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Productivity in a Pandemic

Sequestered on a family farm during the great plague of London in 1665, twenty-three-year-old Isaac Newton made significant advances in the fields of mathematics and science. By 1666, Newton had succeeded in framing his principles of calculus, theories about the light spectrum, and the laws of motion and gravity—all of which he worked at in quarantine. This exceptional man achieved some of his greatest accomplishments during a period of social distancing. Numerous other exceptional figures made significant contributions to human society while sheltering themselves from the threat of pestilence. While most of us will not make such extraordinary contributions during this global health crisis, we can wisely redeem the time with our labors. Instead of succumbing to the temptation to scan social media feeds or stream news or television shows incessantly, we can seek to use the time we have at present to advance the glory of God and the good of our neighbors. The Scriptures—particularly the Wisdom Literature—have much to offer us by way of direction and motivation to this end.

The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes speak repeatedly about our need to pursue productive and fruitful lives. The author of Ecclesiastes explains why productivity is fundamental to what we do when he says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Eccl. 9:10). Time is short. We only have so many years, months, days, and hours in which to be productive. This is reason enough for us to work as unto the Lord during this time. This takes shape and form in a variety of areas of our lives. We ought to use this time of social distancing to diligently work, study, and manage our homes. We should also diligently attend to our devotional lives, our physical well-being, and our care for others.

PREPARATION

When I was young, my father taught me a simple key to leading a spiritually productive life. He would remind me to “pray, plan, and do.” Over the decades, I have come to realize the importance of this counsel for every aspect of life. Proverbs 24:27 says, “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” The significance of planning comes from the triune God Himself. In His eternal counsel, the Lord planned the world and all the events of human history. Everything that happens in time and space occurs according to the eternal wisdom of God. The Apostle Paul speaks of the work of Christ in reconciling all things in heaven and earth as being God’s “plan for the fullness of time” (Eph. 1:10) and “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages” (Eph. 3:9). Every aspect of creation, providence, and redemption has been carefully planned out by God and executed in time. Since we are vulnerable to fall out of routine, we should strategically plan out our days and hours during this season of isolating pandemic.

DILIGENCE

We must remember that our diligent labor ordinarily leads to a profitable outcome. While Scripture rejects all false gospels of health, wealth, and prosperity, it affirms that God rewards the diligent labors of His people. Proverbs 12:11 states, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” Proverbs 12:14 explains, “The work of a man's hand comes back to him,” and Proverbs 28:19 says, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.” The wise woman of Proverbs 31 “seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands (Prov. 31:13). Her family is better provided for by her labors. These verses set out the essence of this two-sided principle: As productivity leads to provision, so laziness leads to impoverishment. This is true in the spiritual realm no less than it is in the physical realm. Whether we are diligent or negligent in our work, study, management of our homes, devotional lives, physical care, and care for others, we will inevitably reap what we sow. God calls us to diligent labors. This present circumstance is an opportunity for us to diligently carry out the many responsibilities the Lord has given us.

SKILL

It is, however, possible for us to busy ourselves in vain, under the pretext of being diligent (Ps. 39:6). Diligence must be always be accompanied by a skillful use of the gifts God has given us in the spheres in which He calls us to labor. As Proverbs 22:29 explains, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” Charles Bridges observed: “[A skillful person] is marked out for our special notice . . . in his business—quick, ready, actively improving his time, his talents, his opportunity for his work. . . . If the letter of the promise is not always fulfilled, [such a person] will rule in his own sphere.”

We should use this time of social distancing to pursue excellence in our labors. One day, we will all stand before the King of kings “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10).

We can use this time of self-distancing to pursue skillfulness in all that we do. One straightforward way to pursue skillfulness is to commit to reading and studying in a focused way. At this time, we can focus on specific areas of our lives in which we wish to see growth. There are so many resources online to help us grow in knowledge. We can always improve the quality of our labors, seeking to do them to the best of our ability for the glory of God. We remember the Apostolic exhortation, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Whether it is in private or family worship, ordinary vocations, or special acts of service to our church family or others in the community, this can be a unique time of skillful labor.

JOY

We sometimes mistakenly consider our labors as merely futile and arduous tasks. There is certainly an element of futility to our work in this fallen world—as the author of Ecclesiastes frequently notes. However, Ecclesiastes also teaches us that “there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot” (Eccl. 3:22). We should enter into our labors during this season—as we should do in other seasons—with joy. There should be joy in our labors in seclusion, knowing that the Lord has given us the privilege of being productive for His glory and the benefit of our neighbor. We can rejoice in knowing that we are benefiting others—whether members of our family, neighbors in our immediate community, or men and women throughout the world. Additionally, we get to enjoy the fruit of our labors as a gift from God. Ecclesiastes 3:13 explains, “Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” We can rejoice in the blessing of having provisions from God. What we do has an impact on others. All biblically lawful labor tends to the betterment of society. There is no better example of this than that of our Lord Jesus Christ, who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured the awful God-forsaken travail of His soul at Calvary for the joy of “bringing many sons to glory” (2:10).

During this global COVID-19 pandemic, let’s commit to diligent and skillful labor in our homes. Let’s commit to prayerfully planning out the many tasks in which we may best invest our time. By so doing, we may look back on this season with gratitude—in spite of the unique challenges and frustrations we face at present. We may not formulate the laws of calculus or motion, but we may grow in our faithful labors in our vocations, in our families, among our fellow church members, and in our communities.