For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this city
Greater thing have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this city
You’re the God of this City
- Chris Tomlin, God of this City
Researchers estimate that Americans spend up to 50% of our waking hours at work–which makes cultivating the habit of generosity at work particularly important.
In addition, recent studies show that over 50% of Americans are unhappy at work. Because work is often seen as something to escape from, or (at best) endure, we may miss myriads of opportunities for generosity in the context we spend much of our time.
God articulates his vision for work in the first chapter of the Bible. After creating a world full of raw beauty and potential, God gives humanity the task of unleashing its full capacity:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1:28)
God refers to the mandate of work as a blessing. The responsibilities God entrusts to Adam and Eve is an extension of his creation-work, and an expression of what it means for them to be made in his image (See Genesis 1:27). God creates and cultivates the heavens and the earth in the first twenty-seven verses of the story, and in the twenty-eighth, he extends the work of creating and cultivating to humanity. From this vantage point, work is not only a blessing; it’s sacred participation in the work of God. God blessed Adam and Eve with the opportunity to work in the Garden of Eden, and he still blesses us today in our classrooms, boardrooms, operating rooms, and everywhere else.
God blesses Adam and Eve with the tasks to “be fruitful” and “subdue” the Earth. While many focus on interpreting this passage as a reference to procreation, this verse abounds with implications for how we might see our work.
This “cultural mandate” reveals the holistic enterprise of God to fill the Earth with vitality, goodness, beauty– and his invitation for us to join with him in that project. God establishes work to be a blessing that completes the work he started. tweet
His activity resounds throughout the world with life-giving, soul-inspiring results.
Work, like every other aspect of our lives, is marred by sin. Because Adam and Eve neglected the work God gave them and chose rebellion instead, our efforts to produce goodness are met with resistance. God explains that work will now include difficulty.
The ground is cursed because of you.
You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. (Genesis 3:16)
While we can trace the source of the difficulty of work back to the fall of humanity, we can also discover our hope through God’s redemption of work. Cultivating the land, and any other type of work is characterized by struggle, but God gives us hope of a better future:
For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. (Romans 8:20-22)
Paul describes the current reality of “bondage to decay” that constitutes our present experience with work. But he also speaks to the hope that all of creation waits as God’s children strive to complete what Christ initiated in his work of redemption. The corruption we struggle with because of the fall is being overcome by the redemptive work ushered in by Jesus Christ. Because he invites us to join his work, we can see the new significance and meaning behind ours. We can see that being fruitful means working to educate and mentor children, restoring the dignity of the poor, fixing broken mechanical equipment, designing clothes that beautify, telling uplifting stories, healing people mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, and much more. When we see our work as an extension of what God is doing in the world and not just a source for a paycheck, we can exercise generosity more fully.
The word vocation originates from the Latin ‘vocare’ which means ‘to call.’ A career may be simply an occupation or profession that requires appropriate training. A calling is based on a strong sense of purpose that ultimately finds its meaning in God’s voice. Callings take into account questions like “How does the world need restoring?” and “What story God is telling in this industry?” as well as “What am I passionate about and good at?”
Once we discern the stories God is telling about our industries (and not just stories they are telling about themselves) we can focus our position on doing good that “bears fruit.” For example, if you work in the financial sector, bearing fruit could be examining the ways that wealth creation can reflect equity and avoid exploitation of the poor (a common occurrence). If you work in an environment where people value profits or office politics over people and purpose, then your “calling” in that space might include being a change agent. By applying the biblical mandate to “love your neighbor” you can revolutionize the way you go about customer service and quality control. In a culture of competition, “loving your enemy” can restore the dignity of co-workers who seek to sabotage each other for promotions. Asking the big question, “How does my work reflect God’s concern for the world?” can clarify your current occupation, or even lead you to move on to a higher calling. We should note some forms of employment that are antithetical to human flourishing because the work involves deceit, exploitation, or destructive indulgence. If I work for a marketing campaign seeking to argue that cigarettes are healthy, then it’s time for me to move on.
Work habits carry just as much weight as the space where we are called. Many tend to overwork, neglecting other areas of life. We live in a culture where many boast about being ‘“workaholics.” Conversely, others prioritize recreation and enjoyment over responsibility. Either of these approaches falls short of God’s vision of work.
God instituted work by first modeling it as a good thing and then framing it as a blessing to Adam and Eve. Work remains divinely commissioned and mandated as the means through which we participate in God’s redemptive plan.
God uses work for people to provide both for themselves and for those who are unable (Ecclesiastes 10:18-19). Laziness resists the work God is doing in the world and selfishly hoards the talents and time God gave us to serve him. A habit of work is one that cultivates blessing others, fairness, diligence, and treating people with dignity.
The model for work is cast on the first page of the Bible, but so is the one for rest. Relationships, health, and spiritual growth decline when we ignore the principle of rest:
So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. On the seventh day God had completed his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it he rested from all his work of creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)
Ignoring the divine rhythm of rest leads to worshiping work, and then sacrificing everything else to honor work (relationships, health, and integrity, etc.). When we see our calling as a partnership with God, we can see ways to reflect generosity in the setting and habits of our work.
- Am I pursuing a career? A calling?
- How can I approach my work and time that reflects God’s plan of restoration?
- What is my tendency: over-work or an under-achieve?
Written by Rasool Berry
Edited by Christina Utley