The great part of every life is made up of duty. While we certainly experience many delights and enjoy many distractions, there is more of duty to life than anything else. The God who creates and calls us also assigns to us many obligations, many responsibilities, many tasks and assignments. The great majority of what we do in a day and in a lifetime is the fulfillment of duty.
Even the best of jobs and the most satisfying of vocations demand close attention to duty. The pastor must dutifully prepare sermons, plan services, visit parishioners, petition God in prayer. The controlling question for his ministry is not “What do I want to do?” but “What must I do?” To be faithful in his calling he must be dutiful in it. And his duty does not end in his ministry, for he has duties to his wife and children, to his friends and neighbors, to his home and property. He lives a worthy life when he faithfully considers his obligations to each of these groups, his obligations within each of these spheres, then fulfills them with diligence.
What is true of the pastor is true of the electrician, the engineer, the entrepreneur. It is true of the student, the homemaker, the retiree. What is true of him and his life is true of us and ours, no matter the particulars. Each life comes with its duties and each day its opportunities to meet them. We can hardly boast we have lived a worthy life if we succeed in what we like to do but fail in what we must do, if we succeed in our passions but fail in our obligations. The successful life is the one that accounts seriously for its duties and that meets them with diligence. It is through the successive completion of little duties that we fulfill our big callings.
Of course duties do not need to be drudgery. In fact, they should not be drudgery, because each of them can be done for the most noble of purposes. Duties might never rise above drudgery if we fulfill them merely so we can scratch items off a list or draw checkmarks within a box. But duties can and do rise far above drudgery when we fulfill them out of a conviction that it is God who has called us to them and that it is through them that we do good to others and bring glory to his name. Duties become delights when we do them all heartily as for the Lord. The calling of the Christian is to undertake every duty not as people who work merely under the eye of men, but as people who work under the eye of God. The privilege of the Christian is to know that every duty is weighted with great significance and that it resonates not just in time but also in eternity.
If every duty can be done for the good of others and the glory of God, then no duty should be done with complaining. No matter how mundane or repetitive our duties, no matter how uninspiring or unimportant they may seem, we should never grumble about them, for whatever God has given us to do, he means for us to do it with joy. To complain about the task is to complain about the one who has assigned the task. If the duty of a moment is to sweep the floors, then there is nothing better for us to do in all the world than to sweep the floors. If the duty of a moment is to file taxes, then that is the duty God has assigned to us and there is no task better, no task more important. If the duty of a moment is to bring comfort to someone who is downcast, we must set aside all else to carry out that task with excellence, knowing that it is God who has assigned it to us and us to it.
The air around is made up mostly of nitrogen, our bodies of oxygen, and life of obligation. And just as God is the one who created the air we breathe and the bodies we wear, he is the one who has created our lives and the duties that come with them. The degree to which we fulfill our duties is the degree to which we honor our God-given purpose. The degree to which we fulfill our duties with delight is the degree to which we will go through life joyfully instead of resentfully. It is when we rejoice in God’s sovereignty over our every moment and every activity that we find meaning and significance in even the smallest of duties. It is then that we learn we can seek them out and take them up with trust that each one matters. It is then that we learn that the only way to do the work of a lifetime is to do the work of a day, and the only way to do the work of a day is to do the duty of a moment.