Unnatural Toil

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“Unnatural, frantic, anxious work, work done under pressure of greed or fear or any other inordinate passion, cannot properly speaking be dedicated to God, because God never wills such work directly. He may permit that, through no fault of our own, we may have to work madly and distractly, due to our sins, and to the sins of the society in which we live. In that case we must tolerate it and make the best of what we cannot avoid. But let us not be blind to the distinction between sound, healthy work and unnatural toil.”
~ Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p.16

There are groups (even so called “Christian” ministries or businesses) that seem to glorify “work done under pressure” and often in the name of serving God’s vision when it seems to me there’s more of other motivations hidden which I suspect is not close to Kingdom values at all (it’s just gut intuition mixed with careful observation has sparked such statements). Worse is when I can’t see “space” given to those working or serving in these organizations for reflection and rest. Of course, I don’t deny that there will be times when one will “have to” work under such circumstances (we don’t live in an ideal world) and I’ve had my own share of this in my 7 years of “full-time” ministry and other years serving as “non-full-time”.

My problem is when this “acknowledged reality” is turned into the “routine ideal” often as a sign of success or even higher spirituality that irritates me. The worse, is the over-reaction to such “non-sense” that creates another group that swings to the other pendulum and won’t do anything unless there is “pressure”. I look forward to a time where our motivation and efforts are birthed out of love and grace as the primary source (in the midst of the non-ideal environments). We’re looking into the long term here … God’s agenda not human ambition and fame dressed in “spiritual-sounding-seem-to-be-noble” aspirations which often and most of the time crowds out the God whom we proclaim to serve and set up an idol which is very much in our own image..

Ok! I admit there are specific contexts and distinctly Malaysian experiences that’s behind the mini-rant above. I’m just sick and tired of people abusing the good intentions and sincere desire of those who genuinely want to love God and serve people. Count this as one of my first complaints or “laments” before the Almighty (in the tradition of the Psalter) and pray with me (and if there’s opportunity do something about it!). I pray many will see the greener pastures and refreshing trees that awaits them outside of the “prison” that they are locked in. “Bring Freedom to the Captives, Lord!”

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4 Responses to Unnatural Toil

  1. DB says:

    cry freedom brother, I also want break my bonds

  2. Bald Man says:

    Nice quote from Merton. God gives work and rest at the same time. how difficult it is to strike that balance.

  3. john says:

    Thanks for this quote and blog. I was at a church leaders conference where they were celebrating that there are seasons of exhaustion that we face in ministry. That just doesn’t quite sit well with me, because it doesn’t seem to me to jive with what God intends for us.

  4. Ronny Joel says:

    Really good work. I found a lot of profound information which can help me to go on. Thanks for all this input.

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