“Only 46 years and 117 days until I can retire!” said my friend after a particularly hard day of work. Most of us have felt that way before. We can’t wait until we don’t have to work. But apparently we can’t stand not working, either – 40%  of people over 65 who are working tried retirement, but found it unfulfilling and decided to go back to work!
It might surprise you, but work isn’t a result of the fall. God designed it as part of the original, perfect creation. In Genesis 2:15, prior to the fall, God instructs Adam to care for the garden. To work. In fact, the whole creation was an act of work.
Part of being made in God’s image is being mini-creators. We are intended to bring order out of chaos. Whether you work in construction, produce music, teach students, raise children, or manage a business, you are continuing the creation process of bringing order out of chaos.
Psalm 145 says that God feeds everybody, but Martin Luther points out that food doesn’t magically show up on the table for us – the farmer, the baker, and the delivery person are all a part of the process. Thus, says Luther, they are doing the work of God. Luther calls these jobs the “masks of God.” God takes care of people, but does so behind a mask of human work.
Work isn’t God’s plan B – it’s his plan A! In fact, working and creating is part of being fully human. Work is one of the few things that we can handle in large quantities, unlike rest or amusement.
However, anybody who has been on the job site or behind the counter for a week can tell you that work isn’t perfect – it’s often frustrating and meaningless. Why is this?
Part of the answer is because Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed work with frustration and meaninglessness. Just like the earth itself was broken and is “groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” work has been broken.
But there’s a deeper reason: we are also broken as a result of the fall. Because of this brokenness, we end up trying to get things out of work that God never intended for us to.
In Genesis 11, the builders of the Tower of Babel make two statements that reveal what they wanted to get from their work. First, they wanted to “make a name” for themselves – they were looking for fame and recognition. We do the same; our tendency is to want people to recognize our work and praise us for it. We want respect from others, and we use our work to get it.
We also tend to build our identity around our work. When we think of who we are, we often think of our vocation. “I’m a farmer.” “I’m a mother and homemaker.” “I’m a businessman.” The trouble is that these identities are unstable: the farm won’t do well; our kids will embarrass us; our business may fail publicly.
Second, the builders of Babel said, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” They wanted to be safe and secure, and thought their work could bring security. Although we don’t try to build towers to reach heaven, we often look to work to provide security. Our belief is that if we can just get a good job, we’ll be secure.
But nothing, outside of Jesus, is ever secure. Your health might fail, and you lose your ability to work. You might get laid off for reasons outside of your control.
Jesus changes everything
As followers of Jesus, we are called to view work differently. In Ephesians 6, Paul says that we should work – not to get recognition from our peers, but to get recognition from God. Rather than building an identity around our vocation, we should have our identity, first and foremost, anchored in being a follower of Jesus Christ. He will never let us down, and nothing can separate us from his love.
When we serve God by serving people in our job, we’ll realize that all work has dignity. If God is calling you to farm or build mini-barns, that’s doing the work of God just as much as being a pastor or missionary. In The Service Patch , David Brooks explores this:
“It’s worth noting that you can devote your life to community service and be a total schmuck. You can spend your life on Wall Street and be a hero. Understanding heroism and schmuckdom requires fewer Excel spreadsheets, more Dostoyevsky and the Book of Job.”
Second, we’ll realize that the only real security is found in a relationship with Jesus. This goes much deeper than whether or not you get insurance; it’s a life attitude that recognizes God as the one who provides our abilit ies, our opportunities, and our resources. He has our best interest in mind!
Finally, we’ll see our work not just as a way to earn a living, but as a way to serve people. We’ll see ourselves as one of the “masks of God”, as Luther put it. And by serving people, we’re ultimately serving God.
|When Josh Nisly moved to New York City, he had no idea that he would fall in love with both the city and his spouse there. He serves as a pastor at Way of Jesus Mennonite Church in Queens, NY while working as a software developer. He is passionate about the Gospel, ethnic diversity, urbanity, and technology, in that order.|