In life, we spend a great percentage of our waking ours working. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we often find ourselves either feeling two ways concerning our work—idolatry or idleness. This series seeks to encourage us in our work.
In the beginning was work. God orchestrates the ordering of the world and crowns His work by breathing life into dust. “[T]he Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2:7). And after each working day, God declares, “It is good.”
Now man is not just another creature like the animals. He is made imago Dei. Scripture says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Part of that image can be seen in that God creates us to work like He works. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).
Many Christians I speak with about work think that work is part of the fall. That work itself is a curse, but work is a reflection of God. Our Father works, so we work. That supercharges our work with all sorts of importance and meaning.
This struggle with the meaning of mundane work especially grows out of the soil of following your dreams. That’s the American theology of work. If you are true to yourself and follow your dreams, your work has meaning. But if you are working a solid job, providing for your family, but your dream is to be the next the Next American fill-in-the-blank you’re a fraud and your current endeavors are meaningless. I’ve seen people make poor decisions about jobs to follow their dreams. I’ve seen families destroyed because one spouse felt like they weren’t being true to themselves and had to follow their dreams. It’s just absurd.
SOMEBODY’S GOT TO DO IT
I love Mike Rowe. He’s the guy who hosted the tv show Dirty Jobs and now he’s on CNN hosting Somebody’s Got to Do It. Mike runs a foundation that points people to skill labor and trade work. He pushes back (although without the theological grounding) against the idea of following your dream. Mike says,
“People often ask me if I learned anything from 300 Dirty Jobs. The short answer is this – We are disconnected – profoundly disconnected – from the true meaning of a ‘good job.””
Mike regularly answers fans and critics and these letters are often pure gold. In this one, Stephen Adams from Auburn, AL questions Mike’s advice to not follow your dream. Mike responds,
“Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?”
He then points out the absurdity of living by the mantra follow your dreams by looking at American Idol. These people believe in their heart they are following their dreams, but part of the appeal of the show is watching people who have no sense of their ability be shocked when the judges reject them. These people were doubtless told to follow their dreams and can’t believe their dreams didn’t pan out. The judges must have got it wrong. I was following my dream. Mike ends the letter,
“That’s why I would never advise anyone to ‘follow their passion’ until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I’d be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, ‘Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.’”
THE MEANING OF MUNDANE WORK
Men, mundane work isn’t meaningless. It’s a reflection of our God who works, a God who created man to work in His Garden-Temple. Mundane work is a faithful cultivation of the world which God has given us dominion over. What’s more culture sprouts from the fertile soil of our work and culture is about God and central to the story of the gospel as Andy Crouch argues in Culture Making. Work too then is central in this story. God works in creating and governing. Jesus works in saving humanity. The Spirit works in building the Church. Tim Keller explains in Center Church,
A robust theology of creation — and of God’s love and care for it — helps us see that even simple tasks such as making a shoe, filling a tooth, and digging a ditch are ways to serve God and build up human community. Our cultural production rearranges the material world in such a way that honors God and promotes human flourishing. A good theology of work resists the modern world’s tendency to value only expertise in the pursuits that command more money and power.
Men, we are not only pursuing human flourishing in our homes, but in our work. When we accomplish even the seemingly mundane work with excellence, God is pleased. It’s not the richest, most powerful, or most “important” work that receives God’s blessing. It’s all work that honors God. I encourage you to work hard, cultivate skills, and discern how God has gifted you. Seek the good of your employer, your family, and your consumer. Remember when you work, God is pleased. And if that work lines up with your dreams great. If not, rest in being known by God and give him glory for your work no matter how seemingly mundane your job is.
Assistant Editor, Manual
Mathew is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and contributor in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He’s the Managing Editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He’s married to LeAnn and they have three daughters. They enjoy traveling, relaxing at the beach, and wandering in the woods. Mathew regularly blogs at Grace for Sinners. The Sims are members at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.
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