How do we Measure a Day's Success?

When we get to the end of our days, we can be prone to question whether it was a "successful" day or not. We may end our day, with a pile of laundry in one corner or a sink full of dishes in the next room, and tell ourselves that it is "good enough." Or maybe an email remains unsent, a phone call not returned or a bill unpaid. The repetition of ending our days and telling ourselves, "it's good enough" can begin to weigh on us. We can begin to feel like failures and question our ability to function adequately in our roles.

My wife and I have been in that stage perpetually over the last few months. We had the privilege of welcoming our third child into the world the end of last December and it has been a joy to see him and our family grow. But the addition of our newest son has meant living with three children under the age of four, and many nights we go to bed with tasks undone. Many nights, we go to bed and have to say "it's good enough."

But as we have reflected on this stage, it has become clear that we need to re-frame the way we measure a day's success. It is not measured in the tasks we complete, or the ones left undone, it is measured in a different way.

The problem with "it's good enough"

One of the reasons we have found our former measurement inadequate is because ending the day consoling ourselves for incomplete tasks with the phrase "it's good enough," does an injustice to the good things God has done though us that day. It creates a false sense that a good day is one in which all the mess is cleaned up at the end and the task list is filled with check-marks.

This is not to say that laziness and apathy in our responsibilities is what God wants. I love to be productive. I read productivity blogs, I use a modified form of David Allen's "Getting Things Done" system and I try to find the best tools to help. I am not saying that working hard, in the right direction, is somehow a bad thing.

What I am saying is that our task lists and daily measurements have a habit of undermining our understanding of what it means to be truly productive in our days. Tim Challies has a great definition of productivity:  "effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God." I like to think of it as exhausting ourselves in the service of God and others. When we have spent our days and used our energy to bring Glory to God and good to others, then it is a day well spent.

When we have spent our day bringing Glory to God and good to others, then it is a day well spent.

A new measurement

Saying "it's good enough" only focuses on what was not complete, and neglects to consider and celebrate what did happen in our days. Exhausting ourselves in the service of others and the glory of God means that we have spent our days changing diapers, folding clothes, counseling friends, doing good and honest work, giving up our preferences for others and investing ourselves into the fabric of our community. If we get to the end of our day, and there is work to be completed, but we can say with confidence that we have worked hard for God and others, then we can rest easy.

And if we get to the end of our day, and it has been a mess of a day, we must always remember that our identity is not in what we did or did not do, it is in Christ. We remain blood-bought children of the King, whether we used our day well or abdicated our responsibilities. God still loves us, and he wants us to rest easy, knowing that we remain in grace. But he calls us to try again tomorrow, to exhaust ourselves for God and others tomorrow.

The example of Christ

When we begin to examine the life of Jesus, we see that he completed all that His father gave him to do. At the end of Jesus' earthly ministry, in what has become known as the High Priestly Prayer, he says to the Father, "I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do (John 17:4)." Jesus went to the cross, confident that he had done the work the Father had given him.

But in Acts, we read a story of Peter and John entering the temple and passing a man who was lame from birth, a man whom others laid at the gate each day. We do not know for sure, but I think it is possible, even likely, that Jesus had passed him at least once while on earth. And if not the lame beggar in Acts three, we know that when Jesus went to the cross, there were many who remained lame, blind or worse.

For Jesus to claim that he completed all that the Father gave him to do, and yet there remained lame beggars outside the temple, we must deduce that healing those lame beggars was not within the scope of Jesus' mission. It wasn't on his "task list." It is helpful for us to also remember that we have a range of priorities and responsibilities in our own life - just as Jesus did during his time on earth. We cannot do everything. We can only steward well, the responsibilities God sees fit to give us.

And that doesn't mean doing everything. Or even having everything done at the end of every day. There will be interruptions. There will be seasons in which we feel less able to finish it all. But if we have spent our energy, our days and our lives in the service of God's glory and the good of others, whatever that means for the range of responsibilities God has given to us, then we can go to bed confident that we lived well. Not telling ourselves, "it's good enough."

The glorious endeavor of work

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Work is a gift from God

It is an unfortunate but common misunderstanding for Christians to feel that their job or work is secondary in comparison to that of a pastor or missionary. Either implicitly or explicitly, the message has been communicated that working a "normal job" is just a hindrance to doing "actual ministry." I am not entirely sure where this idea has come from. I would guess you could trace its development throughout history, but I am not going to attempt that in this post.

My goal is to present a framework that shows the beauty of our work and God's design for us to work. I was reminded of this recently while reading the book Middlemarch. This classic book by George Eliot is one of those books that commonly finds itself in a list of the top 100 novels everyone should read. Especially lists that are created by the Brits.

Within the book there is a simple yet profound character named Caleb Garth. Caleb is a man who cares a great deal about doing good work that requires some manual labor. He calls this "business." After being offered the honorable task of managing two different estates, he was reflecting on the privilege it would be to engage in this new business. Caleb was often unconcerned with money, because the work itself was worth doing. His wife on the other hand, appropriately concerned about the necessary income required to pay for food, shelter and other necessities, encouraged him to request a fair wage for this new work.

In the following passage, Caleb reflected on the new work he had been offered. There is a great reverence in his words for the work itself. As I read it this past week, it reminded me of the great value there is the glorious task of work:

"'No, no; but it's a fine thing to come to a man when he's seen into the nature of business; to have a chance of getting a bit of the country into good fettle, a they say, and putting men into the right way with their farming, and getting a bit of good contriving and solid building done - that those who are living and those who come after will be better for. I'd sooner have it than a fortune. I hold it the most honorable work that is.' Here Caleb laid down his letters, thrust his fingers between the buttons of his waistcoat, and sat upright, but presently proceeded with some awe in his voice and moving his head slowly aside - 'It's a great gift of God, Susan.'"

- Middlemarch, by George Eliot

I love the way Caleb ends this paragraph. He views the work itself, not just the income it would provide, as a great gift from God. While Caleb is not an intellectual character, he might have most pure and accurate understanding of work you could find in all of literature.

God created work from the beginning

The task of work is something God created us to do. Before the fall, before things were tarnished by sin, God instituted work. Here is what it says in the early part of Genesis:

"then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil... The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:7-9;15 ESV)"

Before the fall, God put the man in the garden to work it and keep it. We have been called to cultivate God's creation from the very beginning. Work has always been part of what it means to be God's people. Our work itself is part of what God has created us for. That is good news. Your work is not meaningless. It is not simply a way to earn a paycheck. It is not a waste of time or something you must endure until you can do "real ministry." Our work is an important element in the framework of how God created us to function.

The fall tainted our understanding of work and has made it more of a burden than God originally intended (Genesis 3:17-19). The good news of gospel of Jesus is that not only are we made righteous, but our work is also being redeemed. We have the privilege of helping to renew God's purpose in our own sphere of work.

The task of work is something God created us to do.

You have been called to your work

The root of the English word vocation (another word for career or occupation) comes from the Latin verb voca, which means "to call." This suggests that the notion of your work being something you have been called to do is not only a Biblical concept but also one that has been present at different points throughout history. The speech given by Caleb Garth in Middlemarch also points to work being something more than simply a way to generate an income - it is a God given gift to be able to work.

Do you feel called to your work? If your primary vocation is as a stay at home mother, do you feel called to that role? Do you feel called to the glorious task of raising little disciples of Jesus? If your vocation is in the area of Human Resources, do you feel called to provide support to the employees of your company? Do you feel called to help provide fair and equitable conditions for the men and women who work for your employer? If your primary vocation is as a landscaper, do you feel called to the work of beautifying the grounds of a building or home? Whatever your current vocation, do you feel called to it? If not, maybe you need to change your perspective on the work you have been called to do. Or maybe you need to find a way to change your work so that it has greater alignment with the vocation you believe God has called you.

Regardless of whether your current profession is a perfect fit, you have still been called by God to steward your current work well while you are there. Paul gave the following exhortation to the church in Colossae, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)." Our work brings glory to God in the way that we conduct ourselves and also in the quality of the work itself. Our work is a context to verbally share the good news of Jesus and also represent the good news of Jesus through our work itself.

One day, when God makes all things right in the world, I fully believe that we will still work. Our vocations will be perfected, and we will have a greater sense of purpose in our work. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and gave the task of work before the fall. We were created for work and when God renews his creation and sets things right again I see no reason to think it will go away. We will continue to work and you and I have the privilege of helping to bring God's Kingdom to bear in our sphere of work even now.