Sweat Pays

In moments of intense effort and sacrifice – when you can feel sweat dripping down your brow – we often discover the value of our labor. I remember vividly the day I dug a massive hole—a task that left me exhausted but immensely satisfied. My sore muscles, sweat, and even bruises showcased how much work I had put into the task. Digging that hole was hard! As I sat in that hole, surrounded by the evidence of my hard work, I realized the profound lessons manual labor can teach us.

As a Christian, I’ve found that difficult challenges often draw me closer to God, deepening my faith and trust in His promises. However, when the fight-or-flight response has worn off, and everyday monotony has returned with busy schedules and a multitude of items on my to-do list, it’s easy to push our relationship with God to the back burner. As a sailor navigating treacherous waters with full attention, so too do we tend to carefully navigate life’s storms, relying on God’s guidance. However, when the calm, serene moments come, it’s easy to become complacent in our faith. That’s where manual labor comes in—a tangible reminder of the importance of diligence and perseverance in our spiritual journey, allowing us to do the tough things daily and develop our characters to be closer to Him.

Since the beginning, work has been a cornerstone of human existence. In the beginning, we see God laboring to create the earth for us. When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were given work. In the Blueprint of education, given to us through the prophet Ellen White, we see that God would have manual labor as a critical puzzle piece in the development of body, mind, and soul for our heavenly character development.[1] Manual labor stands as a cornerstone of spiritual development, echoing God’s creative work and shaping individuals in profound ways.

Through the toil of physical labor, individuals learn discipline, perseverance, and humility. Each task becomes a lesson in reliance on God’s strength and guidance, nurturing a deeper faith and spiritual resilience. Integration of work into education allows for a whole-person approach that harmonizes the development of body, mind, and soul, preparing individuals for lives of purposeful service and stewardship. Thus, manual labor emerges not just as a practical necessity but as a vital component in the journey towards heavenly character development.

Throughout my own journey, I’ve engaged in a variety of manual labor tasks—from janitorial work to farm labor and construction. Each job has given me a new opportunity to learn valuable lessons in discipline, perseverance, and humility. Take, for example, the hours I spent picking tomatoes on a farm. What initially seemed monotonous and tiresome became an opportunity for spiritual growth as I learned to improve my time by talking to God, enjoying His second book of nature, and memorizing scripture. As I worked, I found solace in prayer and the Bible, discovering the joy of a job well done and the satisfaction of a challenged but peaceful mind. The quiet and peace from the small, somewhat menial tasks developed a diligence and meticulousness that has served me well. In Luke 16:10, Jesus says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”[2] 

But manual labor is more than just physical exertion—it’s a spiritual discipline that requires a willing and receptive heart. Manual labor safeguards against temptation and distractions from Satan. Individuals are less susceptible to idleness and can better resist sin and indulgence by engaging in productive work. Ellen White states,

“At the creation, labor was appointed as a blessing. It meant development, power, happiness. The changed condition of the earth through the curse of sin has brought a change in the conditions of labor; yet though now attended with anxiety, weariness, and pain, it is still a source of happiness and development. And it is a safeguard against temptation. Its discipline places a check on self-indulgence, and promotes industry, purity, and firmness. Thus it becomes a part of God’s great plan for our recovery from the Fall.”[3] 

Through the story of Cain, we see the importance of a teachable spirit, one that is open to God’s work in our lives, even in the midst of laborious tasks. Although Cain spent many hours in God’s second book of nature with plenty of opportunity to develop humility and dependence upon God, he instead chose rebellion.[4] God did not accept his self-righteous sacrifice but instead accepted the humble sacrifice of his brother, Abel. Through this example it’s clear to see how essential it is to develop a strict reliance upon God and a constantly humble and teachable spirit, which can only be accomplished through Him. We cannot obtain salvation through our works[5] as Cain attempted to do with his boastful sacrifice. Labor is a tool that God uses to shape and develop us, if we are willing.

And the Bible abounds with examples of manual labor and its spiritual significance. In the Old Testament, we see figures such as Noah, who diligently worked to build the ark according to God’s instructions, thus securing his family’s salvation and preserving life on earth. Similarly, Joseph’s years of labor in Potiphar’s house and later in Pharaoh’s service ultimately positioned him to save his family and the nation of Egypt from famine. In the New Testament, Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry, embraced the life of a laborer, working as a carpenter in Nazareth. Through His example, Jesus sanctified manual labor, affirming its inherent dignity and value in the eyes of God.

Even beyond the Bible, practical applications of these principles abound in modern missions. In the book Yankee on the Yangtze, we encounter the story of Paul Quimby—a missionary who understood the transformative power of manual labor. By establishing a dairy farm in China, Quimby not only provided for his community but also instilled a standard of excellence that garnered widespread acclaim, not just for himself but also his students who were widely sought after following their graduation. His example reminds us that manual labor is not just a means to an end but a pathway to spiritual growth and fulfillment.[6]

As Christians, we are called to a higher purpose—to share the gospel with the world.[7] In “The Mammoth in the Room”[8] we learned first-hand about the difficulties missionaries face while living in foreign countries, in necessary things such as plumbing, water, mechanics, and housekeeping. These skills should be learned before entering the mission field to equip those with the required skills to meet the challenges they face, and these can only be learned through hands-on experience and training. Practical skills gained through manual labor equip us for missionary work, enabling us to serve others both physically and spiritually. Jesus Himself spent years laboring as a carpenter, setting an example of humility and service for us to follow.

In our modern world, where work is often undervalued, we must reclaim the sacredness of labor. Ellen White reminds us that honest toil is not degrading but honorable—a means of fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives. Ellen White states, “They [young men and women] must learn that no man or woman is degraded by honest toil. That which degrades is idleness and selfish dependence. Idleness fosters self-indulgence, and the result is a life empty and barren – a field inviting the growth of every evil.”[9] Ultimately, the gift of work is a sacred inheritance bestowed upon us by a loving and provident God. Through manual labor, we sustain ourselves, find purpose, and draw closer to the divine plan for our salvation.  Ellen G. White’s teachings and the biblical examples of laborers who have gone before us serve as guiding lights, illuminating the transformative power of work in our journey toward salvation.

So I invite you to embrace the gift of work—to sweat and toil with hands eager to serve, knowing that in our labor, we are fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives. And as we labor, let us find rest in the promise of Matthew 11:25, trusting fully in God’s plan for our lives and discovering the true reward of our sweat.

Do Something by Robert Hare

Have something to show for your toiling,

        Something to count up as gain

When the evening shadows are falling

        Over the sky and the plain;

Something to show for the daytime

Something to tell you have toiled,

Something— if only a picture

        Your trembling hand has spoiled.

Life’s page may be blotted already,

        And marked with many a scrawl;

But better, far better, scrawl markings

        Than not any markings at all.

Then, dare to do something prospective,

        And stand by your task by the day;

There’ll be resting enough hereafter

        When visions of earth pass away.

And toiling is better than rusting,

        For toiling can fit you for rest;

But the soul that grows careless is ever

        Unblessing alike and unblest.[10] 

Extract from:

Eric B. Hare, An Irish Boy and God (Review and Herald Publishing Association), 127-129.

[1] Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1903), 214
[2] NIV
[3] White, Education, 214.
[4] Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1890), 71.
[5] Eph. 2:8-9
[6] Paul Elmore Quimby and Norma R. Youngberg, Yankee on the Yangtze: One Missionary’s Saga in Revolutionary China (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing. Association, 1976).
[7] Matt. 28:16-20
[8]  Eliza Moffat, “The Mammoth in the Room,” Prisoners of Hope, March 2024, 6-11.
[9] White, Education, 214-216.
[10] Eric B. Hare, An Irish Boy and God (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1965), 127-129.

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