Working Under Heaven
Working Under Heaven
Once a year I consider moving to a hut on the island of Fiji.
That time of year is usually at the beginning of August, when parents are confronted with the entirety of the semester in all of its glorious mayhem sitting in our inboxes. At the beginning of August, we are gearing up for the drawn-out goodbye to the slow days of no school. At the beginning of August, we are sorting through sports practices, work agendas, lesson times, and class schedules.
I liken the sensation I have at the beginning of August to the emotions I had while working on a 1000-piece puzzle. It took a long time to figure out which piece went where, but as each piece began to fit, a beautiful picture emerged. All was going quite well until I couldn’t find the last piece of the puzzle. If this has happened to you, maybe you can empathize with the unnecessary scream that came out of my mouth. This, friends, was the same scream that ensued when I had the semester schedule finally figured out… but then realized I forgot to fit in all the music lessons.
So, I get it when my kids begin the inevitable whining about school starting back up. I feel empathy when the thoughts of homework make them shiver (admittedly, we are a very dramatic family), but as I’ve considered this year’s start to the school year, there is an important lesson I want to instill in our kids. It’s a lesson that I have not done a good job imparting with my occasional screams and suggestions of island huts.
The lesson is simply that work is good.
The Joy of Work
With any vacation away from the daily grind, there is a temptation to think that our lives would be better if we never had to work; that somehow, we would find greater fulfillment if we could just relax more and work less. But this is not how God intended for us to live.
Have you ever noticed that the very first verse in the Bible is about work? Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the first chapter of Genesis we see God as a creator, and He is not working to gain something; rather, God engages in creative work and finds pleasure in the extended activity. He saw all that He made and called it good.
Because God made man in His own image, we too are created to be joy-filled workers. Later in Genesis, God instructs Adam as to his job on this newly created earth. God does not say to Adam, “Relax as much as you can and simply take in the world.” In fact, He says quite the opposite:
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
When everything was perfect, there was work for man to do. Perfection did not equal relaxation (as we would sometimes like to think). So, if work is supposed to be good and joy-filled, why does it sometimes feel like toiling? Why does the idea of homework and daily classes feel like drudgery for our kids?
What Sin Did to Work
Sin came into the world, and when sin entered, the way we view work became tarnished. God did not create us to work merely for a paycheck, but when sin entered, work became a means to an end; pride infiltrated and created a world where work became man’s identity. And though this is not the way God intended for it to be, the curse is very explicit in Genesis 3 when God says to Adam:
“…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…”
When all things are one day restored, and our eyes are no longer tarnished because of sin, we will see with clarity the beauty in the way God intended work to be. We will see to the fullest extent how we are made to be creative stewards of His creation, how we are meant to serve others through the work of our hands. But until that day, it is still possible to feel joy in our labor.
Work Under Heaven
The writer of Ecclesiastes discovered through experience that anything done “under the sun” is vanity. In other words, if our work is done for no other reason than we think it’s what we’re supposed to do, it will most certainly feel meaningless. Work done under the sun without reference to God will feel like a burden, for us and for our kids.
By contrast, we can choose to live life under heaven. It’s important that our kids understand we should do the work we’re called to do, whether it’s being a student, a nurse, a writer, a hostess, or whatever work that God has provided, and do it as if we are working for the Lord. Doing so will not make work suddenly easy, and there still may be the occasional shiver over homework, but having this perspective gives meaning to our work beyond what we can see.
Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do…” (And the word “whatever” is significant because Paul is not only speaking to those in ministry but to everyone who does any kind of work) “…work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”
How can we find joy in our work and help our kids do the same? By waking up each morning and asking God for the grace to do what he has called us to, by seeking ways to be an example for Him throughout the day, and by remembering why it is that we work in the first place. It’s not merely to be noticed or to rise to the top, and it’s not done just for money. We work faithfully in the tasks God has put before us because He has called us, by His strength, to work joyfully and heartily for Him.