At Work & Theology 101

A Reflection on Land, Work & Rain

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Last night, I stumbled on a verse from Isaiah on social media that caught my eye. This morning, I had the opportunity to meditate on it for a bit.

In the context of stern warnings towards God’s rebellious people, Isaiah paints a picture of God’s grace and compassion. He describes national and individual restoration that would come as a direct result of their cries for help. Part of God’s blessing for his chosen ones is agricultural. The prophet declares, “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful” (Isa. 30:23).

This verse brought to mind a verse in Genesis that also connected God’s work to human work. This illustrates the concept of “Immanuel labor,” which I have written about extensively. I invite you to join me as I unpack this verse in Isaiah, and then highlight its connection to the creation and to another key verse in the Psalms that ties it together.

God Provides

God promised to send rain. This is the first action verb we see, but it is not the first action that is involved in this partnership between God and man. More on that later.

Although rain to us may be seen as inconvenient, disrupting our plans, getting our clothes wet, etc., rain to this agrarian society is always seen as a good thing. The rain is what allows the seed that was sown in the ground to grow and produce food. Without this rain, there are no crops, and the farmer and his family will go hungry. Their work will have been in vain. They are absolutely dependent on God to provide this rain. They cannot do it themselves.

But let’s back up. Is there anything else God provided prior to the sowing that the farmer did?

Well, the ground that the farmer worked to plant the seed is part of the Promised Land that God provided to his covenant people. Whenever we see the word “land” in the OT, we should always jump back to the covenant that was given to Abram in Genesis 15:18-21. The land was necessary so that the multitude of followers of God that would eventually come from Abram would have a place to live and worship the God of the universe.

I wrote a simple equation from this verse: Land + Work + Rain = Food. It is another illustration of God’s grace and mercy. He provided the land so that men and women could do their part. He sealed the deal with rain to allow the crops to grow so that His people could be fed. Without God providing what was needed at the beginning and the end, the work in the middle had no chance. Man’s hard work only resulted in blessings because God provided.

God Invited Adam to be His Coworker

I recalled a verse from the creation narrative. Genesis 2:4-5 clearly highlights God’s original plan to use Adam and Eve as his coworkers to cultivate the garden. God would provide the rain and Adam and Eve would provide the labor.

Our God wisely designed creation in a logical sequence. As the triune Godhead initially made vegetation (see Gen. 1:11-13), “no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up” (Gen. 2:5). Why was that? Simply put, it wasn’t ready to go on day three; humans were not created until day six. We read, “for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground.”

In chapter 3 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, I explained this passage in this way: “This teaches us that plant life needed the rain God would send and that it also needed human workers in order to flourish. God waters, but man must work with God in the process, cultivating the ground as his coworkers.” Adam and Eve were invited by God’s grace to work with him in his presence to help care for his creation.

It is All in Vain Without Him

As I meditated on these two passages, another relevant verse popped into my head. In Psalm 127:1, we read, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.”

This might not be so obvious, so let me explain. This verse is often quoted to teach that unless God is behind whatever it is we are doing, we are wasting our time. This is a fairly important biblical principle to keep in mind. None of us wants our work to be in vain.

However, there is more here than most people might observe. This verse seems to highlight the connection between God’s work and human work. Humans can only do what God enables them to do. He is the ultimate source of the house that is built and he is the protector of the city. Although God does not need anything from men and women, he graciously allows them to be his coworkers to participate in the building and the guarding.

I think we can apply this principle to what we read in Isaiah and Genesis above.

Unless the Lord causes the crops to grow, the farmer labors in vain. Without the rain, and all the other things that God provides the worker, such as sunshine, proper temperatures, and keeping the locusts and the windstorms away, there will not be a harvest. Here also, God invites the farmer to actively participate in the process as his coworker.

What is the “So What?”

Sherman and Hendricks, in Your Work Matters to God ask, “Who took care of the garden of Eden? One view would say, Obviously Adam did. But the other view would say, No, God did; He merely used Adam as an instrument to meet the garden’s needs. But there is no reason why we couldn’t say they both participated in this work.” They continue, “As humans, we act as junior partners in what is ultimately God’s work. Yet participation in that work makes it our work, too. We are colaborers with God in managing His creation.”

God does not need anything, and thus, he does not need us. He allows us the privilege to work with him in sustaining his creation. He did not just spin the top and let it go. He is intimately involved in keeping the heavens and the earth going for his glory. He invites us to work in his presence to expand creation beyond Eden.

In your job, have you seen God provide everything you need to do the work he has called you to do? Do you see yourself as God’s coworker as you meet the wide spectrum of human needs through what you do forty hours a week? Do you sense God’s presence in your work? I know I do. It makes a huge difference in how I work.

I encourage you to recognize God’s provision, protection, and presence wherever you happen to work. Keep on sowing seeds in the garden in which he has placed you. Watch him provide the rain to bless many others around you for his glory.

Editor’s note: This article was adapted from the author’s personal blog. Republished with permission.

Photo by Finn Whelen on Unsplash

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