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.

Flipping to the New Testament, we read the Gospel books and discover the whole of Jesus’ earthly mission was doing the work given to Him by the Father. Work which included teaching, healing, and of course the redemption of God’s people through His death and resurrection. But upon closer inspection it becomes evident that a part of Jesus’ work included the first 30 years of his life. And the years Jesus spent alongside family members in the small village of Nazareth doing mundane carpentry work (Mk. 6:3) reinforces the notion that there is dignity to be found in all work done well.

The Delight of Work

For the people of God, work is both our calling and our role in His world. But what does this mean for our lives? What does it look like to exercise wisdom and even to delight in the work we have been given?

First: You can honor God in all kinds of work. Over the last 15-20 years the topic of faith and work has been widely written on and discussed, but a simple summation is that all humanizing work is honoring to God. The work you do leading a Bible study or teaching children’s Sunday School, and the work you do designing a new logo for a client or restocking the shelves of Target or delivering groceries to someone is homebound — all are examples of work honoring to God. There is no hierarchy between so called “spiritual work” (the work of missionaries, church leadership, or even non-profit jobs) and what is sometimes called secular or non-religious work. House keepers, accountants, teachers, artists, and yes ministry leaders all serve and honor God, because God is honored in all kinds of humanizing work (Gen 2:15; Prov. 6:6-11; 2 These. 3:6-13).

Second: Sisters, it means you have the permission to live and enjoy ordinary faithful lives. Teaching the lesson that all humanizing work deserves honor, Martin Luther once wrote, “God milks the cows through the hands of the milkmaid.” The work you put into making meals for yourself or your family is honorable; cleaning your home means health for you and anyone you share it with; running errands leads to provision or care of others. Ordinary work is an exercise in  faithful stewardship of the things the Lord has given to each of us (Phil. 2:12-18, 1 Cor. 10:31).

Third: Christian work is simply work done well.[1] I can guarantee you that Jesus did really good carpentry work. The tables or troughs or whatever He created were made for God’s glory and I’m sure they were excellent. So how might a Christian graduate student work well for God’s glory? She studies, gets rest, attends class, and does her best work in her classes.

How about a Christian pharmacist, or economist, or real estate agent? They too show up for work, engage in ethical practice, ensure their numbers are correct, and work with integrity (Prov. 26:15, Titus 2:7-8). Faithful Christian work is simply work done well.

The Direction of Work

But, after being in the work force for nearly 20 years I know all too well that on many days taking delight in our work is much easier said than done. God may be “milking the cow through the hands of the milkmaid,” but the task means the milkmaid she gets covered in mud and muck. Cows have to be milked no matter the weather or day of the week and they don’t care if the milkmaid is sick, struggling with anxiety or depression, or didn’t get enough sleep last night.

And while Genesis 1-2 shows us the dignity of our work, Genesis 3 explains the painful reality of our work until the return of Christ. When Adam and Eve refused to trust in God’s goodness— when they rebelled against his loving instructions— they ushered in the curse, which among other things, caused the deep divide between nature and mankind. Therefore, while our work still has dignity, we now labor in a broken sin-filled world in which our work is frequently filled with frustration and hardships (Gen. 3:14-19).

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to hardships, and he wrote frequently of his hard circumstances (2 Cor. 11:16-33), to help the early church know how to navigate the challenges of life. The letter written to the Colossians helped instruct the church, then and now, on how to trust and apply God’s truth to our daily labors. Paul wrote, “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).

So, in the moments or days when our work feels more like disappointment than delight, we must remind ourselves (and each other) of the purpose and direction of our labors: to worship, reflect and honor our good Creator.

[1] For more see Dorothy Sayers’s essay “Why Work?” from Creed or Chaos (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949).

About the Author:

Becky Kiern

Becky Kiern is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary who has served in staff and lay leadership roles in multiple churches. Currently living in Nashville, TN, she enjoys teaching the Bible at retreats and conferences, developing church leadership and writing Bible study curriculum. She is the author of Our Light and Life: Identity in the Claims of Christ. Her other works include contributions to Co-Laborers, Co-Heirs: A Family Conversation, Christ in the Time of Corona and Beneath the Cross of Jesus: Lenten Reflections. Becky has also been an adult cardiology RN for nearly 15 years. Above all her favorite roles are that of friend, sister, and auntie.