Ugh, work. Disliking work is universal to the human experience. Most people hit their alarm button in the morning and wish for a day off. A lot of us end up plodding through each day, living for the weekend.
Ask anybody on the street “So why do you have a job?” and the answer will probably be along the lines of “Because I have to.” Even those of us in good jobs are still working them to provide for ourselves, for our families, to pay for the house and the car and the groceries and the college debts. It’s a matter of survival, not joy.
But there has to be more to what we spend most of our lives doing, right?
The Bible’s answer is a clear yes. Genesis 2:15 says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” So here at the beginning of time, we find a working God who fashions humans to work, and builds a world meant to run on work. In His perfect design, work was a glorious, productive thing. Even our hobbies and creative passions that we enjoy so much are a callback to this: they’re all a form of work.
John Piper writes, “God has infused the act of work with meaning and divine significance, enjoining upon humans an obligation to engage in work even as God works.”
So how does God work? Looking at the Bible, I think there are two kinds of labor we see God doing.
- He brings order, making beauty and harmony out of chaos and dysfunction.
Everyone’s pretty familiar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says everything in the universe is on a constant slide towards disorder and chaos. This is sin’s effect on creation, written into the physical laws of our world, and it’s absolutely contrary to God’s design. The kingdom of God is a direct reversal—a wonderful contradiction—of this law. It’s a kingdom of restoration from dysfunction, of harmony from chaos, of beauty from brokenness. Even most of Jesus’ miracles when He was on earth reflect this reversal. They’re restorative: healing sickness, calming storms, opening blind eyes, reversing death.
- He creates something that wasn’t there before.
This is pretty self-explanatory; we ourselves are evidence that God is a Creator. However, it’s interesting to note that some of Jesus’ other miracles are creative: turning water into wine, multiplying bread and fish by the thousands, shaping a coin inside a fish’s mouth.
Bringing things into order or creating new things. This is God’s work. And every human task on the planet falls into those two categories. Every single one.
We can’t create out of nothing, like He can, but we can create out of His creation, whether it’s building a magnificent skyscraper, writing a novel, or just baking a cake. We can’t do the grand-scale restoration that Jesus will do throughout creation when He returns to wipe out sin, but we can set the broken bones, mop the dirty floors, regulate someone’s taxes, or fix clogged plumbing.
So when you work, you become the living mirror-image of God. You’re a direct echo, on a smaller scale, of what the all-powerful Creator of the universe has been doing since the beginning of time.
Romans 12:1 says: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”
If when you work, you are patterning your actions after His with your body and mind, then you’re worshiping. Rick Warren puts it another way, “Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence.”
So it’s our radical obedience to God that makes everything we do an act of worship—and radical obedience to Him might not always translate into radical action. Most of the time, it won’t.
After all, we still live in a fallen world where as God told Adam, work comes “with painful toil.” It’s futile and mundane. But once we understand what work is, what it someday will be, then everything changes. The dirty dishes, the endless diapers, the mountain of paperwork become both a beautiful song of praise to our God and a lived-out expression of what we were born for. We bring order and we create. When you think about that, how even the most tedious jobs are a tiny, finite snapshot of His nature, it’s humbling. God’s very being and purpose is on display through His work, and He allows us to participate in that for His glory. Does that make you feel energized and ready to go tackle the jobs He’s entrusted to you?
One of my favorite books is Hinds’ Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard. It’s a lovely allegory about a crippled woman named Much-Afraid, who sets out on a long journey following the Shepherd to the High Places, His radiant kingdom on the mountaintops.
As she works her way towards the peaks, Much-Afraid often builds little altars where she lays down small pieces of her sin-nature: her pride, her selfishness, her fear, her impatience. There’s nothing epic about these places or the sacrifices she makes. Just one quiet moment after another where she learns to surrender again to her Lord. And every time she builds an altar, she picks up a small, ordinary rock to remind her of her choice. By the time she gets to the mountains, there’s a little bag full of these stones hanging around her neck.
When Much-Afraid finally reaches her High Places, the Shepherd meets her on a mountain summit. He puts out His hands and asks for her altar-bag. “But Shepherd,” she stammers, “they’re just stones.” He insists, however. So she turns the bag upside down, expecting her rough pebbles. Instead, shining jewels in every color come tumbling out.
The Shepherd smiles, takes the jewels in His hands and shapes a circlet. And then He crowns Much-Afraid with the tiny, insignificant rocks of her faithfulness and His glory.
We can find holiness and beauty in every task we are called to, because by their very nature, those tasks are already holy and beautiful. For Christians, work is an action of surrender, of slowly becoming more like Him. Our work is our worship, lived out at one small altar after another.
And in the hands of our God, who brings order, who creates from nothing, our little mundane work-stones become something precious.