Lesson 1 - God's Plan for Work
The Role of Work
There are many struggles and frustrations with work. It feels like we are doing too much and not seeing the outcomes. We wonder if we are just a cog in the corporate machine. Chronic workaholism leads to vacations that are just as busy as our normal lives. This is not God’s idea of a work-rest rhythm.
God has much more planned for us in our work. We have a model for work not set by culture, but by God’s own actions in Genesis 1–2. It is God who set the pattern—the rhythm—of work and rest. Like musical notes and rests, both are good and necessary in their proper time.
As we see in the first chapters of Scripture, God is a worker, so we are made to be workers too. God cares about our work, just as he cares about his own work. What does God's care and concern mean for our work? How does it change the way you view your work?
In the Beginning
As we step into Scripture to observe God's model for work, we see a much bigger picture.
When you observe the birds and the bees, the mountains and hills, and the oceans and streams, you immediately notice that everything has a place and a role. Out of that place and role it joins in a beautiful and harmonious rhythmic dance. God's attention to and love for his creation ought to characterize the way we approach our daily work.
These two creation stories, set at the entrance to our Bibles, are primarily texts for living in the time and place that we wake up into each morning.
God is a Worker
Though God's model of work should be our guide for work, our “American Dream” culture makes it difficult. It creates two specific beliefs about work:
- Each person has a “perfect job” and just needs to do the right amount of tweaking or career ladder scrambling to find it.
- Once we find the perfect job, it will give us an ongoing sense of fulfillment. It will feel purposeful, meaningful, and it won't feel hard. Simply, it will not feel like "work."
The church historically hasn't made a healthy view of work any easier. The concept of "calling" goes hand-in-hand with work. In the church of the Middle Ages, "calling" meant that certain people were asked by God to do a certain type of work: religious work. This type of work was exclusive to becoming a nun, monk or a priest. Their work was considered sanctified; a special type of work for the Divine promoting His kingdom in the world. Separate from this specific calling of religious work existed everyone else: the butchers, the bakers, and the candlestick makers. They did not have a calling because their work was just menial tasks required by society to keep the machine running. There was no purpose in it and no meaning. You worked in the job that your father had or you were a mother because that's what your mother did.
Today, what happens when these two paradigms colide? You find out that being a Christian at work doesn't work. You don't find the perfect job. You find yourself starting new career after new career in your quest only to come up short of a satisfying job. You think that holy work can only be for pastors and missionaries.
How have you struggled to find your place in your work?
Saul and Work
Let's look at work through the lens of Saul and David (1 Samuel 16:14-23) from Eugene Peterson's book, Leap Over a Wall.
14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”
17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.” 18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.”
19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.
21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”
23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.
When Saul first became king, he continued his humble farm work. Somehow, his new station of power and privilege did not consume him. He soon defeated the Ammonites and Philistines and people praised him. This was part of his job as king and he was doing it well. But those victories and the ones that followed started going to his head. We see this when Samuel confronted Saul for disobedience against God (1 Sam. 13:13, 15:19). Saul's choices in his work were not sinful, immoral, or unjust; they made sense for his work. But the problem was the intention behind his choices.
Strange as it sounds, both of Saul's choices were related to not acknowledging God's sovereignty. He wanted to please his people and let them worship God as they wanted instead of how God wanted. He brought in God when he needed his work to prosper. Eugene explains, "Saul was treating God as a means, as a resource. And God will not be used" (Leap Over a Wall).
Work became Saul's identity. He became interested in the work of being king, rather than the work of being with God.
When our work becomes reflective of God's own work, then we are doing a different kind of work. Not work that consumes our identity, or is meaningless or unvalued. Rather, when our work reflects God's own work, when it dignifies both us and those arounds us, then we are doing what Eugene calls kingwork.
I want to use the word kingwork to represent all true work. I'm using this word in order to call attention to the essential dignity of work as such, to emphasize that our work is of a kind with God's work... Work derives from and represents the soverign God, who expresses sovereignty as a worker... God's sovereignty isn't abstract—it's a working sovereignty and is expressed in work.
In this way, work is not just a 9-to-5 job and it is deeply connected to our faith. God has given you an appointment, just like David. And it's a job that you are uniquely equipped to do.