Theology of Work
So far I’ve tried to sketch a broad biblical theology of work. So how should this theology change what you do tomorrow? Here are my four best answers.
First, just work hard.
Go to work tomorrow or next month or next year and do your absolute best. Be the best employee, the best manager, the best associate you can be. Seek to be known as the most honest, most humble, most ethical, most competent person in your field. And do all of this not to advance your own career but to honor God’s name. If you desperately want to see all of your co-workers saved, but you have a habit of not showing up to work on time, people will be annoyed and your witness will be compromised and God will not be honored. There are already enough people like that. Don’t be one of them.
Second, don’t expect life at work to be peachy.
We all know the 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 conflict with your boss or your co-workers. These things don’t mean that Jesus doesn’t love you or that God is punishing you. Rather, they are the inevitable result of living in a fallen world. Remember: thorns and thistles. Work is cursed. Work is affected by the fall. Work doesn’t always work the way it should. So have a massively God-sized view of the holiness of work (creation). But be realistic about the Fall, too. Jesus hasn’t come back yet.
Third, learn the Ten Commandments.
Especially the fourth one: the Sabbath. You’ve probably been breaking it your whole life. Now would be a good time to stop. Rest is a deeply spiritual thing. And God intends it to be a regular part of the weekly rhythm of your life. Most of us are so used to music and TV and e-mail and social interaction and recreation and conversations and busyness that we have forgotten the art of resting. The best thing you can do for yourself, for your employer, for your career, and for the glory of God is to set apart one day in your week when you can’t be reached. When your cell phone is off. When you don’t go online. When you take a really long nap. When you worship with other believers. When you take a walk or watch a sunset or read a good book.
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. Your co-workers will take a “personal day” when a pet dies or when a girlfriend breaks up with them or when they are hung over from a long weekend. Are you really going to feel guilty for taking one day out of every 30 to refresh your soul through intimate communion with the God of the universe? I hope not.
Fourth, learn to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
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. Using this pattern will help you remember that work, like all of life, is about God, not you. So get yourself into the discipline of praying the Lord’s Prayer before work and after work and during work. Not to get God to do something for you, but to get yourself into a God-centered rhythm of life.
My friend David left full-time ministry to be a rancher in rural Washington. He said God was calling him to do it. At the time, I didn’t quite get it. I was still working under the assumption that God calls people into the ministry, not out of it. Leaving the ministry didn’t make sense.
But it does now. Being a rancher is no less glorifying to God than being a minister. If you’re going to be a rancher, I hope you approach your work with the same sense of calling as my friend David. Raise cattle to the glory of God, already! If ranching isn’t your thing, then do whatever is your thing with a God-entranced vision of vocation. As Paul said to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. . . . It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:23-24). And that’s true whether you’re preaching sermons or branding cattle or selling stocks.
Now stop reading and get to work.
Bob Thune is the lead pastor of Coram Deo Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He planted Coram Deo in 2005 after prior stints as a megachurch college pastor and a Campus Crusade staff member. Thune is also the co-author of The Gospel-Centered Life, a small-group curriculum that has sold more than 40,000 copies and helped Christians all over the world understand the centrality of the gospel in all of life.