We live in a culture where work is a means to leisure time. Where on Thursday the radio DJ starts celebrating the fact that it’s “Friday-Eve.” But what if God intends us to work…and enjoy it?
Just think: God could have created you as a pleasure machine. He could have created a world, even before the fall, where Adam and Eve did not have to work to tend the garden. (Yes, work came before the fall.)
He could have given us bodies that didn’t get soft from lack of movement. With appetites barely felt. Where we could take endless pleasure in swimming all day every day. Or playing harps. Or video games. Or hanging out on social media. Or watching movies. Or simply sitting in his presence.
But God decided to make you in his image. And God is not a God who takes his greatest joy in leisure. God is a working God. He takes his greatest joy in work. Good work. Always doing something deep and new.
As summer vacation fades in our rear view mirror, and we head back to school and work, these truths will build our anticipation and increase our joy:
Out of his deep love for us God has given us work to do
In Genesis 2:15 Adam was put in the garden “to work it.” Eve too. We are created to enjoy relationship and work more than leisure. The clues are there in the very way God created our bodies and souls.
Even on a rainy day with Amazon prime or Netflix, you can only watch so many movies or TV shows before you start feeling like a slug. Like you are velcroed to your chair. You want to get a snack but you can’t seem to bring your hand from your dish to your mouth (Prov 19:24 says it better). We are made to need to work several times a day to eat. Once a week won’t do it.
We also find that the endless pursuit of pleasure leaves us enjoying it less and less. God has placed a law of diminishing returns in our souls. The more we seek pleasure, the greater the thrills have to be to feel it. The more pleasure, the more we get that French feeling of ennui, of feeling so sated that we feel bloated and bored. The antidote to boredom is not more pleasure. It’s good work.
Solomon, the wisest man on earth, recognized that it’s “good and proper… to find satisfaction in our toilsome labor” and being “happy in our work… is a gift of God.” When we ask him for it, God renews this gift of happiness in work, even toilsome diaper-changing, number-crunching, exam-studying work.
To help us discover more joy God sets the example of far more work than leisure
When we read that example, we find a ratio of six days of work to one day of leisure (Exodus 20:9-11). Interesting balance here. We might prefer 3 1/2 on, 3 1/2 off, but God knew that we have more joy to gain from work than leisure.
Stepping back and looking over our work and seeing something of beauty, something of value to our family or others makes us feel, “Yes, this is good.” Just like our Father. Ultimately that feeling of, “This is good,” is more meaningful and satisfying than “This is fun.”
Why? Because God has “set eternity in our hearts” (Eccl 3:11). He has installed a homing device in our souls that always has us searching for meaning. The greatest meaning we can find is fulfilling our God-given purpose: We’ve been created for love. To enjoy a love relationship with God and others. And we do this primarily by work–serving and sacrificing.
We are not created to take the greatest joy in being the heroes of our own stories, which is so counterintuitive. We get the most joy when we labor in love to be a guide to others to help them be the heroes of their own stories.
The bus driver is not merely a bus driver. She is a provider of sanctuary to weary travelers. The student is not merely a student. He is discovering and cultivating his gifts and talents so that he can be a better guide.
God lovingly redeems the toil of work
God created work to be challenging and joyful, but in this fallen world work is fraught with toil–the mind numbing repetition of washing and folding, the tax forms we cannot figure out, the assistant who takes more time to manage than doing it yourself, the Tuesday that five projects are due in five different classes, the blue screen of death.
We all love to work in the flow–the sweet spot of our gifts and talents. But even there we can’t escape the toil. Case in point: my deep desire in writing this blog is to be a guide who can help you navigate the tensions in today’s culture with more confidence and joy in the Lord Jesus.
To do that I’ve had to learn how to create content on a website I can manage. And that has required that I wade into technological challenges that take me back to 11th grade algebra where I dreaded going to class every day. I could read my math book and feel like Einstein’s wife: I recognized the words but hadn’t the foggiest idea what the sentences meant. I’ve always been the kind of person who hated to read the instructions. Intuitive to the core. I cannot intuit tech.
So in order to get to the point where I could offer my words on a page I’ve had to learn to download plug-ins, upload radio shows, get RSS feeds into email campaigns (RSS feed? Email campaign??), find computer code, change it, insert it in a new location and so much more. Some of you are smiling. Piece of cake. Not for me.
But after months of eyes glazing over reading instructions and publishing content that on the first try looked like scrambled eggs, I’m getting it. I haven’t tried to do so many things so far out of my sweet spot since I worked to recover from knee replacement surgery.
As he has promised, when we lean into him, God redeems all our toil. If not now, then someday the labor feels well worth it. Through persevering we become the people we long to be. The joy of being a good guide and helper wells up and outweighs the most delightful pleasures of the moment. Our hearts set on eternity take deep spiritual delight in knowing that people find their loads easier to bear (maybe even glimpse eternity) and, best of all, God is smiling.
Eyes on Jesus, he opens up that breakthrough to deeper joy in our work. With a fresh perspective we can roll up our sleeves and anticipate what he will do. (Sometimes playing “Fun, Fun, Fun” when I’m folding laundry helps.)
What gives you energy to start a new season of work? Please answer in the comments section below.
If you are struggling with work, please check out my friend Chris Overman’s blog where he discusses the challenges in far more depth.