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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!

  2. 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.

  3. overcomer says:

    Some great insights here. I smiled a lot while reading it. I am 53 and had to wind up my one man business due to ill health three years ago. My 32 year marriage also failed since then.
    I may or may not get well and may or may not work again. But the bottom line is always your relationship with God. Many times in my business God created openings and “chances” that were just so obviously of him. God was as interested in my work as in my singing and praising him. He was as interested in how I treated my customers as in how I treated church friends. There comes a time in your Christian walk when you realise there is no difference between “heavenly” and “earthly “ things. It’s all one.
    I love the Ecclesiastes quote and I have totally come to realise that there are no winners or losers in Gods economy. Only obedient or disobedient children.

  4. hal.fshr says:

    I’ve alwasy enjoyed Sixteen Tons as a song. At one point in my life I found myself having to hold down two hourly full time jobs just to pay the bills. The lyrics of that song ran through my mind. This article has hit upon an interesting paradox of work related to prosperity. Certainly, the Protestant work ethic in general has resulted in economic prosperity. However, making connections, timing in acquiring a position and a series of good circumstances can really help. The converse is also true. I guess I would have to say that both options you’ve mention are realities and I have experienced both. On the whole it is wise to be an effective worker even in a less than desired work environment. To guard against crushed expectations, the believer might best be equipped with expecting both types of work/prosperity issues to appear in their life. C.S. Lewis made it a point that often our happiness is just beyond our reach pointing to heavenly bliss in the future. Thanks for raising this issue, Mart. It is very helpful.

  5. Mart De Haan says:

    poohpity, thank you so much for telling us something of your story. Wow, sounds awful, yet wonderful in what you’ve discovered along the way. It’s the kind of experience we wouldn’t wish on anyone– but with results that no amount of money could ever buy.

  6. tealady24 says:

    It can be a very tough road sometimes; my husband and I put all our money into a business that we always wanted to have, and after 3 years, we had to get out or face financial ruin. Since then, it’s been one thing after another, but I hold tight to my faith, for it is all we can do! That, and understand, God remembers each and every one of us, though, we think not.
    If wealth be measured in how hard one works, then I would be a millionaire by now. I suspect God leads us down roads he wants us to experience, so we can turn those experiences into pathways of good — in His name.
    That is when we will find true riches…

  7. daisymarygoldr says:

    Work is a divine ordinance and Paul talks about ‘working hard’ day and night(2 Thess 3:8). Hard work should not be confused with workaholism where people work compulsively. This may then result in feeling overtly burdened and oppressed in addition to experiencing all the other complications that follow.
    Personally for me, money never was appealing and I have no idea/interest about our monthly bills or family expenses. Its not something that I’m proud of but my mind is simply blank when it comes to money. There is contentment in having three square meals a day, clothes to put on and a roof over my head. Being a woman makes it much easier for me to not worry about providing for my family. Without that pressure, I really love and enjoy the job God has blessed me with. Its my innate passion and doesn’t feel like work at all. Though it includes stressful moments of working past 8-4, sometimes staying awake past midnight and handling diverse and difficult people types, the outcome is sooo rewarding and sweet that one really forgets all the toiling and labor that went into it.
    The Ecclesiastical guy (not really my ideal wise man because of the 3000 women he had) is realistic about prosperity but we have the true wisdom of a greater than Solomon in Jesus Christ who is our rest and comforts the oppressed with these words: “Labor not for food that will perish, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of man shall give to you…” (John 6:27)
    BTW: Hard work may sometimes go unnoticed- that’s what the picture indicates or maybe the man in blue is merely an onlooker?!

  8. stroo says:

    I have been truly blessed by God throughout my life. I have had some hard times but when I look back God was always there holding me up.

    While God certainly wants us to work hard, any success we have in life is not the result of hard work, being in the right place at the right time, know the right people or luck. I could claim all of that in my life but it is not why I have a wonderful wife, four wonderful children, a wonderful job or money in the bank. Rather all of the blessings come from God. We are saved by the grace of God and we live by the grace of God. He gives us our hard times and good times. As the Preacher concluded: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty man.” ECC 12:13. But we can not do this on our own; we can only do it because Christ came and died for us so that we may live in Him. We are saved by His grace and we live by His grace. It is all grace.

    And because grace is all, I take great refuge in the fact that God has a plan for my life. Jeremiah 29:11-12 says: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.” I don’t always see His plan, and sometimes I have tried to avoid His plan, but in the end, no matter what happens, good or bad, I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God. By His grace,He has a plan for my life. I must give Him all the honor and glory!

  9. Gale L. Jarvis says:

    Good Morning everyone, Mart, i am a day late, but not a dollar short, the Lord has always provided every thing i have needed, i do not have a large bank account, i have been retired for 27 years through General Motors, the Lord has given me the strenght, ability, and what ever it has taken for me to have worked these last few years for nothing, being involved in the lives of others that are in need, and being able to help is worth more than a regular days pay, and having the ability to sleep well, and rest the tired body is great.
    Very seldom do i think of something i would like to do but do not have the money to do what ever it is.
    Looking back once in awhile at what we have done for others is some thing a person should do, not for a guilt trip, but evalueing what we have thought more important, my comfort, or desiring to comfort others, with what God has given us, and then giving some serious thought as to what can i do today for someone else.

  10. maureen says:

    He does provide…Thank you, all, for sharing your thoughts on this topic. Stroo, I really appreciate your last paragraph.
    I am a new child in Christ. Before I came to know Christ as my Savior, I never knew what I as working for, let alone, for whom. He continues to bless me with many trials, not the least of which is the uncertainty of what exactly it is I should be doing for work.
    A middle-aged woman now, I have been, and continue to be, a “Jill of many trades; mistress of none.” This has bothered me. I have thought my work menial; I have felt underpaid. I have groaned, “What is it I am supposed to be doing with my life?” Worse, I have asked, no one in particular, “Why do I exist?” In my uncertainty, I have sulked, jobless, to the point of being broke.
    What’s different today is that, as Stroo has said, “I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God.” He is my each moment; my each breath. I live to glorify Him, for I know I am nothing without Him.
    A week ago, I couldn’t see how either my current work or I “at it” was glorifying Him. Then I realized that my income was more than sufficient for my needs–I could give toward a mission’s trip for a youth from my Church. He will be glorified…He does provide!

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