Reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional.
In the current uncertain climate, some of our ideas about work are being challenged, as the place of work for some gets relocated temporarily to home.
It is a good opportunity to reconsider the place of work in our lives.
Derek Thompson, writing in The Atlantic, has warned that work has become a new religion for many people. While historically, our sense of meaning and purpose flowed from our religious faith, now work is seen as a place where we can discover our “identity, transcendence and community.”
If you think you are immune from this, consider how we respond to people we haven’t met before when they ask us what we do for a living. Often we respond with an “I am…” statement. I would respond that I am a lecturer, and author and a speaker. However, “I am…” is not a description of activities (what I do), it is a statement of identity (who I am).
We used to talk about work as our “job,” then it became our “career,” and now it is our “calling.”
Thompson warns against this subtle move to make work our god. While Christians worship a God who is good, the output of work is rarely all good. Making work “the centrepiece of one’s life is to place one’s esteem in the mercurial hands of the market. To be a workist is to worship a god with firing power.”
However, our work (paid and unpaid) is an important part of how God made us. It finds its rightful place when we align our loves, with God at the center, and when we see work as a gift from a good God, and the means of continuing God’s work of repairing and renewing the earth.
Think It Through
How much of a sense of meaning and purpose do you seek through your work?
What difference does it make to place God at the center, and see your work as a gift?
What Does the Bible Say?
So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner?” Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”Ruth 2:8–12
My friend Gustavo Santos was born into a working-class family. He now studies and teaches faith and work theology, and often reflects on how his Dad saw his work: simply as a job well done, as service, as a means of providing for his family. He sees parallels with the story of Ruth in the Bible, a poor immigrant woman seeking to work to glean enough food for Naomi and herself, who ends up in the genealogy of Jesus. Gustavo writes in an article in Comment magazine:
[Ruth’s story] tells us that God is always working through us – even if we don’t realize it. At the end of the story, God redeems his people through the faithfulness of two women living in an obscure corner of the world. The lineage of David is established and the providence of God takes another step as daily, wise, diligent work is undertaken by one pair of hands in an interconnected web of thousands.
We acknowledge that it is easy for our work to become the central activity of our lives.
It is easy to get our sense of self-esteem from how our work is commended or how much we are paid.
It is easy to work hard for ourselves, to boost our career.
Please help us to realign our loves with love for you at the center of all we do.
Help us to be inspired by Ruth who humbly worked hard, as a sacrifice to honor you and her family.
May we follow her model of “daily, wise, diligent work,” knowing that ours are but one pair of hands in an interconnected web of thousands being used by you.
Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.