“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15).
Two terms are used in Genesis 2:15 to describe the job God gave to Adam: “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” In the Old Testament, the words “work” and “watch over” are most frequently used in discussions of human service to God, rather than describing a farmer’s job. Surprisingly, these words are often connected to worship, or even the actions of priests serving in the tabernacle of God.
If Adam had a business card, it would have read “Gardener.” Nothing exciting there. And yet the words God used to describe his job are anything but ordinary. Perhaps, at least in God’s mind, there isn’t such a wide divide between those things as there is to us.
Think of it like this: God could have, if He wanted, filled the whole earth with human beings in the same way He fashioned Adam—from the dust of the ground. But rather than taking that approach, He looked on Adam and gave him and his wife the responsibility and privilege of populating the earth. It’s still controlled, upheld, and blessed by God, but He chose in His sovereignty to use regular people as the means of establish- ing His intent on earth. Work can be seen much in the same way. Through work, God is using regular, ordinary people as His means of providing for His creation.
As our perspective on work changes through the gospel, we begin to see that the menial tasks we find ourselves involved in day in and day out are actually—and amazingly—infused with incredible meaning. They are the sovereignly designed means by which God is caring for the people of the earth. He has ordained that we, as human beings, exist in a state of interdependence on each other. That doesn’t mean God has isolated Himself from the world; it simply means that God is providentially using the talents, opportunities, and regular old jobs of regular old people to provide and care for humanity.
Think of that. As we work, we are the means of God. We become like the rain that falls on the just and unjust alike—the means of common grace through which human life and well-being is sustained and provided for. When we see it like that, a sense of great wonder and awe returns to our everyday working life, for we come to see that God is channeling His love through us as we work. He doesn’t just work through people involved in service industries, whose mission statements are written to benefit mankind. He channels His love through the man who collects the garbage on the streets early in the morning so that a community can be clean and free of disease. It happens through the farmer who raises crops that can be turned into clothes to keep children warm. It happens, as Martin Luther said during his time, even through the most humble functions and stations of life: God Himself is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.
Centuries later, Luther’s namesake Martin Luther King Jr. would say something similar: “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
Not only should we look at our own jobs with a renewed sense of awe as we are being used by God for the ultimate good of others; but every single job deserves our respect and gratitude. It’s these common, everyday, run-of-the-mill jobs that channel the love of God and therefore are a sacred means of bringing great honor to Him. When you stop seeing your job as the means to a paycheck and start seeing it as a means of glorifying the providing God, it changes the way you flip burgers, change diapers, or put together a report.
Seeing work with this divine perspective isn’t only liberating; it’s also constraining. It makes you realign your thinking and examine your purposes. It forces you to examine whether you are indeed working with God and others in mind or whether you are simply socking away money until you can retire and move to Florida. It constrains the kind of career you have, forcing you to examine whether or not your job is a legitimate expression of the grace and care of God or whether your vocation is one bent on self-promotion and greed.
But it’s through evaluating these issues that we actually return to the honor and sacredness of work. It is through this examination that we see the transcendent purpose God has for work, and that this purpose is found not necessarily through changing jobs, but through renewing your perspective right where you are.
Taken from my book Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.