What drives our work? (Ecclesiastes 4:4-6)

What motivates us to work and to keep on working? Seems like there are a number of motivations. The most basic would have to be survival. We work to eat and stay alive. But where I come from many of us have that’s covered. We work for significance or satisfaction or security. Ecclesiastes nails it when it states that so much achievement come from a person’s envy of their neighbour. We work so as to keep up with one another. The trouble is, we can invest more in our work than it can possibly bear.

Recommended reading (April 28)

readingFrom time to time I plan to link to some helpful articles and ideas that I’ve been reading, This is my first instalment…

Contentment (1) At a time like this by Jean Williams is the first in a 10 part series on Christian contentment. Jean writes will clarity and a deep understanding of the implications and joys found in trusting Jesus.

Five pieces of advice for young men by Con Campbell is sage advice for men of all ages who are seeking to grow in the likeness of Jesus.

Six myths of discipleship by Col Marshall helps us to see that discipleship is the essence of being Christian, rather than a particular process for a select few.

Seven Basics for Better Staff Meetings by Eric Geiger offers helpful tips for improving those meetings we all love to hate.

Heading home

I confess this is the first book that I’ve read by Naomi Reed. I think my mother and Fiona have read them all, and I’m just disappointed that I’ve waited this long. Heading Home: My Search for Purpose in a Temporary World is her third in an autobiographical series of books, following on from My Seventh Monsoon and No Ordinary View. I’ll need to catch up on these stories later.

This was a book in season for me, because we’ve spent a year working through where we belong, who we are, what we should be doing, why we do and don’t feel at home, and constantly being confronted by the Bible’s message that we are not at home until we are home with the Lord.

Naomi tells the story of returning to their ‘home’ in the Blue Mountains, near Sydney in Australia, after being overseas for some time, mainly in Nepal. The account is full of humour and pathos as we’re given a window into the confusion of reverse culture shock. After living through a revolution in Nepal, and being without many of the things Aussies take for granted, it was overwhelming to visit supermarkets and department stores with the complete over-indulgence of choice. And no time is worse than Christmas with it’s red and white pimping of the season. The real message of Christmas barely gets a look in. I’ve spoken to other returned missionaries, coming back from economically poorer countries, who’ve found this so difficult. One family vowed to never return to Australia in the lead up to Christmas. They found the whole experience obscene.

I’d suggest that returning missionaries would be helped and encouraged by reading this book, and knowing that those who support them have read it too. So why not read it yourself, encourage others in your church to do the same, and send a copy to your partners overseas before they return.

Heading Home is a mosaic of themes and ideas that paints the bigger picture of discovering and living out who we are in union with Christ. It’s a profound message that raises real issues for all who claim to follow Jesus. I believe that Naomi is well placed to write such a book for a number of reasons: (1) she has the advantage of looking at different societies both as an insider and an outsider; (2) she has taken the time to reflect, meditate, and have her thoughts informed by Scripture; and (3) she has an endearing humility that comes across in each chapter.

As I reflect on the impact of a year of cancer and treatment, the book has had much to say to me. Who am I? Where do I belong? What am I to do with my life? Why don’t I feel settled? Naomi’s shared experiences have rubbed a little salt into a few of my wounds – and I’m glad she has. It’s easy to think that I really should be in Darwin, planting a church for God, making a difference, finding fulfilment in the challenge of ‘exotic’ and recognised ministry. But I’m reminded that it’s not a matter of which particular vocation, or which particular location. It’s about being content in the fact that God is in control, and he will use us wherever, and however, to fulfil his purposes, and for his glory. Naomi writes of dreams and plans coming to an end, and feeling loss of purpose upon returning to Australia. I could relate to this and was moved to pray her prayer also:

Lord, there are times in our lives when we feel purposeless. The dream is over. We don’t even know what do anymore or why …
But Lord, when we feel like this – lost and directionless and lonely – please remind us that we find our living in you; we find our focus in you …  (p20)

This leads to a highlight of the book for me. Every chapter finishes with a heartfelt, well-considered prayer to God. Naomi is not satisfied with raising the dilemma, or even with finding resolution in the words of God – she brings these matters to God in prayer. This is an excellent model to us all as we grapple with issues in our lives:

      1. observe our circumstances
      2. analyse and consider what we’re going through
      3. reflect on Scripture
      4. change our attitudes and actions
      5. talk to God about it

Naomi models this, and her prayers give a head start to those of us facing similar issues in our own lives.

Heading Home is a helpful book for people who’re not sure where they belong, or who are going through significant, even unwanted life changes; people with illness that’s not going away; people who are experiencing significant job changes, redundancy, unemployment or retirement; people suffering bereavement and grief; people finding themselves strangers in a foreign place (that they might even know well). Its helpfulness and hope lies in applying God’s word into our lives, and then helping us to bring this to God in prayer. Ultimately, this book succeeds by reminding all Christians that God deeply understands our circumstances and this world is not our true home – heaven is.

So Lord, today, when we are surprised by being the outsider or by a myriad of choices or misunderstandings or falling in between two worlds, or not belonging anywhere, help us to comprehend the fact that you have walked our road and felt our pain and suffered for us, so that every day, here, we belong to you and that’s enough. Lord be glorified in all we do and are, today. And remind us that there will come a day when we will never be outsiders again.
Lord, thank you.
Amen  (p46)