Most of the time I find myself seeing work as a curse, a necessary evil that allows for the hours of relaxing and doing what I actually want to do. I struggle to see anything good in my studies at university. I spend most of my time complaining about the things I don’t like about my degree and fail to recognise that there are good things there, and that God has so graciously given me these good things.
A couple of days ago I wrote a blog post about the many comforts that being a Christian gives me in my struggles of studying at university. However, I often find myself forgetting these comforts, and forgetting the point of work in the first place. So I decided to write this blog post to remind myself of God’s plan for work. I hope that this post will help you too, whether you are a Christian or simply exploring the story of the bible and who God is.
Everything that follows is basically a snippet of what have learnt and taken away from a series of bible studies that we did together at church. The talks from each week can be found here: The Globe Church|Cultivate God in Your Everyday. I am simply repeating some of what is said in these talks and describing how these things have helped me.
One of the most significant things I learnt during these bible studies can be summed up in a small sentence:
Work is cursed but it is not a curse.
I realise this may sound weird, but let me clarify, I don’t mean that dark magic has been used against each of our vocations. Instead, I simply mean that work was not designed to be painful, but that when we turned away from God it became so. Let me explain further…
Right back at the beginning of the bible in the book of Genesis we are given an account of God’s creation of the universe and mankind. After God creates Adam, he gives Adam the responsibility of looking after the Garden of Eden, part of God’s creation:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. – Genesis 2:15
At this point, sin (human rebellion against God) had not yet enter the world. Work already existed when the world was as God had created it to be. At its core, work is good. But when humanity rebelled against God, rejecting his rule and wanting to rule themselves, sin and decay entered the world.
This meant that work was no longer as God created it to be, but instead was tainted by sin and death and decay…
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
– Genesis 3:17-19
You see, God has not promised that work will be perfect in this fallen world . In fact, it is clear that it won’t be; there are times when work will be ‘painful toil’, that ‘thorns and thistles’ (frustration, weakness and pain) will make work, studying and whatever our life contains very challenging. It is not abnormal to face frustration and struggles in our day to day lives, at work, school, university, home or elsewhere. I find myself facing many. I often struggle to see the point of my degree seem to be constantly overwhelmed by the amount of reading we are given. Most of the time I feel very lonely at university, the number of students on my course and my own anxiety preventing me from building any friendships there. Returning to university has been a great challenge with many hurdles to overcome, associations between university and my struggling with mental health making the even the idea of stepping into a lecture hall a terrifying one. Even if you greatly enjoy work, living for your job or your studies can be very dangerous. As our pastor said, ‘the big balloon of work satisfaction will quickly be punctured by the thorns and thistles’ that are the frustrations and struggles of work.
Frustrations and pain, however, are clearly not what takes up the entirety of our vocations, whatever they may be. God designed work to be good. God’s design for work is cultivation; work is designed to be a way in which we care for and develop God’s world for good. And this isn’t established by a God who does not work; God is the chief cultivator, he cares for and develops this world for good. What is more, Jesus worked whilst he was on earth, he grew up a carpenter and remained one until he devoted the entirety of his time to preaching, sharing the good news. We are called to use what God has given us to bless others – and this is not a burden but an honour. God has appointed us as ‘rulers’ in our vocations. However tiny our jobs, studies, our day to day lives, may seem to us, God still cares so much for them. In Psalm 8, we see the generosity and grace with which God has ‘crowned’ us over the different aspects of a lives…
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet…
– Psalm 8:5-6
God has placed us where we are. We might not like it but it is given with grace, God appoints is to our different places so that we my care for and develop his world for good.