Mind Over Matter
Boss, colleagues, coffee, deadlines, pressure, competition, anxiety, stress, pay, long hours, vacation, the weekend, boring, absorbing, consuming, endless.
Every week there are articles in the press about the effect of work on our lives, whether we have too much or not enough. Apparently the new dream is FIRE - Financially Independent Retire Early! Make your millions, or get a visa to a more prosperous economy, and then live the life you dream of! Work is somehow billed as the evil that dominates our landscape, killing our joy, and simultaneously as the route to freedom.
What are we, as people redeemed in Christ, meant to do with work? Is there any hope, any way to see work as redeemed? Or are we just destined to drag our way through our 90,000 hours of adult working life with only brief glimmers of satisfaction, purpose and joy?
In Genesis there are two episodes which helpfully highlight how people “walking with the Lord” (as Noah is described) work differently from others. I’m thinking of the story of the old man building an enormous boat (Genesis 6) and the tower-building, power-building entrepreneurs of Babel (Genesis 11).
Of course we know from Sunday school that one of these stories is good and the other bad. But what we overlook is that as examples of work they have so much in common, whilst their outcomes are so completely different.
For Noah and his three sons to build the ark took days, months, weeks even years of blood, sweat and tears. There must have been moments of creative brilliance and satisfaction, but many more days of dragging, cutting and hammering pieces of wood together. The tower building in Genesis 11 must have employed very similar skills - creativity, logistics, planning, perseverance, hard work, sweat, frustration and eventual satisfaction.
The point is that both sets of builders used their similar God-given capacity for skilful creative hard work to build something amazing. But the outcome of their respective projects is in stark contrast: one project used by the Lord God to save the human race; the other became the punchline of a global joke - the place where people discovered they were no longer speaking the same language.
Why such different outcomes from such similar projects? Well, of course the answer is motivation, and that is crucial for us too if we long to see any change in the value and purpose of our work.
From the moment he picked up his first piece of wood, to the moment he set down his last hammer, all of Noah’s tireless work was for God. He built the ark out of obedience, he built the ark for God.
The tower builders, once they had learned how to make bricks, built only for themselves; with contemporary poise the narrative tells us that they decided to “make a name for themselves”.
In other words motivation is key, not the actual nature of the task itself. You may be management, you may be a builder, you may be a teacher, you may be a cleaner, you may be unemployed, you may even be a preacher! It doesn’t matter. You are who you are and you do whatever work you have at this time in your life. What matters though, and what makes the difference between a life well-spent and a life wasted is motivation. Why do you do what you do, and who do you do it for?
The writer A.W. Tozer put it like this: “It is not what a person does that determines if their work is sacred or secular. It is their attitude.”
The bottom line is, like the people in my two Bible stories, either we will spend our days working frantically for glimmers of hope, self-satisfaction and glory, or we will work for the Lord and for his glory, no matter what we do.