My first job was pretty typical: I mowed grass all summer for a guy in my town with a lawn care business. It wasn’t a great decision for a kid who suffered from allergies, but it did put a little money in my pocket for a while. At least I had something to use to buy Kleenexes.
That’s pretty much what that first job was—it was a means to an end. The means was pushing a lawn mower for 8 hours a day; the end was money. I felt no great calling to agricultural engineering, nor did I sense the presence of the extraordinary in the weed eater string.
Work is something that’s necessary, but not something particularly desirable. We work to go on vacation. We work for the weekend. We work so that someday we don’t have to work anymore. In other words, we work in order to be at leisure.
God didn’t create work to bore us. To Him, work is sacred, whether that work is emptying trash or preaching a sermon. A.W. Tozer reminded us once that, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular. It is why he does it.”
Work is a sacred opportunity given to us by and for God, just as it was given to Adam on the very first day human beings walked on the earth. The day in question is recorded for us in Genesis 2. Think back to those quiet days of peace and harmony as God created the garden of Eden:
These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation. At the time that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, no shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not made it rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground (Genesis 2:4-5).
These were early days. Days before it rained. Days before shrubs and plants grew. But, even in those early days, God was thinking about work. He was going to create man, according to verse 5, with the specific intent that he would work the ground. The record continues in verse 15: “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.”
We imagine the first humans spending their days lounging under shade trees, eating berries off bushes, and naming an animal here and there. That’s not what this text leads us to believe.
What we have here instead is a picture of God creating and positioning His children and then immediately giving them a job. That’s right, friends—as much as we might view our jobs as only the means to the end for our leisure, we were created to work. But, we were created to work with the right perspective.
The Hebrew word translated as “placed” literally means “caused to rest.” But, that’s a problem because it seems, at least on the surface, to contradict God’s command to man. How could the man be caused to rest and then given a job? The reason we fail to see this reveals just how misshapen our view of work has become.
For Adam, work was not opposed to rest. It was not a necessary evil only done to earn money and play on the weekend. Instead, work was a blessing, born out of the sense of rest he had through his relationship with God. How, then, do we regain that sense of rest?
It’s only through the gospel. The gospel that tells us we are accepted. Valuable. Made right. Have nothing left to prove. And this message that changes us at the heart level works itself out into every arena if our lives—including our work. Because of the gospel, we know that whatever we do in whatever vocation we find ourselves in, we are fully accepted on the merit and righteousness of Jesus alone. The gospel frees us from the burden of performance and self-justification and allows us to regain the sacred perspective of work. We no longer work primarily in order to establish or maintain our sense of identity; that’s been taken care of in Christ. We know who we are, regardless of what our business cards say. We are the blood-bought and beloved children of God now and forevermore. Because we are, we can begin to regain the perspective of seeing work as a blessing rather than a curse.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua, Andi, and Christian. He serves as Director of Groups Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.