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By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Today is the last of three devotions that respond to the question: How does Ash Wednesday relate to our work? (You can read part 1 and part 2 here.) Though the official recognition of Ash Wednesday happened two days ago, the fact of our mortality — the central meaning of the holiday — remains. We may not have ashes on our foreheads today, but we are still made from dust, and to dust we will return. Because of sin, we will die physically. Our days are numbered.
Our mortality, rightly understood in light of God’s life in Christ, encourages and energizes us to live and work fully for God’s purposes and God’s glory.”
Yes, our days are numbered. To be more specific, my days are numbered, and so are yours. I don’t mean to be glum here. Nor do I want this devotion to be a downer. But the facts are the facts. We will live forever, yes, but not in the mortal bodies we now claim as our own. They are made of dust and they are on their way back to dust.
If you’re relatively young, you may not think much about your mortality. If you’re older, I expect you do think about it, at least sometimes. I’m 58 years old and counting. I am much more aware today than I was 30 years ago that I have only so much time left on this earth. Of course, I could die before I take my next breath. Or I might live to be 93 like my great-grandfather. God only knows. But the time is surely coming when I will return to dust.
How does this fact relate to my work? It gives me a powerful desire to make sure my work matters. I want my work to contribute to the common good. I want to partner with God in his work on earth. (I think you know, by the way, that I believe this includes all sorts of work, not just “religious” work done by a pastor or director of a seminary leadership center.) I want to use every gift God has given me for maximum kingdom impact.
Having said this, however, I am also reminded that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32). “Maximum kingdom impact” is not a matter of measurable bigness. It isn’t equivalent to earthly success or global recognition. Rather, it is doing faithfully what God has assigned to me in this season of my life, devoting all that I am to his purposes, whether they are big or small from a human point of view.
Thus, the fact that we are dust and returning to dust should not make us dreary. It should not minimize the value of our daily work. Rather, our mortality, rightly understood in light of God’s life in Christ, encourages and energizes us to live and work fully for God’s purposes and God’s glory.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
When you consider your own mortality, what thoughts or feelings come to mind?
Does the thought of your morality actually make a difference in your work? If so, how?
In what ways does your work contribute to the common good?
Gracious God, thank you for the gift of life. Thank you for the gift of work. Thank you for allowing me to join you in your work in this world.
As I think about my own morality, I feel a deep, strong desire to make a difference through my work. Lord, I want to do work that glorifies you and serves others. I want to be a faithful steward of the gifts and opportunities you have given me. May all of this be true, by your grace.
How I thank you, Lord, that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to you, my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
P.S. The final paragraph of this prayer is a paraphrase of the first answer of the Heidelberg Catechism.
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