“I appreciate the paycheck but God knows I wish there was more meaning to my work.” My friend Matt, a hard working electrician, tossed another chip into his mouth before continuing. “It’s frustrating to watch the best hours of life daily drained away to a company that doesn’t even really value me. It just feels wrong.”
Many people wrestle with the meaning of where we spend the majority of our waking lives—the workplace. Although some aspects of our work can be satisfying, conflicting attitudes emerge. Work may be something we want to get over with so we can live for the weekend. Work might simply be a platform to share what we really care about, or something done to provide financial freedoms and securities. Whatever your feelings about work are, I’ve found a biblical perspective both affirming towards our lived reality while offering a refreshing vision for the meaning of work itself.
First, our work has been frustrated by sin. Surprise! Or… maybe not. Work can be tedious and difficult; workplaces soak up hours, and hard labour may produce few positive results. It might “feel wrong”, as Matt moaned, because there is something wrong. Genesis describes how our fractured relationship with God shatters all of life. This side of sin, all work is beset with frustrations, tilling ground replete with “thorns and thistles”. Positive results only come through “painful toil” and “sweat” (Gen 3:17-19). While gardening last week I experienced all the above in just one day! Still, realistic expectations bring relief. We can anticipate work to be frustrating at times. Nobody needs to just smile and pretend like everything’s amazing and wonderful. That’s not our lived reality and it doesn’t match up with the mess the Bible describes. For me, it’s affirming to just hear it said: “Yeah, you’re right, work sucked today.”
But for Matt and others like him, it’s more important to talk about what is actually right about work. The Bible places a lot of value in the work that we do! Work isn’t just way to make money or a space to positively influence people, as good as that may be. Second, then, our work has meaning in and of itself.
Genesis 1:27-30 describes the original idea of work through the story of Adam and Eve as our participation with God’s purposes to bless our world. God creates humanity in His own image with a mandate: there’s good work to do! Together, Adam and Eve are to cultivate the world as they are to provide order, good ruling, for every creature great and small. They are to tend the garden and fill the earth as a community of people who will evidence the reign of God’s good plans. This original mandate from God still holds true for us today.
When we feel a sense of satisfaction over the good work we’ve accomplished, we are truly tapping into God’s design for humanity. Just as God pronounced, “it is good” when He created something amazing at the beginning of creation (1:9), we too sense it to be good when we’ve brought something beneficial into the world. Indeed, God is still at work bringing His good plans to bear. Through us, God’s order and blessing illuminates our world and our work is a means of participation of His labour of love.
This sounds like good news for people like Matt and I. Even the mundane work of an electrician is energized if we open ourselves to conduct divine love. So, “Let there be light.” And in our work, as frustrating as it can be at times, may we join God in earthing heaven’s vocation.