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The Eternal Significance of Everyday Work

Is God calling you to the workforce or full-time ministry? Many Christian college students preparing to graduate feel as if their entire life rests on the answer to this question. During my senior year at James Madison University, I watched plans to become doctors and business leaders dissolve as many of my friends gave up their dreams for “full-time ministry.” I respected their decisions and wondered if I could find the same significance in my “ordinary” calling. As they began raising support to join campus ministry staff or church plant teams, I applied for internships in Washington, D.C., and tried to convince myself that my vocation would be equally meaningful. I found some repose from the leaders in my church. They regularly emphasized the importance of secular work in building God’s kingdom. I learned that I would find significance in any job, as long as I:
  • Exemplified Christ’s love
  • Shared my faith with my co-workers
  • Donated a portion of my income to ministry
But I found this answer only half-satisfying. It explained how I should interact with co-workers and steward my money, but what about the actual work I was going to be doing? I came across an article in Relevant Magazine recently, called “Kingdom Living from the Middle of Normal.” I was interested to see if author Kelli Trujillo’s insights were any deeper than what I had heard in church. Sadly, they weren’t. To find eternal meaning in your “seemingly mundane calling,” Trujillo says that, among other things, we should:
  • Reduce consumption
  • Reuse and recycle
  • Sponsor a child
  • Donate your things
  • Buy fair trade
  • Buy local
So I guess the message is … my office job means absolutely nothing? While stewardship and charity are responsibilities of the Christian life, none of these points have anything to do with the “seemingly mundane” job itself. Trujillo nearly implies secular work can only contribute to the Kingdom of God in areas outside the nine-to-five, since the secular really isn’t directly “God-related.” If I had read this article my senior year of college and believed it, I would have immediately deserted my “ordinary” calling to jump on the “full-time ministry” bandwagon. Troubled after reading this article, I wondered if Christians had lost a true understanding of work as it relates to doing God’s work. A few days later, I discovered a very different article in Christianity Today. HOPE International’s director of development, Chris Horst, interviews two Christian managers at the Blender Products factory in Denver. Steve Hill and Jim Howey claim Christians called to the business world are often sold short. Howey says:
Operating a business unto the Lord is about producing a quality product or service, treating people well, and stewarding the proceeds. … [Being a Christian in business is] not about making as much money now so we can retire and serve on ministry boards.
Hill and Howey present a very different understanding of work than the Relevant article because they recognize producing a quality product has eternal significance in living out God’s calling for their life. Their faith saturates every aspect of their work. Unfortunately, most Christians don’t see secular work as they do. Evangelical culture today praises those who leave their job at the bank to join “full-time ministry,” while failing to see the eternal value in building culture in art, science, academia and business. The irony of this ignorance is that the Bible is clear about how we should view work. “Ordinary” work is not a curse. Though all work sometimes feels frustrating and meaningless because of original sin (Gen. 3:17-19), God gave man work before the fall (Gen. 2:15). God gave Adam work in the garden and has extended this gift to us today. In his book “How Then Should We Work,” Hugh Whelchel writes:
In the story of creation, God brought order out of chaos. A gardener does something similar when he creatively uses the materials at his disposal and rearranges them to produce additional resources for mankind. Thus Adam’s work in the garden can be seen as a metaphor for all work. A gardener is not a park ranger; he does not leave things in their natural state. With this idea in view, Tim Keller offers the following definition of work: ‘Rearranging the raw materials of a particular domain to draw out its potential for the flourishing of everyone.’ That is what Adam was called to do in the garden, and that is what we are still called to do in our work today.
We are called to build culture. God called us to be fruitful, to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). God is building heaven on earth (Rev. 21:1-2) and calls us to actively participate in this work. Therefore, the Cultural Mandate gives all vocations eternal purpose. Nancy Pearcey echoes this point in “Total Truth:
The lesson of the Cultural Mandate is that our sense of fulfillment depends on engaging in creative, constructive work. The ideal human existence is not eternal leisure or an endless vacation—or even a monastic retreat into prayer and meditation—but creative effort expended for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Our calling is not just to “go to heaven” but also to cultivate the earth, not just to “save souls” but also to serve God through our work. For God himself is engaged not only in the work of salvation but also in the work of preserving and developing His creation. When we obey the Cultural Mandate, we participate in the work of God himself.
This means even the factory worker, screwing on the same widgets day after day, is actively participating in the work of God by obeying the Cultural Mandate. If Christians view ordinary work as something that has little to do with building God’s kingdom, how does this affect the way we really view God? Or ourselves? Or economics even? God made us in his image to create. We cannot properly engage in a faith-based conversation on economics until we understand the everlasting importance of our own personal economics: our work.