We celebrate Labor Day every year by taking a day off. After all, going to work hardly feels like a celebration, does it? Labor unions proposed a day to celebrate the working man (yes, at the time it was mainly men), and in 1887 Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday. The idea caught on quickly. By 1894, the first Monday in September became a federal holiday, and we all got a day to play hooky.
God is good with rest; He commanded us to to do just that once a week. But He also doesn’t want our workdays to be such a grind. Listen to what He says through His prophet Haggai:
Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes. This says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Haggai 1:5-7 NKJV
Take a good hard look at your life. Think it over. You have spent a lot of money, but you haven’t much to show for it. You keep filling your plates, but you never get filled up. You keep drinking and drinking and drinking, but you’re always thirsty. You put on layer after layer of clothes, but you can’t get warm. And the people who work for you, what are they getting out of it? Not much- a leaky, rusted-out bucket, that’s what. That’s why the God of Angel-Armies said: Take a good, hard look at your life. Think it over. Haggai 1: 5-7 MSG
Here’s the context of Haggai’s message: the Jewish temple remains devastated while God’s people focus on rebuilding their own homes and replenishing their own stores of wealth. Judah had returned from exile twenty years earlier; they have certainly discussed the temple ruins. They are aware, but they procrastinate: “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” (v.2) They direct their resources towards meeting their own needs first because they do not fully trust that God will take care of them if they spend effort and money on the temple before their own homes. Unbelief skews their priorities, and Judah has left the temple a pile of rubble.
God doesn’t need a temple. His people do. And all their labor remains unsatisfying because they put their own needs first. It’s a common problem for all God’s people: “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance.” (Isaiah 55:2)
These are not the words of a stingy, self-serving god on high who demands worship and ascetic self-denial. This is a God who calls us to worship FIRST- then He will pour out abundance. This is why God asks for the first fruits of everything we have- we give Him the first part as a pledge of our trust in Him. “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase: So your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10) Our money, our work, our time, our effort, our worship- all the resources He has given us, we offer back to God first.
Fun fact about Haggai: his name means “Festival.” Work becomes a delight when it follows worship. When we look first to the concerns of the kingdom, work isn’t such a grind. On Labor Day we celebrate more than the opportunity to sleep late, wonderful as that is. We give thanks for healthy bodies and able minds, for useful employment and for the income it generates. We anticipate being useful in God’s kingdom. We dedicate our daily work- at a job and at home- to His glory. Finally, we rest, satisfied by the knowledge that He meets our needs, celebrates our efforts, and blesses our offerings.