What is the most important thing we need to do in this life as Christians? There are good clear summary statements to this point in the Bible. The Old Testament Shema is certainly one of the best:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:4-5).
The one thing that is clear in this command is that our commitment and love for God is supposed to be comprehensive. Every aspect of our lives and activities needs to be directed to this end. Jesus affirmed this and clarified that this “loving God” is intimately connected to another Old Testament command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).
Yet practically, most of us are puzzled as to how this really works out in our everyday lives. We have commutes, jobs to attend to, responsibilities to employers, and many daily work obligations. Most of these activities do not seem to directly express worship of God or love and care of another person unless we pause occasionally to attend to God in prayer or make time for a co-worker regarding a personal need they have unrelated to work. After all, we are not being paid to evangelize our workplace or meet their personal needs.
I’m going to quickly cite 4 reasons why this comprehensive command to live in wholehearted devotion to God and love for your neighbor on a consistent daily basis throughout your life is not only possible but is, in fact, achieved mostly through your work.
Work is where we spend our best waking hours and energy. “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). “Let the favor of the Lord be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us, yes, establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17). “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
“What we do with our days is, of course, what we do with our lives.” –Annie Dillard
My early career caused me to face this fact of life. I had the challenge of becoming a successful aerospace engineer so I could care for my family, invest in my church, and meet other financial obligations. I found myself haunted with the question of how I would someday face the Lord and need to explain the way I spent my actual life serving him. Scripture counsels us to measure all of our lives, how we spend the time we have, and ensuring it counts directly towards honoring God. So this implies that it must be possible to do through our work lives.
Work is where we are “on mission.” We are all sent into the world to fulfill both the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26-28) as God’s image-bearers, to fill and cultivate God’s creation for his good purposes, and the great commission (Matt. 28:19-20) as redeemed followers of Christ, to make Jesus and his ways known to the world.
We fruitfully cultivate God’s world and “image God” reflecting his nature through our work (we produce, create, innovate, steward, beautify, order, restore, redeem, organize, build, design, grow etc). We have the most contact with the unbelieving world through our work. When we share our motive of serving a God who desires our good work and that it reflects his nature and purposes for the world, we can more naturally find better opportunities to share the gospel in the context of our work.
Work is where we grow into the image of Christ.
“I’m prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is in the workplace.” –Eugene Peterson
Though we are made in the image of God, our expression of this has been distorted by sin and needs to be renewed and made right. Our daily work and its challenges provide the training grounds to:
- Do our work “heartily as to the Lord” (Col. 3:23), even when it is hard or unappreciated.
- Become increasingly characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
- Learn humility and grow through our challenges and failures (Jas. 1:2-4).
- Train to become excellent at what we do and then offer our best work as a worship offering to God (Lev. 23:9-14).
- Live with courage and not out of fear of other’s rejection (Prov. 29:5).
Work is where we love our neighbor most. We tend to only consider love for our neighbors through our personal caring interactions with individuals or our gifting money or time to nonprofits which share the gospel or provide acts of charity. Of course, personal love for people we know directly is our priority and the work of ministries and nonprofits is important.
Yet the daily productive work of any one of us, which is connected to a network of other necessary workers, helps provide for the livelihoods and dignity of thousands of others over the course of our lifetime. This is regularly done, especially in today’s modern global economy, at a scale that none of us could ever provide through our individual charitable acts of love outside the workplace.
So yes, love the Lord your God with everything you are every day. And recognize that your daily work is central to this becoming true for you.
Editor’s Note: Republished with permission from Center for Faith and Work Los Angeles.