Scientific definition: Work is done when a force that is applied to an object moves that object.
We spend the morning plunging the sink in vain. We are tired and cranky. But the clog didn’t move. And, nothing was accomplished. In fact, it was a waste of a morning and we still have to call the professional.
The boss asked for artwork and slogans for the advertising campaign, only to rip every speck of artwork and jingles to shreds. “Start over.” An entire week of working late and into the weekend with nothing to show but failure.
The eggs for customer 3 at table 12 were returned to the kitchen. And you would have thought that the end of the world as we know it was right around the corner. As an experienced line cook, you lose.
If we don’t achieve the objective, fix something, finish the job, or present the illusive perfect product, no “work” was done. Let’s just pull the covers over our heads and call it a day. We are failures. We did not perform to expectations. There is no feeling of accomplishment. No reward for the effort. No acknowledgement. Whether we are listening to the harsh words of a distracted, demanding supervisor or our own pesky voice of self-doubt, we hear, “You’re a big fat waste of time.”
And that, dear ones, is what turns work into toil. Even King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, grieved the futility of work he had done. In Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, he asks, “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest…” And if we are not currently experiencing the crushing effect of toil, we surely know someone who is. There are just too many of us enduring work because we believe there is no alternative except grin and bear it or try to move on.
But, just gritting our teeth doesn't make it OK. And a change of occupation isn't always the right answer.
But is that really how Believers are asked to live?
John Stott gives us a much more accurate picture of work as seen through God's eyes:”Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God.”
Scientific work: force, apply, object. Cold and, well, scientific.
Sacred work: energy, service, fulfillment, benefit, community, glory. Beautiful.
Maybe this side of heaven, we won’t know how far the fruit of our labor has reached in service to the Kingdom. How the smallest gesture might reveal a little Jesus to a seeker or bring the Word closer to a hopeless stranger. We may not be appreciated or acknowledged. We may not be compensated fairly. Our names probably won’t appear on the marquee or in the Hall of Fame. There may never be a rise to the top or a standing ovation.
But, I know for sure--down deep, way in there where it counts the most--that, if what we do serves others and glorifies God, well, we are doing real work ... sacred work.
Thank You, Jesus, for loving us, giving us meaningful work, and strengthening us so we can do it all for You.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Colossians 3:23-24