If You Were Still Alive, What Would You Do for Free?
By Jane Tawel
September 4, 2018
Laborious Thoughts on Labor a Day after “Labor Day”
It’s trendy to think through those imaginary conundrum questions. “Would you kill a thousand people for a million dollars”? “If you could steal money without being caught would you? These constructs are intended to reveal something about our ethics. Most of us get to play around with the idea of what we would do for money without consequences, because it will never be an actual real -life choice for us (unless of course you are currently an American Congressman).
The other imaginary conundrum that strikes me as an odd way of thinking – and stay with me here — is when people say, “My grandma would have been 104 today if she had lived.” And I of course, as the overthinker that I am, immediately note (hopefully not out loud) — But…. She…. Didn’t… Live ….. Right? I mean, if Ghandi had lived he would be 149 years old this year.
Yowza! – If Methuselah were still alive he would be like 3069 years old today, right? But if he were still alive and what he would be doing today IF, doesn’t really get me very far, does it? And what someone dead would do if they were alive is just like the question, “What would I do for a million dollars?“
Would you kill one person for a million dollars, isn’t really a fair ethical conundrum because unless you are a hit man, you don’t get paid for killing someone; You hopefully, get caught and get life. And then you get sort of the reverse of the question, “If my grandma were alive, today”; you get the question, “IF I didn’t get life in prison for killing someone for a million dollars what would I be doing today”?
But all of this leads me to an actual ethical, moral, world view question we seem to have stopped asking ourselves long ago. This is the question, “What would I do if I didn’t get paid for it?” And this I believe, if you read the Hebrew Bible, is at the root of the Judeo-Christian worldview. It is how we were created and always intended to live. It is how Jesus radically lived as a human. And it is a conundrum question that we need to, I believe, very quickly start asking ourselves no matter what our belief community. There is a “it’s going to be too late” quality to our lack of desire to ask ourselves this question. This question seems to me to be desperately needed as a searing light, or an emergency surgery for people claiming any sort of relationship with God. If we do not start looking at the Biblical paradox of leaning into a God who supplies all the world’s needs and who requires us to give up all of our wants for the desires of His heart, we will not be known by the Messiah who lived this radical “It’s all free” life while among us. We will not be ready for heaven unless we are living on earth as it will be in heaven.
So I ask myself a lot of questions about this and my questions now are quite unformed and my vision of what I am trying to see very distant, unattainable and hazy. Because of course I am, like everyone, cursed – for now, until my own resurrection and a new heaven and new earth. Genesis 3:17 has God bluntly describing what our future careers will feel like: “cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life”.
Here is the crux of what I am struggling with. We who claim the name of Christ as Messiah, and we who would claim to be the people of the one true God Jehovah have given ourselves over to the false idols of manna and self-accomplishments. And this is no where more evident than in the current day constructs of capitalistic, self-serving, personality worshiping, American churches.
I am reading some paradigm changing books by a man named Garry Wills. In two different books of his, he has opened my mind to reflect on the lives of both Jesus and Paul in radical, belief shifting ways. In regards to this topic though of work, money, Judeo-Christian belief, evangelism, freedom, service etc. Wills has given me pause. First, Garry Wills opened my eyes to the idea that some theologians and scholars believe that Jesus’ did not work as a carpenter for Joseph. They posit that Jesus’ “hidden years” before his three year public ministry to the Israelites, were spent with John the Baptist and other disciples, living hand to mouth in the mountains and living a life of “evangelism” in places far from Jerusalem. This means Jesus worked for food and trusted God, as He says to The Twelve, “for I have food you know nothing about.” Then we get to Paul who people always claim worked as a tent maker but Wills points out that Pricilla and Aquinas who were Saul’s mentors in the faith, were tent makers, and that it is more likely, Paul worked whatever hard grueling task was available in the communities he served with in his travels. Paul even claims to be a slave and to do slaves’ work, and Wills writes that this is because Paul actually fed himself by working along side the slaves so that he could witness to them of The Messiah, Jesus.
So the following mash-up is where I am going to go off-road and hope that this garbled mess of questions and ponderings will perhaps be a small pebble dropped in the pond of some one else’s desire who like I, longs to “know God with all my heart, soul, mind and Facebook postings.”
Question A: What would you do for money?
Answer: That is your job, your toil. That is what you must do to supply what you need to live – until you either die eternally or live in Christ eternally.
Question B: What would you continue to do even if you didn’t get any money or perhaps even accolades for doing it?
Answer: That is your ministry. That is your freedom in God. That is what you do for God and others and therefore, you cannot do that thing for any personal gain.
And unlike the questions raised about killing people or dead people still alive, these are questions we should be answering, because our answers, whether we know it or not, have effected the entire world.
What we of course need to look at is not what Grandma would be doing if she were still alive, but what did she do with her time while she was alive? What did Grandma do with that Time? What am I doing with the resources, talents, money, abilities, and time that I have WHILE I’m alive? What did Grandma do with them? Or Gandhi? Or Methuselah?
And of course, this is what we do look at with people we love or people who become famous, like Gandhi, for doing certain things with their lives. But we don’t like so much asking ourselves those questions while we are living, because we might have to make some changes, take some risks, give up our ideas of how things should be, and treat others differently. We would definitely be forced to see God and Jesus differently. We like to create a giant chasm between the conditions of living now and the conditions of living “in heaven someday”. Hence the idea of living on earth as it is in Heaven is scary and more than that, irritating.
Let’s face it, once we are dead, well, we are all sort of hoping that the construct changes, right? Once I claim a certain religious set of precepts, then I am supposed to anticipate getting something – eternal life, blessings, the love of God, salvation for no work on my part, etc. I get something – eternal salvation – for nothing, no work. But is there any indication in the Bible or in reality that that could possibly be true? Here’s a little ditty I wrote:
Thinkin’ about our life on earth;
Comparin’ to future rebirth.
No more sorrow?
No more pain?
No more money?
No more gain?
And no more Time—
So what does that mean NOW for me?
The conceptual construct we should be thinking about is a bit unsettling for most of us who might desire to claim to live by a Christian worldview without counting the cost – the cost that The Christ warns us about. You see the Biblical way is not one of pay for me but cost for me – cost of money, cost of talents, cost of my life. The real question must therefore be: What would I do for no money? In other words, ask yourself this — what would you do even if you did not get paid for it? Jesus goes further and asks his disciples, “Will you follow me, giving up everything even a place to sleep, even the praise of others?” This is why the story of Mary and Martha hits home.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 38 – 42)
I last wrote about my struggles in thinking on what it would mean for those who claim a community in Christ to be free in my essay entitled, “Tear Down Those Prison Walls”. In it I quoted Meister Eckhart who wrote, As long as we look for some kind of pay for what we do, as long as we want to get something from God in some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. My rock and hard place is that I have loved growing up in churches but what I sense today is that we as Christians in an uber-capitalistic, uber-individualistic/humanistic nation have erroneously and grievously confused jobs with ministry. We have made Christ’s corporal body of individuals into a self-serving, self-satisfied corporate-structured business. We treat the pastors differently than the janitors. We need money to keep our programs going. We sit with people who think like us and look like us. We pay salaries commensurate with the CEO’s of other American businesses. We go there and leave there and live no differently with other humans on Monday than we did on Saturday night. And most telling, we do not go to hear God but to hear a paid motivational speaker give a good lecture – a little motivational talk, some prayers that make us feel good and safe, and some paid performers who make us smile and cry and feel something much like the movie we watched on television did last night. And none of this has anything to do with a desire or need to worship and sacrifice to a Holy Un-safe God.
It is obvious that we confuse the role of representative with that of paid ruler, and I believe this is true not only in the halls of our nation’s governments but most tragically true in our churches and Christian institutions as well. It is the Aaron / the golden calf problem. We want to be God’s people but like the Israelites did, we find Moses’ truth telling and stuttered mumbling inconvenient. Moses’ God makes us extremely uncomfortable – better to put a bit of distance between us and let the professionals take over while we worship American Idols. We’ll meet you after Sunday Service pep talks and feel-good pats on the back, for some Golden Arches Cattle Happy Meals. God will be safely kept stored at the alter til next week. No need to look on Him or let Him look inside us. Just give Aaron our gold and keep surfing toward that promised Promised land which we much prefer to be waiting ahead for us, not worked for now in this wilderness.
I have loved going to church my whole life, hearing sermons, hearing choirs and praise groups, hearing prayers; I still love to, frankly. But I believe that just as God had to smite the person who felt the Ark of the Covenant needed his protection and just as The Christ had to whip through the courts of the Temple; it is time for the American church to realize, God does not need our protection and we have become the money changers at the doors of God’s temple, the Body of Christ, His People. What we have created as opposed to what God intended needs to get a major Reset. I know there are people saying this smarter than I and people doing this braver than I. But I think one place for most of us to start is by first really looking outside at Jesus and the apostles who followed Him and be honest about what they say and what they did and how they lived. Perhaps this is the time to ask that other question, “If Paul were still alive he would be 2000 years old; what would he write in his letters to our churches?” And of course we should ask daily, “If Jesus were still alive,….. oh, wait a minute….. Oh…..
After looking outside we should then move to searching inside and my suggestion would be to fling the idol of making money to the curb and ask yourself, “What would I do for free?”
So what follows is a little personal journaling and this where my off-roading hits the stratosphere of unmooring thinking.
- Would I raise my children for no money? Well, some people would say I did but that isn’t true. If my husband had not worked to put food on our table and school books in their hands, I would not have been able to not get paid during those years of child-raising. So I worked for our family while he worked for money. Hence, this was not a ministry. Plus, parents get praise for raising good kids. That is payment. Believe me I know because now that my kids are adults, parenting really does become ministry.
- Would I teach for free? Well, I have done, but no, in general that is a job. It is a job that certainly deserves more payment than it gets.
- Would I write for free? Well, I do but only because no one has offered me money for what I write. LOL. I pay a lot to purchase what good writers write. I love to read good writing; good thinking; good theology; good art. Real writers, like all artists, are another group of people who do what they love and thankfully, sometimes, because they get paid for writing, can put food on their tables because of it.
- Would I stay married if I didn’t get paid for it? Would I clean my house if I didn’t get paid for it? Would I keep pets if I didn’t get their doggie praise for it?
- I am fascinated with the structure of the Jehovah Witnesses – none of whom get paid for “ministry”. They take vacation days from work to witness; they have no paid “Sabbath” speakers; and those who work on the magazines get paid a minimal stipend, not a salary which they must find elsewhere. They believe we should be living Kingdom life on earth as it is in Heaven. Is this why we call them a cult? So we don’t have to ask ourselves if we “Christians” should be living and worshiping Jehovah in the same manner – because we definitely don’t want to practice Christ’s Way, that way,for sure! How many pastors, cardinals, youth leaders would continue to work for The Church if we didn’t pay them a salary and they had to get a job “out there” to feed their families?
Now here are the other considerations I’m mulling over.
- If you work or teach at a Christian school that is not ministry? No, you are paid for your knowledge and hands on work.
- If you pray at a Christian school is that ministry? No, you are being paid to be with those people. I learned this the hard way. Prayer is a thing we do because we want God to bless our work and money- making enterprise. Perhaps this is why Jesus cautions us to pray alone in a closet. Praying for our business to gain is not what prayer is for.
- If you are a pastor getting paid to speak on Sundays is that ministry? No, it is a job. You are lucky I guess, that people want to pay to hear you speak but don’t think this is how things were meant to be in Christ’s Kingdom. If you are a pastor that visits the sick or helps the homeless, and you get a salary for doing it, because that is your job title, it is not ministry. If you are friend who visits the sick after work, or a volunteer at a soup kitchen, that is ministry.
- If you are paid to pick up garbage that is a job. If, as you rack up points on your fit-bit, you pick up trash on the streets that some no good litterer has dropped, because you care about the earth, that is ministry.
- If you give to your church, and it has become someone’s salary, you are part of the corporate structure. You are buying a product just like I am willing to buy the products of theologians and authors in order to read and learn. There is nothing wrong in this, and I have done this of course because I want to support the institution in its work. But the key is, this is supporting someone’s work, not God’s ministry to us through His chosen people. This is not a sacrifice to God, this is a purchase from a merchant in the outer courts of God’s temple. You are buying the product of a teacher, or theologian, or music director in order to learn and perhaps provide their services to others who want to learn. This is, however, not what our worship or ministry was meant to be; and how far we have come in believing so is the story of the wayward selfish journey of humankind from The Genesis. What was meant to be The Way to gain The Soul has become a profitable religion of us versus them to gain The World. Our current lack of that which was set up as worship of God and care for our planet and all beings within it, is the result of the incremental course misguidedness of steering away from God’s true north.
- If you give a dollar to a homeless person, that is ministry. If you give them a granola bar and a tract, that is control.
- If you teach Sunday School for no pay, that is ministry. If you run the Sunday School for a salary, that is not ministry. That is you using your skills like any worker would. Nothing wrong with that– but please don’t ask for understanding, support, special praise, or prayer in any other way than the guy would – and Should! – ask for those things, when he slaps a patty on a burger at McDonalds; or when she picks strawberries in a field; or when they clean your toilets, or weed your gardens; or babysit your children so you can make money. That is, if you want to see the world as God sees it or you want to live as the Body of Christ. Read Holy Scripture – you will be surprised that it does indeed say this.
There is of course nothing wrong or sinful with using one’s skills to feed oneself. In fact, there is something wrong or sadly unable, in some way with people who do not or can not use their skills in order to eat and shelter and buy clothes. And you are lucky if you get to use the skills you enjoy and even love using in order to feed yourself and perhaps a spouse or kids or pet. Working is what we must do – now – since The Fall, since sin and living by the toil of our hands came into being. And the Bible is clear we are to be known as God’s people by our being good workmen, not ashamed of our use of our skills. The thing is, they are not a part of our eternal being. Work as we know it, will be changed just as our bodies will be changed when we are resurrected into That Life.
Will we use our skills in “Heaven”. Yes. But will we need to use our skills to eat? No. And that will make all the difference in the world. In that day and place, we will be resurrected to what we were always meant to be as humans; beings who work with no pain, only joy. People who work and create completely in harmony with each other, and to glorify The Creator of All. Only then, when we are restored to right relationship with God and in eternal service to Christ the King in a new heaven and a new earth, will our work no longer be for money or personal gain, but will in fact be the ministry to God and each other that we in our inner most parts, long for.
And this paradigm shift in living, is what should be making all the difference for those of us still “in the world but not OF the world”. Just as we look at young children, and think, “ah to be young again and not have to work”; so we should look at those who claim to be reborn into life in Christ. Paul, the worker bee and missionary wrote to his brothers and sisters in the community at Galatia, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”. We are to be slaves, to Christ alone and when we take up that great eternal work, we will understand what Jesus meant when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28 -30)
Maybe the only thing I personally do daily without getting any pay or any praise in return, is study God’s Word and God’s World; and maybe lie awake at night feeling God’s presence and trying to listen to Him (in between the times I beg Him for stuff, of course). Both of these things that I think I do for free are pretty frightening and make me feel not accomplished but weak. These uses of my time and resources, seem to strip something from me before possibly adding something to me. I’m trying to do more things for free, especially now that I have been “let go” from a Christian job that I wasn’t a “good fit for” – hahahaha. Who would guess that?
It’s been a searing way for me to understand our confusion and mistaken theological worldview between “Christian” jobs (in quotes) and “Christian” people (in quotes) and Christ – not in quotes. And since my adult children don’t need me any more, so I have lots of free time to do free stuff. I’m refusing to write about the things I am trying to do as a freedom evangelist, since that would mean I might get something for it, like praise. See, being with out work that I loved – motherhood, teaching – gives me a whole new perspective on the world as created in our image versus the world as God desires it in His Son’s image.
Figuring out the difference in my life between doing something for self and doing something for God and others is super, super-duper, almost impossibly difficult. But in the final analysis, the question of why and for Whom I am working is the same as the question: “If my grandma were alive, she’d be 104 years old and I wonder what she would be doing? So I guess it all boils down to, “If I were really alive in Christ, what would I be doing for free?”
Our lives are meant to be lived in the paradox, the tension of when we are most slavish, we are most free; when we are most weak, He is most strong; when we are dead to self; we are alive in Christ; and when we are most poor in things of this world, we are most rich in things of real eternal value. And if we trust in the provision of He who is Eternal, He will make us worker bees whose nets are cast and overflowing in a sea of human beings; gaining those treasures that will never rust, never rot, and will because they are worked out in slavish Love, remain forever and ever. Amen.
So here is the Question of the Hour: “If you were still alive, what would you do with your time today? If you were living in eternity today, what would you do for free? What would you really keep doing as a servant of God if you didn’t make a dime from it?
The following are Biblical Meditations on God’s view of Work, Service, and How We Should Live. According to Jesus:
Jesus, our Brother and King reminds us to keep our hands to His work and to serve as He serves, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.” (Luke 12:37-38)
The Christ’s Words as found in the Book of Matthew, on how the God of His People the Hebrews and the Creator of the Universe, expects us to work and live:
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”