[T]herefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”
As we saw in yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, God kicks Adam out of Eden because of his sin. Yet Adam is still to do the work for which God created him. His experience of work, however, will not be what it was in the garden. Now he will labor in a broken world. He will till the ground, but fight thorns and thistles in the process. He will work hard, but with frustration and fruitlessness.
A recent book lays out succinctly and insightfully what happens to our work because of sin. Every Good Endeavor, written by Timothy Keller, with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, begins by considering “God’s Plan for Work” in light of Genesis 1-2 and other biblical passages. The second part of the book, “Our Problems with Work,” explains how sin affects and infects our work. This section of Every Good Endeavor includes four chapters: “Work Becomes Fruitless,” “Work Becomes Pointless,” “Work Becomes Selfish,” and “Work Reveals Our Idols.” But Keller and Alsdorf do not leave us with the bad news based on Genesis 3. The final part of the book, “The Gospel and Work,” shows how Christ transforms our experience of and effectiveness in our work. I highly recommend Every Good Endeavor to you if you’re looking for timely, relevant, biblically informed wisdom about work.
I first read Every Good Endeavor during a season of discouragement in my work. I felt frustrated and wondered what God was doing (or not doing) with my life. Then I came upon a section in chapter five of Every Good Endeavor, “Work Becomes Fruitless.” These words spoke to my heart: “Just because you cannot realize your highest aspirations in work does not mean you have chosen wrongly, or are not called to your profession, or that you should spend your life looking for the perfect career that is devoid of frustration. That would be a fruitless search for anyone. You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation” (p. 94). I suppose if one were naively idealistic about work, this would be bad news. But, for me, it was ironically encouraging to realize that I should expect to be “regularly frustrated” in my work. (I notice that 160 people have highlighted this passage in their Kindles. Obviously, it has touched the hearts of many.) Taking seriously the brokenness of the world in which I worked gave me new strength to work hard and to offer my work to the Lord, even in the midst of frustration.
To be sure, many of us find that, at times, our work is fruitful and fulfilling. We experience, however partially, both the created goodness of work and a taste of the future, when God will restore and renew all things. We receive these experiences with gratitude as expressions of grace. Yet, we realize that the “thorns and thistles” of our work remain until God reigns fully over the earth.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How has your experience of work been tainted by sin?
As you read the titles of the chapters in Every Good Endeavor, how did you respond? Were you curious? Anxious? Uncertain?
What do you think of the idea that we should expect to be regularly frustrated in our work?
Gracious God, I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could work hard and well, bearing good fruit and feeling fulfilled. Sometimes this does happen, and for such gifts of grace I thank you. But the truth is that I work in a world corrupted by sin. My work will be entangled with “thorns and thistles.” It will not always fulfill me or delight me.
Thank you, dear Lord, for not abandoning us in our sinfulness, for not leaving us alone in this broken world. Thank you for determining by your grace to redeem us and the world. Thank you for the redemption we have in Christ. Thank you for the ways we experience your redeeming power in this life, even in our work. Thank you for the hope of the future, for a world remade, for the chance to live in the fullness of life as you intended it to be. May gratitude and hope sustain me in my work today, as I offer all that I am and all that I do to you. Amen.