by Wayne Kirkland, co-author of Where’s God on Monday?
As we’ve talked with numerous people over the years, it seems to us that, broadly speaking, there are three main ways Christians think about their work:
1. Work as a means to an end – “I work to live”
The most common attitude (particularly to paid work) is one that views it as a means to an end. We work in order to “live”. It sees the purpose of our work simply as being to provide for our needs.
For many people, at least some of their work is viewed as somewhat futile or meaningless, often expressed in such statements as:
- “I can’t wait for the weekend.”
- “When I earn enough cash, I’m out of here.”
- “I work at the bank but it’s really just a means to an end – what I really love to do is serve God by being involved in the church band, or by doing street evangelism or whatever…”
If our work is largely seen as a means to an end, we’ll miss the connections between what we’re doing and what God is about. Our work will be separated from our worship. It will be trivialized and underrated. We’ll fail to take seriously what it means to be faithful to both God and our employer (or employees). Such a low attitude of work ultimately leads to becoming “idle” in our work – at least insofar as realizing the potential of our work to serve both God and others.
2. Work as all-consuming – “I live to work”
A second and also very common attitude is one that lets work become all-consuming. When we end up “living to work” it becomes an object of worship – work becomes an idol.
Our culture, of course, has a word for people like this – workaholics. It’s easy to become addicted to our work. When this happens, our identity and value become so closely intertwined with our work that we can’t separate them. We become defined by what we do and achieve instead of what God is doing. This is very dangerous.
It’s important to note that allowing our work to become all-consuming is not the same as treating our work seriously. Neither does it mean that we shouldn’t work hard. Nor that we shouldn’t be passionate about our work. A biblical view of our work understands that our work has dignity and value. And God has worthwhile work for all of us to do.
At its best, work should be energizing and deeply fulfilling. However, there’s a difference between diligently loving what we do and being addicted to it. For work is not meant to be the most important thing in our lives, nor should it be degraded. It shouldn’t lead us to idolize it, but neither should it lead us to be idle!
3. Work as Worship – “I work as an expression of my worship of Christ”
This ideal balance is best found when our work becomes an act of worship – just like it did for Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth century monk known for his book, The Practice of the Presence of God.
For fifteen years, Bro. Lawrence worked as a cook in the kitchen of his monastery. At first he was deeply frustrated with the apparent insignificance of his role. But Lawrence eventually came to develop a deep spirituality of the ordinary, viewing every menial task as an opportunity to perform “little acts of communion with God”. Daily he made sure to “never tire of doing little things for the love of God, who considers not the magnitude of the work, but the love.” He developed practices that enabled him to experience God’s presence in every task.
Brother Lawrence understood a very important point: our work is supposed to be intimately connected with our worship. In fact, our work often seems meaningless because we fail to connect our work with God’s. But when undertaken in partnership with God, our tasks find significance and they become an expression of our love for him.
This means that we can worship God by working with Him when we’re:
- changing diapers,
- repairing cars,
- looking after grandchildren,
- studying for exams,
- helping customers find the right materials, etc.
In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul puts it well when he states:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. For it is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Where’s God on Monday introduces readers to a basic theology of work. Written in fourteen engaging chapters, this book teaches us what the Bible says about work and how to work out our faith every day of the week. Each chapter includes questions and exercises for small group or individual reflection, blending theological reflection with practical application.
If you’d like more information about this book, visit our website, this excerpt from the book, or this blog series written by Wayne Kirkland (posts: Are You Engaged—In Your Work?; Are You Doing Spiritual Work?; Sabbaticals Can Be for Everyone; and Are You Working?).