Mowing, Painting, and Living by Faith

For years now, I have been unwilling to relinquish a couple of jobs in our household. The first is mowing the lawn. Both my wife and (at least one of) our girls have often asked me when I’m going to hand off that responsibility or at least start sharing it with our daughters. The other is painting. At one point in the increasingly distant past, I actually made a living as a painter and handyman. In more recent days, though, my girls have wanted me to teach them to paint so that they could take up that mantle in our home. I think they tend to read my resistance to the idea as part of my need to control things (and there may well be something to that), but the more I think about why I love those two jobs so, the more I am convinced that my reluctance to relinquish these roles is rooted in something else.

As I neared the end of my yard work this morning, I was reminded that I love to mow because: I can actually see the progress as I do the work. Painting provides a similar source of satisfaction. When I stop to consider all this, I must confess that there are few other things I do in life that provide such a sense of accomplishment in the midst of the work as these two jobs afford. In fact, as a pastor, there are few things I work on that are ever truly completed. Shepherding, leading, counseling, planning, preparing, preaching, following up, and most other aspects of pastoral ministry are never done. There’s always another need to be met; there’s always another crisis to counsel; there’s always another step in the process of discipleship; there’s always another sermon to prepare; and, the same is true in life. We live, we love, we work, we serve, we dream, we hope, and we plan, but the days keep on coming, the time keeps slipping through our fingers, and there are very few noticeable marks of progress to be seen in the midst of all the work that fills our lives.

Just the other day in a moment of frustration, I turned to my wife and said without any forethought or premeditation: “Maybe I just need to take a week off and paint the loft.” Without even realizing what was going on, my heart was drawn to a kind of work-filled retreat because that kind of work is actually rewarding in the moment. How often do we wonder, at least in our hearts if not aloud, “Is it worth it?” In moments of soul-baring honesty like that, we are actually acknowledging the fact that the promised reward does not seem worth the ongoing effort. The truth of the matter is that you and I are naturally wired to walk by sight rather than by faith. We want to see the progress along the way; we don’t want to have to wait to be rewarded. And yet, that is exactly what those of us who are in Christ have been called to—a faith-fueled, hope-filled walk that is not dependent upon sight.[1]

On Sunday, I began preaching a new series of sermons from the last four chapters of Hebrews. At the beginning of chapter 11, the writer of that book defines faith like this: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.[2] This “conviction” that sees the unseen is what motivates the true lover of God and follower of Christ to live this life by faith. This “assurance” looks to the ultimate reward rather than to the immediate payoff as the impetus for faithfulness in this life, especially when life gets hard. That is why the writer of Hebrews fills the whole eleventh chapter with example after example of people who lived their lives for God “by faith.” Able, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and so many others looked past what was right in front of them to what had been promised to them. They counted the cost, and they considered the ultimate prize far greater than the temporal struggle.

There is certainly nothing biblically wrong with enjoying a job well done. I would even argue that there is nothing necessarily wrong with looking forward to a job that allows you to see the progress as you do the work. At the end of the day, however, there is something fundamentally wrong in my beliefs and in my thinking if I take greater joy in the temporal pleasures of mowing or painting than I do in the ongoing practice of walking by faith, which will be ultimately and eternally rewarded by God Himself. We who belong to Christ and genuinely desire to please our heavenly Father must not forget that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.[3] We must not let the pleasures of this life—even good and legitimate pleasures like those which may be gained from jobs well done—to hold a higher place of priority in our hearts than the pleasure of our God.

So, mow your lawn or paint your loft or rake your leaves or wash your car, but do not live for these for there is nothing ultimate to be found in any of them. Instead, do these jobs and a thousand others like them and thank God for the temporal joy you find in a job well done, but live your life by faith so that your Father in heaven might be pleased and you might be eternally rewarded!

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:6 -7

[2] Hebrews 11:1

[3] Hebrews 11:6