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CREATED TO WORK
All vocations are intended by God to manifest His love in the world. Thomas Merton
The animated movie WALL-E is a cute story of a curious robot whose job is to clean up a trashed earth. While humans once inhabited the earth, we soon discover that they have been evacuated from earth with the hopes of returning one day after robots clean up the mess. Though a hardworking robot, WALL-E has a rather lonely existence. But that changes when WALL-E meets another robot by the name of Eve.
WALL-E quickly gains a fondness for his newfound friend whose name evokes a biblical image of creation.
WALL-E enthusiastically pursues EVE to the point of making an unplanned journey, via spaceship, to a high-tech space station where humans who have made a real mess of planet Earth are now living a "utopian," carefree, work-free existence. As residents of the space station, humans are waited on hand and foot by robots attending to their every whim and desire. As a result, the pampered humans have become self-indulgent, bored couch potatoes. With the passage of time, adult humans now resemble giant babies with soft faces, rounded torsos, and stubby, weak limbs — the tragic deforming and atrophying result of human beings doing nothing but cruising around on cushy, padded, reclining chairs, their eyes fixed on video screens, taking in large amounts of calories, and sipping from straws sticking out of giant cups.
As a movie watcher, the high-tech space station filled with human couch potatoes is anything but appealing. The creators of WALL-E explore many important themes, but possibly none more compelling than what it means to be human. WALL-E reminds us that a do-nothing couch potato existence is actually repulsive and dehumanizing. But why is this? As human beings we were not created to be do-nothings; we were created with work in mind.
CREATED WITH WORK IN MIND
As human beings, we have been designed not only to rest and to play but also to work. From the very beginning of Scripture we see that the one true God is not a couch potato God, nor did he create a couch potato world. As the Genesis storyline opens, we read, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Here we are immediately introduced to God as a thoughtful and creative worker. At first glance we observe the triune God as an active deity. The Spirit of God is hovering over the waters. God's infinite creativity, omnipotence, and omniscience are unleashed, and he is intimately engaged in his good creation.
As God's work of creation unfolds, humankind — the crown of creation — emerges on the literary landscape. God the Creator places a distinguishing stamp of uniqueness on human beings, one that sets humanity apart from the rest of creation. Then God said,
"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God 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 the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen. 1:26–28)
The Genesis writer wants us to grasp the unique place of human beings in creation. We observe this uniqueness in two foundational ways. First, humans are designed by God to exercise proper dominion over creation, which is a divinely delegated stewardship role. Second, humans are designed by God to be his image-bearers, to uniquely reflect who God is to his good world. The repeated use of the word image by the Genesis writer tells us of the importance of this concept for our understanding of what it means to be human.
IMAGE-BEARERS OF GOD
As God's image-bearers, we were created to mirror the glory and excellence of the triune God. An image-bearer is designed to reflect the image of another. I was reminded of this truth as my wife, Liz, and I were cheering on our Kansas City Royals baseball team. While enjoying a beautiful summer evening at Kauffman Stadium, we had a delightful conversation with the wife of a professional baseball player whose present work and vocational calling is being a mom and raising her children. Sitting in the row right in front of us were two of her beautiful children whom we had not seen for a couple of years. The last time we had seen them they were still infants, and now at three and five years old, their budding personalities and appearances were emerging. As I looked at their five-year-old son, I was simply stunned at how much he was like his dad. The closer I looked, the more amazed I became. His physical appearance remarkably resembled his dad, though on a smaller scale. The boy's voice sounded the same. Even as a five-year-old he had similar mannerisms, and like his dad he was already into baseball. I couldn't help but comment to my wife, Liz, "Look at him; he is the spitting image of his dad!"
I am not in any way suggesting that we are somehow little gods or that we will ever be God, but as human beings we were created to reflect our heavenly Father. In a sense we were created to be his spitting image.
We were created to worship God and to display a glimpse of God's glory to a vast and expanding universe. This glimpse of God's glory reveals many things about the character and magnificence of the one true God, and at a very foundational level, we must recognize our image-bearing reveals that God is a creator, a worker. God is not some cosmic do- nothing deity.
WHY DO WE WORK?
While commuting to my office, on more than one occasion I have seen a bumper sticker that provides one answer to this question of why we work: "I owe, I owe, it's off to work I go." Paying the many bills that come to us each month is no small matter. We can all give testimony to the high cost of modern-day living, but is economic transaction the foundational reason why we work?
Scripture tells us that the most bedrock answer to the question of why we work is that we were created with work in mind. Being made in God's image, we have been designed to work, to be fellow workers with God. To be an image-bearer is to be a worker. In our work we are to show off God's excellence, creativity, and glory to the world. We work because we bear the image of One who works. This is why the apostle Paul writes to a group of first-century followers of Jesus who have embraced the gospel, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). At first blush, Paul's rather blunt words seem cold and lacking Christian compassion, but upon further theological reflection, Paul's words convey to us some needed insight. Paul does not rebuke those who, for various legitimate reasons, cannot work, but he does say that an unwillingness to work is no trivial thing. For anyone to refuse to work is a fundamental violation of God's creation design for humankind.
When we grasp what God intended for his image-bearers, it is not surprising that throughout the book of Proverbs the wise are praised for their diligence and the foolish are rebuked for their laziness. When we hear the word fool, we often think of someone who is mentally deficient. However, a foolish person in Scripture is not necessarily one who lacks intelligence but rather one who lives as if God does not exist.
The psalmist puts it this way: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Ps. 14:1). A fool is one who rejects not only the Creator but also creation design, including the design to work. Throughout Scripture slothfulness is rightly viewed in a negative light. A slothful Christian is a contradiction in terms. We should not be shocked to see that the Christian church throughout history has reflected negative sentiments about slothfulness. Sloth finds a prominent place in Pope Gregory the Great's listing of the seven deadly sins. The Protestant Reformers spoke of the poverty of slothfulness and laziness. Consistently they made the connection that those who spend their time in idleness and ease should rightly doubt the sincerity of their Christian commitment.
God could have placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and made it much like the world of humans in WALL-E, where they could sit around with food coming to them, sipping their life-giving nutrients out of giant cups. This was not God's desire or his design for his good world. Because God himself is a worker, and because we are his image-bearers, we were designed to reflect who God is in, through, and by our work. The work we are called to do every day is an important part of our image-bearing nature and stewardship. As human beings we were created to do things. In this sense we are not only human beings, we are also human doings. We have been created to contribute to God's good world.
CREATED TO CONTRIBUTE
First and foremost, work is not about economic exchange, financial remuneration, or a pathway to the American Dream, but about God- honoring human creativity and contribution. Our work, whatever it is, whether we are paid for it, is our specific human contribution to God's ongoing creation and to the common good. Work is an integral aspect of being human, an essential aspect of loving God and his created world, and a vital part of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Gilbert Meilaender presses into the rich implications of the truths presented to us in the Genesis account. He writes, "To regard work as a calling is to suggest that we live to work, that our work is of central significance for our person. Still more, the calling gives to work a religious significance which it is not likely to acquire in any other way." For us to view work outside a theological framework is to inevitably devalue both work and the worker.
The creation account recorded for us in Genesis 2 emphasizes God's design for humanity and the significant contribution the crown of creation is to make in his good world. Prior to God forming man from the dust of the earth and breathing life into him, before sin entered the world, the Genesis writer raises a tension regarding the incompleteness of God's creation. In Genesis chapter 2:5 we read that "there was no man to work the ground." In other words, God created humans not only to worship him and to delight in him, but to make an important ongoing contribution to his creation. From Genesis 2 we see that the earth itself was created in order to be cultivated and shaped by humankind.
Unspoiled pristine nature is not necessarily a preferred state. God desired that there would be harmonious human cooperation within the creation order. Not only would the crown of creation have joyful intimacy with their Creator, but they would also be given the joyful privilege of contributing to the work of God in his good world.
As Genesis chapter 2 continues, we get a further picture of a human being as a worker. We observe work as it was originally designed to be, before sin and death entered the world. In Genesis 2:15 we read these words, "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." The Lord God takes the initiative and places humankind in the garden of Eden with a particular task in mind. The emphasis here is not about personal human choice but rather divine initiative and divine calling. Already in Genesis we see that vocation is not something we ultimately choose for ourselves; it is something to which God calls us. Contrary to much of our present cultural emphasis that deifies personal choice, a biblical worldview begins not with human choice, but with a good and sovereign God who is not only the Creator but also the Caller. Here in the Genesis narrative, before humanity's fall into sin and resulting corruption of the world and our work, we are given two bedrock truths regarding human work and vocation: we were created with an important stewardship in mind, to cultivate creation and to keep it; and we are commissioned by God to nurture, care for, and protect his creation.
A STEWARDSHIP POSTURE
Humankind, the crown of creation, was created for the glory of God and entrusted with a remarkable stewardship exercising dominion over the earth. A vital aspect of this stewardship is the essential work not only of tending things and making things but also of cultivating and creating culture. Andy Crouch convincingly undermines the rationale for both Christian withdrawal from the common culture and for Christian hubris that projects a kind of utopian triumphalism of changing the world.
Crouch suggests Christians adopt a stewardship posture anchored in cultivation and creation, what he often refers to as culture making. The stewardship of culture making involves both cultivators and creators.
Crouch describes cultivators as "people who tend and nourish what is best in human culture, who do the hard and painstaking work to preserve the best of what people before us have done." Creators, he says, are "people who dare to think and do something that has never been thought or done before, something that makes the world more welcoming and thrilling and beautiful." Andy Crouch makes an important point.
Humanity's creative work is varied, broad and far reaching. We not only make things or fix things, but also we are actively involved in creating and cultivating human culture itself.
The language of work as cultivation and creation in Genesis 2:15 is embedded in the Hebrew word avodah, which is behind the English translation "to cultivate." The Hebrew word avodah is translated in various ways in the Old Testament. It is rendered as "work," "service," or "craftsmanship" in many instances, yet other times it is translated as "worship." Avodah is used to describe the back-breaking hard work of God's covenant people making bricks as slaves in Egypt (Ex. 1:14), the artisans building the tabernacle (Ex.
35:24), and the fine craftsmanship of linen workers (1 Chron.
4:21). Avodah also appears in the context of Solomon dedicating the temple. Solomon employs this word as he instructs the priests and Levites regarding their service in leading corporate worship and praise of the one true God (2 Chron. 8:14). Whether it is making bricks, crafting fine linen, or leading others in corporate praise and worship, the Old Testament writers present a seamless understanding of work and worship. Though there are distinct nuances to avodah, a common thread of meaning emerges where work, worship, and service are inextricably linked and intricately connected. The various usages of this Hebrew word found first in Genesis 2:15 tell us that God's original design and desire is that our work and our worship would be a seamless way of living. Properly understood, our work is to be thoughtfully woven into the integral fabric of Christian vocation, for God designed and intended our work, our vocational calling, to be an act of God- honoring worship.
WORK AS AN ACT OF WORSHIP
So often we think of worship as something we do on Sunday and work as something we do on Monday. However, this dichotomy is not what God designed nor what he desires for our lives. God designed work to have both a vertical and horizontal dimension. We work to the glory of God and for the furtherance of the common good. On Sunday we say we go to worship and on Monday we say we go to work, but our language reveals our foggy theological thinking. That our work has been designed by God to be an act of worship is often missed in the frenzied pace of a compartmentalized modern life.
One of our favorite family vacations was visiting England. Touring beautiful Westminster Abbey and Christopher Wren's truly breathtaking St. Paul's Cathedral was one of my personal highlights. As I walked through these beautiful and inspiring architectural works of art, I was reminded of the apocryphal story of the three stone masons who were engaged in conversation by a visitor. "What are you doing?" the visitor asked the first mason. "I am cutting stone," the mason replied. A second mason chimed in, "I'm making a living." "And how about you?" the visitor asked the third mason. "Me, I'm building a cathedral for God and his people." What a difference our perspective on work makes!
AN AUDIENCE OF ONE
When our children were young, my wife, Liz, and I tried to impress on them that we live and work before an Audience of One. Our line of thought went something like this: If God is aware and cares for every sparrow that falls, then we know that our loving heavenly Father watches over us wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Nothing we think, say, or do ever escapes God's loving, caring, and watchful eye. Living before an Audience of One also means that all we do and say is to be an act of God-honoring worship. Of course we all fell short many times in keeping this perspective in mind, but, as a gymnast, our daughter, Sarah, latched on to this transforming truth.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Work Matters"
Copyright © 2011 Tom Nelson.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Connecting Sunday to Monday, 13,
1 Created to Work, 19,
2 Is Work a Four-Letter Word?, 35,
3 The Good News of Work, 51,
4 Work Now and Later, 65,
5 Extraordinary Ordinary Work, 83,
6 The Transforming Power of Work, 101,
7 Work and the Common Good, 123,
8 Gifted for Work, 143,
9 Facing Challenges in Our Work, 163,
10 The Church at Work, 187,
Selected Bibliography, 211,
What People are Saying About This
“God has created us for relationship and work for his honorto bring hope and justice to the nations and our neighbors, and joy and purpose to our own hearts. In Work Matters, Tom Nelson examines how God uses our work, even the ordinary and routine, to transform us and to reveal our gifts and calling. I have known Tom for several years, and his life and work exemplify these profound and practical truths. His book will inspire and encourage you to reexamine not only your understanding of work but yourself as well.”
Ravi Zacharias, Late Founder and President, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries; author, Jesus Among Other Gods
“Tom Nelson does a marvelous job of walking his readers through a robust theology of work, and he does so in a very provocative way. We are all Jesus’s apprentices and our work lives are filled with opportunities for spiritual growth and discipleship. Work Matters will compel you to approach work differently.”
Moe Girkins, author, Mother Leads Best
“Tom Nelson and I have been walking down the same pathway as we have been learning together more and more about how God views work. Tom’s conclusions, insights, and examples will help many people get a better grip on serving God and finding purpose in the work place. This book is thoughtful, practical, entertaining, and true to Scripture. The lights are going to suddenly come on in many readers’ minds, and that’s not just great fun but a good thing as well.”
John Yates, Rector, The Falls Church, Falls Church, Virginia
“By definition, every Christian is in full-time ministry. Yet, unfortunately, many of us see a great divide between the secular and spiritual, ministry and work. In Work Matters, Tom Nelson helps to bridge the artificial and unbiblical gap that keeps us from fully realizing our calling and full potential in Christ. Read it. It will change the way you think about Monday to Friday.”
Larry Osborne, Pastor, North Coast Church, Vista, California; author, Sticky Church
“More than just a book, Work Matters is a kaleidoscopic testimony to the power of calling in the lives of a vibrant local church, inspired to engage their community and city. If every pastor taught like this and every church lived like this, America would be a very different country.”
Os Guinness, author, The Call
“Not many pastors are adept at encouraging the Christians they serve to think deeply about the work they undertake during the six days when they are not gathering for corporate worship. So many of our applications and exhortations, as important and as faithful as they are, deal with prayer, Bible reading, family relationships, and evangelism, and not with the work that takes up much of our time and that we are called to offer up to God. I first heard Tom Nelson bring some clarity to these matters in some addresses at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and I am delighted to see his reflections expanded and put into print. This book is greatly needed.”
D. A. Carson, Theologian-at-Large, The Gospel Coalition
“Each week people gather to experience a time of worship. The idea that this moment on Sunday can actually be a time for both celebrating the Savior and for strategically shaping what happens when we leave those four walls is rarely considered. Work Matters takes a look into the Christian’s life, offering strategic insight into the work place as a key part of God’s Kingdom agenda and explaining how Sunday’s worship experience can spill over into Monday through Saturday. A great work indeed.”
Stan Archie, Vice President, Missouri State Board of Education; Senior Pastor, Christian Fellowship Church, Kansas City, Missouri
“This is a very important book written by a pastor who I respect immensely. Work Matters will change how you view your vocation and in the process it may just change your life.”
Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor, The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas; author, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem
“Tom Nelson offers the world a profoundly rich vision of vocation as integral to the mission of God in historyby a pastor who has spent the years of his life helping his people understand what they do and why they do what they do in light of the truest truths of the universe. Theologically serious and pastorally aware, no one has tried to do what he has done, and has done so well. For pastors and for their people, indeed for everyone who wants to connect the vocation of the ministry with vocations in the marketplace; it will change the conversation about calling because it will change the way we understand worship and work.”
Stever Garber, Director, The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture; author, The Fabric of Faithfulness
“In a most readable and engaging style, Tom Nelson gives us a complete, biblical understanding of workstarting with ‘in the beginning,’ when God created us to work. Coming from his engagement with workers of all sorts in his own congregation, Nelson has seen the truth of the gospel transform their lives and work in a powerful way. This book delivers no small message: the gospel changes everything! It transforms people at the core of our being, our motivations for work, how we behave, and the influence of our work in God’s creation. Thank you, Tom.”
Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Founder and Director, The Center for Faith and Work, Redeemer Presbyterian Church