Did you know that the average person spends about a third of their life working, a third of their life sleeping, and the other third with family or friends (when they are not working or sleeping … or on the internet!). That mean’s that over half of our waking hours are spent in the workplace. Have you ever asked yourself what God's purpose for your work is? And how we can find more meaning and fulfillment in our work? These are some of the questions we’ll be discussing in this series.
God as Worker
In the beginning, God worked. Genesis shows us that the creation of the world is God’s “work” (Gen.2:1-3), undertaken within a regular workweek of seven days. Not only does God work, he finds delight and joy in his work. God then commissioned humans to carry on his work in paradise (Gen.1:26-28; 2:15). God works for us and we work for him, and he works through us (Ps.127:1).
In his book Every Good Endeavour, Tim Keller says, “Work did not come in after a golden age of leisure. It was part of God’s perfect design for human life, because we are made in God’s image, and part of his glory and happiness is that he works, as does the Son of God, who said, ‘My Father is always at work to this very day, and I too am working’ (John 5:17).” He does on to say, “Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer and sexuality … without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness … we need work to thrive.”
Of course, sin has dramatically affected our world and our work. The curse of “thorns and thistles” (Gen.3:17-19) translates into relational problems as well as regular experiences of frustration, fruitlessness, lack of fulfilment and even meaninglessness. Work is not itself a curse, but it has been affected by the curse of sin.
Work as Sacred
God is interested in our work life. Unfortunately, many people have created a division between the “sacred” and the “secular”. This dualism is a product of Greek philosophy that has so influenced our Western worldview. Life is often seen as a series of boxes – one for family, one for work, one for friends, one for recreation, and one for religion (God or our “spiritual life”). As long as we prioritise correctly and make appropriate contributions to each box, life will work out for us. This results in compartmental thinking. In contrast, in the Hebrew mind, and from a Christian perspective, life should be viewed as one large circle with God in the centre. Everything else is to find its meaning and perspective from that centre. God wants to be involved in every area of our life – not just our spiritual life. All of life is sacred and God is interested in every dimension of our lives.
Brother Lawrence is well known for writing a little booklet that has touched millions of people’s lives. It’s called Practising the Presence of God. It’s about living with a greater realisation each moment of every day that God is with us and interested in doing life (including work) together with us. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col.3:17).” Doing something in Jesus’ name means to do it in his character. It means doing it as Jesus himself would do it if he were in your place. Paul is saying that our entire lives – from the moment we wake up until the time we lay down to sleep – are to be lived out ‘in the name of Jesus’. That is what discipleship is all about.
[Read about Jesus and the routine of daily work]
The Purpose of Work
1. To Glorify God
For us as followers of Christ, the entire purpose of our life is to bring glory to God – to display his nature and character to the world (1Cor.10:31). We are God’s representatives in every sector of our world and we need to represent him in such as way that we bring him praise and honour (Deut.4:5-8). The way we live, as well as the way we work and do business should attract people to God and give us opportunities to point people to Him. Who we are, how we work should please God and bring glory to him (Matt.5:13-16). There are many ways to do this, including (from Micah 6:8) acting justly (doing what is right, fair and equitable), loving mercy (being kind in the way we treat people) and walking humbly (avoiding pride and arrogance). Everything about us is part of God’s message through us to the world. How we treat others – our customers, our competitors and our community – speaks volumes to people (Col.4:5-6).
2. To Serve People
Every business, and therefore every job, exists to add value to people – to provide a service or a product that enhances people’s quality of life. The business or the industry you work in does not exist just as a way to make a living but as part of God’s plan for meeting the needs of people and making the world a better place. Your organisation exists for its customers not just its owners or shareholders. Great service creates not just customers, but raving fans who are so excited about the way they were treated that they brag about the organisation and its service. Think about Jesus who attracted crowds of people without all of our modern day marketing methods because he knew and met real needs and people kept spreading the word until he had more customers than he could handle (Matt.20:28). God wants us to do the same (Gal.5:13). When we make a delicious meal, clean a house, construct a building or create something of artistic beauty, we are doing kingdom business.
3. To Provide an Opportunity for Meaningful Contribution
God created us with the need for meaningful work. Part of our sense of significance comes from our ability to make a contribution to our world. It is part of God’s purpose for our lives. Your work has the potential to enhance your sense of dignity and contribution (2Thess.3:6-13), as well as providing an outlet for your skills and creative energies.
4. To Generate Wealth
In exchange for service or a product we receive payment of some sort. This is the principle of “fair exchange”. It’s okay to make a profit. Making a profit simply enables you to do business for another day. With the profit we make we can reward our ourselves, providing for our own family’s needs, as well as having resources to contribute towards God’s work in the earth (Deut.8:18).
1. Think about your work – what do you enjoy about your job and what is frustrating about it?
2. What does the fact that God is a worker tell us about his nature and character?
3. Although, God gives dignity and purpose to our work, we know that sin has affected everything. Reflect on the challenges and potential frustrations of work in a fallen and broken world (read Gen.3:16-19 and Ecc.2:17-20).
4. Consider the common divide between “sacred” and “secular.” What are some practical ways we can include, and be more aware of, God in the daily routines of our lives?
5. What does it look like to do our daily work “in Jesus’ name?”
6. How can our work bring glory to God (read and reflect on Deut.4:5-8. Matt.5:13-16. Micah 6:8. 1Cor.10:31 and Col.4:5-6 for some ideas)?
7. What are some criteria to consider when contemplating a potential job or career choice?
8. How can retirees continue to make a contribution – without retiring from life?
Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God's Plan for the World by Timothy Keller
Business through the Eyes of Faith by Richard C. Chewning
Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life by Robert Banks