By: Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Founder & Director Emeritus at Redeemer Presbyterian Church's Center for Faith and Work
We often bemoan the classic cocktail greeting, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you. What do you do?” But I’m not sure our complaints are warranted. Certainly it’s an awkward question to respond to when we’re out of work. We often feel vulnerable to people who are far more successful than we are, especially if they flaunt it. But, otherwise, what’s so bad about being identified by our work?
We were made for work – or so says the Bible. God created man in his own image. God worked and he enjoyed the works he made: “He saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 17, 25, 35). Can you say that about your day? As people made in his image, we are also to do good work. Work was God’s original plan for us, prior to the fall!
Not only are we workers made in the image of God (who can delight in our works), but God also makes it clear that he has some specific work for us to do. We’re God’s helpmates in the continuation of his creation. He invited mankind to collaborate with him in naming the animals (Gen. 2: 19-20), to be good stewards of the earth - fill it, subdue it, keep it (Gen. 2: 5-8, 15), to be toolmakers and users (Gen. 2:5, 15), to be producers to sustain ourselves (Gen. 1: 28-30, 2:9), and to be appreciators of beauty (Gen. 2:9).
Certainly the rest of the drama in Eden has tainted this dream-like picture of working and delighting in it. Sin entered the world and God cursed Adam’s work and turned it into toil (Gen. 3:17), but that isn’t the end of the story. God never gave up on his design for the world and human life.
The message of the gospel is that God became man to redeem the world of its sin and to restore the whole of creation. Christ, who was there in the beginning (John 1), and who preserves creation (Col. 1:16-17), is the mediator of both creation and re-creation. In fact, through our re-connectedness with God, by Jesus’ saving grace, our partnership in God’s re-creation is both re-established and strengthened through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What, in this world, does this mean? The gospel challenges the way we approach our work in many ways:
1. Our work matters!
The gospel motivates us to do work that matters; work that we can look on at the end of the day and say, “It was good.” This doesn’t just apply to the helping professions. All kinds of work “matters” - art, beautification, technological innovation, a good and fair deal, accurate books, roads, subways. . . In business we refer to “value-add.” Did we add value to something in our world today“[Work] is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.” (Sayers, Creed or Chaos?)
It may be helpful to think of God as our boss and therefore align our work with his work. God’s work is always either creating something new and wonderful or restoring something that is suffering in our fallen world. We tend to look for situations that benefit us the most, when instead God might be inviting us to places where we provide the most benefit. We need to get better at finding glimpses of God’s work in ugly situations. We need to discover the thread of His redeeming work and take up his mission of renewal and re-creation through our own work. The apostle Paul writes, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10)
2. We have outside help!
In one intense conversation with a former boss, as he was handing the reigns for running the company over to me, he observed wryly, “Well, with God on your side, you’ll probably be a better CEO than I was!” Sarcasm aside, some awareness of God’s supernatural power made him nervous. His comment humbled me. Did I believe that God would gift me in accordance with the responsibilities he had given me? We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit, but to do what? ME plus the Holy Spirit is far greater than ME without the Holy Spirit. But I certainly am not about to compare that combination to anyone else. And “greater” can only be applied through the eyes of God. Nonetheless, that “outside help” is invaluable. It helps us seek truth, it gives us courage and perseverance, and it even changes us from within. “For you did not receive a Spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship.” (Rom. 8:15)
3. Work is a crucible for our faith!
Given how much time most of us spend at it, it’s a good thing that God can do his redemptive work in us even through our work. He uses our work and work situations to expose not only our passions and talents, but also our idols, sins, and weaknesses. Work gives us opportunities to develop loving relationships and to demonstrate grace and forgiveness. It’s a fertile field for our character growth that helps us fuse the truth of the gospel into our very being.
I do believe that my relationship with God has enabled me to take on career challenges of which I might otherwise have been afraid. He’s also shown me how quick I am to gather the credit to myself and view myself as either worthy or unworthy depending on the job I’m in or the success I’m having at the moment. God has used both success and failures to teach me about himself, his work, and the?person he is making me to be. And I’m confident that the more we are willing to become the people he wants us to be, the more good work he will find for us! “…From everyone who has been given much will much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Luke 12:48)
The cocktail party question, “What do you do?” may arise from superficial motivations, but the question isn’t bad. Let’s ask ourselves the question on a regular basis. What do we do with the gifts God’s given us? What do we do in our little corner of this fallen world to join in God’s plan for its redemption? How do we pray for help in our work? How do we seek to understand the lessons God is trying to teach us? If work is this crucial a part of God’s design for us, we need to learn all we can about God’s perspective on it.
© 2001 - 2013 Redeemer Presbyterian Church's Center for Faith and Work. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Redeemer Presbyterian. Article by Katherine Leary Alsdorf.