After working for nearly a decade with people who want to bring their faith to bear in their daily work, I have come to see that just knowing intellectually that God created us to work, that our calling is to make something of the world with the materials God has given us, isn’t enough.
When I discovered that work wasn’t a result of the fall, but that Adam and Eve were meant to tend and make something new from the garden God had planted (Gen 1-2), it was exhilarating, and it brought a whole new purpose to the work I was doing. Having this intellectual knowledge of the way God values our work is a great starting place, but it’s only a start.
Your work — whatever those places, people, or projects are, paid or unpaid — is one of the primary avenues that God uses to speak to you, use you to speak to others, and further his work in the world. But many of us live and work with only a vague idea of how this applies to us.
You may believe that God created work, but you may still wonder if God is really using your job. You may believe that God is present in your life, but when it comes to your work, you don’t know how God is present. You believe that God is working to redeem creation, but you still ask if he is really using you — as you doctor, teach, engineer, landscape, haircut, negotiate, sell, parent, or caretake — to bring about that redemption.
These beliefs actually answer the questions that come with them here. When you know your theology is apparent in your everyday work, you can weather the frustrations, monotony, and even heartbreaks with purpose. This is what it means to have a robust theology of work, one that can help protect you from despair during seasons of work that don’t make sense.
Knowing the significance of your work grounds you in who God calls you to be and propels you by his purpose into the work you are doing in the world. This is true for the barista, the gas station employee, the CEO, the sales associate, and the hospital administrator. This is also true for the pastor, the stay-at-home parent, the teacher.
No matter what your work is, knowing the theological significance of how you spend the majority of your life is a necessity.
But how do you go about diving deeper into the significance of your own particular role? A few minutes of reflection, in the following three steps, will help you get started.
1. What do you do?
First, take inventory of what it is that you do in your work. You may have a job title or job description, or your work may be something you don’t get paid for, but what is it that you actually do?
A machinist, for example, may have a job description of putting bolts onto a car part as the parts come down a conveyor belt. When the task is complete, though, the machinist has contributed to something larger — the precision in the placement of the part affects the whole manufacturing process. If the bolt is not placed with precision, or tightened well, or done in a timely manner, this will affect the other parts producing the whole car. It can even eventually affect the safety of the driver and passengers in the car. If he or she doesn’t do the job well, a domino effect of problems could ensue.
What is it that you actually do? Take some time to describe specifically what you do in your job.
2. How do your tasks reflect God’s character?
As you reflect, the next step is to connect the specifics of your job to character traits of God. It’s not by chance that your work is a reflection of the character of God. Because God created your work and called you to the work you are doing, his character permeates this work through the power of the Holy Spirit. There are specific traits of God that through your work you have the opportunity to experience and exhibit. That’s an honor and something you don’t want to miss.
The machinist’s precision and placement of parts connects to the intricate ways God created the world. The care, strength, and attention to detail they work with are a reflection of the care, strength, and attention to detail God uses in each of our lives on a daily basis.
Our work, though, is not just simply the tasks we are assigned to. Who we are as workers is also immensely important. This is where knowing the characteristics of God exhibited through your work is helpful. How the machinist relates to those she works with is an important piece of her job as well. Through her work she has the opportunity to reach out in kindness to those she works with. She can also work with honesty and exhibit a joyful attitude as she works.
Finding out which attributes you can reflect and experience will deepen your understanding of your role. Does your work connect with the justice of God? Or maybe your job exhibits the compassion or curiosity of the creator. What responsibilities, actions, and tasks line up with the different characteristics of God? You most likely will have more than one.
3. Articulate your work’s significance (and don’t forget it).
After reflecting on the characteristics of God, you will want to develop a one sentence statement that connects what your job is (step one), with the characteristics of God that your work can exhibit (step two.) Being able to articulate succinctly the significance of your work will propel you into a deeper integration of your faith with your daily life.
The places, people, and projects in your life currently are what God has called you to, and are the means through which God is meeting you, speaking to you, and using you in the world. This — now — is where you live out the image of God.