon who struggled with both physical and mental afflictions, a person who personally knew what it is like to be pulled away from work and service, forced to spend seasons of life laid aside.
Amid his prolific body of work is an article entitled “Laid Aside, Why?” In this work, he answers this question of how Christians should approach this question of why they have being pulled away from work during seasons of pain and illness.
He poses the question as so:
“Mysterious are the visitations of sickness. When the Lord is using a man for his glory it is singular that he should all of a sudden smite him down, and suspend him useless…How is it that a heart eager for the welfare of men and the glory of God should find itself hampered by a sickly frame, and checked in its utmost usefulness by attacks of painful disease?”
Spurgeon gives several answers to this question.
To Keep Us From Self-Importance
Chronic pain is a lesson in humility. Spurgeon sees chronic pain as a means to keep us from the “hateful delusion” of self-importance – the delusion that we are so greatly needed. That delusion that so quickly seeps into our thinking that we are the best equipped, the most important, the one best suited to serve some particular function in the body.
How can God effectively use someone filled with such prideful delusions? For many of us, it takes these moments of great physical weakness to remind us that we are not “indispensable to the church,” we are not “pillars of the cause,” and we are not “foundations of the temple of God,” as Spurgeon so kindly reminds us.
We are not quite so important as we think.
To Bestow On Us Double Honor
In our churches, there is much focus on the work that God calls us to, but Spurgeon calls to mind the equal importance of patience in suffering, a calling much less glamorous, but no less important, than those who seem to accomplish so much in their service and ministry. To Spurgeon, those who both work and spend time laid aside are living out a double honor, learning how to be “Abundant in labor” but also “Patient in suffering.”
He says, “Some believers have excelled in active service, but have scarcely been tried in the other and equally honorable field of submissive endurance; though veterans in work, they have been little better than raw recruits as to patience, and on this account they have been in some respects but half developed in their Christian manhood.”
Our patience in suffering is as of much significance as our abundance in work.
To Remind Us We Are Not Necessary to God’s Work
Quite similar to his first reason, Spurgeon reminds us that we are not necessary to God’s work. Not only does God have little use for us if we are filled with delusions of self-importance, but even at our best and most humble, we are not necessary for God’s work to be fulfilled.
As Spurgeon describes, “We are nothings and nobodies, but that we do not think so is very evident, for as soon as we are put on the shelf we begin anxiously to enquire, ‘How will the work go on without me?’”
We continue to think much too highly of ourselves. It seems that we are the only one who can get the job done. It seems that if we leave, how will everything continue? It seems that if we leave, things just won’t be done the right way.
But God does not need us to complete his work. We need this reminder throughout those weeks, months, and years we spend laid aside. It is a stinging reminder, but also a holy comfort. God’s work will continue. God’s plan will prevail. God’s purpose will not in any way be lessened by our limitations or times away from work.
Spurgeon says it far better than me: “Far better men have been laid in the grave without having brought the Lord’s work to a standstill, and shall we fume and fret because for a little season we must lie upon the bed languishing. If we were only put on one side when apparently we could be easily spared, there would be no rebuke to our pride, but to weaken our strength in the way at the precise juncture when our presence seems most needed, is the surest way to teach us that we are not necessary to God’s work, and that when we are most useful he can easily do without us.”
And so as I make decisions about work, about adding a few meager hours to my schedule, I realize the need to draw my heart to the right place. I see the need to move forward and make decisions with the right motivation.
Our work should not come out of some grand delusion that we have so much to offer. Our work should not come out of some fateful belief that our suffering is meaningless or of lesser importance than our work. Our work should not come out of some conviction that God needs us to for his will to be done.
So, how will I decide if a few extra hours of work is right for me?
I will be asking myself two questions based on what I know about my health, abilities, needs, and desires: “Do you want to work more? Or would you prefer to work less?”
That simple. Because I believe that either answer can be the right answer.
Yes we are called to work, but sometimes we are laid aside.
And when we are laid beside, we remember.
God’s world will not stop turning if we cannot go to work.