Working Joyfully: Discovering the Divine Purpose for your Work

Work. The very word is ripe with connotations. Depending on the context, there may be many things that go through your mind when you hear the word. “We’re going to work till 12 and take a break.” “He didn’t come to work today.” “This project is hard work.” “I feel like I’ve been working all week without a break.” The list goes on. Ironically, We spend most of our lives working in order to get out of work. Monday comes around and we can’t wait for the weekend. Vacation is in three weeks and it can’t come fast enough. Retirement feel like a distant dream, but one day we hope to get there. 

Whether we are aware of it or not, our perspective and attitude towards work communicates very clearly what we believe about the Kingdom of God. That is, what the Kingdom’s purpose on the earth is, and our role within that purpose. So, in the midst of a myriad of opinions we must ask ourselves: What was God’s original intention for work?

In Genesis 2:15 we read:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

God created the garden as a perfect space, a temple, within his “good” creation. He then created man, whom he called “very good”, and placed him within that perfect space. Man was to work (to maintain, cultivate, till) and keep (to watch, preserve, protect) the garden. The garden was where God dwelled and communed with humanity in the “cool of the day”. The garden was the realm of His dominion and where His will was done. This was the intersection of heaven and earth, and humanity was created to exist as God’s representative on the earth. They were to rule as God’s vice-regents, carrying out his desired plan for all of creation. Adam was given both a clear mandate and defined boundaries within which to carry out that mandate. This was all before sin entered the world. This was when everything was “good”. From the beginning, work, namely a task within a specified realm, was part of God’s perfect created order. But the garden also represents the combination of wilderness and cultivation — the intersection of chaos and order, if you will. Man’s job was to maintain and expand the boundaries of this garden, constantly bringing order to chaos, subduing the world to God’s perfect will, and allowing for creativity and life to flourish. There was a God-given identity, a clear mandate and a realm of influence.

When man sinned, we lost all of those things. We lost our identity as God’s representatives on the earth, we lost our influence and authority over creation, and we lost our divine mandate. In short, we lost our work. Instead, we were given a new task, to work “by the sweat of your face.” Work now became a toil to survive. What was once a blessing became a curse. What was originally created by God as something beautiful and purpose-filled, became something undesirable and futile. We must work to survive, and no matter how hard we work, we are going to die and leave everything behind. This is the “unhappy business” that the teacher speaks of in the book of Ecclesiastes. This is the hopeless paradigm that the world is trapped in, with no apparent way of escape. Many Christians still operate within this paradigm today. Work exists as a necessary evil—a thing to be endured until we get to heaven where we won’t have to work again. As we shall see, this paradigm is entirely wrong, and getting out of it is key to stepping into God’s will for work.

The Redemption of Work

When Jesus comes into the world, he comes to restore the divine mandate.  By his death on the cross he has reconciled all of creation, including us, to the original purposes of God. This reconciliation includes God’s original purpose for work. He first restores our identity as children of God. He then restores our authority as God’s representatives on the earth. And finally, he restores our divine purpose to bring order out of chaos and expand the boundaries of the kingdom (or the garden, if you will). Jesus, the King of Kings, is taking back his world, and we are charged to work and keep the realm of his dominion as his representatives. We have, once again, a divine mandate.

But how does this play out practically in our everyday lives?

To start, work provides dignity. It gives us the ability to prove that we are worthy of a task. As Jesus said, “He that is faithful with little shall be faithful with much.” It allows us to take responsibility and shape the world around us. It provides purpose. Work, when done well, also provides service to others. The greatest commandment, of loving God and loving our neighbour, can be carried out, quite simply, by doing our work (whatever that may be) with excellence. In the same way that God gave Adam a realm of influence, so each of us has been given a realm of influence. You may be a doctor. You may be a janitor. You may be a student. You may be a stay at home mom. But wherever you are, you are there with God-given influence. And wherever you are, you can start, even little by little, to align yourself with the purposes of heaven and begin to carry out God’s will on the earth. Each of us has given a garden to keep. All we need to do is recognize it.

When we see and understand this clearly, that we have received a divine mandate here on the earth, our lives becomes full of purpose. And this purpose is something outside of ourselves, namely, King Jesus and his kingdom. Everything we are doing, we should be doing for him. It is said that in this kingdom, there are servers and there are lovers. Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet, hanging on every word he said, while Martha was busying herself with many tasks. It’s a paradox, but the reality is, in the kingdom, lovers always get more work done than servers. Being in love with King Jesus, and understanding our purpose, invigorates us with a new energy to work, not just for him, but in his power and ways. When we understand our true purpose is to take back the world for the King of Kings, we will work joyfully towards that purpose, and our work becomes the vehicle that reshapes the world.

It’s a paradox, but the reality is, in the kingdom, lovers always get more work done than servers.

Finding Your Best Work

So how does one find the right work? Well for starters, each of us has been given a unique set of giftings and talents. And it’s vitally important to God and his Kingdom that we find out what they are, because He didn’t give them to us just for fun. God desires us to work. Athletics, mathematics, arts and sciences are the obvious ones, but many of our giftings are more subtle: emotional intelligence, intuitiveness, humour, evaluating people, public speaking, and listening, are all invaluable strengths when properly activated. All of the unique talents and abilities that we have were always meant to be used for Him. So find out what you’re good at and start doing it.  

However, it’s not just about work. There is another issue on God’s heart and that is joy. Do not be deceived. God is serious about joy, and the Christian life is supposed to be a joyful one. This joy is not simply an emotion, it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and that fruit comes naturally when we’re walking in fellowship with God. The joy given is one of the ways that God confirms that we’re doing what he wants us to do. The Bible says that “the Joy of the Lord is your strength.” You can’t do something long term if you don’t enjoy it, and you can’t do it if you don’t have the strength. As a worship leader once said, “if it’s not enjoyable, it’s not sustainable.”

Your Dreams and Desires

There is an undercurrent in some circles of Christian thinking that our dreams and desires don’t matter to God. And yet the scriptures say, “delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This verse could be interpreted in two ways: God fulfills our desires when we place him as our highest priority, or God changes the desires of our hearts to be aligned with his heart. I believe both are true. As we continue to come under the Lordship of Christ and fall even more in love with him, the desires of our heart will change, even if we’re unaware of it. Don’t be afraid of your dreams. If your will is aligned with his will, your dreams will be his dreams — so follow your dreams! Remember, it’s not about you. When you consider the fact that those dreams were put there by God, you can give yourself permission to pursue them, and it’s in pursuing our God-given dreams and desires that we become fully alive. As the Proverbs say, “…a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” You’re the most effective in the kingdom when you’re fully alive, and in this God is most glorified.

What are the dreams in your heart? Don’t ignore them. Perhaps God put them there, and he wants you to start pulling the weeds out of your garden. He wants you to start tilling the soil of your own corner in his ever-expanding kingdom. Find what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and what you desire. At the intersection of your passions, gifts, and enjoyment, you will find the work that God has for you. 

A Joy that Lasts Forever 

Finally, there is an idea out there that, in eternity, we will not work. I would argue that this couldn’t be further from the truth. If we harken back to the original garden, we see that good, purposeful work, was always a part of God’s perfect world. Humanity was always intended to co-labour with God in his care for creation, and in the age to come, that purpose will not change. We will rule and reign with Christ for all eternity and there will always be work to do! Why? Because God is not a passive God. He creates, he forms, he organizes, he establishes. In short, he’s always working, and we will work joyfully within his glorious plans and purposes for all eternity. Why not start now?

Artwork by Michelle Yong