God Bless The Rat Retrievers
By Gary D. Erickson
One of the most unpleasant jobs in my illustrious years as a pastor was retrieving a large, dead rat from under the platform of our local church. The odor of the dead critter had filled the sanctuary with the most obnoxious smell imaginable. Something had to be done; not only would visitors not come back, but the saints would have to wear gas masks while I preached! (This rodent crisis occurred in Abbeville, Louisiana-the habitat for many of God’s detestable creatures: mice, rats, roaches, mosquitoes, snakes, little green frogs, and various other crawling, slithering, hopping critters.) My olfactory search led me to discover the dead rat deep under the platform.
I first attempted to use my delegation skills and get one of my pastor-adoring members to retrieve the obnoxious varmint. After that attempt was unsuccessful, I began other approaches: intimidating, persuading, and cajoling! To my chagrin, I was unsuccessful in inspiring or intimidating anyone else to retrieve the rat. Although I was a college graduate and had served as a pastor for a number of years, that day I became a lowly “rat retriever.” Although I felt over-qualified for the job, someone had to do it! Finally, accepting my fate as pastor, I strategically planned the undertaking. Holding my breath, with shoebox and flashlight in hand, I crawled through the tight opening, plunged into the dark crawl space, and scurried approximately twenty feet on hands and knees to retrieve the repugnant mammal. Returning to daylight, I gasped for air with the satisfaction of a job well done! I am glad to report that on other occasions dutiful church members have been of enormous assistance in volunteering for equally offensive tasks.
I have learned over the years that it is hard to get volunteers to do the hard jobs-those ignoble jobs that get no recognition-the jobs that do not require creative skills or special talent. Some jobs are vital but not glamorous. In today’s world, the art of delegation is admired by many, and some believe it is a mark of true leadership to get others to work for us so we can avoid the earthy jobs completely. The idea is to “work smart and multiply oneself in others.” Unfortunately, there are those occasions when the hard, uneventful jobs fall on our shoulders. Let us not forget, Jesus worked in the carpenter’s shop until He launched His ministry, and on one occasion He washed His disciples’ feet. The educated apostle Paul was a tentmaker, and Peter was a fisherman. The virtue of work should not be lost in our ambition to be a twenty-first-century Jabez. Anyone who might, with arrogance and self-importance, look down on those who do the menial tasks must be disappointing to the greatest Servant the world has ever known.
Work can be routine and monotonous and sometimes dirty. There may be times we get no recognition for jobs we do. We may have to do another person’s jobs and then stand by and watch as they get the credit. It is important to keep the bigger picture in view. Our motive must be to please God. We must avoid resentment and remember the maxim, “payday someday”!
After Adam and Eve were put out of the garden, they worked by the sweat of their brow: it was a part of the curse. It was the only way to prevent poverty and hunger. The Scripture warns the indolent with these words: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise (Proverbs 6:6). “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth” (Proverbs 6:9). “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Proverbs 13:4). “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4).
Martin Luther believed that people should serve God through their work. John Calvin’s notion of predestination changed the view of work in his day. Those who worked hard were considered to be the “chosen.” Lazy people were a part of the “damned.” Calvin believed everyone should work (rich and poor). From these beliefs came the “Protestant ethic.” This philosophy taught that diligence, punctuality, deferment of gratification, and the primacy of the work domain were marks of true virtue. The Protestant ethic was one of the major influences that made America the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world.
In modern times, the U.S. government implemented the welfare program. Perhaps it was driven by altruistic philosophy, but “welfare” did not “fare well.” Welfare reforms were not based totally on finances, but also on the rediscovered philosophy that work gives a person opportunity to contribute, to help someone else, and therefore makes life more meaningful.
Work should be viewed as an act of dignity and that our occupation can be a divine calling. Work is a vehicle for expressing God’s gifts. Although work is a part of the curse, we embrace it as the consequence of Adam’s transgression (embrace the struggle). It is our God-given role in life. We do not say, “Work is a part of the curse; therefore, I will avoid its effects.” This is not the biblical precept. Instead, Calvary provides the response to the curse. Work, whether physical or mental, is the toil (sacrifice) we give as collaborators with God. The work is the “cross” we carry with Him. Through embracing the cross (work), we find dignity, fulfillment, and significance. There is an innate satisfaction in being productive.
Our entire lives should be an act of worship unto the Lord. Life should not be dichotomized into one section for work and the other for spirituality. The virtue of work is written in the lesson of Calvary. Work gives a greater reward for the human cycle of toil and reward than reward without work. At times, it may fall our lot to do the hard job. We should embrace it with the bigger picture in mind: with grace and purity of spirit. Do not expect rewards for every sacrifice. Save some for the other side. Apostle Paul said, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (II Timothy 4:8).
God bless the rat retrievers!
This article was taken from “Thorns & Crowns” By Gary D. Erickson