Work & Rest
The average person who works at a job will be at the job for more than 80,000 hours in a lifetime. If you have a forty hour work week, two weeks of vacation a year and work for 40 years that adds up to 80,000 hours. That is a lot of time! How do you spend those hours? How do you view your work? Does being a Christian have anything to do with these hours? Most of us will spend more time with co-workers than with spouse or children. We want a godly marriage and we are deeply concerned to raise our children for Christ, but do we give equal thought to how our faith is exercised at work? Work is so significant in our life that we are often defined by our work. Who of us has not asked, or been asked, “What do you do?” What relationship is there between what we do and who we are?
Although 80,000 hours is a large chunk of time, it is not all of our time. How do you occupy the rest of your time? What place does rest have in the use of time? Many people feel guilty about resting. Is that guilt well placed?
As we are studying Genesis, one of the things that comes out right at the beginning of creation is the matter of work and rest. Let us then see what these early passages have to teach us about these things which are so central to our lives.
Have you ever thought that work is a curse? Is work a necessary evil which we must do until we can retire and enjoy life? Genesis introduces us to the truth that God has created us to work.
A. God Worked
The first indication that work is a blessing and not a curse is the truth, found in Genesis 1, that God worked.
“Does God work?” Willie asks his father in George MacDonald’s children’s book, The Genius of Willie MacMichael. “Yes, Willie, it seems that God works more than anybody—for he works all night and all day and, if I remember rightly, Jesus tells us somewhere that he works all Sunday too. If he were to stop working, everything would stop being. The sun would stop shining, and the moon and stars; the corn would stop growing; there would be no apples and gooseberries; your eyes would stop seeing; your ears would stop hearing; your fingers couldn’t move an inch; and worst of all, your little heart would stop loving.”
Genesis 1 shows us God at work in creation. In 1:31-2:3, we read about “all that God had made.” In 2:2, we read that God…finished the work he had been doing.” The Hebrew word for work, which appears three times in verses 2,3, is the ordinary word used to describe human work. God worked when he created all things.
Last Sunday, we looked at the contrast between the pagan worldview and that presented in Genesis. We see another significant difference between the two worldviews in the fact that God worked. The worldview of the Mesopotamian people was such that they viewed their gods as not working. They believed that work was beneath the dignity of the gods. But God is not like that. God describes himself as one who works.
When Jesus was on earth, he also spoke of his Father working. In John 5:17 he says, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” Not only did God work when he created the world, he continues to work as the sustainer of the world.
In response to his father’s words in the story by McDonald, which I mentioned a bit ago, Willie said, “Then if God works like that all day long, it must be a fine thing to work.”
Genesis 1:26,27 says that we have been created in the image of God. If we are in the image of God and if God works, then it follows that work is natural to us, it is what we have been created for. Elton Trueblood says, “It is by toil that men can prove themselves creatures made in God’s image.” Dorothy Sayers wrote, “Work is the natural exercise and function of man—the creature who is made in the image of his Creator.”
B. Work Is God Ordained
But work is blessed not only because God works, but also because He has ordained us to work. The first indication of work is found in the task given at creation that we are to rule over the created world. Genesis 1:28 says, in part, “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” A part of that ruling work is seen in one of the first specific jobs that Adam was given to do. In Genesis 2:19, we read that Adam named all the animals. In other words, God gave Adam work to do.
Even before Adam named the animals, however, we read about another job that he was given. In Genesis 2:15, we read about how God gave Adam the garden of Eden to live in and he was put in that garden “to work it and take care of it.”
The first jobs given to people were the jobs of agriculture and of science. God provided the raw materials and gave us the job of working with him in the creation that he had made. These early indications coming to us, as they do, from the beginning of creation tell us that work is a blessing of God, that God has made us for work and placed us in this world to work. One writer says, “even before the fall man was expected to work; paradise was not a life of leisured unemployment.”
If work is a blessing and we have been created to work, then how should we look at work?
First of all, we should work - whether that is a job that supplies our needs, work at home or volunteer work. Not working is not God’s will. Laziness and constant leisure are not what God has in mind. The Bible reinforces this kind of thinking in II Thessalonians 3:10 where it says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
Furthermore, we should be thankful for the work we can do.
We should be thankful because work allows us to provide for our livelihood. It feels good to be able to put food on the table and realize that our hands have contributed to it.
But work is so much more than that. Work lends so much meaning to life, it allows us to use our minds and our hands in ways that are interesting. As creator, God was able to use His imagination to make all the different things in the world. When we work, we also are involved in such creative work. What if you would somehow receive a sum of money large enough so that you would not have to work any more. I have listened to the aspirations of lottery winners. Some vow to continue as they have, but others aspire to a life of leisure. I always feel sorry for those who aspire to a life of leisure. I believe that in such a life, purpose would soon be lost. The reason is that from the beginning of creation, God has created us to find meaning in life through our work.
Furthermore, work contributes to the world. I have known more than one farmer who looks at his role not as a way of making lots of money - yah right - but as a way of feeding the world. Every job contributes something significant to the world in which we live. Rather than complain about our jobs, let us be glad that we can work.
Another aspect of working is the way in which we work. The Bible says in I Corinthians 10:31, “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Tom Erickson who was the pastor of my mom’s church in Arizona wrote in a sermon, “every worthy vocation bears a direct likeness to the creative work of God. God’s special purpose … is that we will bless the world through our work.” If our work is difficult or repetitive or boring that is not easy. How can we do this kind of work to the glory of God? Erickson suggests, we can do it by being creative even in a mundane job. We can do it by caring for those we work with. We can treat it as the most important task in the world, knowing that even though it isn’t very interesting, it is necessary for someone to do it. As John R. W. Stott says, “God has so ordered life on earth as to depend on us. So whatever our work, we need to see it as being in cooperation with God.” Another writer says, “By seeing our work in the light of God’s work, we can see God’s hand in our everyday tasks. Unless we do so, we will underestimate the importance of God’s work and either worship our work or think it worthless.”
All of this means that everyone who does legitimate work should be able to say, “My work is God’s work.” For example, the work of a teacher could be said to reflect something of God’s desire to reveal truth to people. The work of a doctor reflects something of God’s healing power and gift. The work of a musician reflects something of God’s creative ability. The work of a secretary involved in scheduling appointments reflects something of God’s own love of order. In other words, we should all be able to say, “My work is God’s work.”
C. Work And The Fall
But work is not always easy. Why do we try so desperately to avoid it? Why do we find it so toilsome? Ecclesiastes 1:3 recognizes this difficulty of work when it says, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” If God has created us to work and if work is a reflection of the image of God in us, then why is it so hard? The answer to that question comes in Genesis 3. Because we as human beings have chosen to disobey God, beginning with Adam and Eve, sin has entered into the world and we now suffer under its consequences. The consequence of sin is the judgement of God on us. Included in that judgement is the toil of work. Genesis 3:17-19 says, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
We notice in this passage that the curse is a direct result of Adam’s disobedience. We read the words of the curse - “Cursed is the ground” “painful toil” “thorns and thistles” “sweat of your brow.” Thus we learn that sin is what makes work such a pain.
As a result, we spend our life trying to reverse the curse. We invent labour saving devices, we spray our fields for weeds, we try to find jobs that are enjoyable for us but we do not stop working. There is nothing wrong with working at reversing the effects of the curse, but there is something wrong when we think that it is work that is bad and try to avoid it. Work continues to be a blessing which God has created us to enjoy and in spite of the way in which the curse on sin has spoiled it, we need to keep on working.
D. Vocation and Occupation
But what about the intersection of our work life with our Christian walk? Work must be more than a place where we parachute in, proselytise if we dare and go home and complain about our ungodly co-workers. It is a place to live out our Christian life. How can we make our work place a place where we live out our Christian life.
To start with, it depends so much on how we look at things. One way of looking at it is as one writer says, “Vocation for the Christian is a matter of responding to God’s call on all believers to live out their Christian faith, whereas occupation (or career) is the specific skill or job one selects in order to make a living. To be Christian throughout one’s entire life is a believer’s vocation, and God calls all believers to this vocation. To be a plumber or pastor is one’s occupation.
If we look at it this way, then every job can be a place where we live out our vocation or calling as Christians. William Tyndale wrote, “There is not one work better than another to please God; to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a cobbler, or an apostle.”
But how do we then live our faith life on the job? The first answer to that question is that we must do our work well. Being cheerful and faithful in our work is the first way in which to connect work with our Christian life. It is so easy to go along with others in sloughing off, criticizing or even stealing, but if we work diligently, we will bring the light of Christ into the work place.
Wally Kroeker, who writes for the MEDA magazine invites us to think through this issue with the following questions: “What public good will my work accomplish today? Is my work an important part of God’s economy? Is the world a better place because of the work I do?
Does my work contribute to the kind of world God intended, where deserts become fertile fields, where parched lands become glad, where waste spaces are comforted, as the Old Testament prophets say? Does the work we do enhance life rather than harm it?
Where do we find brokenness in the workplace? How can we deal redemptively with failure, whether that be a bankruptcy or a failed employee?
Imagine a business owner seeing the company not as merely a means of profit but as a calling to provide meaningful jobs to bolster a community’s economic base. Imagine a garbage collector seeing the job as making the world a cleaner place. Imagine a hospital orderly believing that cleaning soiled linens and bedpans is a vital part of God’s healing process.
When we look at work in this way, it becomes a whole new way of thinking about things. How do you view your work, or your studies? Is your faith life integrated into all you do and everything you are? Genesis leads us to ask these questions and gives us a foundation from which we can live as workers in this world.
But work is not the only foundational issue presented in Genesis. We are also taught about rest.
A. God Rested
At the end of the six creative days, we read in Genesis 2:2,3, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
The theme of rest is another significant theme from Genesis to help us structure our lives. The first thing that we notice is that God rested from all his labours. The word used here is the word “Shabat” which has several different meanings, but the most obvious one here is “to stop working.” Amazingly, God who worked, also stopped working!
The example of God is the basis for the Sabbath rest commanded in other passages of Scripture later on. In Exodus 20:8-11, which is one of the ten commandments, God commands his people to take a Sabbath rest. We read, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work… For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” As one writer says, “In observing the seventh day as holy, man is imitating his creator’s example.”
There are two aspects to the keeping of the day of rest that are important.
B. We Need Rest
When I wake up in the morning, all kinds of ideas cram into my head vying for attention. I have the will and the energy to do many things and sometimes I make a list of all the things that I intend to do. As the day progresses, an interesting thing happens. The will and energy to do the things that I wanted to do begins to diminish. I accomplish some of them, but am not as enthused at 8:00 pm as I was at 8:00 am.
God blesses us with work and also blesses us with rest. The text says “God rested…” We need rest. God has not created us to work constantly, but recognizes that we need rest. If the one who “never slumbers nor sleeps” rested from his labour, why do we think that we must work constantly? I would go so far as to say that it is a sin not to rest from our labour. The sin is more than failing to keep the commandment. It is also sin because when we fail to rest, we begin to think that we can accomplish everything by our power. We are easily convinced that laziness is a sin, but also need to be convinced that failing to rest, failing to recognise that everything we have comes from God is also a sin. When we rest, we acknowledge that God gives us everything we need for life. We avoid the temptation to think that we have the power of life in our own hands.
C. A Day Holy To The Lord
But the day of rest is blessed for another reason. It is also a day dedicated to the Lord. Isaiah 58:13,14 expresses this idea when it says, “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14 then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Just as everything we have belongs to God and we tithe a portion of it, so also although every day is God’s day, it would be good to tithe a day and give it to the Lord. Do you have a day in your week that belongs to God? How do you make it a “holy day?”
It is interesting that a day is called “blessed” and “holy” as it is in Genesis 2:3. Usually people or animals are blessed. What does it mean that a day is blessed? Does it mean that there is a blessing on those who observe it? God has given us this day for our good. It was given to us so that we would rest and so that we would dedicate a day to Him. I believe that Jesus gave the same message in Mark 2:27 where he said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” As we keep the Sabbath, we need to keep this saying of Jesus in our minds. We do not keep Sabbath because it is a law written. We keep Sabbath because it is a gift of God. He has given it to us because He knows that we need rest and He knows how important it is for us to set aside time to worship God and acknowledge our need of Him.
Genesis deals with issues that set a foundation for life. Work and rest are among those issues. How will you live your Christian life in light of Genesis?
We have sometimes lived our Christian life by giving God Sunday, giving Monday to Friday to our boss and Saturday to ourselves or something like that. I believe that the foundational truths of Genesis challenges us to a different vision. We cannot fragment our life like that. Instead we are invited to live in God’s world in all we do. Our work is a response to the fact that he is a worker and has created us to work. Our rest is a blessing we gladly enjoy because He also rested and gives us the blessing of rest.
If that is true, then as we leave here, we do not leave God behind. One writer talks about the church gathered as what happens there on Sunday morning and the church dispersed as what happens in the life of believers the rest of the week. Either way, we are the church. May God bless us as we exit the church gathered and become the church scattered.
“Sisters and brothers in Christ, we are NOT dismissed; we are NOT just free to go - Christ sends us. Go forth into the world in the power of the Spirit; go to help and heal in all that you do.”