Michelle Lee-Barnewall, associate professor of biblical and theological studies, Biola University
As part of my normal teaching schedule, I have a Friday morning “block” class that meets for almost three hours. The typical response I get from most people when I tell them about the class is, “That must be difficult! The students must be really unhappy and unmotivated to be in a three-hour class on a Friday.” However, I tell them that it is a great time to teach. Rather than being unhappy because it is Friday, usually they – and their teacher – are actually very happy because it is Friday! We all know that once the class is over, our weekend starts. The anticipation lifts our spirits and gets us going.
Our culture is filled with references to the happiness that accompanies the weekend. There are endless commercials depicting people enthusiastically leaving the office on Friday and heading to a fun-filled time in the mountains or at the beach, relaxing with family and friends, sitting in their recliners watching football, baseball, etc. Friday conversations at work tend to be about our weekend plans. We even have a restaurant named after the joy of Fridays.
I am all for weekends – even when I have to do lesson plans, grade papers, or write a blog post! But sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking of work as the negative and leisure or rest as the positive aspect of our lives. Work can become something we need to “get through” in order to make it to the weekend. Sundays are our “spiritual” days, implying that our “working” days are less spiritual. And so forth.
In his book, “Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work,” Tom Nelson has some insightful thoughts into the importance of not making such a sharp division. We should see work as an integral part of the way in which we were created. Here are some excerpts from his book:
1) We were created with work in mind
As God’s work of creation unfolds, humankind—the crown of creation—emerges on the literary landscape. God the Creator places a distinguishing stamp of uniqueness on human beings, one that sets humanity apart from the rest of creation. 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 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. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26-28)
The Genesis writer wants us to grasp the unique place of human beings in creation. . . . humans are designed by God to exercise proper dominion over creation, which is a divinely delegated stewardship role (p. 20-21).
2) We were created to contribute
First and foremost, work is not about economic exchange, financial remuneration, or a pathway to the American Dream, but about God-honoring human creativity and contribution. Our work, whatever it is, whether we are paid for it, is our specific human contribution to God’s ongoing creation and to the common good. Work is an integral aspect of being human, an essential aspect of loving God and his created world, and a vital part of loving our neighbor as ourselves. . . . In Genesis chapter 2:5 we read that “there was no man to work the ground.” In other words, God created humans . . . to make an important ongoing contribution to his creation (p. 24-25).
3) Working as an act of worship
So often we think of worship as something we do on Sunday and work as something we do on Monday. However, this dichotomy is not what God designed nor what he desires for our lives. God designed work to have both a vertical and horizontal dimension. We work to the glory of God and for the furtherance of the common good. On Sunday we say we go to worship and on Monday we say we to go work, but our language reveals our foggy theological thinking. That our work has been designed by God to be an act of worship is often missed in the frenzied pace of a compartmentalized modern life (p. 27).
4) Working for an audience of one
If God is aware and cares for every sparrow that falls, then we know that our loving heavenly Father watches over us wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Nothing we think, say, or do ever escapes God’s loving, caring and watchful eye. Living before an audience of One also means that all we do and say is to be an act of God-honoring worship. . . . (As) the apostle Paul penned to the first century local church at Colossae: “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” (Col. 3:23-24) (p. 27-29).
Nelson’s words – particularly the last two points – challenged me to consider my own attitude toward work. I often think of work in terms of whether or not I enjoy it, or whether I’m being productive, but miss thinking of it in terms of the proper worship of my creator. This makes me think we could all benefit from considering some additional questions more deeply. Why did God create us to work? What does it mean to work after the fall? What does it mean to delight in work? And how is work related to our redemption in Christ?