On Work – What it Means, Why it Matters

work

“We live within two worlds, the covenantal cosmos of God and the pluralizing, secularizing, globalizing world of the 21st-century. How do we hold them together with any kind of coherence? All of us live within both worlds; we are called to live between these worlds. And in that there is a tension for all of us. Sometimes it seems that we are stretched beyond what we can bear– and sometimes, sometimes we find ways to hold onto our integrity and still live, with faith and hope and love?” from Dr. Steve Garber at Commencement Address – Covenant Seminary St. Louis

It’s Monday and though I want to be a world changer, I find myself once again in a place where I have to fight to keep my spirit alive, where I have to continually remind myself that there is more to life than this. When a war in Gaza is raging and Syria is put on the back burner I struggle to find lasting value where I sit, a window to my back that faces a grim city parking lot. I am cocooned in this space, while a bigger world is in pain. But I’m not growing into a butterfly in this cocoon – I’m smothering.

If you have followed Communicating Across Boundaries for a while this will not surprise you. It’s no secret that I find Mondays difficult. If you track my Monday posts, as one reader did, you see this struggle emerge through my writing. A “bench to bedside” struggle to translate my Sunday rest into my Monday work. What does it mean to live in my world as a person of faith? What does, or should work mean in this context?

Others have written well about a ‘theology of work.’ and I’m wrestling with this myself. What does it mean to have a theology of work? What does it mean to covenant with God around work? How can I see my work, but also the work of others as valuable, no matter what it is? Dorothy Sayers has written a 12-page essay called “Why Work?” I haven’t read all of it. Maybe it’s too long, maybe it’s too convicting. I don’t know but I haven’t read it. But I do know that when she wrote this essay she believed strongly that people were “dying because they don’t have the Biblical doctrine of work.” Tim Keller paraphrases Dorothy Sayers in a sermon on work by saying “Work is the gracious expression of creative energy in the service of others.”

In the movie Chariots of Fire Eric Liddell is challenged by his sister to stop running, to pursue a higher goal, better things. Eric on the other hand believes that he’s been given a gift and that to not use this gift would dishonor God.

In a response made famous through this Oscar-winning movie, Eric looks at his sister Jenny and says“I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” 

I envy this response and I struggle as I think about this. Do I feel God’s pleasure when I work? Because I am struggling with this today I plan to focus on it in the next couple days in my writing. But for now – I want to ask you: What is work to you? Is it something you do so the rest of your life can happen? Do you have a vocation or is work drudgery? Do you count the seconds until the weekend or do you make the seconds at your job count? None of this is to cause guilt – I really want a discussion here because I struggle with this. Do you believe that work should be “the gracious expression of creative energy in service of others?” 

Do you, like Eric Liddell, feel “God’s pleasure” when you work? 

I look forward to today’s conversation!

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/office-keyboard-job-work-381228/

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11 thoughts on “On Work – What it Means, Why it Matters

  1. “All of us live within both worlds; we are called to live between these worlds …” – Without trying to nit-pick, this is not totally true. Through all ages there have been hermits and religious orders who tried to live only that one side and shun the other “worldly” world. So, to a certain degree, this is a possible choice. Which places the burden even more on those who decide to remain in both worlds, yet profess to be “true believers”, I guess. No the “theology of work” that this may call for, to me always was rather simple: unlike the birds, we are sent here to sow before we reap. So the sowing needs to tally with our values, and even an agnostic can relate to e.g. the adage “live so that others have a better life because of you have lived”.

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  2. I’m currently struggling to write a post on Sabbath which is the topic for a monthly linkup called Spirit of the Poor over at Esther Emery’s website. My struggle seems to be around work! I used to have too much, now I’m building it up from very little but I’m finding that it’s the work part that requires attention now not the rest. All this to say it was fascinating to read your post today and other people’s responses and I’m looking forward to reading more from you on this topic.

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  3. I have always believed there is a dignity to work. As we seek to reflect God in all ways, we can’t ignore that our God is a creative, active God. Work is only “one” of the ways we are active. It can be drudgery or delight less by what the actual work is but moreso what we bring to it. My career (now retired) was being a secretary in a university. It wasn’t the actual tasks I necessarily loved everyday, but the encounters I had with people. God has gifted me with mercy & encouragement. There is nowhere that is more needed than a secular workplace. Looking for the joy of having finished a task, knowing you contributed & did your best, & seeing those moments when God gave you an opportunity to encourage, console, or brighten someone’s day….that is where I found joy in work. Every day was NOT characterized by that, many days were flops I am sure, but now as I am retired, help with ministries at church, or keep our grandson, the same opportunities are there to glorify God out of how He has gifted me…just have to keep my “flesh” at bay!? 😊

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  4. I think work itself can be divided into pleasure and chores. Sometimes it is attitude alone that makes the differenece between these, but I also think that any highly repetetive task is hard on us. We want more; we want meaning and results. We are told in Genesis essentially to work our garden, in spite of the weeds which will we will have to constantly remove—a highly repetetive and discouraging but necessary task. For most of us, working is in itself a pleasure, as long as we can imagine the final product coming: the fruit of our labor. When our work flows, when we see the light in a studen’ts eye, when a sick person recovers, we feel content and everything seems right with the world. When we hit snags, peope are unresponsive or deliberately obstructive, schedules stress or patients worsen, the weeds are winning, and work chokes our spirits. I was lucky enough to be a teacher for 25 years, and most of it was pleasure, but it was also very, very hard work. Yet the results made it all worthwhile, rather like bringing a child into the world—one forgets the pain in the result. Hopefullly in each person’s job, there is a moment when the result makes it all seem worthwhile.

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  5. Ah! Monday. And Tuesday, and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Sunday. For some of us Sunday can be the day of dread. All of them are days when I am grateful for my Benedictine training. Ora et Labora. Pray and work. Benedict believed the two were two sides of the same coin and I find that helpful. When the toilet backs up in the children’s bathroom and there is no one else around to unplug it, what is the prayer in the task?

    I think, dear cousin, in your line of service, you are praying all day.

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