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FIRST-PERSON: Dear graduates – Work hard

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Dear Class of 2024,

‘Tis the season for graduation addresses, and as a college professor for many years I’d like to share some thoughts with you (and others who might want to listen in). Our culture encourages you to laziness, and then, mocks and caricatures you as lazy. The truth is if you want a meaningful, worthwhile life, you must work hard.

It is odd to me to hear the word lazy used in a positive, or at least neutral, sense. It wasn’t that way when I was a kid. If you called a man lazy, you could have a fistfight. Now, I regularly hear students say, “I’m just being lazy.” I think they usually mean they are resting. Rest is good and necessary, and appropriate after hard work. Laziness isn’t rest; it is the avoidance of work and is sinful. Don’t let yourself make peace with laziness any more than you would with any other sin.

If you want to be godly, you must be a hard worker. J. Oswald Sanders, in his book “Spiritual Leadership,” wrote,

“If a Christian is not willing to rise early and work late, to expend greater effort in diligent study and faithful work, that person will not change a generation. Fatigue is the price of leadership. Mediocrity is the result of never being tired.”

I love that quote! It is directly counter to the spirit of the age which says, “If you’re tired, don’t do anything.” Often “I’m tired” or I’m busy” are the reflex answer when someone asks how you are doing. I have decided for myself that when people ask how I am doing, there are two things I will not say: “I am busy,” or “I am tired.” I will not contribute to this complaining spirit of laziness. I will tell close friends about struggles I’m having, but I have removed these two comments from my options for common response.

In fact, if I know you well enough, and I ask how you are doing, and you say to me, “I’m busy,” I’m going to say, “Good! I’m glad God has given you work to do. I’m so glad your life is not being wasted.” Or, if you say, “I’m tired,” I will say, “Good! Tell me about those things you have expended your life energy on this week.”

If you are busy and tired from business God has called you to, good!

Scripture not only encourages hard work, it commands hard work:

  • Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
  • Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.”
  • And, Ecclesiastes 10:18 says, “Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks.”

Obviously, a key biblical theme is that hard work is godly, and laziness is sin.

When you decide to embrace hard work, you then need to beware of a complaining spirit. My phrase for this is: whining whittles away at the will to work. You’re either going to work or you’re going to whine. Again, the culture will encourage you to whine by excusing why you can’t work hard and blaming others and circumstances for your failures. There is a difference between whining and talking about real problems. Proper sharing of problems centers on seeking improvement. Whining, though, centers on gaining attention and avoiding responsibility.

The world is going to tell you to make sure everybody knows how hard you have it and don’t let anybody get more out of you than they should. In work situations, the world will push you to not give any more than necessary. But no one will want to hire you if that’s the way you think. We should be seeking to accomplish all the Lord gives us to do. Focusing on ourselves is the path to misery, because the more you stare inside, the worse it’s going to get. It is also the path to misery for the people around you. If we’re more concerned about working hard than being a victim, we can move forward.

So, if you are longing to know that your life matters, you are longing to accomplish something that has significance. You can’t do that if you don’t work hard. To lead means to work hard, partially because leading people is hard work, and because if you’re going to lead, you’ve got to be an example of hard work. So go forth and spend your energy on noble tasks, giving all you have and finding joy in the various ways God will use you.

Ray Van Neste is Vice President for University Ministries and Dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University in Jackson, TN. [email protected]

    About the Author

  • Ray Van Neste