Archives For Faith and work

The Sacred Work of Cleaning Up Trash

Our jobs aren’t just about making money, they’re also about establishing social status. Some jobs are celebrated and others are just tolerated. But whether you’re a six-figure brain surgeon or you clean toilets at the local Taco Bell for minimum wage, does all work really have sacred value to God?

I love this quote from Pastor Tim Keller:

“The current economic era has given us fresh impulses and new ways to stigmatize work such as farming and caring for children – jobs that are supposedly not “knowledge” jobs and therefore do not pay very well. But in Genesis we see God as a gardener, and in the New Testament, we see him as a carpenter. No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God”

Last year I had a beautiful and unexpected encounter on a trip home from LA that deeply impacted my perspective on this issue. I recounted the following in my journal on the flight.

We were sitting at Gate 27 in the mostly empty Atlanta airport, watching the last few minutes of an NBA basketball game on one of the terminal television screens. We were waiting for our 11pm connecting flight back to Indy at a mostly empty gate when a young girl with a broom and a dustpan began sweeping under the seats around us. I could hear her singing quietly to herself.

“Are we in your way?” I asked as she filled her rolling bin with a day’s worth of trash from thousands of hurried travelers.

“Absolutely not!” she replied.

Her pleasant demeanor unexpectedly unfolded into inquiring about our day and telling us a great story about the time she found someone’s lost luggage, googled their name, and contacted them directly to ensure it was returned.

“I just couldn’t rest until I made sure that man got his stuff back!”

She was such a breath of fresh air after a day of flying that after she left, I ran down the terminal to catch up with her. I startled her a bit, but I felt like there was something she needed to hear.

“Thank you for what you do here,” I told her. “There are no small jobs when we do them unto the Lord. You partnered with Him tonight in caring for us. Your work matters. Thank you.”

She seemed to be both grateful and stunned, as if she had never thought about her job that way before. But it was true. That night, she was God’s business partner, doing His work in caring deeply for each one of us.

I want to do better in recognizing the sacredness of work, no matter how important or unimportant our culture may have deemed it to be. From the pilot who flew my plane to the young lady who swept under my seat at Gate B27, all work matters when viewed through the lens of partnering with God in the care of His world and His people.

What if we saw our work and the work of all those around us that way?


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

How To Find More Happiness at Work

Researcher Christian Smith uncovered some fascinating insights while working on the National Study for Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill a few years ago. When asked the question, “what is the purpose of this life?” a majority of Americans answered simply:

“To be happy and to feel good about oneself.”

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise. In fact, you might even agree with that sentiment. You don’t have to look very hard to see that personal happiness and fulfillment is the central theme of modern Western culture. Follow your heart! Chase your dreams! Do what you love! These are the mantras of our civilization.

And with the right nuance, there is some truth to these things. We certainly weren’t created for a miserable, meaningless existence. But placing personal happiness at the center of our pursuits is actually a sure-fire way to find misery.

Our Design

We weren’t designed to be the central character in a story we are writing, we were made to be beloved members of the supporting cast in a Divine masterpiece God has been writing since the beginning of time. Look at Genesis chapter 1:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

–Genesis 1:26-27

We were made to be image bearers, vice-regents (a person who acts in the name of another) reflecting the glory of God and carrying out His purposes in the world. God has been, and always will be, the central character of The Story, and we will only find our true joy in fulfilling our creative role in His grand narrative.

We were created for the glory of God.

This is true of our everyday work as well.

Flip the Script

In the 1500s, the common belief was that the earth was at the center of the universe and all the rest of the heavens – the moon, sun, stars – revolved around us. It wasn’t until a scientist named Copernicus confronted this falsehood that the truth finally won out.

The Gospel creates a kind of “Copernican Revolution” in our lives as well. It flips the script! It removes us from the center of our own story and puts God in His rightful place. This is the story we were meant to live, as vice-regents, image bearers, and reflectors of God almighty! This is the context for our everyday work.

Here’s the reality – God did wire each of us a certain way, he gave us talents and passions and dreams for this life we have to live. And He undoubtedly wants us to pursue those giftings, to His glory and for His purposes!

Finding Meaning

If you want to pursue more meaningful work, if you want to find more purpose in your day job, start here. Pastor JD Grear says it this way:

“Whatever you’re good at, do it well for the glory of God. Then do it somewhere strategically for the mission of God.”

Pursue your own happiness and find your own misery. Pursue God’s glory and you can find joy in the expression of your God-given giftings in wherever your daily work leads you.

“For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.”


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.


 

One Word that Just Might Change the Way You See Your Job

Statistics say a majority of people hate their jobs. Most see daily work as something that just “has to be done.” After all, there are bills to pay, kids to feed, school loans to pay off, and hopefully a few dollars left over to do some fun stuff from time to time.

This is life. The rat race. Days of mostly meaningless work sprinkled with a few occasional glimpses of happiness here and there if we’re lucky.

Work is boring. Work is hard. Work is meaningless. Work is drudgery.

Or perhaps you find yourself more in this camp. Your work makes you feel good about your place in the social hierarchy. Maybe it pays you big dollars and gives you leverage to mute many of the fears others hear more loudly.

Work is status. Work is identity. Work is power. Work is security.

How about you? How would you finish that sentence? Work is _______________.

Have you ever wondered how God might fill in that blank?

Different Perspective

There is a fascinating Hebrew word in the Old Testament that paints a much more beautiful picture of this thing we call work:

Avodah

Avodah is the Old Testament Hebrew word for work.

And worship.

And service.

Yep, this one word actually means all three things simultaneously. Avodah paints a beautiful word picture of God’s intertwined intent for our everyday work.

In Psalm 104, avodah means work:

“Then man goes out to his work (avodah), to his labor until evening.”

– Psalm 104:23

In Exodus 8, the same word is used for worship:

“This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship (avodah) me.”

– Exodus 8:1

In Joshua 24, it means service:

“But as for me and my household, we will serve (avodah) the Lord.”

–Joshua 24:15

For those redeemed by the Gospel, work is not our identity nor is it just some horrific punishment for man’s sin. Work is worship! Work is service! Work is a simultaneous opportunity for us to provide for our families while giving glory to God and loving our fellow man.

Conclusion

How would it change the way you feel when the alarm clock goes off tomorrow morning if you saw your work this way?


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

It’s hard to jump into a new television series in season 3. You have no context for the characters, why they act the way the do, how they’re connected to one another, or where they’re going. Perhaps you can piece together enough to get your bearings, but you miss so much depth in the storyline by beginning in the middle.

Thanks to Hulu, Netflix, and other streaming services, starting a TV series mid-stream is now a thing of the past. Unfortunately, when it comes to understanding our everyday work from a Christian standpoint, most of us have jumped in at “season 3.” We’re only viewing a small portion of the Grand Storyline. We’ve “started in the middle,” and so we lack context and struggle to find meaning. We don’t know where the story began or where it’s heading, and perhaps worst of all, we haven’t even identified the main character yet.

If we want good “work theology,” if we want to discover how our faith and our day-jobs collide, we have to go back to the beginning. We have to re-discover the origins. We have to place our current reality inside a much Bigger Plot.

When most of us think of faith and work, we primarily think about applying “biblical principles” to our current work experience. We pick out moral teachings on greed and honesty, leadership examples like Nehemiah “rebuilding the walls,” or practical wisdom from Proverbs, and try to implement them like a how-to manual of tips, suggestions, or inspiration. And that’s a noble pursuit.

But ultimately, these efforts are more about trying to write God into our stories rather than understanding we have been so graciously written into His. We are living in the unfolding storyline of God’s Grand Narrative! But our self-absorption zeroes in on our individual chapters, and so we’re never able to grasp the full meaning and depth of what’s really happening or the roles we’ve been designed to play.

Before we can talk about the practical, everyday reality of faith and work, we have to zoom out. Way out. We have to see the whole arc of God’s storyline clearly. If you want more meaning in your work, more purpose in your 8-5, less dread when the alarm goes off on Monday morning, you first have to place your story inside of God’s story.

Creation >> Fall >> Redemption >> Consummation

Why did God create us in the first place? What in the world went wrong? What did God do to fix it? Where is all this heading?

These aren’t new questions or discoveries, they’re recapturing the historical roots of Christianity from which everything beautiful grows. The faith and work journey starts here.

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.