Today is Labor Day in the USA. Ironically, it is a day when many of us have the day off from work and the kids are out of school. According to Wikipedia, Labor Day began as "a street parade to exhibit to the public ‘the strength and esprit de
corps of the trade and labor organizations,’ followed by a festival for
the workers and their families."
Let’s take the occasion, however, to look at the very nature of our labor and its meaning. The concept of work is vitally misunderstood in many corners of the economy and culture.
For those of us who view work as an expression of one’s calling and difference making, work conjures positive feelings and robust expression of who we are. For many others the concept of work elicits harsh bondage and dependence on the whim of their boss. Still, there are some who would wash away all work and settle for a life of recreation and parties. So what view of work works?
With questions like this, I turn to ancient wisdom for understanding. Genesis 2:15 (NIV) says, "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’"
The message is pretty clear. We’re here "to work it." It is God ordained and inspired. We have a job to do that is part of the design of our lives. Implied in this passage is the concept of stewardship. We are to "take care of it." This means we really don’t own any thing, per se, but we have charge of the rightful owner’s possessions and are called, therefore, to give good account for our work.
Work is, therefore, to be approached as a responsibility in which we have both the benefit of the use ("free to eat from") and the obligation to live within limits. The tree of knowledge tested Adam and Eve’s obedience to the owner’s property. In essence, they crossed the line in the blessing of their work and stole – in this case knowledge. One might say they were the first intellectual property pirates. Temptation abounds for those who work and lead. We need to acknowledge the limits of our charge.
For those who would view work as evil, recall that God’s instructions "to work" were given before the Fall of man, not after as some punishment. Work was given and constituted as a genuine part of the order of things. Responsibility is inherent in human nature.
Many a person is unhappy on the job. I’m the first to recommend you
find work for which you are better suited and can advance in
responsibility and grow in opportunity. Nonetheless, please refrain from throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and see work as a
punishment upon mankind, in general, and you, specifically.
For those who would recreate rather than work, I say, God built a measure of rest into the seven day work week with the Sabbath day. To rest and recreate every day in irresponsible false bliss, I must challenge (not judge) your understanding of the nature of work. The longer one goes against the design of one’s life the longer one lives in holy discontentment. Regardless of whether it be a little or a lot, being out of alignment with the great design of our lives leads to dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and disappointment. Everyone needs something productive and some contribution to make. To deny this is to deny your existence.
To be on-purpose is to give noble expression to one’s work regardless of the stature or station of one’s work. People are humble, work is noble. Work seen in this context is honorable, necessary, and a God-given assignment that makes a difference. Embrace your work as essential to your well-being and you will feel the pleasure of God’s return embrace.