That Thing You Do: Have You Ever Thought About Why You Work?

I was fourteen years old when I got my first job bussing tables at a cheap steakhouse. I was of the mindset that I wanted to work as many different jobs as necessary so I could find what I liked, so if I didn’t like the job, I quit and I tried something new. I bussed tables, then I bagged groceries, then I worked at a miniature golf “putt-putt” place (where I got really good at putting, I don’t mind saying). I started working at a gourmet candy shop, which was awesome because I got to eat all the candy I wanted as it came off the line (and there’s fair evidence that this is where I got my sugar addiction). A little bit later, I worked eight hours a day at a trophy shop. Then I worked at a funeral home for a while, which was not fun. I worked as a telemarketer, which I was awful at. I did all of these things for one reason: I wanted money.

It’s not that I wanted to make a big contribution to the world by bussing tables at this cheap steakhouse where I worked. It’s because I wanted money. Money was my ticket to do things I wanted to do, to pay for things I wanted, and not to have to ask my parents for it. I wanted a paycheck. I wanted something to spend. That was my work view: it was a means to an end.

We all have a view of work—how we feel about it, whether we enjoy it or not, why we do it. Your view of work began to form early on, when you saw your mom or dad come home from work. You knew how they felt about it – whether they were glad to be home or excited to go back, whether they loved their job or hated it, whether they were stressed or burdened, whether they found it as a way of self expression or not. Your work view was even formed by your grandparents, as you saw them approach retirement. Whether they were thrilled to be “done” or reluctant to quit. Your work view is formed by your mentors and college professors, each of the people who taught you, and the people you work with today. It’s still being formed.

Think about why you work. We could even call it your “theology of work.” Every follower of Jesus – anybody who believes in God at all – has a theology about life. That sounds complicated or daunting, but theology only means how God sees it. The theology of anything is simply how God thinks about it and perceives it. You have a theology of work, about who God is, how he made you, and what he expects you to do with your time, talent, and energy. It’s important to identify because it’s foundational to who you are.

We all work. Whether you’re retired, or thinking about retirement; whether you’re working on not working; whether you’re working from home or at the office; whether you’re raising your children or somebody else’s children; whether you volunteer or get paid; whether you quit your job or you’re thinking about leaving your job—regardless of how you spend your days, you do something. With our days, our time, our energy, our investment, our skills, we all do something.

Maybe you work because it’s a means to an end. Or like me in high school, maybe you work to have money and purchasing power. Maybe you work so you can take a vacation or so you can retire. Maybe you work for financial security and so you don’t have to borrow. Maybe you come from a family of hard workers, and it’s important that you work to do your part. Or maybe work is a necessary evil. Work is “the veggies” part of life; I eat my veggies so I can also eat what’s really good.

Maybe for you, work is part of The Curse. Maybe your perspective is that Adam and Eve were sitting in the garden with little drinks and umbrellas, and then they sinned. And now we all have to work.

The very first verse of the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created.” When the dawn of time begins and the curtains open to this incredible play of creation, God has a hammer in his hands. He’s busy making and creating, stepping into the chaos and turning chaos into order. Before we know anything about his nature or where he came from, before we know anything about his character, we know that God is there and he is working.

He makes the heavens and the earth, light and darkness. He makes land and water. He makes all of the creatures, and then he makes us. He follows a pattern, and that pattern is repeated: he commands, he executes, and he assesses. He says, “Let there be,” and then it is so, and then he says, “It is good.”

And then we learn that on the sixth day, he created mankind in his own image. Nothing else in creation represents God, or looks like him, or carries his image—until he makes us, his image bearers. We are like him. We are made to be like him and to be in relationship with him. That was his intention, or else he would have made us different from him.

In Genesis 2, we learn that God put Adam in the Garden of Eden. Of course, they began asking the same questions we ask anytime we find ourselves somewhere for the first time: Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? What is next? God makes it clear what they are supposed to do: he put them there to work it and take care of it. All of this happened before the fall, all before sin has entered the picture at all.

So here’s what we know: work was part of the perfect world. There was no sin, no disease, no struggle, no sickness, but there was work for the man and woman to do. Work has always been an integral part of who God made us to be. Man and woman are the only parts of God’s creation that were given a job description. Everything else simply exists, but you and I were made to work. Other commands were added later, like loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and then loving your neighbor—everything else came later. The very first instruction is to work.

Eden was perfect. No death, sin, rebellion, selfishness, pride—then sin came into the picture and messed everything up. We encounter the messed up, fallen world every day. But we also know through Scripture that God is making all things new. He is redeeming all of creation. At the same time, he’s inviting you—as his image bearer—to join him in making all things new. Some days it may feel like everything’s broken again, but he invites us to join him anew every day, to partner again with him. It doesn’t matter what you do, as a CEO or a manager, if you work with your hands or in front of a computer—there is a way to approach the jobs that God has given you as an image bearer. You represent God when you step into that environment.

What if we viewed work as a way to express who God created us to be? What would change? What if our work is how we give our best selves? Our best selves are the image of God. If your work is aligned with God’s view of work, if you can recognize your work as the way he made you, if you can step into your work as a partnership with God to make all things new, then perhaps you would feel more peace and purpose in what you accomplish.

This could change everything.