Reclaiming a better view of work

It’s time we reclaimed the word work. Let me prove it.

When you think of the word work, what comes to mind? Frustration? Agony? Long hours? All of us have had those experiences with work. And we’ve become so accustomed to thinking that work should be painful that saying something was “hard work” sounds like a redundancy.

There’s no doubt that pain and frustration are part of our experience. In my post Redeeming frustrated ambition, I described those experiences are a consequence of the fall, and proposed the three questions that can help uncover where our ambitions may have gone awry.

The good news of God’s redemption through Jesus, though, is often lost upon us believers when it comes to our work. The transforming work of His Spirit within us not only changes us, but also the ambitions that we carry. No longer do our ambitions needs to produce frustration. Instead, we can change the way we think about work precisely because our ambition itself as also been redeemed.

In the presentation that follows, I suggest that there are three aspects of this converted ambition which should significantly alter our thinking about work:

  1. Our motivation. The first aspect of renewed  ambition relates to motivation. As believers in Christ we no longer work for approval, but from approval.  The distinction is important as there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more than He already does. Yet, when we work, we often forget Who we are working for. We’ve either forgotten about the Boss entirely, making someone else or ourselves the boss, or wrongly think that we can earn His favor. We cannot. Yet, that doesn’t mean we can slack either. The  apostle Paul counseled his protege Timothy to do his best as a man approved by God (2 Tim 2:15). And Paul made it his personal goal (the word in the original language is ambition) to please God (2 Cor 5:9). Likewise, everything we do should be to bring pleasure to God. But that is not the same as gaining his approval. There’s a critically important difference between pleasing someone and seeking their approval. Working for approval is self-seeking to gain recognition, honor, compensation, etc. Working to please is a gift given out of love, simply to delight another.
  2. Our means. As Christians the expression of our work has been fundamentally altered. This is beautifully captured in the Message translation of Colossians 3:17: Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. That sounds a lot like worship. And, in fact, the word worship in the original language of the bible means servile work. The way in which we are to work then is with the same attitude we apply to our conception of worship—as an offering to God given in thanksgiving. The problem with offerings in our old way of thinking, however, is that they are consumed. That’s why we get frustrated when we work so hard at something with “nothing to show for it.” Our offering was fully consumed. Remembering that our work is an expression of worship on such days can help us recover a spirit of worship with thanksgiving.
  3. Our mission. The third aspect of our converted ambition is in its mission. Unlike frustrated ambition which seeks to serve our own interests, converted ambition comfortably relinquishes self-importance. When Jesus set out to wash the disciples feet it created a stir and a rebuke from Peter (John 13:6-8). No one in such high esteem should stoop so low. Yet, Jesus explained that his act of service was an example for them (John 13:15). And likewise for us. The mission of our work should never be trumped by our self-interest or a self-inflated view of our own importance.

In the 30 minute video below, I outline these principles in more detail. This message was delivered at IronWorks and is part of the Fall 2012 series, Holy Sweat: Your Work Matters to God. If you’re a guy and reside in the south metro area of the Twin Cities, I invite you to join us every Friday morning or Wednesday afternoon.


What are some ways that you’ve found to make your work an expression of worship?

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