After a working career spanning over three decades in corporate American and the military, I am now a fulltime student at Columbia Theological Seminary.
The school has a program called Seminary Service, where it awards institutional financial grants to students in exchange for “service work” on campus. Like traditional work studies programs, Seminary Service Students are matched to jobs on campus, corresponding to the skills and abilities that they bring from the life they had before entering school.
Armed with a lifetime of business experiences in sales, marketing, finance, human resources, and social media, plus my consulting and writing background, I was confident that I would be matched to a cutting edge job that would leverage my executive profile.
This week with great fan fair, we received our Seminary Service Assignments. Many of my classmates, fresh out of college, with little or no business experience were thrilled to be assigned to the various offices, tasks and projects on campus.
Seeing the pleasure of my colleagues, I was tingling with anticipation of my own assignment. I was taken aback when I learned that my Seminary Service Assignment was to work in food services.
My thirty years of military and corporate experience with some of the best companies in the world, would be leveraged in the “important task” of washing dishes.
On reflection, I now understand God’s purpose in giving me this assignment. As Christians, many of us hold a decidedly unbiblical view of work.
Some view it as a curse, or at least as part of the curse of living in a fallen world.
Others make a false distinction between what they perceive as the sacred – serving God, and the secular – everything else.
Others make work into an idol, expecting it to provide them with their identity and purpose in life, as well as being a source of joy and fulfillment.
In their excellent book, Your Work Matters to God, Doug Sherman and William Hendricks expose the wrong ways of thinking about work, and explain how God invests work with intrinsic value and honor.
Rick Warren echoes this idea in his blockbuster, The Purpose Driven Life when he writes, “Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence.”
The origin of work is depicted in the book of Genesis. In the opening passage, God is the primary worker, busy with the creation of the world (Genesis 1:1-15). The Bible states that God worked for six days and rested on the seventh day. These passages reveal that God was the first to do work on the earth.
Furthermore, Genesis 1:31 declares that when God viewed the fruit of His labor, He called it “very good.” God examined and assessed the quality of His work, and when He determined that He had done a good job, He took pleasure in the outcome.
By this example, it is apparent that work should be productive.
My work as a dishwasher, as a student, or as a pastor should be conducted in a way that produces the highest quality outcome for the glory of the Lord.
God has demonstrated that the reward for work is the honor and satisfaction that comes from a job well done, not the work that has been assigned.
God also wants us to see that work is His gift to us; it is not a result of the Fall! Before sin entered the world, God gave Adam and Eve the job of cultivating the garden and exercising dominion over the world. We were created to work, and for work. Work is God’s good gift to us!
Listen to what Solomon wrote:
“After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live:
Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift!” Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 MSG
Yes, work truly is God’s gift to us. It is His provision in a number of ways. In Your Work Matters to God, the authors suggest five major reasons why work is valuable:
1. Through work we serve people.
Most work is part of a huge network of interconnected jobs, industries, goods and services that work together to meet peoples’ physical needs. Other jobs meet peoples’ aesthetic and spiritual needs as well.
2. Through work we meet our own needs.
Work, whether paid or unpaid, allows us to exercise the gifts and abilities God gives each person. God expects adults to provide for themselves and not mooch off others. Scripture says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10
3. Through work we meet our family’s needs.
God expects the heads of households to provide for their families. He says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8
4. Through work we earn money to give to others.
In both the Old and New Testaments, God tells us to be generous in meeting the needs of the poor and those who minister to us spiritually.
5. Through work we love God.
One of God’s love languages is obedience. When we work, we are obeying His two great commandments to love Him and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
We show our love for God by obeying Him from the heart. My work as a dishwasher is truly my Seminary Service. I will be able to love God and my neighbor with every glass I empty, every table I buss, and every dish I wash.
Therefore, on this Labor Day Weekend as we rest from our labors, let us reflect on the value of work.
Through Seminary Service I understand better than ever before that “I would rather be a (dishwasher) in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10) because my labor matters to God.