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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Your work & what God says about the contribution you are making

We are all panting through the dog-days of August and so it seems appropriate to throw some encouragement your way re: your job (a.k.a- what you do from 8am - 6 pm). I'll start with Psalm 104...

Psalm 104 is often called "The Creation Psalm" because it highlights each of the seven days of Creation in a way that says - "Hey earthlings, I'm still creating!!" God is still working the earth to make it inhabitable and enjoyable for such as us. 

And so should we! In fact, what struck me about the psalm is its insistence that God's creation is to lower-case "work" just as he upper-case "Works" to make everything on this earth work how it should. Three examples: 
1. Birds. God creates the trees so that birds can create the nests and so make their home work as it should (Psalm 104:16-17). 2. Lions. God provides their food but Lions must roar for it, shaking their prey out of their hiding spots (Psalm 104:21). 3. All of creation. God gives, we gather. "These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up." (Psalm 104:27-28).
What a great reminder that grace isn't opposed to hard work, rather: Grace is opposed to merit (ie. that hard work earns God's approval and increased blessing). 

But I'm about to stray off-topic. My purpose is to encourage you who work hard that you are not only mimicking God as His image-bearers but fulfilling God's first two commands and, thus, contributing to the culture in which you live. I've been reading an intriguing and, at times, humorous book called Becoming Worldly Saints: Can you still serve Jesus and Enjoy your life? by Michael Witmer. I'll quote him at length here because I think you'll benefit from a longer draught of his writing:
If Jesus is the Creator, then he is the one who first commanded the human race to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Gen. 1:28).
This verse has five commands. The first three - "be fruitful," "increase in number," and "fill the earth" are shared with birds and fish (Gen. 1:22), but the final two - "subdue" and "rule" - are reserved for humans alone. These verbs are crucial, and perhaps the most important, part of what it means to be made in the image of God. Genesis was written in the Ancient Near East, where kinds were said to bear the image of God because they governed their realms on behalf of a distant deity. Genesis democratizes the image by declaring that every human bears the image of God, not just kings. God made us as the climax of creation to rule the world on his behalf, and we each are responsible to mediate the blessing of God to that slice of creation that lies within our influence. We represent God to each other, the animals, and the earth, and we will give an account for the God they see in us.
God elaborated on this priestly responsibility when he "took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it" (Genesis 2:15). There is a tension with this double command. On the one hand, we must "take care of" or guard (shamar) the garden, preserving its resources for future generations. But we must not turn the earth into a museum, for God also commands us to "work" the garden. The Hebrew term is abad, which shares the same root as the word for slave. We are to serve creation, cultivating its raw materials into an escalating advance of culture. If I were God, I would have been content to command Adam and Eve, "Here is a beautiful, pristine world. Please don't break anything!" God expects more from his image-bearers, and he invited Adam and Eve to improve on his creation by taking it to a higher place.
We cal the commands of Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 the "creation mandate" or "cultural mandate." These commands occur in Scripture's opening scene, before the fall, and they direct us to develop human culture. Culture is what you get whenever humans intersect with nature. This is obviously true for metals that we twist into trumpets and cotton that we weave into shirts, but it's also true about more advanced technology. Your gleaming smartphone might seem several steps removed from nature, but the CPU that runs it is made of sand. Even language, the highest achievement of human culture, uses nature's instruments, such as vocal chords, pencil lead, and trees for paper, to describe a culture's place in the world...
Your job is the one place where you are paid for your cultural contribution. Someone things your efforts enhance the human endeavor, and they reward you with whatever they deem your work is worth (or perhaps can get away with). This is why the Paul told slaves they were serving the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 6:5-8). Their cultural contributions enabled them and others to develop creation, and so they were obeying the first command that Jesus, who is the Creator of all, gave to the human race. They were not merely serving their masters, but the Lord himself.
In conclusion, your job not only exists to make money for your family/so you can do other things you enjoy much more nor does it merely exist so you can share about new birth with your co-workers, pray for your boss, and tithe to your church. You can do your job knowing that you are fulfilling God's command of contributing to the culture in which you live and will one day leave behind. In other words, the work itself is intrinsically valuable not just as a vehicle to a mission field or to put food on the table. Your little corner plot to subdue, work, and take care of might be modest but God says you are doing exactly what you were put on earth to do.

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