Work and worship.
Two words with great power, but for some reason are hardly used in the same sentence.
Of course, we all know what they mean.
With work, you have what you put your hands to, your vocation, where skill meets a living; with worship, you have what (or rather whom) you lift your hands to, the reason for vocation, where purpose meets living.
However, if you think these terms are easily compartmentalized, I get it. After all, as long as the church teaches the principles behind them, we should automatically know how they apply in each setting of life, right? (*Sarcasm*)
Whatever the case, when we talk about how work works as worship, when we consider the origin of work and its modern-day application, there’s fresh freedom and joy to be found.
So for today, I want to discuss what it means to be a worship-thinker as opposed to a work-thinker – what working to the fullest looks like when function becomes a part of our daily abiding in Christ.
- Do we treat work as a source of identity?
- Do we treat work as a tool of personal fulfillment?
- Do we treat work as a necessary evil in order to get a paycheck or other “benefits”?
If ‘yes’, then chances are our work has become a place of pressure, performance-based thinking or worse…a means to an end1.
Accordingly, we must ask ourselves: How then do we treat work if we’re to elevate it as a selfless sacrifice of praise?
For starters, it doesn’t hurt to bridge work and worship with ‘mission’…
…however, to truly answer this, we must flash back to the Garden of Eden as captured in Genesis 2:15-20…
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.”
First off, before we discuss Adam’s work, note how God gave Adam a task before sin entered the world. This has huge implications as to how we’re to understand work. Often times, we see our job as a consequence or choice rather than a gift. We think what we do is a product of what we have done good or bad. But from the very beginning, we find God designating responsibility in the form of delegated authority. Specifically, God entrusted Adam to be an extension of His hand in cultivating the greatest garden ever and be an extension of voice in naming what He’d already cultivated!
Going back to the garden timeline, it’s interesting to see how God appointed man a task, but didn’t define it right away. While God would ultimately bring the animals to Adam2 (v. 19), He knew before this could happen, parameters were required to ensure intimacy and authority had boundaries to flourish.
Similarly, God also knew before He could delegate a particular assignment to Adam, he needed to not only learn dependence on Him in and out of work, but also his identity detached from the helper (Eve) who was to come. Again, this narrative order carries powerful implication given it underscores God’s desire for us to learn spiritual reliance without assurance of task and/or relational affirmation. Yes, God intended a helpmate for Adam before he was created, but more importantly, God intended Adam to learn his identity (and purpose as overflow) before work or wife existed.
Thus, the existence of work evidenced by the Garden is proof God desires to establish intimacy with us outside of work so he can build upon that intimacy as we work.
Not to mention it also confirms…
Work plays a certain role in how we interact with God.
The only way to understand the purpose of work, enjoy our work and the fruit of our labor is by also enjoying God as we work (Psalm 16:11).
For Adam, tending the garden wasn’t his purpose; worship was his purpose.
Accordingly, we can perceive our work has both a necessity and an overflow.
With Genesis 2 set as our backdrop, let’s look at Colossians 3:12-17, 23-24…
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
In this passage, Paul captures ‘work as worship’ once it’s an overflow locked in rhythm. Combined with Genesis, an applicative breakdown of these verses reveals the following benefits (Note: Due to word count, we’ll wrap things up after this list):
Being a ‘worship thinker’…
- Frees you to enjoy the moment of the work
- Provides a sense of closure at every juncture of every task even if the project as a whole is not done!
- Frees you from becoming unnecessarily offended at other teammates since punctuality or accuracy isn’t your first priority
- Frees you to be honest without agenda/unbiased with your teammates because you know that how you handle yourself is a ‘fragrant offering’ of worship to God
- Motivates you to work over longer periods because you are no longer experiencing emotional drains that come from the…
- Fear that your voice won’t be heard
- Fear that another’s performance will jeopardize project completion
- Fear of failure, since your definition of success has changed
- Motivates you to give God your best and embrace accountability
- Helps you be more open to input/critique from team-members and supervisors
- Reminds you the work is not your identity, but working unto the Lord is
- Helps you to see work experiences as learning opportunities
- Minimizes anxiety during a project/carrying out his responsibilities because you can better compartmentalize (i.e. prioritize at each juncture) the job
- Minimizes fear on what your boss can do to you
- Empowers us to not be controlled by the attitudes/behaviors of our co-workers
- Helps you see business culture as more freeing when bottom lines go beyond profit or position
- Refreshes the way you perceive success in your organization
- Protects you from deriving identity from profits and/or positions
- Protects you from taking on damaging behaviors like over-control and over-accommodation (people or employee-pleasing)
- Allows you to be more patient in your work because each work moment is treated as a worship moment
Bottom line: When we see work as an overflow of worship, we find intimacy at the core of success: Bringing pleasure to God through the gifts He’s given us so we can make His name known to the world.
- Or rather, a means as opposed to an end
- Note: The fact God brings the animals to Adam is significant as it emphasizes God’s sovereignty to reveal how our calling merges with our purpose (more on this in a future post)
Cover photo creds: Abstract Wallpapers; Col. 3 content collaborated on with Steve Fry as part of our ‘Commission U’ series at The Gate Community Church