My first official workplace—the kind that rendered a pay stub—was in eleventh grade after school at Woolworth’s Department Store. Each evening, my sundry task list included hauling heavy, sloppy trash bags from the old-fashioned lunch counter. The bags’ construction was less than hefty. They frequently burst open, leaving debris and grease across the tile floor. My capacity to grumble grew strong. (In retrospect, those wimpy trash bags meant job security!) Within a few short weeks, I hated my job.
I never thought of anything I did at Woolworth’s as accomplishing anything truly good. I was certain such labor was far from heavenly. My perspective was: “This work stinks!” (And many nights, it literally did because of the volume of trash.) I also thought, “This is certainly not God’s ideal for me or anyone else. It must be all part of the curse that results from sin.” In slightly brighter moments, I was inspired by the realization: “This stinking job is a way to buy preppy clothes (queue the 80s music) plus juicy cheeseburgers after basketball games.”
Looking back on that first job, I wish I had grasped at least one or two heavenly threads about our human labor. Through contemplating the beautiful biblical story, we discover there truly is heavenly good in our earthly labor! Five story threads summarize and potentially motivate us for God-honoring earthly work.
There’s Genius in Creation
The genesis of our work was an integral part of God’s masterpiece (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15 ESV). Made in his image, humans were called to rule and reign, to work the garden. This elevates God’s original plans for our human labors to a place of prominence and genuine creative genius. There is something so significant and wonderfully sacred about getting our hands dirty and deliberately designing goods and services with excellent creativity in mind.
However, this isn’t what we experience on a regular basis. We all seem to know deep down that somewhere along the line something went terribly wrong.
The sweatiness, fatigue, and brokenness of our work arrived with the Fall (Gen. 3:17-19 ESV). We see the results in everyday ways. Grabbing a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, I encountered a cashier who was experiencing her first day of training. Her trainer was being extra hard on her, and I could tell the newbie was extremely nervous. She fumbled at first to make change, and then she got it right. As I thanked her and told her “great job,” she beamed. The seasoned trainer softened and walked away. The new cashier proceeded to tell me more of her story of previous job loss. Our three-minute interchange was a micro-replay, reminding me of the frustration we all experience everyday as a result of the Fall.
When we pause to ponder, we must admit that we each have days we despise—okay, probably “hate”— our jobs. We grow discouraged. Often, we drag our heels and sputter in our motivation. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s beloved character Sam Gamgee wisely recalled: “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” Work frustration is all-too-familiar in our sin-cursed world. It’s crucial we not simply stop in our frustration, shrug, and assume we cannot experience anything better. Here’s where we need to encounter another vital thread.
Our loving God set a plan in motion to redeem us from our sinful, fallen condition. This includes all Creation and our work (Gen 3:15; 12:3; 1 Cor. 15:57-58 ESV). Christ’s incarnation, his own labors, his teaching, his miracles, his death, resurrection, ascension, and empowerment all paved the way for us to know forgiveness and victory over sin. And because of his gracious work, we can approach our daily work as redeemed rhythms of daily worship (Ps. 8:3-8; Rom. 12:1-2 ESV). And there’s a fourth story thread…
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are unfolding the culmination of the redemption plan. The New Heavens and New Earth are coming. Such cosmic restoration will renew all creation, and in surprising ways that includes our work (Rev. 21-22; Isa. 65:17, 21-23; Rom. 8 ESV).
In his book, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, author Darrell Cosden stretches us to think even bigger about the scope of Christ’s gracious salvation and restoration. Commenting about Paul’s teaching in Romans 8, Cosden boldly suggests:
Creation’s salvation hope, then, its “liberation” (vs. 21), is that it will be brought or ushered “in us” into our own glory, which is our physical resurrection “in Christ.” Since nature co-inheres “in us,” our salvation and glorification become creation’s own salvation and glory. That this salvation of the natural world includes our work follows logically. Work, which has further shaped nature, is now just as much a part of nature as what God made originally. Unless we want to understand work itself to be “un-natural,” a result of the curse . . . we must conclude from this biblical material that our work experiences salvation along with us.
Percolate and ponder on that idea. Our ultimate resurrection will come to us in Christ, and the creation’s glorification will also come. In some unique way, this may also include our work as co-creators with God.
We might be tempted to think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, SOMEDAY.” But in reality, this isn’t just for someday.
Right now, there’s heavenly good in our earthly work. We experience kingdom foretastes with transformation. Earthly work carries good value now in deeply personal, inter-personal, and even socio-cultural transformation. In Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV), Paul urges us to recognize how God’s gracious, saving work results in our good works. Flowing from grace, they are masterful works which God planned in advance for us to accomplish. In Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV), Paul motivates us to pursue our daily labors with all our hearts, as working for the Lord, fully realizing we serve the Lord Christ.
Four questions might prompt us to see the heavenly good in our earthly work:
- What do you really enjoy about your daily labor?
- How do you seek to intentionally integrate your faith with your everyday tasks?
- What’s most frustrating, and how do you find encouragement for your labors?
- How do you see your daily work carrying heavenly, eternal impact?
Because of God’s gracious, grand story, there truly is heavenly good in our earthly labor. O how I wish I had known that all those years ago, slogging through the trash bags at Woolworth’s.
Editor’s note: On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on Sept. 11, 2019.
Together, we can make a difference! Help empower Christians to transform the world through their work. Support IFWE today.