My first job was pretty typical: I mowed grass all summer for a guy in my town with a lawn care business. It wasn’t a great decision for a kid who suffered from allergies, but it did put a little money in my pocket for a while. At least I had something to use to buy Kleenexes.
That’s pretty much what that first job was – it was a means to an end. The means was pushing a lawn mower for 8 hours a day; the end was money. I felt no great calling to agricultural engineering; nor did I sense the presence of the extraordinary in the weed eater string. I just showed up, day after day, doing the same thing as I did the previous day, and then got a check on Friday. For most of us, that’s the same way we still approach work.
Work is a means to an end.
Work is something that’s necessary, but not something particularly desirable. There are indeed the 2% of people out there who are doing what they love and spring out of bed every morning like they’ve been laying on a spring. God bless them. The rest of us, at least part of the time, have to take a deep breath over a cup of morning coffee to go back and do the same thing today that we did yesterday. For the rest of us, we tend to work not as an end in itself, but to get to do something else.
We work to go on vacation. We work for the weekend. We work so that someday we don’t have to work any more. In other words, we work in order to be at leisure. We might be tempted to think the solution to work dissatisfaction is to get a new job. To be fair, that might indeed be what needs to happen. But if that’s your perspective now, in the job you’re currently in, chances are at some point in the future you’ll have that perspective again.
God didn’t create work to bore us. To Him, work is sacred, whether that work is emptying trash or preaching a sermon. A.W. Tozer reminded us once that “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular. It is why he does it.” The sacredness of the opportunity is not about the work itself, but about our perspective of why we work at all.
It is possible, as C.S. Lewis said, to have “the sense of divine vision restored to man’s daily work.” What we might need instead of a change in vocation is a change in perspective, not just about our particular job, but about the nature of work in general.
Work is a sacred opportunity given to us by and for God, just as it was given to Adam on the very first day human beings walked on the earth. The day in question is recorded for us in Genesis 2. Think back to those quiet days of peace and harmony as God created the garden of Eden:
These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation at the time that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not made it rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground (Genesis 2:4-5).
These were early days. Days before it rained. Days before shrubs and plants grew. But even in those early days, God was thinking about work. He was going to create man, according to verse 5, with the specific intent that he would work the ground. The record continues in verse 15: “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.”
The pictures in children’s Bibles of those early days, complete with carefully placed plant life over certain parts of the humans, might cause us to think that life in the garden for Adam and Eve was some kind of pre-sin picnic. We imagine the first humans spending their days lounging under shade trees, eating berries off bushes, and naming an animal here and there. That’s not what this text leads us to believe.
What we have here instead is a picture of God creating and positioning His children and then immediately giving them a job. Just as God had been busy working, so would the man, created in God’s image, have work ingrained in his DNA. That’s right, friends – much as we might view our jobs as only the means to the end for our leisure, we were created to work. But we were created to work with the right perspective.
The Hebrew word translated as “placed” literally means “caused to rest.” But that’s a problem because it seems, at least on the surface, to contradict God’s command to man. How could the man be caused to rest and then given a job? The reason we fail to see this reveals just how misshapen our view of work has become.
For Adam, work was not opposed to rest. It was not a necessary evil only done to earn money and play on the weekend. Instead, work was a blessing, born out of the sense of rest he had through his relationship with God. How, then, do we regain that sense of rest?
It’s only through the gospel. The gospel that tells us we are accepted. Valuable. Made right. Have nothing left to prove. And this message that changes us at the heart level works itself out into every arena if our lives – including our work. Because of the gospel, we know that whatever we do in whatever vocation we find ourselves in, we are fully accepted on the merit and righteousness of Jesus alone. The gospel frees us from the burden of performance and self-justification and allows us to regain the sacred perspective of work. We no longer work primarily in order to establish or maintain our sense of identity; that’s been taken care of in Christ. We know who we are, regardless of what our business cards say. We are the blood-bought and beloved children of God now and forevermore. Because we are, we can begin to regain the perspective of seeing work as a blessing rather than a curse.