The Columns – November


Have you ever got in your car and your heart sank as you turned toward work? During a certain period of my life, my heart would sink when I crossed a particular street heading to work. Work had become a terrible chore with no joy. I felt like a mercenary working for a paycheck without regard to the cause. If you haven’t experienced that, believe me, you don’t want to. However, there is hope. There is a way to redeem the situation. You can use Scripture to reframe your work, to reinvigorate it with meaning and purpose. I found I Cor. 15:58 helpful. Perhaps you will, too. “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”( I Cor 15: 58)

First, frame your work with confident faith. ‘Stand firm. Let nothing move you.’ This verse comes after a long discourse on the truth, power and hope of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to put their work squarely in within the unfolding story of God’s renewal of all creation. Just as the resurrection is an anchoring truth, so also, is the ultimate renewal of all things. The victory and vindication of Jesus assures us of our ultimate vindication. I’m reminded of the story of Daniel. Daniel was only later a prophet. First he was a leader of the Jewish people and a counselor to King Darius of the Medes. After surviving the lions’ den Daniel says to the king, “The lions have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in God’s sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.”(Daniel 6:22) Daniel’s confident faith came from having a deep trust in God’s faithfulness. So too, we should have a deep trust in God’s faithfulness despite the circumstances. As we walk by faith, God will care for us. I like what Dennis Bakke wrote in his book Joy at Work: “Winning, especially winning financially, is a second-order goal at best. Working according to certain timeless, true, and transcendent values and principles should be our ambition.”

Second, embrace your work as given by God. ‘Give yourself fully to the work of the Lord’ Did you catch that? Paul is not writing to a bunch of preachers, but to regular people who have regular jobs, and he tells them that their work is from God! Everything you do to impact others is part of God’s work – from being responsible to your supervisor to developing your subordinates, from providing good goods and good services to clients to developing respectful and fair relationships with your suppliers, from caring for each of your family members to reaching out to your community. You have been given a part of the Garden of Creation to tend and creatively order so that it is blessed and fruitful. Bill Pollard understands that the primary work of business is to help each worker be fully engaged in their work. “You cannot buy enthusiasm, initiative, or loyalty. You cannot buy devotion of the hearts and minds and souls of people. Ownership of results does not start with stock ownership. It begins with dignity, pride of accomplishment, and recognition for a job well done.” Our job is to find the niche God has designed for us, and help others do the same.

Finally, know your work is in Christ and has eternal consequences. ‘Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.’ Again, Paul frames work in the context of the resurrection. First, our labor is in Christ. Since Jesus was risen from the dead and poured out his Spirit upon us, we do not work under our own power. Christ is at work in us. Before we go to work each day we should pray for wisdom for difficult situations, compassion for people who are struggling, guidance for decisions, eyes to see God’s opportunities, and joy of our salvation to be a witness at work. Too many times I end up going through the grind on my own, when like the prodigal son, I come to my senses and realize God has so much more for me. Also, our work is not in vain because this world is not going to be done away with, but transformed. Christ will return to set the world right, and everything we have done by his will and power will last. N. T. Wright puts it this way: The question ought to be, How will God’s new creation come? And then, How will we humans contribute to that renewal of creation and to the fresh projects that the creator God will launch in his new world? The choice before humans would then be framed differently: are you going to worship the creator God and discover thereby what it means to become fully and gloriously human, reflecting his powerful, healing transformative love into the world? Or are you going to worship the world as it is, boosting your corruptible human nature by gaining power or pleasure from forces within the world but merely contributing thereby to your own dehumanization and the further corruption of the world itself? (Emphasis his)

One of the church fathers, Iranaeus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” As we embrace the work that God has given us, we will see this statement fulfilled. It is both the end that we strive for, and the means by which our work in the Lord will take us there. “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”( I Cor 15: 58)