Let’s work by the Spirit
By Jack Barraclough
When I hear the word adventure, I think of banana boats in the Caribbean, camping on a glacier in Iceland, or the running of the bulls in Pamplona. I don’t tend to think of spreadsheets, word documents or office spaces. But I am learning to.
Growing up, I would never have imagined that I might enjoy and feel fulfilled by work. I hardly ever did homework at home. Usually it was done during the lesson or in the car on the way to school. I rushed through all the jobs my parents gave me. One time I smashed all the plates while emptying the dishwasher because I tried to carry everything in one go. Work was a boring, miserable distraction that sucked all the joy out of me.
Chariots of fire
In Genesis 3, Adam’s experience of merrily working in the Garden is transformed by his rebellion against God. God’s response to his rebellion (sometimes referred to as ‘the curse’), is to turn work into sweaty, toilsome labour in thorny ground. For me, this is the default way of relating to work.
I was watching Chariots of Fire when a seed was planted in my mind. Eric Liddell and his sister Jenny, clash over whether there is any point running in the Olympics when there was so much missionary work to be done in China. Their father, James Liddell, tells Eric, “You can glorify God by peeling a potato if you peel it to perfection.”
Work as worship
Work can be an expression of worship to God. Even work as mundane as peeling potatoes. Romans 12:1 tells us that worship is offering ourselves to God. Our spreadsheets, our endless meetings, our potato preparation, all of it is an opportunity to worship. Or, in Paul’s words, “whatever you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31. The work God gives us is an opportunity to show Him our love, like a child painting a picture for her mother.
God made humankind in His image. We were made to be reflections of His creativity, justice, consistency and love. The Spirit transforms God’s people so that one day we will be able to fulfil that incredible vocation in a beautified world that has been freed from decay and ‘toilsomeness’. In the meantime, we can foreshadow it. We can choose to live in sync with that future right now. And by doing that we are being prepared for it. Salvation doesn’t start when we die, but when we are empowered by the Spirit to foreshadow our future in our present.
Our future is a world where human rebellion will no longer exist. Where we will not experience work as toilsome and sweaty because ‘the curse’ is being broken. We currently live in a toilsome world, but if we have received God’s Spirit, we can foreshadow a world where work is fulfilling; it is an expression of worship to God. It doesn’t have to be something we just have to do. It can foreshadow what we will be pleased to do for eternity.
In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul talks about putting off our “old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,” and putting on our “new self, created after the likeness of God.” When we work, we can practise taking off the rags of laziness, lust and ignorance, and practise instead dressing ourselves in the shimmering radiance of God’s likeness, in goodness and beauty. It’s a beautiful and inspiring metaphor, but how do we do it?
Peter trades poetry for pragmatism, telling us in 2 Peter 1:3-4 that Christians have been given everything we need to live a godly life and to participate in the divine nature. He goes on to say in verses 5-8: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, since God has given us what we need to demonstrate His character, we should practise demonstrating His character. Or as Paul might say, since we don’t have to wear filthy rags anymore, let’s put on some bling.
Exercising self-control and perseverance is part of being renewed into the image of God. The virtues listed by Peter take practice and intentionality to grow in. They are the building blocks of our growth and maturity as Christians. Our workplace is one of the best places for us to practise them and take important steps on our journey to become characterised by godliness and love.
And of course, this conforming to the likeness of Jesus Christ requires the Spirit of Christ. It is His unlimited resources that empower us to go on this grand adventure. Without Him, bearing His fruit in us, we would be stuck in our filthy old rags without any bling to put on. Our work would always be toil and never an act of love for our Creator; never a demonstration of His goodness, never an adventure. If we live by the Spirit and worship by the Spirit, let’s work by the Spirit too; let’s keep in step with Him on Excel!
Our work is an opportunity to worship God, or to worship something else. For some, work is a way to worship wealth, success or worldly recognition. For me, I am tempted to worship comfort and fun by toiling through my assignments as quickly as possible so that I can make an offering to Playstation and iPlayer.
My prayer for you today is that you would worship God in everything you do, whether that’s peeling potatoes at home, collating documents in the office, or unjamming the printer. I pray that as you worship you would find yourself fulfilled by the work of your hands and the God who called you to do it.
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