On this day’s Labor Day celebrations, I am happy to sit back and reflect on work. I believe it is a wonderful thing that we have a day as this one on our calendar as a country. That’s because of its tie to “the beginning”. Before man sinned, there was work. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it ….” man is commanded in Genesis 1:28. Work, therefore, sits at the core of our purpose to image forth God. No single portrayal of God’s likeness to our fallen world can happen without work! A choice to live a work-less life is a choice to not live — for living is more than breathing.
Tim Keller at a promotional event for his most recent book Every Good Endeavor (featuring Kathryn Leary) observes that the work-related curse that happened post fall; “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17) did not make work a bad thing. It only made work a hard thing. Now “thorns and thistles it (the ground) shall bring forth for you” (Genesis 3:18). And now “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). Work has become hard, but it hasn’t ceased being a necessity for life. We are doomed then if we must work and yet never expect any joy out of it.
That is exactly what many of us experience. We work because we must, not because we find any delight in work. So a day like this one is headlined by every flawed motivation we’ve attached to work. Those who are motivated by pay for example can’t wait for the government to declare yet another salary increase. For them that would be the best news they could hear today. A pay rise is their greatest reward for their efforts. It is of course not wrong to expect pay for services rendered. Indeed the ox should never be muzzled where it treads (1 Timothy 5:18). But pay, however gargantuan, will never by itself bring meaning and joy in work. Others may hope for a reduction in the number of work hours. I would in many ways vouch for the same, especially considering a recent post here (on Facebook) by Reuben Kigame arguing for the abolishing of the twenty-four hour economy. Even so, I maintain that we cannot work less hours in this life. Indeed we could only if we could live less hours a day! Work is life remember.
That does not mean gainful employment alone. That means everything we do with view of imaging forth God. That is life. It is something a mom who stays at home to care for her family while forfeiting employment does. It is something a school going student does when he diligently studies. It is something a musician recording a song in a studio does. Work is as varied as God’s gifts and our needs (even the seeming trivial needs like enjoying good music) are. That is why the worrying levels of unemployment should not be first an indictment on our government for failing to provide jobs. It is first an indictment on every countryman for failure to appreciate work as God intended. Even though very minimal might be the employment opportunities we have, endless are the work opportunities before us. They may not offer obvious or immediate financial rewards, but if they grant us an opportunity to serve and meet the needs of others, we should be by all means excited to take them.
A redeemed attitude towards work is needed if one will approach work that way. In fact, work should in most instances be not very easily quantifiable. No amount of money should match a purpose for living. Deliverables are good, but we are doomed if they are our entire motivation to put in hours of hard labor. If we were to be driven by something greater — if we treated work in its broad sense — we would be the country with the most self-driven citizens in the world. We would work longer and harder, and we would rest more strategically to replenish our reserves, and we would plan and execute better; all with minimal supervision. We would be motivated by societal needs and not just our need for bread. We would treat work as an obedient response to God and not as a drudgery or an involuntary response to natural laws.
Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross did touch work. We can now work happily; just as two fallen humans can now be married happily. As my marriage mantra “it is only those who commit to living selflessly ever after who ever get to experience marital happily ever after” would suggest if applied to work, we must be dethroned off the throne of work. If we are to be joyful and productive workers, God’s purposes and the good of others must take the central place of all the work we do.
Would you take time and reflect on ways that you might adjust your life in light of that truth? One good place you can begin is by grabbing Timothy Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor. I can’t think of any other comprehensive and Gospel-centered resource on work as this one. May your labor after this Labor Day never be in vain. May your life purpose never be to simply earn yourself a living, but may serving your purpose earn you a living!