Shift work is biblical

My ‘day job’ entails shift work on a 24 hour, 7-day a week roster. This can be a drag and there have been plenty of times when I’ve resented having to work until midnight or endure the graveyard shift. Working weekends when everyone else seems to have time off, or trying to sleep on a brilliant sunny day is no fun. I can easily slip into feeling sorry for myself, thinking that not working 9 to 5 is abnormal and unnatural.

The reality is that a huge number of people work weekends and ‘non-standard’ hours. Statistics vary, but up to 30% of the workforce in NZ, Australia, Britain, Canada and the USA work at least some hours outside of the ‘usual’ 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday work week, with about 15% of workers doing the ‘graveyard shift’ as part of their schedule. In the USA about 28 million people work some non-standard hours, and almost 15 million Americans work the night shift. I’m not alone!

This is not a purely modern phenomenon. During the industrial revolution children laboured in cruel conditions during the night, night work was also common in the early 20th century in mills and factories.

In Biblical times sentries or watchmen were posted to guard cities and warn of impending danger. To ensure these sentries remained alert the night was divided into ‘watches’ and watchmen changed at set times so that fresh sentries replaced those who were becoming tired. Shepherds also remained up through the night watching over their flocks (Luke 2:8). It also seems that occasionally servants were expected to remain on duty during the night ready to serve their masters if they arrived home late (see Mark 13:34–35).

The ancient Jews divided the night into three watches: Sunset (about 6 pm) to 10 pm; a ‘middle watch’ from 10 pm to 2 am; and a ‘morning’ watch from 2 am to sunrise (about 6am). Later, under Roman rule there were four watches: sunset to 9 pm; 9 pm to midnight; midnight to 3am; and 3 am to sunrise (see Smith’s Bible Dictionary).

Even Jesus kept some weird hours at times, going for a stroll across a lake at about 4am, heading off into the hills before daylight, working seven days a week (Matthew 14:25, Mark 1:35, Luke 13:14).

My point is that while we may like to consider ourselves modern (or postmodern, or metamodern, or whatever) with our igadgets and always connected techno lifestyles, the human condition has not changed. Jesus rode a donkey, not a motorbike and the prophets were not receiving texts from God on their iPhones but they still endured boring lunches, feeling tired, squabbling kids and in-laws just as we do. Remember that even Jesus’ parents experienced miscommunication between them as to who was looking after the kids (Luke 2:41-48). If you think a negative Tweet or Facebook update about you is bad, that’s nothing compared to the embarrassment of having the incident recorded in the most widely read book of the next two thousand years!


Scripture references

Lamentations 2:19 Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! (ESV)

Judges 7:19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. (ESV)

Exodus 14:24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, (ESV)

1 Samuel 11:11 And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. (ESV)

Song of Solomon 3:3 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” (3:3 ESV)

Luke 2:8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (ESV)

Mark 13:34-35 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— (ESV)

Matthew 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. (ESV)

Mark 1:35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (ESV)

Luke 13:14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”

Why do Christians get so nasty?

Christians like to claim we are peaceful, sadly we are not.

If you want to witness heated debate, parliament is a good place to find it. If you want to see nasty, divisive debate, go to a church meeting or poke around on blogs written by Christians. The current hot potato is gay marriage, though women in ministry seems to also be ranking high in certain sectors, and in the US gun control is good to get a reaction.

These are all issues which should be discussed and even debated within the church, but why do people become so astonishingly nasty in their words and even actions over mere issues when we are supposedly all united in Christ?

Reading Philippians 4:7 would make me assume that Christians would be able to enter discussions about even contentious issues with a deep peace that regardless of the discussion outcome they remain secure in Christ:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 ESV)

This is particularly appropriate given that Paul introduced this paragraph pleading for some Christians to reach agreement on some divisive issue between them:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. (Philippians 4:2 ESV)

Instead of agreeing, it seems that many folks take this example of disagreement in the ancient church as license to foster disagreement in the modern church. Perhaps our problem is a lack of rejoicing in the Lord, and failing to let turn over our anxieties to God in prayer?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.(Philippians 4:4–6 ESV)


More on this topic from others:

John the Baptist gets high

Imagine spending thirty years of your life intensely focussed on what you are convinced is your entire purpose for being. The enormity of the task sometimes causes you to quiver and seriously doubt yourself, can you really pull it off? What if, in the crucial moment, you fail to perform what is expected of you? If this job is not done properly history will hate you for it!
It is the preparation which costs so much; constant vigilance, total discipline and self control, being unable to participate in most of the entertainments your peers enjoy. Every day – preparing and waiting – Oh the seemingly endless waiting.

Finally, after years of study and setting yourself aside for the task you know you are ready and the time is right to begin. With faltering voice at first you start speaking out, attempting to convince others of the message you have been given. Surprisingly the people respond. They see your sincerity, look past your idiosyncrasies and understand the message.

Well, the common people that is. The educated and wealthy start mocking and debating. They cannot see why your teaching is applicable to them, especially given their inherited position.

Yet, despite this opposition even your reputation grows until crowds are gathering to listen and act. People are taking it seriously, asking sensible questions about how to change injustice. Things are happening!

However, with the success your anxiety mounts. Things are surely going to come to a head soon but you still haven’t done the most important thing. What if you’ve missed it? What if dealing with so many people coming to listen and be changed has blinded you to the most important part of the task?

With such doubts in your mind every night you rehearse your message. Your tone is getting more strident and uncompromising. The ‘debates’ with the authorities are getting less like debates and becoming more like tirades against them. Someone is going to get real upset before too much longer!

Then it happens, after yet another heated exchange with the scribes. Looking up, the man walking towards you matches what others have described but more importantly you recognize in him an air of uncompromising sincerity. Now, after so many public speeches your words tumble out awkwardly and you hear yourself wondering out loud whether what you’d been planning to do is actually the right thing.

He smiles and reassures. Yes, your concerns are valid but stick to the plan. So it is done.

Then…

Well, words cannot describe it. Nothing you had imagined came near the actual event. But it happened, just as you had been told. Good thing the water was fairly shallow or you’d have nearly drowned! Not only the dove, but the voice also! The sign! YOU HAD JUST BAPTIZED THE SON OF GOD!

I am speculating here, but it is my guess that John the baptist – a young 30-year-old man – found it difficult to focus on his work for the rest of that day and probably was buzzing too much to sleep very well that night! The purpose God had given him in life had now been achieved!

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29–34 ESV)


Image of man jumping: iStock]

What does a man create?

A blog post by Ann Voskamp a few months ago in which she discussed the question of How Christian [women] May Create got me wondering how the process/art/work of creating might look for Christian men? Here are some musings and partly formed thoughts. Feel free to comment and give your own ideas.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
(Genesis 2:15 ESV)

Right from the beginning men were given a job to do. It was a nurturing, cultivating job, also a creative task in that to start with there was not so much weeding to be done in God’s garden so presumably Adam had time to implement a few ideas of his own.

As sons of Adam we create by bending creation to our will. Therefore, the results of our creating reflect both our desire and our skill. This creates a tension and often frustrations as the created reality does not match the plans in a man’s head. Perhaps this is why computer programming is a popular choice for men, in a realm created by humans bending machine code to the will of man is achievable even for men without the brawn to bend metal, timber or earth to their will.

Even after the fall Adam’s work remained the same, it just got much harder to achieve:

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
(Genesis 3:17–19 ESV)

Under the curse (Genesis 3:22), creation refuses to bow to the will of men. Therefore the strength of a man is necessary to tear open the soil, wrestle raw materials and press on against the elements. By applying wisdom a man creates new and innovative works, and at our best as a team there is no limit to what can be achieved (Genesis 11:3–6).

The prime focus of a man’s work is always provision – even if a man is an artist and has nothing to do with cultivating the ground or making food, the overall goal of his work is to generate income in order to put food on the table. We can work for noble causes and labour to create beauty or make a statement, but once our family starts to go hungry none of that holds any importance (see 1 Timothy 5:8). If providing for his family takes up all of a man he is doing a noble task – I would argue more noble than those of us who can do so by working only 40 hours a week.

Yet there is a limit to how worthwhile the works of a man can be:

What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, (Ecclesiastes 2:22–24 ESV).

For some men perhaps all they seek is to eat, drink and enjoy the fruits of their labours. But we are created for more, much more than this.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

To be satisfied with our own work is to settle far short of the best a man can achieve, to live beneath our purpose in Christ. We yearn for  purpose, to know that our work is for more than simply putting food on the table. The most effective way to grind a man down is to give him meaningless work that has no point to it and in which he has no choices, especially if the work involves no physical exertion but is simply pushing paper across a desk all day. Only the shallowest of men work only for money, we seek to do work that is worthwhile:

Some men know how to solve crimes, others can heal pain, paint pictures, make violins, train dogs, ride a wave, kick a ball, lay cement, design glorious buildings, make new laws. We need them all. You have things inside you to do. These lie dormant waiting to be expressed. (Steve Biddulph in Manhood)

We are created for good works that proclaim and glorify His grace. In order to achieve this the will of a man must be redeemed. For me to to the works prepared for me before I even existed I must bow my will to His will. A little created creator must submit to his own creator and say along with my Brother-redeemer, “Your will be done, not mine”.

His will is not obscure or difficult to find, we are to make disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

And we are to labour to make the Kingdom of God manifest on earth:

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:10 ESV)

Image of blacksmith: Hans Splinter