We know from the account of the earliest days in the garden of Eden that God designed us for work, for laboring and producing fruits from what God has provided via creation. Genesis 2:15 notes, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Psalm 128:2 assures us that we “will eat the fruit of our labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.” Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:22, “there is nothing better for a person to enjoy their work. Because that is their lot.” Of course, the Bible opens with God himself “working” as he creates Planet Earth and all of the creatures to inhabit it, and we find Jesus weighing in as we read in John 5:17, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” Clearly “work” was not intended to be a four-letter word when viewed from God’s perspective. Our work is meant to serve as part of God’s divine plan for our lives and God’s Kingdom strategy.
Almost all of us who work do so in part because we need to have an income, a means for providing food, shelter, and life necessities for ourselves and the ones we love. But, work is for a much larger purpose than simply bringing home a paycheck, whether it’s the work we produce for our employment or the additional labor we invest simply for the kingdom. We ultimately work for the outcomes, not simply the incomes.
Having to work in no way precludes the opportunities we have for finding joy on the job. Work is about more than money, and our salary does not define our self-worth. Worth comes from the satisfaction and joy of making a productive contribution. Work even affects our physiological well-being. Ecclesiastes 5:12 says, “The sleep of laborers is sweet whether they eat little or much.” Our work ultimately has little to do with how much money we make but everything to do with how we make a difference in the economy of God’s garden. Whatever type of work we do, God has given us the privilege, with Jesus, to be part of God’s redemptive work in the world. Institutional religion often creates this artificial barrier or box that declares that the only time we are doing God’s work is when we are in church. This is not true at all. Everything we are about as Jesus followers is to be a part of God’s redemptive purpose of the well-being and the economy of God’s garden.
While writing The Christian Wallet, I started thinking about people I’ve encountered through the years who modeled for me what it means to find joy in the journey, not just focus on drudgery in the workaday world. When I was in my late 20s, I met a man named Wally. At age 53, Wally had lost through bankruptcy a three-generation family business of apple orchards. Through this apparent “failure,” Wally, a Harvard University graduate, discovered his true passion was for traveling sales. When Wally was 75-years-old, he and I had breakfast together at a local Tipp City diner. Even at age 75, Wally was still putting over 50,000 miles a year on his car making sales calls. His words to me over lunch that day are still branded in my soul: "I want to die waltzing past the receptionist, making my last sales call." Wally had clearly discovered the dance and joy of the gift of work.
Mike-sell's Potato Chips is a Dayton-based company founded in 1910. Les Mapp, who had been named as the company’s CEO in 1965, lived to the age of 92. Up until the year before he died Les was in his office and on the job by 7:30 a.m. Les once shared with me that he actually felt 7:30 a.m. was late; he had only succumbed to that late hour because of his advanced age. Les was a Christian, and he had met with me in my office at 4:30 p.m. one afternoon to talk about a mutual project. At that time of afternoon, most people are thinking about going home. Not Les. At the close of our conversation Les stood up and said, "Mike, I have to go back to my office and work on my long-range plan." At age 84, Les was still committed to visioning forward and investing in his work. Like Moses at the end of his life, Les’ “eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (Deuteronomy 34:7).
I am in my mid-sixties, and Wally and Les still represent to me who I want to be when I grow up. Like Les and Wally, many of us would benefit from adjusting our attitude from “I have to work” to “I want to work.” Then God will allow our influence and harvest to expand, and we will truly find joy on the job.
[Editor’s Note: Adapted from The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience. © 2016 Mike Slaughter. Used by permission of Westminster John Knox Press. www.wjkbooks.com]
Mike Slaughter is the lead pastor at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio. Under his leadership, Ginghamsburg became known as an early innovator of small group ministry and a leader in global mission efforts. A sought-after speaker, he is the author of many books, including Dare to Dream, Hijacked, Change the World, Christmas Is Not Your Birthday, and Upside Living in a Downside Economy.