During the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and 19th centuries, when new machines ran continuously, factory owners expected their employees to work up to 16 hours every day except Sunday.
The average life expectancy at the time was 35 years. To improve matters, a federation of trade and labor unions in the U.S. and Canada called for an eight-hour workday beginning May 1, 1886.
Since most employers refused to grant this request, thousands of workers went on strike on that first day of May. A brawl between strikers and strikebreakers led to the death of several workers, resulting in the Chicago Haymarket riots on May 4.
As scuffles broke out, a bomb was thrown and it exploded, unleashing shrapnel. Seven policemen were killed, some from police bullets fired in the chaos. Four civilians were also killed.
This gave the labor movement its first martyrs. Workers in England, Spain, Italy, Russia and Holland rallied in support. President Grover Cleveland reportedly believed commemorating Labor Day on May 1 might become an opportunity to commemorate the riots and possibly strengthen a socialist movement.
While most countries went on to pay tribute to their workers on May 1, the United States and Canada chose to celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September. The first Labor Day in America was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City.
More than a decade later, on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday. For me, such fascinating history has become like an automobile’s rearview mirror.
Glancing back every now and then can make for safe traveling ahead. How so? History tells us workers fought hard and even died to spend less time on the job and more time with their families. Many laborers perished. They never lived to see an eight-hour work day.
I wonder how many people take the time to look back on the sacrifices made during the Industrial Revolution so millions today can enjoy more time with family, friends and spiritual pursuits.
While most people must earn a living, is it also important to realize that life is about more than secular work? You’ve heard the expression, “No one on their deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at work.” Do you agree?
Spending leisure time with family and friends can be refreshing and uplifting. Balancing work with recreation, entertainment or some quiet time for rest and relaxation, can be just what is needed to feel rejuvenated again.
To feel spiritually refreshed, however, the Bible recommends its own “labor days.” For example, 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” — New International Version.
What is this “labor in the Lord” and why is it not in vain? After his resurrection, Jesus Christ told his faithful disciples at Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” — English Standard Version.
This labor of love has introduced millions all over the world to the love of God through Jesus Christ. Were all Christians commanded to be teachers and make disciples?
When Jesus said teach new disciples all that he commanded, what was the last thing he commanded? Was it not to go make disciples? So everyone who learned of Jesus would be told the last thing Jesus said, which was basically, ‘Now you go teaching what you learned and tell them to teach what they just learned and so on.’
Regarding their ministry, Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” — New King James Version.
Taking time away from secular work or a busy schedule to become “rich in good works” as 1Timothy 6:18 says, can be even more spiritually refreshing than physical rest. Why? Because giving back to God, not out of compulsion, but out of love, brings great satisfaction.
No matter what we do, we cannot “earn” the free gift of eternal life God offers through His only-begotten Son. At the same time, our labor is never in vain. It shows faith and appreciation, and is part of our sacred service to God, which will be rewarded.
As 1 Corinthians 3:8-9 says, “Each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers.” — New King James Version.
Working with God, drawing closer to Him, will make such “labor days” all the more rewarding.
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