How the Reaper helped Restore Dignity to Work

Warm-Up: Read Romans 8:18-25

A recent study found that only 53% of Americans look forward to going to work. This statistic probably doesn’t surprise you, given that you or the person next to you won’t love their job. Americans tend to work unnecessarily hard and have terrible work-life balance. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in hard work. I just don’t believe in working hard when there are better ways of getting work done.

Work vs Toil

The work culture in America can make difficult to think of work as a good thing. But we see a different story in the beginning of the Bible. Geneses 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Before sin entered the world, God gave Adam a job to do. Because of this, we know that work isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it was originally meant to be a good thing!

planting vegetables photo

Photo by knottyboy

But then, in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve disobey God by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Part of the punishment for this made work a bit more difficult:

“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,

The curse of sin brought toil, the broken, twisted version of work. The dictionary defines work like this, “be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a result.” Toil, on the other hand, is defined this way, “work extremely hard or incessantly.”

Work brings results and provides time to enjoy what you’ve done, but toil never ends. It is a constant battle to get anything done, it involves sweat and tears and pain. Toil also makes it difficult to enjoy time with God or your family. But because of sin, there are times when we must toil if we are to eat or survive.

The Ministry of Reconciliation

When Jesus came to Earth, however, he broke the curse of sin. The world isn’t perfect yet, and neither are we. But those who love Jesus are being renewed by His grace, and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Romans 8:19-21 says this, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

So not only does the ministry of reconciliation apply to other people, for we are also called to reconcile all aspects of life, and that includes the way we work.

It frustrates me when our culture  celebrates people simply because of the number of hours they spend behind a desk. We assume that people who work hard produce more, but this isn’t always the case. Americans have always worked hard, but we also sought innovative ways to make work more productive and enjoyable, to reduce the toil that the curse of sin imposed.

Cyrus McCormick and the Mechanical Reaper

Cyrus McCormick

Cyrus McCormick

An excellent example is Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the mechanical reaper. Few people knew about him or his reaper, but he managed to bring it to the 1851 World’s Fair in London. Actually, he realized after the boat trip across the Atlantic that he couldn’t afford to move his reaper from the docs to the Fair, but fortunately found some support and made it happen. Naturally, people still noticed the miscalculation. Bill Bryson described the scene this way in his book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life:  

“All this reinforced the more or less universal conviction that Americans were little more than amiable backwoodsmen not yet ready for unsupervised outings on the world stage. So it came as something of a surprise when the displays were erected to discover that the American section was an outpost of wizardry and wonder. Nearly all the American machines did things that the world earnestly wished machines to do – stamp out nails, cut stone, mould candles – but with a neatness, dispatch and tireless reliability that left other nations blinking.”

The reaper, of course, was one of the primary highlights of American innovation at the Fair. McCormick demonstrated how it could harvest the same amount of grain as 40 men! But what inspired him to create the reaper?

McCormick was a devout Christian who believed his reaper would help feed hungry people. He wasn’t satisfied with the traditional ways of doing things and the small output it produced. Vishael Mangalwadi said this in The Book That Made Your World:

“All agricultural societies have needed to harvest grain. But no other culture invented a reaper. Most cultures met this need by forcing into backbreaking labor those who were too weak to say no–landless laborers, servants, slaves, women, and children. McCormick struggled to find a better way.”

A Better Way

Before McCormick, people worked hard to harvest grain because they had no other way. By the time he died, McCormick changed the world forever and produced six million reapers. No longer would laborers be forced to spend countless hours in the sun, harvesting barely enough grain to survive. His invention freed countless people up to go to school and learn, to work other jobs, and to spend more time with family and God. Casson called McCormick’s reaper “the liberator of the land-serf in twenty countries, and the bread-machine of one-half of the human race.”

Make no mistake, McCormick was a hard worker. But his work meant something, and this is what American work culture often misses today. Many workplaces celebrate hard work for the sake of working hard. Instead, we should celebrate work that produces results and provides a better living situation for others.

Application

The curse of sin forced us to toil with the ground, but the ministry of reconciliation calls us to make that work more enjoyable and satisfying for both ourselves and the rest of the world.

Here are a few quick applications that will help you enjoy and embrace your job more:

  1. Dedicate your work to God, remember that doing a great job can be an act of worship.
  2. Focus on producing results, not just on working countless hours.
  3. Take time to reflect on the work you (or your team) accomplished, and celebrate those accomplishments.
  4. Always look for better ways to do things, not just for yourself, but for others.
  5. Make time for your family and for God. It’s far more difficult to keep your professional life in order when your personal life is out of sorts.

*If you enjoyed this post, consider sharing it – thanks!

Free Download
Subscribe to get the book
Learn to lead like Nehemiah, an Exile who did great things for his people. Submit your email, subscribe to Embracing Exile, and you'll get a free copy of the ebook!