30 Mar #114 – Words That Shape Work
ESSENCE: We believe words are important and powerful. The culture of the world is filled with words that blind us to God’s purpose for work–words that reinforce work as a burden to be avoided rather than a blessing of God’s creation. Disordered words that embody the world’s priorities rather than Kingdom priorities infect our thinking, which ultimately infects our heart. For example, phrases like “Work-Life Balance” and “TGIF” represent toxic disordered words that undermine God’s design for our lives. If we want to live in alignment with God’s design for our lives, our goal should be “Life Balance”, recognizing work as an essential part of life–an essential part of living out Imago Dei, fulfilling the Creation Mandate and being fully human.
In our last post, we explained why we believe words are important and powerful. Disordered words that embody the world’s priorities rather than Biblical priorities infect our thinking, which ultimately infects our heart. Disordered words infect our understanding of, and relationship with, work. For example, we believe the phrase “Work-Life Balance” represents toxic disordered words that undermine God’s design for our lives.
The culture of the world is filled with words that blind us to God’s purpose for work. In this post, we will focus on some of those twisted and disordered words that have the power to shape (or reinforce) our perception of work in a way that is not in alignment with all that God has for our work. We will also consider alternatives that can redirect our thinking and our actions.
Work as a Blessing
In prior posts we have explained “work” as God designed and intended it.
Work is Good (post #048 Lessons from Creation–Work Is Good). God created work before the Fall. In Genesis 2:15, we learn “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.“
Work is Necessary for Creation (post #049 Lessons from Creation–Work Is Necessary). The world was actually created to need our creativity and productivity in order to flourish. Amazingly, Genesis 2:5 tells us: “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground.”
Work is Necessary for Our Humanity (post #047 Lessons from Creation–Imago Dei). Just as God creatively and productively worked to create all things, as God’s image-bearers it is in our very nature to be creative and productive workers. Through the Creation Mandate in Genesis 1:28 (be fruitful and steward the earth), God commands us to work to steward and cultivate His creation. We are more fully human when we work because it is an important aspect of how we live out Imago Dei and fulfill the Creation Mandate.
Work as a Burden
Work is where we spend most of our waking hours, and it has moved far from its original design in Genesis as something good and necessary for our humanity. Frederick Buechner observed “Jobs are what people do for a living. . . . They work mainly for the purpose of making money enough to enjoy their moments of not working.” At Integrous, we think that is “dehumanizing”.
We spent several posts (posts #019-#023) explaining how the brokenness of business as usual leads to the brokenness of work as usual. Work under a world system of business characterized by toxic assumptions (Scarcity and Self-Interest) and motivations (Profit as Purpose) has become something far from God’s good and live-giving design in Genesis.
As explained in earlier posts (#008 Workplaces Are Broken and #009 Workers Are Breaking) studies suggest only 10% of workers are effectively mobilized–experiencing an essential part of their humanity. The remaining 90% are experiencing varying levels of dehumanization–work as a Burden rather than a life-giving blessing.
Disordered Words That Shape Work
Our cultural obsession with finding “Work-Life Balance” is perhaps the best indicator that work has ceased to be the blessing God intended and has become a burden. We no longer view work as part of our life–part of the rhythm of life. Because it has become all-consuming and spiritually unfulfilling, we see it as something that keeps us from life–an oppositional force.
Various words and phrases keep drumming into our head that work is separate from life, and that our “life” goals should be to “work” as little as possible and stop working as soon as possible. Consider phrases like:
“Monday Morning Blues”
“Work To Live”
The deception of these disordered words is that they demonize work and prevent us from being fully human. They reinforce the lie that work is an obstacle to life. They lead us to despise work. They tell us ceasing work is the recipe for a full life, when God designed work as essential to a full life. Although this assertion gets surprised looks, a person who professes Biblical faith should never seek “Work-Life Balance“!
Is it any wonder that people long to “retire” and spend their remaining years as far from God’s life-giving gift of work as possible. Seeing work as opposed to life leads to the idolization of “retirement”–a freedom from work and a well-earned ability to “live” and stop “working”,
Here is an illustration of the the common cultural view of work in the context of life and faith.
Words can not only create emotions, they create actions. And from our actions flow the results of our lives. (Tony Robbins)
Words To Re-Shape Work
If we want to live in alignment with God’s design for our lives, our goal should be “life balance”. Work is an essential part of life, along with our family, our fitness and our faith. In fact, what we learn in Genesis is that work is necessary to live fully and be fully human. “Live to work” and “work to live” are both wrong–we were designed to “live more fully through work”.
In 1942, Dorothy Sayers wrote in her essay “Why Work?”:
Work . . . is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.
At Integrous, we believe the reason we are obsessed with “Work-Life Balance” and “retirement” is because the work we are escaping barely resembles the work God designed to bring us life. We are escaping work as usual, which is a by-product of business as usual.
That helps explain why many people actually do turn to creative and productive activities in “retirement” that fit a broader Biblical concept of work, but they do not think of it as work–BUT IT IS! To put “work” into perspective, we believe it helps to define work in a way that has nothing to do with earning money–separate PROVISION from PRODUCTIVITY.
Work is the creation of goods or the provision of services that are of value to another human being or to a community.
Work “building for God’s Kingdom” is work that adds or restores truth, beauty or goodness to the world, thereby increasing the flourishing of God’s creation and the beauty of His Kingdom.
We believe this makes it easier to see why “retirement” to a golf course actually takes away an important part of our humanity.
Tony Robbins wrote:
Words can not only create emotions, they create actions. And from our actions flow the results of our lives.
What is the destiny of our efforts to live in alignment with God’s purpose for work in the context of our humanity if our words about work are disordered?
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): If you examine God’s purpose for work in the context of our humanity, the tragedy of “The Great Resignation” far exceeds merely the difficulty for employers of finding workers.
The tragedy is that masses of people have ceased living out an essential element of Imago Dei–an essential element of their humanity. People have come to believe that “not working” is a good thing–an achievement. People have been convinced that certain jobs lack adequate dignity, particularly if they have a college degree (or even the aspiration of attending college). Perhaps it should be called “The Great Dehumanization“.
“The Great Resignation” is a failure of business as usual, and in some sense it may be a failure of faith as usual. After all, if not the church, whose job is it to help people understand God’s beautiful design for their lives and His beautiful design for this world. Perhaps it is time to revisit the importance of teaching a Four-Part Gospel of the Kingdom instead of a Two-Part Gospel of Atonement.
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Photo Credit: Original photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels (photo cropped)