Work for God: Your Labor Is a Work of Art
I spend the better part of my ministry life trying to get people to understand the beauty of their everyday labors; to see in what they view as mundane what God sees as glorious. I am still awed when I see this principle in action.
Sitting in a restaurant one morning, a painting captured my eye, and I wandered over to examine it more closely and to see what I could discover about the artist. “Now here”, I thought, as I looked at the painting, “is the kind of talent I’d like to offer up to God.” I often find myself thinking that way when I hear a soloist belt out a powerful note or see a craftsperson shape a piece of pottery from this blob of clay.
I overheard a conversation between a worker behind the counter and a customer seated at that counter. “What would you like?” the worker asked, “and remember, take your time, I’m not going anywhere.” These last words were said with a gentleness that struck me and then moved me even more as I listened to the customer painstakingly try to form the words necessary to place the order. For what seemed an eternity, the employee stood smiling and nodding and patiently waiting for the order, never once showing impatience and even resisting the urge to guess at words or try to finish the customer’s sentences. It was one of those moments I love where I catch a glimpse of the poetry of everyday life. It was also a moment when I’m quite certain God was as moved as me.
For fear of intruding, I didn’t get the back story of this encounter, but it was clear from what I observed that this was a regular event in the life of that restaurant and the life of these two: customer and worker. How like the beauty of the artist’s painting this interaction was; and how moved God must have been to watch and hear what I watched and heard.
Can Anyone Glorify God?
I don’t really know whether that employee was a follower of Jesus or not; and even if she were, I don’t really know if she was consciously aware she was serving God in that moment.
Christian artists aren’t the only artists who can paint majestic pictures; and Christian workers aren’t the only ones who can exhibit kindness and warmth to a customer. We all share an ability to lift ourselves above the routine and expected, to deliver a service or product that is worthy of the One who created us, whether we know that Creator or not.
We sometimes believe that Christians are the only workers capable of doing the right thing or even the noble or romantic thing. In fact, we can sometimes do great harm to our culture’s view of God when we pretend Christians are better people than non-Christians. Suddenly, we run the risk of communicating that our faith is about works … doing or being better than others … instead of grace.
And yet, it is true that many Christians stand out as followers of Jesus precisely because the tapestry of their everyday lives is filled with moments where they do their jobs or relate to others in ways that become works of art laid before a worthy and adoring Father-King. So where’s the dividing line between the good we all do which adds beauty and texture to daily life, and the good done for God which transcends just the temporal contribution and becomes a gift God carries forward into eternity?
Love What You Do
Love of people or love for a job or even love for a product or service often brings out these “acts of art” in everyday life, infusing our routines with a purpose that goes beyond the mere utilitarian act of “getting things done.” Someone who loves being a boat builder looks like someone who loves being a boat builder. Someone who loves people (usually) looks like someone who loves people because they get satisfaction out of serving the things/people they love. This is good, even enriching, but there’s a tie to self-fulfillment that keeps it from being transcendent, even in its best iterations.
To transform the routine into acts that mirror David’s marveling phrases in Psalm 8, “When I consider the work of your fingers,” requires us to know in an intimate way and to walk in an intentional way with the Father who gave us the gift of work, who gave us the chance to labor alongside him in ways that mirror his glory and mimic his manner. Suddenly, when the seventieth transistor of the day passes before us on the line and we’re soldering it as diligently as the first, we’re aware that God is pleased, for he makes his pleasure and his presence known to those who seek him and who seek to work as if they were working for him alone.
He Never Misses the Art of Our Work
When life slows down long enough for us to view life closely, we are often stunned by the beauty we discover has been there all along. Frequently, we find this to be as true of the actions of others as it is of the flowers near the sidewalk we’ve been too busy to notice. But while we may only rarely see these snippets of the majesty of Creation and the Created, God never misses them.
The longer we are able to keep our focus on God and not on self, the more integrated our faith and work lives become. What at first feels robotic and labor-intensive—trying to do every task in a way that pleases God—gradually becomes a part of muscle memory. Our broken sinful selves become slowly transformed by the One we work with and for, and the people watching us are often able to glimpse God working in and through us.
It is then that the holy ground of our labors for God begins to take on the majesty David describes. It is indeed a wonder that every scene in the tapestry of labor we offer up to God moves Creation forward towards the Redemption we already know.
Work for God
Whatever work you do, it matters to God. And you can glorify God through your work. God doesn’t give more points or ascribe more value to pastoral or missionary or non-profit work. God looks at you and the work you do in your cubicle or classroom or kitchen or conference call, and all of it matters to him. It’s not just ministers who work for God. No matter what type of work we do, let’s do it to the glory of God. This series, Work for God, reminds us to do all of our work as if we were working for God, because we are.