I cleaned the gutters this afternoon, and I hate cleaning gutters. Not only is it dirty and dangerous (although even I wasn’t persuaded by my attempt to convince myself that I was risking my life for the good of our family!), but it is usually a thankless task. Lugging that ladder every few feet along the house, digging the leaves and branches out of the eaves, unclogging downspouts…I can think of about a hundred other ways I’d like to spend a Saturday!
As I was climbing the ladder for the millionth time, a thought flashed through my mind--one of those “the-Holy-Spirit-is-trying-to-teach-me-something” thoughts: “What does it look like to clean gutters to the glory of God?” I pondered that for the next hour, as I pulled handful after handful of slime out of the gutters, because really, married life, family life--really, all of life--is full of “gutter-cleaning” moments. These are the routine, ordinary, and even undesirable tasks that make up daily life:
And on it goes. The ins and outs of daily life include a thousand and one menial tasks that we do, not because they are glamorous or exciting, but because they need doing. The Apostle Paul urges us in Romans 12 to approach even the ordinary tasks of daily life as worship: “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy…offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1-2). So, how might we approach daily life as an act of worship?
It’s tempting to cut corners, especially when no one is watching. After all, would anyone even notice or care if you didn’t sort your recycling properly, or repair the faucet correctly? We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ teenage years, but we know that he worked in carpentry with his father. I sometimes wonder what sort of carpenter Jesus was; did he ever cut the board 6 inches too short? Did he ever mismatch the color of paint? We don’t know. However, I’m convinced that Jesus never sacrificed the quality of his work so he could get home 20 minutes earlier or save a few bucks; he almost certainly completed each task to the best of his abilities. Even the tedious tasks of our day are possible because God graciously gives us the mind and body to do them. So, offering our best to God is a way of using what He has given us to the best of our abilities. Granted, sometimes our best is limited by our energy and by the many demands on our schedule. Yet doing the best we can with what we have honors the one who gave us the gifts to serve.
In Philippians 2:14, Paul admonishes believers to do “everything without grumbling or complaining.” These are difficult words to apply! Pulling weeds from the garden, scrubbing a toilet bowl, repairing a sink--all of these stir in me a strong desire to voice my displeasure! Complaining is rooted in the idea that life isn’t unfolding according to my wants and desires. Complaining about the dull tasks of life communicates my belief that somehow, I shouldn’t have to do these tasks; someone else should take care of them, while I am free to do as I please. Shedding our tendency to complain honors God who sets our daily agenda, and places in front of us ordinary tasks that can be done to his glory. Next time you are tempted to complain, as I often am, remind yourself that each day God sets in front of us tasks that he wants us to do, and in doing them, we are honoring his will.
A friend of mine volunteers at a horse barn that offers equine therapy to children with emotional needs. He observed once that some volunteers are reluctant to do some of the dirtier jobs (and in a horse barn, there are plenty of dirty jobs!). He explained to me that he and his wife had learned that imitating Christ involves a willingness to take on even the most undesirable jobs. Jesus demonstrated what love looks like by getting on his knees, taking a washbasin and washcloth, and scrubbing between the calloused and sweaty toes of his disciples. What would it look like if you became known as the employee who was always willing to clean the microwave in the breakroom? Or if you jumped at the opportunity to load the dishwasher so that your spouse could get a break? Offering ourselves in service to God means a willingness to tackle the least-glamorous tasks, with the heart of a servant.
I must confess that there are occasions where I help out around the house so that I can lean on my wife for a favor a day or two later. After all, we reason that if we spearhead the Saturday chore routine, we can bank a favor to be cashed in at a later date! Before long, we’ve learned to view our relationships with friends, coworkers, or family members largely as transactions. But the moment we do this, we are no longer serving others; we’re looking for ways to meet our needs by putting others in our debt. This hardly seems like worship! Instead, take that ordinary task, and do it even without any expectation of so much as a thank you (and if you are thanked, consider that a bonus!).
Colossians 3:23 captures well what we’ve been looking at: “Whatever you do, work at it heartily, as if for the Lord, and not for men.” The next time you’re awoken for a midnight feeding, or you’re cleaning food that has somehow splattered onto the ceiling, or turning in expense reports, imagine that Jesus himself has asked you to do this task. Approach even the most mundane work, as though you are doing it to serve him!
Rev. Deb Koster