At Work

‘Avodah’: What It Means to Live a Seamless Life of Work, Worship, and Service

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Depending on who you ask, Eskimos may have over 100 distinct words for snow. Why? Because language has a unique ability to create distinctions between things in our minds.

Language can also, however, bring two ideas together.

The Ancient Hebrews had a deep understanding of how faith and work came together in their lives. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that they used the same word for work and worship.

The Hebrew word avodah jointly means work, worship, and service. The various usages of this Hebrew word found first in Genesis 2:15 tell us that God’s original design and desire is that our work and our worship would be a seamless way of living.

In some verses the word avodah means work, as in to work in the field and to do common labor. Moses, renewing the covenant with God, says,

“Six days you shall work (avodah).” – Exodus 34:21

“Then man goes out to his work (avodah), to his labor until evening.” – Psalm 104:23

In other verses, avodah  means worship, as in to worship You, O God.

“This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship (avodah) me.” – Exodus 8:1

“But as for me and my household, we will serve (avodah) the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15

As for me, Joshua says, I will avodah. I will work for, and worship, the Lord.

This is a powerful image to think that the word for working in the fields is the same word used for worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Avodah is a picture of an integrated faith. A life where work and worship come from the same root. The same foundation.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:11

So often we think of worship as something we do on Sunday and work as something we do on Monday. This dichotomy is neither what God designed nor what he desires for our lives.

Avodah, on the other hand, suggests that our work can be a form of worship where we honor the Lord God, and serve our neighbors.

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  • Nancy Nauman

    This one word brings together our day to day lives…. Simple. Powerful. Thank you for your wonderful insight.

  • Amarah

    This is a very true article. We should worship God from day to day through our work, free-time, and designated God time. We can worship Him continually by following his plan for our lives and blessing other people.

  • Joe Childs

    One of my favorite quotes relating to the theme of “avodah” is by Eric Liddell from them Oscar winning movie, Chariots of Fire. The 1981 film is the story depicting Liddell’s life as a Scottish Olympic athlete and person of deep faith. In responding to the dichotomy between choosing the work of an Olympic athlete or serving as a foreign missionary, Liddell said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” For those called to the workplace, find God’s pleasure in doing your work well, as it is an act of worship and obedience to your divine design!

    • Thanks Joe, I completely agree. Love the quote for Liddell!

  • Robert Cooper

    I really liked this article. This is the response I got from a friend who I emailed it to. Can you provide clarity??

    hey, not picking but was getting ready to forward below and then fact checked…. according to the interlinear bible i’ve been using, the word translated “work” in the Genesis and Exodus verses below is actually “abad”. in the Psalms 104 reference the word is “poal” and labour is “abodah”. i didn’t check any further…

    • Thanks for your question Robert!

      I did a good amount of research before the post but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an ancient Hebrew scholar so I certainly welcome the feedback. My understanding is that it depends on the translation and the use of the word in that context. From what I’ve seen, Avodah is a general word used sort of like we would use “service” or so. In some translations and locations, that word is used in different ways. And sometimes a more specific word is used.

      My hope with this post was mainly to do two things: 1. Draw attention to the fact that how we talk about the concepts of work & worship matters. and 2. To encourage us to use our whole lives, including our work, as a form worship where we honor God, and serve our neighbors.

    • Andrew F

      Robert, I think the root word is the same, but the specific words vary. The Hebrew language doesn’t have vowels and this root is, roughly speaking. “AVD” and the “V” depending on vowels and other marks, is a “v” or a “b” and so when there is an english transliteration it can be either “AVD” or “ABD” but the root is still the same.

      I think you are right, that the Psalm 104 reference is a different root, at least in the Hebrew texts we most commonly use for our English Old Testament, but I might also be wrong here! I scraped through Hebrew classes.

  • Great post. Your work, worship and service it what all man kind needs to become.
    http://www.michaeloministries.org/

  • Monica Gheran

    Beautiful!

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