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Sixteen Tons and…

In 1955, Tennessee Ernie Ford had a big hit in a mineworkers’ song called “16 Tons”. Many of us will never forget his rich voice singing, “Sixteen tons and what do ya get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don’t you call me, cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.”

The song reminded me again today of a discussion I once had with a friend about whether there is any relationship between how hard we work and how much we prosper. The friend said there wasn’t. I thought he was overstating his case. Years later, I’m still thinking about that conversation.

Some of us have probably heard motivational speakers say something like, “If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

What I find interesting about that quote is that, even though it is meant to emphasize the value of hard work, it has to tip its hat to the good fortune of knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time.

The Bible seems to acknowledge both sides. On one hand, it emphasizes the rewards of timely due diligence (Proverbs 6:6-11; 24:30-34). Yet, the Scriptures are just as clear in saying that prosperity does not come from hard work.

Solomon, one of the wisest people who ever lived, found the unpredictability of work especially painful. During a time of his own disillusionment he wrote, “The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise are often poor, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being at the right place at the right time” (Ecc 9:11).

An also cynical Don Marquis is quoted as saying, “When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him: ‘Whose?'”

It’s the prophet Jeremiah, though, who gives me the most to think about on this subject. Rather than focusing my eyes on success, or its unpredictability, Jeremiah brings me to the source of all good fortune when he says, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches. Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things!'” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

And with this thought, my mind seems more ready to run to the one who said, “”Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light” (Jesus at Matt 11:27-30).

My guess is that, at this point, some of us have lived long enough to see that although hard work can be energizing or oppressive, the real issue is not what we are working for, but who….

What about you? I’d be interested to know what some of you have found in the middle of bad jobs, no work, or in those turns of fate that you know were not of your own making?

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10 Responses to “Sixteen Tons and…”

  1. igetbored says:

    It’s tuff out there no doubt. Even with a military back ground and college under my belt it seems it’s still not enough. But staying close to God and tithing as much as I can has not failed me yet. Praise his name!

  • poohpity says:

    My parents came from very poor backgrounds. I believe their thoughts were, we are going to make sure our children do not go without. My father became a lineman and my mother was a homemaker both however worked very very hard to obtain treasures here on earth. My father worked very long hours and had to travel where ever the work was so that separated our family at times. My mother on the other hand did not ever have the 10 second rule in our home it was so clean you could have something fall on the floor and leave it there for a week and it would still not be dirty. They both put everything into their work and pretty much that was who they were.

    I started using drugs and alcohol at 14 and continued until I was 35 when I began a relationship with the Lord in 1989. During the drug years I gave up guardianship of my daughter to my parents because I felt they had more money and could provide for her better than I could(that was only part of the reason). She was born in 77, then in 87 I gave birth to a son and then another in 89. Long story short, I did not want to loose them so I asked the Lord for His help to change my life and He did. I began my journey with the Lord doing all the right things, I went to college, was active in my church and held down a job. It started to sound a bit like my parents trying to measure my success by the things I did. My children were in daycare sometimes for almost 12 hours a day and I was their only parent.

    In 1997 I was unable to work because my left hip needed to be replaced during the process of giving blood for the surgery the blood bank found I had Hep C. Needless to say the rug got pulled out from under me or so I thought. I had to go on disability and guess what I got to stay home with my boys. My boys had ADHD which brings along with it some learning disabilities. Many times I would pick them up from daycare and find rug burns on them from two teachers holding them down on the carpet which made me so angry I could have hurt someone but anyway I no longer had to put them in daycare.

    Anyway my whole point of this story is we had to live off of very very little money. I never was able to give them everything I had monetarily. Sometimes we barely had enough food. The only family that was part of their lives was my mom. No uncles, aunts, grandpas and no father. These boys grew up in the church family and now my oldest son has made the attempt to go to college to become a youth pastor and the youngest graduates next week from high school with aspirations of becoming a police officer. High risk children who because of the Lord’s intervention with the blessing of having health problems was able to save their lives from drugs and crime.

    I still have mega health problems, and need help with the graduation meal, but they have a wonderful life in Christ. He was my husband, provider, counselor and the best friend anyone could ever have. Sometimes one works so hard they are unable to smell the roses or spend anytime with the one who created them. I am feeling a bit lost because they were my job and now they are grown but am beginning to look expectantly at what the Lord has for me in the future to continue to do His work.

    I apologize for the length of this but it could have been really long if I filled it with all the ways the Lord provided. He is a very wonderful God.