Footprints on the Ceiling

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (Col. 3:23-24)

I love the bumper sticker, “My boss is a Jewish carpenter.” It says so much.

I have done some mundane, dirty, and difficult jobs in my time: I have cleaned out pigsties then spread the manure on farmland. For three months I washed dishes in a busy restaurant. On a missions outreach near the Mexican border, I swept a one acre parking lot in ninety-degree heat. However, nothing beats cleaning a dirty apartment—not even the pigsty!

When the front door almost falls off its hinges you know you are in for trouble. The smell hits you next—a mixture of bad food, feline urine and unwashed humans. The living room looks as though someone did oil changes right there on the carpet. The refrigerator (defrosted for a week) buzzes with tiny fruit flies when you open the door and a slime-induced odor hits you like a wave. There are ways to clean all those disasters. Ten hours later the apartment will be habitable again. Ten hours to contemplate how humans can live like animals—and how the heck did they get spaghetti and footprints on the ceiling?

Cleaning rental property should be on the list of dirtiest jobs—dirt that creeps under the skin into the soul. For the few months I did it, I faced inner conflicts I had never faced before: Why should I clean up after people who live like this? Earning low wages for what is actually a skilled job is unjust. Who cares whether I get every little bit of mold out from under the window tracks?

That last one pointed me to the only real motivation for a job like this—Jesus cares. He cares because He is doing the same kind of deep cleaning in my own heart, with the utmost care and sacrifice.

He sees too, right into the crevices of my attitude that prefers to sweep dirt under a rug, thinking no one will notice. It doesn’t matter that my employer won’t know I cut corners. If I leave that apartment with a smile on my face, masking frustration and self-pity, Jesus sees right through it.

But what would church folk think of their pastor scrubbing toilets and stovetops? It hardly seems like God’s blessing on my life—fruitful ministry and all that. Have I done something wrong that God would reduce me to this? I mustn’t tell anyone about my day job. Then I remember; Jesus was a carpenter. He probably dealt with difficult customers and felt underpaid for His skills. If Jesus could undertake menial work with dignity, then so can I. Instead of grumbling in disgust at the former occupants, I can pray for them. I can work as if Jesus will be the next occupant of the apartment.

When we labor for Jesus, doing our best never need be about punishment for failure, it’s about the privilege of serving Him and the reward He promises.

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