How God Redeems and Transforms our Work

ABBY KARSTEN|GUEST What do you want to do when you grow up? This is a question every child is asked. Even into college, I only had a vague idea. For many years, my most honest, but rarely declared, answer was that I wanted to win a Nobel prize. (That was after I realized that I would not, ever, qualify for the Olympics.) I knew “Nobel prize winner” wasn’t exactly a profession, but even as a nine-year-old, I felt stirred to do something big with my life. I wanted to change the world—and I wanted people to notice. But I didn’t know any more of the details. We can smile at youthful naivety, but a sober look at our own hearts still reveals a complicated relationship with work. Sometimes it feels like drudgery: pulling weeds, enduring seat-numbing meetings, or refolding the basket of laundry the toddler just dumped. We groan: “When will it stop?” Other times, our work sparks a fire of delight in our souls: cooking a beautiful meal, presenting an original solution to a complicated problem, or using pivot tables to construct an elegant and efficient spreadsheet. Maybe we’ve grown to relax our goal of changing the world (see Nobel Prize, above) and we’re simply thrilled to be influencing our corner of it. We marvel: “What a privilege that this work is a part of my life!” A brief history Before sin came into the world, God ordained work as an opportunity for humans to mirror God’s own work of creation (see Gen. 1:27-28). Work is beautiful and good because it offers us an opportunity to use the gifts God has given us to help participate in the flourishing of God’s world. Adam and Eve received instructions to fill, subdue, and rule; this direction only came to humans, being made in God’s image. Additionally, God took pleasure in his work (see Genesis 1) and we do, too. We create, build, and cultivate, and look back at our efforts and say, “This is good!” Unfortunately, because of the Fall of man, our efforts are almost constantly thwarted. We must acknowledge that our work will be, in turns, delightful and disappointing, fun and frustrating. Nevertheless, we should aim to pursue “good work,” or work that pleases God. Dan Doriani writes, “Work pleases God if it promotes the common good. The common good includes care for God’s creation, but we especially care for mankind. The first goal is to love our neighbor, which we do when we supply food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and whatever edifies others.”1  Paul reminds believers that when we use the gifts God has given us, we work for his glory: “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). And still, sin persists The tricky thing is that when we discover that we are doing good work, it can creep into our sense of identity, replacing our primary identity in Christ. Even while pursuing work that aids in human flourishing, that effort can become an end in itself, rather than a means to glorify God. Culture makes it all too easy to slide in that direction, encouraging us to let our work become a pathway to our own glory. It is socially acceptable to put in excessive hours on “good work,” while excusing ourselves from caring for those around us—or even ourselves. David Zahl posits, “Constant grinding makes a perfect diversion from conscience or loneliness or grief or vulnerability—a way of imposing order on the chaos of relating to another person or oneself.”2 Like every idol, though, the more we serve it, the more it expects of us. Therefore, the more we turn work into an instrument for our own glory, the more the effects of the Fall threaten to undermine the identity we have constructed...

How God Redeems and Transforms our Work2022-05-04T23:24:30+00:00

The Delight and Direction of Work

BECKY KIERN|CONTRIBUTOR My journey into the workplace began in 1996 on a warm summer’s evening. Since I was not yet old enough to drive, my Mom drove me to the neighbor’s house, where I was to spend the evening babysitting. She had the windows rolled down and the radio blaring as I sat in the passenger seat, filled with a mixture of excited pride and absolute terror. Twenty five years later, my work resume has included everything from answering phone calls in the back of a ham store (ham juice ruined my favorite shoes, but that’s another story), to working alongside some of the world’s finest heart surgeons. Some seasons of life have included work which was so fulfilling I woke up excited to get to the day’s task; while work in other seasons was so vexing, I dreaded going to bed at night, knowing the next day held hours filled with frustration. Often when our labors are difficult, discouragement creeps in and we find ourselves asking, “Does any of my work matter?” or “What is the purpose of all this hard work?” Created to Work In the beginning of the Biblical narrative, Genesis 1:1 introduces God, focusing primarily on His work as Creator. He is described as first creating the heavens and the earth before turning his attention to the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. In Genesis 1:26, Moses continues to explain the creation narrative by recounting God’s words, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and 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 them in his own image,             in his own image 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 every living thing.” After giving Adam and Eve His blessing, God called them both to do two things: to build a family together and to work. When all was good, when Adam and Eve walked freely with God, before shame, toil, broken dreams, or altered plans had entered into the world, humans were made for and instructed to work. Our work has dignity, because through it, we reflect the goodness of our Creator....

The Delight and Direction of Work2022-05-04T23:25:18+00:00

When Furrows Fight Back

AIMEE JOSEPH|GUEST Complaining about work is the adult equivalent of college students complaining about mid-terms and finals. And let’s be real, we all have those days when work feels like a weight too heavy to carry and “Everybody’s working for the weekend” is our theme song. We are wired for work. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a result of the fall. Challenges in work and struggles with identity around work were most assuredly a consequence of man’s rebellion against God’s created and careful order; however, work itself honors God and is a needed part of human flourishing. Wonderful Work In his pattern of the newly minted perfect world, God offered Adam and Eve significant freedom to do significant work on the fresh earth. There were animals to name and gardens to tame. Carl Linnaeus had nothing on them. Work was not a burden, but a particular privilege for those made uniquely in God’s image. God blessed the first human couple by giving them the significant work known as the cultural mandate. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’.” (Genesis 1:28). As one who lives in San Diego and frequents the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, I can tell you this is no small task. The San Diego Zoo employs 2,300 employees to care for their menagerie. God entrusted Adam and Eve with a task that was large enough for the intellectual, physical, and creative capacities he gave them. God wired us for work. My teenaged children balk at having to do special projects around our home. As good parents, we force them to do so anyway. When the day is done, they almost always say, “Today was a good day. We worked hard and accomplished a lot.” Similarly, sometimes I catch my husband hanging out in the shed after we have organized its chaos. There is something so human and right about accomplishment after hard work. Yet you and I both know that work is not always a worshipful experience....

When Furrows Fight Back2022-05-04T23:25:47+00:00

The Work of Waiting

Since returning from his sabbatical last fall, my pastor has been encouraging our church family to cultivate times of silence and solitude to be with the Lord. Our staff team has put this into action by taking a monthly day of prayer and reflection. Once each month, we devote what would normally be a workday to intentionally spending time resting with the Lord. When we first started this practice, I pondered what I could do to set this day apart. I decided to bake bread, knowing that doing so would help me to slow down and enjoy this gift of a day. I’ve tried a few different recipes now, some with more success than others. I recently received a new cookbook that included a “No-Knead” bread recipe, and I looked forward to trying it. This recipe seemed to offer all the goodness of bread-making with barely any hands-on effort or mess. “Just let time do the work!” the recipe boasted. Waiting is Work I prepped the dough the night before, since it would need 12-18 hours to rise. As the next morning dawned and I anxiously peaked at the dough (that still had hours to go), I was struck by an unwelcome reminder: waiting is work. Yes, yeast and time were doing the hard work of fermentation to make my bread dough rise, but that didn’t free me from work of my own. I had to manage my patience, wrestle with my inability to control the speed or quality of the proof, resist the temptation to just throw out the dough when I knew the chilly air of my apartment was hindering its rise. I also couldn’t just stare at the bowl of dough all day— I needed to devote my attention to other life-and-rest-giving pursuits so that I wouldn’t squander this precious day...

The Work of Waiting2022-05-05T00:42:13+00:00

For the Mom Who Longs to Be Seen

It's that middle place for children, right after self-awareness and just before it's singed with pride and embarrassment: When they look back at you after a great or terrible act with a question in their eyes, "Did you see that?" Of course, this carries far past the little years, but there is this short period of time where their need to be seen is so... seen. They threw a ball! Did you see that? They pushed their brother. Did you see that? Their chubby little fingers stacked the third block and it didn't fall—head turns and eyes grow: Did you see that? Our seeing their accomplishment actually completes it for them. But it's more than that, isn't it? They feel at home in our gaze; they feel like a whole person with our eyes on them. To be seen is to be. We would be fools to think that we somehow grew out of this basic human need. We've just figured out how to shade our eyes so that no one sees us looking around, trying to catch another's gaze: "Did anyone see that?" Longing to Be Seen We can feel this sorely, though not solely, as mothers—when every part of our body and brain and soul just needs to lie down, and we can't even remember what made us so tired in the first place. We hurt from loving, we ache from longing, and no matter how affirmative our husbands might be, we can still feel unseen. (Is anyone watching me make four lunches at once?) We may (I have) turn to sharing our moments on social media. Maybe a few hundred hearts and thumbs will quench this thirst. Maybe a comment of solidarity will pick me up off the ground. But it can't last, can it? I can't hold that person's face in my hands and fix their gaze forever. It's not just the hard moments that we wish for others to see—like when two people need their bottoms wiped at the exact same time (always, always... law of nature!). But it's the beautiful moments, too: when your baby hugs your leg and says, "I love you!" for the first time, unprompted. Oh, did anyone see that?! And so, like I experienced as a young mother, our brains can spiral down into a philosophical depression—is my life of motherhood the proverbial tree that falls in the forest? Do these common, everyday moments mean anything outside of someone's gaze?...

For the Mom Who Longs to Be Seen2022-05-07T22:41:44+00:00

Discipling Women in the Workplace

If I asked, “Who are you discipling in the workplace?” how would you respond? Are you thinking, “Should I even be discipling in the workplace? Shouldn’t discipleship happen in the church? What if I am a full-time mom?”I had similar thoughts over the years. I prided myself in being able to compartmentalize my work-life and church-life. I heard of evangelism in the workplace but discipling in the workplace was a foreign concept until I spent three years in Cambodia on medical missions. There I heard our team leader preach that discipleship began with evangelism when Jesus first evangelized his future disciples from the fishing industry in the Gospels. Since then, God has been growing a heart for discipleship not only with women in the church, but even with pharmacy students and coworkers.Opportunities to Share of ChristI always felt something was amiss while training future pharmacists to become good clinicians. During my first year as a faculty member, I had three students—a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jewish student—assigned to me for six weeks. At the end of the rotation, one student asked, “Dr. Jun, you seem to have a lot of peace. Where does that come from?” Inwardly, I was so happy to be asked this, but outwardly, all I could say was, “uhm, you know…” Regrettably, I failed to give an answer for the hope that was in me.While my actions may have brought about curiosity, I failed to use my words to communicate the Gospel. I was not prepared and was ashamed to disclose that I was a Christian at work.

Discipling Women in the Workplace2022-05-07T23:39:25+00:00
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