Did you realize that God commands us to work and he is even specific about the amount of time?
“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep in holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God: you shall not do any work.” Exodus 20:8-10
In God’s design, people’s work is crucial for the earth to function properly and develop. The world is structured in a way that requires us to work to provide both the essentials of life as well as the necessities of life for ourselves and others.
For example, it is necessary for some to provide food, others to deliver that food and some to prepare that food. There are those that gather the raw materials for clothes and shelter for those who produce the products and then in turn make them available to those who deliver the goods. Our world is enriched in a non-material way by those involved in education and entertainment. Some folks conduct research, others compile information and many use those facts and figures to teach others. There are people who write stories, others who act them out and still others who produce songs that lift our hearts. Christians are in fact shaping the Kingdom of God by what they do and how they do it.
Our work generates resources that are used to care for ourselves and our dependents prompting appropriate pride and sense of esteem. The inherent value in our labor is acknowledged by the fact that someone compensates us for our efforts. We are rewarded for our diligence and we earn the money we are given for our wants and needs.
Finally, work is service to others and with others; part of our life in community. With our God-graced gifts, we do things for others that they do not have the skills, knowledge or interest to do for themselves. We collaborate with others to provide products and services that no one individual can do on his or her own.
What are we working for?
“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” Psalm 127:1-2
As most of know, our work life is not always holy and can become tedious, anxiety-ridden and unfulfilling for many reasons. Many times it occurs when we get out of alignment with God’s purpose and try to accomplish things by sheer willpower or primarily for self-satisfaction. We can easily become overly focused on material gain. As billionaire J. Paul Getty is reported to have said when asked how much is enough money, “Just a little bit more.” Sometimes we work for distraction, so we can avoid attending to other aspects of life such as friends and family or physical and spiritual fitness. In other cases, our work can become subject to routine or habit. We go through the motions without applying intellectual or spiritual care to our actions.
Misplaced emotional and psychological needs can wreak havoc with a healthy relationship with work. We can become enamored with the power associated with our positions. It may be the power to approve programs and direct the work of others. It may be the power to say no or simply withdraw support from a person or project. We may derive all of our self-worth from our job and become excessively committed to projecting and protecting our title, our profession, our credentials or our organization. We become subject to following these roads to disaster when our ties to God and community weaken and fray.
However, God did not design work as a punishment to be avoided or merely endured. The personal satisfaction that results from a job well done is almost unrivaled in its emotional depth. It is no accident that God has coupled our responsibilities and gifts with rewards and blessings. It may be that small inner glow of confidence that results from reconciling a bank account, fixing a programming glitch or answering a difficult customer question or it can be the euphoria of completing a major project, making a large sale or starting a new company. It is a sacred place where you have worked hard – mentally, physically, and emotionally and applied your education, skills and experience to accomplish the goal. That work is powerful and holy.
We also find ourselves most motivated and energized when we are able to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Working for any organization, large or small, with the office politics, silly policies and aggravating bosses can be a very frustrating environment. However, organizations can accomplish things that no individual on their own can. They can build massive bridges, provide food for thousands, launch people into outer space, and sell millions of golf balls. So we band together with others pooling our brainpower and our musclepower to get things done. And whether it is creating an ad campaign for a new laundry detergent or opening a homeless shelter, there is an inherent sense of satisfaction in working with others to get something important done. God’s work is occurring in you and around you.
Moreover, we know that our labor is not in vain. In his book The Challenge of Jesus, NT Wright wrote, “In the Lord your labor is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is soon going over a cliff. Nor, however are you constructing the kingdom of God by your own efforts. You are following Jesus and shaping our world in the power of the Spirit; and when the final consummation comes, the work that you have done, whether in Bible study or biochemistry, whether in preaching or pure mathematics, whether in digging ditches or composing symphonies, will stand, will last.”
How do you see your work as connected to God’s design for the world?
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This post was published December 16, 2013
Greg Gast is co-leader of the Business Vocation Group for the Denver Institute of Faith and Work and founder and president of Thirdstage Consulting.