I’ve been thinking a lot about a question Hugh Whelchel asked in a recent post about how God intends for our work to be transformative:
The Christian who works on an assembly line turning five screws in a widget over and over: how is his work ‘Kingdom Work?’
It’s a tough question. Work often feels laborious, meaningless, and futile this side of heaven.
One essay I’ve found that helps me think biblically about work is “Our Work, God’s Work,” by Reverend Bill Haley (note: the essay appears on page two when you click on the link).
Reverend Haley presents a biblical context for thinking about work, even for seemingly mundane and meaningless occupations. After reading back through his essay, I’ve found three takeaways:
1. Put work in perspective – a biblical perspective.
Work often feels like a curse, something that entered the world as a consequence for sin. However, the Bible shows us otherwise. Haley argues,
The Jewish and Christian Scriptures offer a very different vision of work, however, one in which our work has a central role to play in the world from its very beginning. Even before the world became broken, humankind was to make something of the world on God’s behalf, in no small part through the labor of our hands.
He cites Genesis 2:15 to bolster his case:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.
The Fall twisted that which was good in creation – including work. Work may be frustrating at times, but as Haley reminds his readers, “…the work itself is still good.” Even after the Fall, God’s purpose for work remains.
Our work in the world was designed to be and continues to be how God does God’s work in the world.
And God does his work in the world using us and our work as his tools. Even the widget-making and turning. We don’t see this because we often forget to take a long-term view of our work.
2. When thinking about work, develop a long-term view.
It’s easy to lose sight of the importance of our work. A great correction is to look outside ourselves, our own little worlds, and see how our work fits into larger processes and long-term goals. This is one way to start taking a long-term view of faith and work.
Haley, like Professor Brian Brenberg in an earlier article, lists all the jobs necessary to putting food on the tables of families across the country. But even if your job isn’t part of the national food chain, chances are it’s part of some larger system contributing to human flourishing.
Haley gives an extensive (yet not exhaustive) list of ways our various jobs contribute to the well-being of others. Through our work, in one way or another, we provide the following for each other:
- Food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education,
- A just society,
- Effective government,
- Religious freedom,
- The possibility of meaningful work,
- Access to the arts,
Haley gives this list context by saying,
…there are a lot of jobs in which there is an immense amount of dignity because the work itself played a part in helping another flourish…and other things required for a society where individuals can flourish, where others can live in God’s design for them.
Does your work, even if it’s turning widgets, contribute to any of these outcomes?
3. Keep asking questions.
Haley recommends asking some deep questions at the end of his essay:
- “How is my job creating good in the world?”
- “How is my job fixing what is broken in the world?”
By asking these questions and others like them, we can reflect on what Haley calls “The deeper meaning of one’s own labor, and how one’s faith shapes our understanding of the value of our jobs.”
He adds encouragement to these exhortations:
…if we just take a few minutes to find compelling answers to those questions, we’ll return to our labor with a lot more passion to get down to work, and do our work well, for the sake of others, and for God’s sake.
What do you think? How are you gaining context for your work? What are your answers to the question of how your job contributes to the well-being of others? Leave your comments here.