At Work

Work That Transforms: What Is It?

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God intends our work to be transformative.

This week I was reminded of a great quote from Nancy Pearcey’s book, Total Truth, describing the Cultural Mandate given to Adam by God in the Garden of Eden:

The first phrase, “be fruitful and multiply,” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations—nothing less.

I absolutely agree with Nancy Pearcey. In my book I write,

The Cultural Mandate was meant for not only Adam and Eve, but for us as well. It still stands as God’s directive for our stewardship of His creation.

In light of this great truth, we as Christians believe that everything we do contributes to the Kingdom Christ is building in the hear and now, the same Kingdom He will consummate in its fullness when He returns.  Nowhere is that more true than in our vocational work.

Yet, as I talk to people about integrating their faith and work, there is one issue that keeps coming up. This issue is epitomized by a comment someone said to me recently:

I hear what you are saying about the importance of vocational work and the Kingdom of God. And I see clearly see how some people’s work, like doctors or people working in Christians non-profit organizations, is truly doing “Kingdom Work.”  But what I am doing in my job is so insignificant I just can’t see how it adds anything to the Kingdom of God.

The Christian who works on an assembly line turning five screws in a widget over and over: how is his work “Kingdom Work?”

In thinking about this I was really struck by the quote from theologian N.T. Wright in Elise Amyx’s blog, “The Entrepreneurial Vocation“:

Your work is ‘not in vain.’ Why not? Because everything you do in the present, in the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, everything that flows out of love and hope and grace and goodness, somehow will be part of God’s eventual Kingdom.

As Elise points out, Wright is referring to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

We do not normally think about our vocational work when we read this verse, but we should.

We need to believe that everything we do in our work, when done as a calling unto the Lord does three things:

  • It glorifies God.
  • It serves the common good.
  • It adds to the work God is doing in His Kingdom.

God uses even the most mundane things we do in our vocations and transforms them into “Kingdom Work.” Understanding this great truth can give our work significance and purpose, as well as a deep sense of satisfaction. What we are doing is done as a good and faithful servant in order to please the Master.

It is certainly easier to see your work as being important to God if you are a researcher finding a cure for cancer, or a relief worker helping to stamp out malaria in Africa. But the labor of the night janitor who cleans up your office, as a Christian, is just as important to God as all the others.

Consider the“Story of the Widows Mite” found in Mark 12:41-44. It is not how much she gave that was important, but the attitude of her heart. Likewise it is not the work we do, but the attitude we have while we are doing the work.

Gene Veith wrote a great blog post for the Gospel Coalition this week. The closing lines are powerful and give us additional insight into the solution to this problem:

The doctrine of vocation, properly understood, frees us from our sinful selves through the gospel as our love for God overflows into love for our neighbors.  Our very work becomes transformed not in its substance—Christian workers mostly perform the same tasks as non-Christian workers—but in its meaning and in its value.

Our work is intended to positively impact the creation around us because we have been transformed by the Grace of the Creator.

What do you think? How can a biblical perspective on work shape how you think about even the most mundane work you face? Leave your comments here

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