Sometimes going to work can be tough for a Jesus-follower. Do we just shut off our hearts and souls and get the money, or do we dare to ask the questions that keep bubbling up? “Can I do what I am assigned to do and still honor Jesus?” Even harder, “Can I think as I am supposed to think as defined by my employer and still be a Christian?” We have to answer the question, “Can I dare to serve Jesus without reservation and still have a normal job?”
You’ve got to know who you are in Christ before you can know what to do. We are good trees that bear good fruit. So think about how Jesus-followers approach the idea of work.
We think everything we do matters
When we attend to our regular duties, they are made holy because God is with us in the process and we are in God’s world. We don’t do anything that does not matter. No matter what person or institution claims to own us, we know better — we are children of God. Even when we do wrong things, we know God can turn them to good because we love him. That’s how we go to our jobs.
For from [Christ] and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever (Romans 11:36).
Jesus is the beginning of all good things for us. Even rotten things get turned around or finally judged, so we can go to work and receive whatever comes as full of possibilities.
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
On the active side, we can do whatever we are doing at the moment to God’s glory, meaning we do it as an act or service, or obedience, or hope. Everything we do has God in mind as an end point. The whole earth is destined to know the glory, or the presence of God.
We think work is good
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).
God created Adam and Eve to work in the Garden. Some Christians have the impression that work is a result of sin rather than a part of the created order. But Genesis makes it clear that God placed Adam in the Garden to “work it and take care of it” and then created Eve as his co-worker in the task. This work was part of Adam and Eve’s mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” So work is part of who God has made us to be; it is part of the original created order that God designated as “very good.”
The work vs. leisure dichotomy has made a lot of us think work is an imposition. We know rich people get to sit around and we want to be rich too, so we work hard to get there until we can retire and sit around. As you know, a lot of men get to sitting around and quickly die from lack of work. We were made to do good work, it is how we create alongside with God.
We know work is hard
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life (Genesis 3:17).
Because of the humankind’s disobedience (we call it “the Fall” from innocence, obedience and grace), work is hard. Work involves sweat. Or, if you prefer, work involves stress and overtime and oppressive bosses and boring meetings. Not everything in the world of work is as it should be. Work has been cursed. But work is still good. Work is not the result of the Fall; it is the difficulty of work in a fallen world that is the trouble.
Jesus redeems our work.
Being new in Christ transforms our view of work – how it is good, and how it is redeemed, though fallen. In Christ, work is no longer a necessary evil; it is now an opportunity, just like everything else. Work now has great spiritual significance, because it is a chance for God to be glorified. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).
All our work is done in service to our ultimate employer and the advancement of his kingdom. This implies that reflecting God’s image is central to a biblical view of work. Paul applies this principle to tasks as mundane as eating and drinking. The work doesn’t make me who I am, I make the work serve my deepest purposes. No matter what it is, I can be who I am in it.
That’s what Jesus does. You probably noticed that when he was doing his work, he never “went to work.” He wandered around being who he is and doing whatever gave him the opportunity to do his work. Jesus tends the garden like Adam. Christ did everything his Father commanded until he could honestly say, “It is finished” on the cross. “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work (John 4:34). “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:19).
Does Jesus live to work or work to live? I think he does both. He was born to do his work, and he says he is fed by the work he does. He worked for the nation of Israel with some rather incompetent co-workers and it only seemed to give him more opportunity to be who he was meant to be. We are called to share that ongoing work of re-creation in every generation. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world (John 17:18).
When we show up at our jobs, our cells, our PM Design Team rehearsal, or our work day on the community garden we’re there for the glory of God. God wants to be honored in what we do and in how we do it.
Here are four suggestions that will help you follow Jesus at work.
Let your life speak
Advance God’s fame, not just your own career. It makes every day worth living. If you desperately want to make a difference in life, but you have a habit of not showing up to work on time, or you don’t return calls or complete assignments, people will probably not think God looks that great — should you ever reveal you know Jesus. Some people never mention Jesus at work because they know they are not going to live up to what Jesus should look like! Don’t get crazy, thinking your work is all Jesus has going for him, but you matter and you have the same job as Jesus. He probably would not have been a pastor or missionary the way we think of them, just like you; he probably would have worked at Target, since he would inevitably meet everyone on the planet there.
Look forward to problems
Every problem is an opportunity to rely on Jesus to redeem it. Problems are what keep us redeemers in business. So if you work with problem people in a problematic place, that might be the best of all possible worlds for the redemption project. You might know some way-too-happy Christians who go to work thinking that since they love Jesus, everything is going to work out. It’s not. You might miss your quota. You might lose a client. You might get fired. You might have tensions with your boss or your co-workers. These things don’t mean that Jesus doesn’t love you or that God isn’t on your side or that God is punishing you for that sin you can’t forget. The problems are just the inevitable result of living in a sin-ridden world. Thorns infest the ground. Work is cursed. Work is affected by the fall. Work doesn’t always work the way it should. So have a big idea of how you are a re-creator with God but be realistic about the Fall, too. Jesus hasn’t come back yet.
Get some rest
Rest is crucial to work. I’m not talking about the bifurcated idea of work-life balance, or work vs. leisure – those are more bifurcated descriptions that got popular in the 1800s and we have not shaken off the definitions yet. We don’t find ourselves in our leisure and we do work to pay for it. We are real 24/7.
Most of us are so used to constant music, TV, social media, entertainment and busyness that we have little experience with the art of resting. Maybe the best thing we can do for ourselves, for our employers, for our careers, and for the glory of God is to set apart one day in our week when we unplug — when the cell phone is off (horrors!), when we don’t check email or Facebook, when we take a really long nap, when we worship and pray, when we take a walk or watch a sunset. If your work obligations don’t permit a 24-hour period of rest every week, then consider taking a personal day every month for solitude and silence and rest. Why wouldn’t you? Your co-workers take personal days when a pet dies or when they break up or when they are hung over from a long weekend. (Could you even entertain the thought of instituting such a discipline?).
Pray all day
If we pray without ceasing, like Paul teaches, it will add the right meaning to what we are doing, no matter what we are doing. Pray the Lord’s prayer to get started. There’s a reason Jesus taught his disciples to “pray in this way.” Jesus, the master teacher, knew that we become what we pray. When our prayers focus on our needs and our agendas and the ways we want God to bless us, we become self-centered, myopic people. To save us from this, Jesus gave us a pattern for prayer that keeps our eyes on the Father’s name, the Father’s kingdom, the Father’s will. When we use this pattern, we find ourselves beginning to care about the Father’s name, the Father’s kingdom, and the Father’s will — and we begin to see that work and all of life, comes from God and is moving God’s direction. That makes for good work and work that even feels good.
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3 thoughts on “Four suggestions for how to follow Jesus at work”
Great thoughts, Rod. Thank you!
This is a post I wished I read before my first day of my new job (15) years ago and yet has more meaning and helpful now -as in, today. In outline form, Rod you provide a good analysis of the book of Romans. Thank you for wise counsel!
Karen v w (the reluctant urban monastic) 🙂