At Work & Theology 101

Hard Work & the Ultimate Worker

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The tale is told of a company in Oslo, Norway that was weary of placing “HELP WANTED” ads and receiving very few applicants. Determined to get better results, they creatively posted: “Tiresome and boring wholesale company seeks indolent people with a total lack of service-mindedness for a job that is completely without challenge. If you’re still interested, sit down. Have a cup of coffee. Relax. If you can be bothered, give us a call.”

Over one hundred thirty people called—far more than when the company ran ads for hard-working, super-motivated, friendly employees. Sadly, such a response is indicative of pervasive outlooks regarding good old-fashioned hard work. 

Rich Insights from Ruth & Boaz 

Immediately following the storyteller’s character description of Boaz (Ruth 2:1), Ruth asked Naomi’s permission to go pick up leftover barley in the fields, following the regular harvest workers. Naomi gave the go ahead, so Ruth set out, entered a field, and began to glean behind the harvesters. Ruth demonstrated our first foundational and crucial posture of emotionally savvy leaders. She held an extremely positive perspective on good, hard work. The Theology of Work Project shares a snapshot synopsis of the whole scene:

Ruth was eager to work hard to support herself and Naomi. “Let me go to the field,” she implored, and when she was given a chance to work, her co-workers reported that “she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment” (Ruth 2:7). Her work was exceptionally productive. When she came home after her first day at work and beat out the barley from the stalks, her harvest yielded a full ephah of grain (Ruth 2:17) . . . Both God and Boaz commended (and rewarded) her for her faith and industry (Ruth 2:12, 17-23, 3:15-18). 

Ruth’s efforts reveal a motivated outlook. Bring it on—I’m eager to work! She was not adverse to entering a field and pouring her whole self into a hard day’s labor.

Too often, we allow a negative view of work to sneak into our emotions and resulting actions. We feel like, “Work is such a pain! What a horrific curse! If I could just win the lottery or land a lucky break, then my life would be complete.” Or we say to ourselves, “I’d have real significance if I had my dream job.” And many of us privately emote, “I just have to trudge through the drudgery of my week, and I can’t wait for the weekend.”

The Ultimate Worker

We might forget that we first encounter God as the ultimate Creator/Worker. Shaped in his likeness, we were designed to bear his image (Gen. 1:26-28), including that kingdom work that led to a flourishing garden (Gen. 2:15). And though sin’s curse had a negative effect on all creation, including human work and our emotions about labor (Gen. 3:17-19), a grand reverse of the curse is included in God’s redemptive plans (Rom. 8:18-25). Such a reversal must also include the original ideals of God-like labor, wholesome attitudes, and productive outcomes of such kingdom work. 

Bill Peel and Walt Larimore affirm: 

God is a worker. Unlike gods of Greek and Eastern thought, the God of the Bible is actively involved in every aspect of His world. He rolled up His sleeves, so to speak, as He engaged in creation. The words physical and earthy describe God’s work of creation. 

In spite of our too-often negative emotions toward good old-fashioned, hands-on labor, the whole of God’s story, from cover to cover, portrays an overall positive view of work

Jesus was and is a worker. When we work “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17), reflecting his character in our endeavors, we actually join Christ at work. In his Foreword to Taking Your Soul to Work, Eugene Peterson connects the dots: 

Twenty-seven times in John’s Gospel, Jesus is identified as a worker: “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (Jn. 5:17). Work doesn’t take us away from God; it continues the work of God. We observe that God comes into view on the first page of our Scripture as a worker, creating the universe. Once we identify God in his workplace working, it isn’t long before we find ourselves in our workplaces working in the name of God.

We glean meaningful work motivation from Christ, and we dare not miss Ruth’s exemplary attitude and actions. Her proactive and productive labor in the barley field demonstrated a God-honoring, pro-work posture.

Thumbs Up for Good Old-fashioned Hard Work

No doubt about it, work can feel horribly hard, but it can also become extremely hearty, resulting in very God-honoring productivity. When we choose to view work through God’s original design—including his redemptive plans to restore creation—we can adopt a more positive perspective, healthier emotions, and newfound significance to our daily labors.

Yes, these God-honoring views can fire us up and help our workplaces become seriously adventuresome once again. We might just find ourselves sincerely motivated for Monday—pumped up and more positive about going to work.

Editor’s Note: This is an adapted excerpt from Chapter 5 in EmotiConversations: Working through Our Deepest Places. Republished with permission.

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