The God of Work, the God of Gifts

As we wrap up our vocation series this week, we want to engage one last topic which is integral to the way we understand work and how it relates to faith:

Sabbath.

6768955When it comes to thinking theologically about work, Sabbath and work are inseparable. If we don’t include Sabbath in the way we talk about work, we miss one of the most crucial elements in the conversation.

Without Sabbath, work threatens to become something other than the gift of God that it is.

Sabbath originated when God freed the Israelites slaves from Hebrew oppression.

When you are a slave, the entirety of your existence is to work. For someone else. Without rest.

You are little more than a machine which needs to accomplish tasks and be productive. You are a human doing. Perhaps even just a doing.

When Israel is freed from slavery, God gives them a new gift: a day of rest – a day where no work is done.

It is actually not a day where there is no work to be done. It is a day where despite the work to be done, we do not do it.

We rest. We stop for a minute to realize we are more than just what we earn or produce or accomplish. We stop to remember we are not human doings but human beings.

Sabbath is the gift of not doing, so we can be about the business of being.

We started the series by looking at the 4-part story of work. Work is a gift we are given by God, and so is Sabbath.

Sabbath is rooted in creation where God stops working long enough to enjoy and savor what God has done. But the 4 part story helps us remember that work is also affected by sin and brokenness. If we disconnect work from Sabbath, it can become an oppressive master rather than a gift we receive.

When you look through the Old Testament, God seems to be really concerned with Israel not following other gods. I was always told this was because God was jealous and would not tolerate any other god getting more attention than He did.

But there is so much more to it. God is not threatened by these others gods. God understands what these gods do to us.

sisyphus-shirtThe gods demands more and more and more until everything is taken from you. The true God is a giver of gifts who wants nothing from you, but offers a path to full life.

Without Sabbath, work becomes a god.

It demands your total allegiance. It tells you that you are only as valuable as what you produce or how high you climb the ladder, or how much you earn.

So you sacrifice at the altar of work in hopes that you will find what your heart truly longs for: we want meaning, to make our life matter, to have a sense of purpose.

The problem is, gods are in the taking business, not the giving business. The gods might give a little, but ask much more in return.

Sabbath helps us put work in its proper place.

Human beings are meaning makers. It is what we do. We all are trying to constantly make sense out of the complex world we live in because it is built into our DNA.

God created us to live meaningful lives, so we seek meaning in all that we do. So we want our work to be meaningful, to have purpose, and to matter because it is such a huge part of how we spend our waking lives.

The problem is we continually run on auto-pilot, and we engage in the process of making sense of our lives driven by assumptions and understandings of how the world works which we often do not intentionally reflect on.

This is not in itself a bad thing. If you had to stop and make sense of each breath you took or each movement of a limb, you would probably not even be able to get out of bed every day.

So in order to see the value and meaning in our lives, we have to be able to have periods of reflection where we stop and intentionally try to make sense of things. We also have to have time to allow our automatic responses and assumptions to be challenged.

Which is why we do a series like this. We often use our automatic responses for work to assume some work is meaningful and other work is not. We need that assumption challenged, and we need to be able to reflect on the meaning in our current work and how it participates in the life of God.

We need space to realign with the way God sees the world.

Sabbath is the space to do this. Sabbath is not just doing nothing. Sabbath is re-aligning. Sabbath is a time where we step out of the never-ending flow, and we reflect with God to make meaning of our everyday lives.

In Sabbath, I stop and look for where God is moving in my work and where I am participating in the life of God during the week.

In Sabbath, I challenge the assumptions of my work not having meaning, or the assumption that work is what gives me meaning.

When meaning, purpose, and identity come from God, when work is received as a gift, I no longer spill my blood, sweat, and tears at the altar of a false god. I am freed from trying to prove my worth or find meaning and purpose in the work that I do. My work is an outflow of who I am and my purpose. Work becomes one piece of my being and becomes healthily integrated with all the other things which make me, me.

Sabbath makes us stop and receive. Sabbath is grace.

If we want our work to truly matter and have purpose, we have to have Sabbath. We have to learn to understand our vocation as a way of being in the world, and stop trying to let work validate us. We have to learn to stop long enough to see the beauty in our work and why it matters.

Work is a gift. So let’s learn to receive and enjoy.

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