Discipleship, Leadership, Personal Development

The Worth of Lost Work

These are hard times. Many people have lost jobs or have had significant reductions in work hours. Some have had to shutter their companies or radically reorient their business models in order to survive. I sympathize with those who are going through this. In my household, we have experienced some work setbacks, but not to the degree that others have. 

Last week, Albertans lost 117,000 jobs. Nation-wide we experienced a national unemployment reduction of five percent in just one month. This is the largest and fastest monthly decline in recorded history, even topping numbers from the Great Depression. The Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney predicts that unemployment could rise as high as 25% during this COVID-19 crisis.

Besides losing our livelihoods, there’s another downside for those of us not working. We are missing the opportunity to worship. 

We were designed to work. As humans, we were made in the image of a good and great God who worked for six days, creating the cosmos, and then rested on the seventh day. Work was never a downer for God. He delights in his work. When he finished all that he created, he stepped back and admired his work, declaring it “good” (Genesis 1:25). In Psalm 104:31 we even find God rejoicing over his work. Work is what we were designed for – we were marked with the image of our Maker who loves work. 

But we weren’t just designed to work – we were also deployed to work. Of all the creatures on the planet, we were given the responsibility to manage the creation on God’s behalf (Genesis 1:27-28). We were tasked to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and to steward it. This is what theologians often refer to as the “cultural mandate.” God not only created us to work, but he also commands us to work.

What this means is that all work has dignity. When we work, we are reflecting God’s image and are participating with him in his cultural mandate. This ultimately means that all work is a means of worship. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Note that…whatever you do, do it for God’s glory. This includes our work. Through our work, we worship. 

This rubs against the grain of a common belief about work. For many, work is a necessary evil. “We shouldn’t live to work,” they say, “We should work to live.” They might think, “It’s a real downer to have to work – but at least it pays the bills, puts food on the table, and helps me maintain a standard of living I’m accustomed to. Real living begins when I can throw off the shackles of work.” Not everyone believes this, but I find it surprising how often this sentiment is an undercurrent in our conversations about work – including with those who follow Christ. In the biblical view, the presence of work is freedom, not the absence of work. This is because when we work, we are living true to our design and when we live according to our design, we experience the greatest expression of human freedom. Human freedom isn’t merely the absence of constraints – it’s becoming who you truly are (more on this in a future post). 

The problem with unemployment is it has the potential to dislocate us from our design. Sitting around at home can get pretty lame, pretty quick. For some, it can lead to depression and even despair. What makes it worse is there’s nowhere to find work. So even if you are motivated to work, there are few job opportunities out there. It’s not like you can simply go and “pound the pavement” to look for work.

So what to do? Here are two possibilities to consider. The first is to find meaningful work to do. Is there work to do around the house? Maybe there are some projects that you have been meaning to “get to” for quite some time. This could include sorting, filing, renovating, transplanting, fixing…the list goes on.

Is there a way you can serve in the community? Volunteering is work. Yesterday my wife Karen volunteered to drop off groceries for a local community agency. This was meaningful work for her. It goes without saying…please serve in a way that is compliant with our current health orders. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Stay at home if you’re sick. Avoid speaking moistly

I think the worst thing you can do during this time is to whittle your life away scrolling through social media feeds and binge-watching the newest, undiscovered, unconquered television series.

Please, please, for our own sakes, let’s get up off the couch. There is plenty to do. Make plans. Set goals. Get to work. Worship.

If the first possibility is to find work to do, the second is to find God’s purpose in the work you already do. This includes work at home. Many of my friends have no shortage of domestic labour opportunities, especially those parents who are trapped indoors with a gaggle of screaming banshees suffering from cabin fever. What if you reframed how you view your work? Pivot your thinking. Remember, all work is sacred. All work is good. Your work at home is an opportunity for you to reflect God’s image and participate in his good work in creation.

One simple practice might help you. At the beginning of each day, pray to God and say, “I offer all my work to you as worship.” You might even remind yourself of this truth throughout the day. This diaper-change is worship. This IKEA furniture assembly project is worship. These dishes are worship. These daily rhythms, this mindfulness, could be a game-changer for how you see your work. 

So may we worship well and may we work well. May our work be glorious, no matter what our work is. I end with a well-worn, well-loved statement about work, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.