Nov 23, 2007

Why Work Is Holy

You will spend over 100,000 hours of your life working. This is more than anything else you'll do except sleep. What is the meaning or purpose of our working? Do we work because we have to, or because it is a "High Calling"?

Flying the friendly skies at 37,000 feet as I write this, I start wondering about the plane and the "high calling" of daily work. At 37,000 feet, I sure hope the pilot thinks of his or her work as a "high calling." I want that pilot to think highly of the safety of the folks flying. Is it a "calling"? Is it holy work?

What about the flight attendants? They, too, have considerable responsibility for the safety, enjoyment, and sense of well-being of the passengers in this airborne community. Is this also holy work, God's work? Does God care about the enjoyment and comfort of airline passengers? What about the critical workers on the ground—from mechanics to staff, ticket agents, and baggage handlers? Do they have a high calling? Does God have a purpose, and are God's purposes satisfied or limited by what they do and how they do it? Certainly God is interested in people traveling safely. Is God also interested in their enjoyment, satisfaction, return on investment, etc.?

Looking around the plane at my fellow passengers, I wonder which ones have a high calling in their daily work, a call from God to do what they do well, a call to love God through serving others. Guessing occupations (from my stereotyped impressions), I see someone who I assume is a pastor or Christian educator—reading religious material and writing notes. Certainly he has a high calling. We usually affirm that this is the highest calling, but that's a gross misunderstanding of "calling."

Another passenger has a laptop open with a screen full of mathematical material. She is an engineer of some sort, I assume. Does she have as high a calling? I notice a business executive, an attorney, a young soldier, a rancher, and a musician. Do any of them have a high calling? Is their work from God, and does it have anything to do with God's purposes?

You could ask the same question of the young mother with two small children in the row in front of me, the grandparent near the bulkhead, the retirees headed off for a vacation, or the college student headed home. Though none of them work for pay, do they have a high calling? Maybe theirs is the most important, the most sacred, the highest calling.

Just what makes work sacred? What is a high calling?

For some, the work we do five or six days a week is the means, the necessary evil, we must endure to enjoy one or two days of leisure, and "to put food on the table," we say. Do you ever work obsessively or feel like a slave to your work? Or, are you able to take time off for rest and renewal that enables you to put your energies back into the other five or six days? Do you say TGIF (Thank God It's Friday) or TGIM (Thank God It's Monday)? Does God ordain and call us to our work?

The word "call" comes from vocare. We get the word vocation (a "call" or "summons") from it. Biblically it is used primarily for our being "called" to live in Christ, in relationship with God through Jesus. We belong to Christ, and our work is to believe, to glorify and enjoy God. It is our "high calling," our highest calling. Our daily work, whatever that is, is also a high calling. It is to be directed toward fulfilling God's purposes.

WORK COMES FROM GOD

Work was God's loving idea from the beginning, in and through creation. After reporting the creation of male and female on the sixth day, the writer of Genesis quotes God as saying,". . . your descendants will live over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals. . . . Then the Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and guard it" (Gen. 1:28, 2:15).

The first glimpse we have of the human person in Scripture shows someone working as a farmer and manager of the rest of creation—joyously, purposefully tilling the ground and exercising respectful stewardship over all the earth.

The Bible portrays work as part of God's very nature. "If God is the worker," Elton Trueblood wrote in his book Your Other Vocation, ". . . then men and women, in order to fulfill their potentialities, must be workers too. They are sharing in creation when they develop a farm, paint a picture, build a home, or polish a floor." We are exercising our dignity as creatures made in God's likeness when we work. Our work is the dual task of continuing God's creative process and taking good care of what God has entrusted to us.

There is hardly a human occupation that does not in some way involve being a coworker, a cocreator with God. We are sharing in God's work. We are expressing God's image in our work.

WORK IS TO BE DIRECTED TO THE WELL-BEING OF SOCIETY

Our destiny as "made in the image of God" includes participation in God's work of developing, maintaining, and enhancing community. Our work is to benefit the civil society in which we live and work. In addition, we're called to be creative. What is the creative element of your work? What is the common benefit of your work? "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's hunger meet," Frederick Buechner wrote.

In the biblical understanding of work (for all of life for that matter), there is no separation between that which is sacred or secular. The sacred-secular distinction comes from Plato and Greek dualism. The Bible knows nothing of that distinction. All work is sacred since God created and uses that work to sustain God's creation and participate in God's purposes.

WORK IS A PRIMARY WAY IN WHICH WE HONOR AND WORSHIP GOD

Avodah is a Hebrew word that means both worship and work. Paul encourages the Colossians, "And whatever you do, . . . do it all in the name of Jesus giving thanks to God . . . whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord" (Col. 3:17, 23). It is a high calling!

Perhaps the most powerful expression of our giving thanks to God comes through the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Here we see bread and wine on the Lord's table. These elements, the products of many hands and minds, come to the table, are blessed by God, and become for us the body and blood of our Lord. When in that process did worship begin or cease? "Here is the perfect symbol of the unity of work and worship," wrote Alan Richardson, "the strange unbreakable link that exists between the bread that is won in the sweat of man's face and the bread of life."

Passing a construction site, a pedestrian asked three bricklayers what they were doing. The first said that he was earning a living to feed and clothe his family. The second said, "I'm throwing these bricks together to build a wall." The third responded, "I am helping to build a cathedral for the glory and worship of God." What a difference your perspective makes in giving meaning to your work!

What is your work? Is it a High Calling? You bet it is, every creative and caring and beneficial aspect of it. May we work hard and well and enjoy it more each day. Then we will be able to say, "Thank God it's Monday—and Friday—and Sunday!"
 

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