Somehow, despite the great technological advances of the last few centuries, work still seems to take up 40 hours or more per week. I’m aware of some of the reasons for that, but it does sometimes feel like a race we can’t win.
I suspect that one reason why work persists despite increasing levels of automation is that – not surprisingly – God’s original design is still applicable today. Just as Adam had responsibilities before the Fall (see Genesis 2:15), and it became more difficult after he sinned (see Genesis 3:17-19), so work today seems to scale up even as we accomplish more (with the help of machines and computers) for a given hour of effort. Perhaps we were always meant to do something to contribute to our own well-being, and we will probably always have to labor excessively (while still on this fallen earth) to bear the curse of sin. In the first case, I suspect that Heaven will have meaningful things for us to do, only without the frustration of the curse. I’m not sure exactly what that “good work” will be, but I suspect that we will enjoy it and find it rewarding.
Beyond the principles cited in Genesis, I don’t necessarily have a lot of theological backing for this point of view (that work is an inherent part of Creation, even if we try to make it more efficient). In any case, though, we have an choice in life: whether to be productive1 in whatever form we are called to serve (regardless of whether or not it’s a traditional “employment” scenario), or to do nothing and get by on the generosity of others. In the first case, we honor God (see Romans 12:11), and in the latter case – not contributing when we are able to – we are lazy (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10).
In the first chapter of 2 Peter, the author (Peter) outlines a number of healthy responses to God’s promises:
- Moral excellence
- Patient endurance
- Brotherly affection
Taken as “assignments”, this looks like quite a list of things to do. However, I don’t think that they represent a discrete checklist of tasks. I see them more like a continuum of related characteristics, typifying God-honoring behavior. What I want to call your attention to today is the next two verses:
The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.
2 Peter 1:8-9 NLT
This is “Christian productivity”. It is not measured in the amount of our offering, nor by the number of hours we spend inside a church building (although both of those things are healthy, in the amounts that God sets for each of us). It is not in looking pious or being recognized as a “good person”. Instead, this “productivity” is based on a lot of things that come from the heart and result in actions, rather than actions that disguise the state of our heart. And, as a side benefit, it also makes us useful in God’s Kingdom.
Maybe you’ve been working on a project in the past, and realized that others there are more skilled than you. For instance, you might have showed up to a project that you thought would require carpentry, and found that it actually involves plumbing, so the tools that you brought aren’t going to be much help. It can be disheartening to sit by and realize that we don’t have anything to contribute in a specific situation, when we were eager to help (although getting lemonade is often a good contribution!). The good news is that we don’t have to sit on the sidelines of God’s work, watching others work while we wish that we could pitch in. The directives of 2 Peter 1:5-7 can be learned and practiced by all of us, so that we can each be a part of this great mission.
And, if we claim to be following Jesus, and have proclaimed Him as our Savior and our Lord, but we never cultivate these attributes in our lives, this passage describes us as “shortsighted or blind”. If we can’t see that our salvation has a purpose beyond our own benefit, we have missed what is right in front of us. Jesus didn’t live His life on earth randomly; He gave us an example of God-honoring behavior. He didn’t die for us so that we could go back to the sin that He rescued us from. He showed us that we can be part of a working, effective family – one that has changed the world (and continues to do so).
So, don’t stress if you can’t get everything done at work. Do your best, accept your limitations, and keep at it. However, if you find that you’re not actually making a difference for the Kingdom of God (which, by the way, can happen at work, at school, at home, or anywhere else), try reading through the book of 2 Peter, and see if you can pick up some “on-the-job training” to increase the value that you can bring to that role. There is much work to be done in the Kingdom of God, and you don’t have to know how to use a lift truck or a pipe wrench to make a difference.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- For those who have conditions preventing them from traditional work roles, I believe that they still contribute to our society. Even the injured invalid gives others a chance to minister, and sometimes a smile is worth as much as a paycheck. Our worth is not defined by our work; instead, Jesus is worthy of our work for Him (see Romans 12:11). ↩