You’ve been there. The 5:30 alarm goes off, you hit snooze three times. You restlessly try to scrape together even just a few more minutes of sleep only to be interrupted by that pesky alarm reminding you of the full day of work between you and another night’s sleep. You begin the funeral dirge of your morning routine: make the coffee, wake the kids, take a shower, grab a bite, and rush out the door for a half hour commute to a job you hate. You sit at your desk that’s too small, doing work that’s too meaningless all to bring home a paycheck that just doesn’t seem worth it. Then it hits you… “what am I doing here”? Let’s face it: in the mundanity of your work, how easy it to wonder what is the meaning of it all?
We live in a world that is driven by work. Apart from sleeping, the thing you do the most throughout the week is work. Although our calendars might indicate work is something we really value- and many people do- it’s also not a stretch to say most people have a disenchanted view of their work. In fact, a very common philosophy for work is simply that our jobs enable us to do what we really care about. In other words, we work hard so we can play hard. Work is not the end itself, rather a means to an end; it’s a chore we have to finish before we can play. However, when our working is a chore, the result is inevitably cynicism, bitterness and exhaustion. What I would suggest to you is that this is not what God intends for our work. The question, then, is how can we reform our understanding of work to be more Gospel-centered and Christ-exalting? We need a theology for work.
God’s Design for Work
From the very beginning of Scripture, we get a clear insight into the fact that God has created man for work. In Genesis 2:15, God charges Adam and Eve in the Garden to “work and keep it”- some translations will use the word “cultivate”. At the center of God’s design for mankind was that we would work. Bob Thune in his A Theology of Work helpfully points out that this creation design took place before the Fall, meaning Creation was yet to be broken by sin. Work is not a labor resulting from sin, rather it is God’s design for men and women that the life lived for His glory would revolve around working. The Cultural Mandate is the label commonly given to God’s creative design for mankind filling, subduing and ruling over the world. It is an act of stewardship through which we honor our Creator in reflecting his perfect reigning over and sustaining Creation. Moreover, our cheerful commitment to the labors of our work deeply connects us to God’s common grace of provision that has been so beautifully woven into the tapestry of Creation. Our work, quite wonderfully, is the expression of God uniquely sustaining his people as our work yields for us that which we need to live. We need to enlarge our paradigm to see that the work we do is a celebration of God providing what we need as well as a means to accessing it; more than this, that we would ultimately see our work as worship of the Father. Even though the idea of God design for work seem a little lofty for your job as a pencil pusher, the reality is that your working is part of God’s larger design for mankind and even through the every day routine, God is exalted through our work.
God is Redeeming Our Work
Although God’s design for work is good and there is a richness to knowing the beauty and intricacy with which God designed and subsequently sustains his creation, we must understand that our world is fractured by sin. After the rebellion, God declared that our lives would be marked by toilsome labor over a cursed ground (Gen 3:17-19). No longer would their work be simply a glad celebration of God’s provision, but rather would be burdensome and difficult. Romans 8:20 describes creation being “subjected to futility” as it labors aimlessly over that which it needs but will never satisfy. We are but cracked and broken hands reaping harvest from barren fields. Yet none of this is to say that there are not evidences of God’s common grace scattered all throughout Creation. In Christ or far from him, we enjoy the meals we eat, the family we love and the pleasures of rest. The reality of the Gospel is that through the reconciling work of Christ, God is making right all that was broken by sin (Colossians 1:20). Whereas Creation tirelessly worked in self-centered futility because of sin (Romans 1, 8:20), Christ is redeeming the his people to be used by Him for His Kingdom. Christ is restoring, reclaiming, “purify[ing] for himself a people… zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). If God is redeeming all things through the blood of Christ, then he is redeeming your 9-5 job too.
Our Work and the Kingdom of God
Even with a healthy, Biblical understanding in our minds, it can be easy to live our lives with the same bored, disenchanted view of working. Believers especially view their work dismissively, and with the absolute best of intentions! I’ve heard the phrase a million times from faithful Believers who will call their career a “tent making job”. What they essentially mean is that they, like the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:3), use their “day job” as a way to make money to enable their “real job” of ministry. As noble a commitment as that might be, the result is that our jobs get relegated to nothing more than a way to make a living. Again, the intent is pure; the idea is that one Believers are called to view everything here on earth as simply a means to live for the Kingdom that is to come. While that is true, I’m proposing that it is not the complete picture. God has not simply given us work as a way to make a paycheck so we can use the rest of our time for something greater. God is calling us to honor him with and through our work and to leverage our situatedness for His Kingdom and His purposes.
For Believers set apart as a light of the world (Matthew 5:14) displaying the glory of God in darkness, I’d say we should hold our work in higher esteem. Not only does our work honor God’s Creation design, but our 9-5 jobs are another way for our being in the world as fishers of men (Matthew 4:18-20). As much of a labor as it is, do what you can to bring a right attitude to your work, knowing that every day is an opportunity make the goodness of the Gospel known in the center of influence God has given you.
I hope you see the good and perfect of the gift God has given us in work (James 1:17). I’m the very first to recognize the difficulty of maintaining a thankful attitude and right heart when it comes to the mundanity of your 9-5. Scripture teaches us to discipline our thinking to constantly reflect on the good and true. For some helpful meditations for you throughout your day at work, check out my article, Daily Meditations for Your 9-5.