Americans have a strange relationship with work. Statistically, we work more than any other nation on the planet. However, many seem to work mainly so that they will be able to stop working. Do we love work, or do we hate it? Please note, any observation that claims to explain an entire country is going to be lacking in nuance! It may be that we love the products of work – wealth, freedom, and status, but we do not value the work in itself. As we approach Thanksgiving, I want to suggest that we reconsider our outlook on our work.
God Himself is a worker. He created the earth in 6 days and then rested on the seventh day. On the sixth day, God created man and woman as the crown jewels of His creation, and He placed them in a garden to care for it and grow it (Genesis 2:15). God told the man to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. Man was supposed to work – and God declared the whole of this design was good (Genesis 1:31). Work is a good creation of God – it is a way to join God in His own generative, creative nature, which produces blessings for others to enjoy.
The Work Itself is the Blessing
God intends for us to rejoice in our work. Not merely the products of our work – which are good, too – but the very act of working itself. It is a common perspective to see work as a necessary evil, a means to an end. However, that kind of mindset is fatiguing, and not capable of producing the best quality of work or the ability to enjoy it along the way. There is joy in ordering creation, producing something new, and in a job well done. Rightly seen, as we consciously join God in His work and care of the world, we actually are worshipping Him through it.
Why Work can be Frustrating
When sin entered the world, work became frustrating. Because of Adam’s sin, God told Him, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17-18). Work can be frustrating because it is not always fruitful. Sometimes your dog does eat your homework, or the computer eats your PowerPoint. A crop is diligently planted, and then there is a drought and we do not see the fruit. A project your team spent months working on might suddenly be scrapped by upper management without explanation. Even more, God will redeem the fallen world through the labor of Jesus and those who follow Him, so that one day work will again produce all the blessings it was made for.
Work is not Ultimate, God is
God built rest into the rhythms of the world, and we need it. I suspect one of the reasons why God created rest was to give us time to stop and remember that our work is not ultimate- God is. Our work is good – and good things are actually the most tempting idols. We do not worship our work, we worship God. Stopping our work enables us to remember that God is the one who provides for us – and He provides for us through our work, and even sometimes without our work. My wife once stenciled on the wall over the bed Psalm 127:2:” It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep” (NASB 95). God is the primary giver, not our work. What is more, He is even better than all His gifts.
This Thanksgiving, I hope you are able to stop and rest. Reflect on all that God has given you. Thank Him for our work. Most of all, thank God who is the First Worker, and who has given us Himself to enjoy through Jesus.