What I Learned in College
Part 3: Work is Worship
by Robby Higginbottom
September 30, 2013
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him… Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:17, 23-24
It’s always scary when a religious studies major tries to do math, but let’s see how this goes. If there are 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, that means there are 168 hours in a week. If you sleep 8 hours a night, that’s 56 hours in a week. If you work 40 hours a week, that means 96 hours of the week are occupied with sleep and work. Did you ever realize that you have 72 hours of “free time” in a week? Where does that time go? Maybe you sleep or work more or less, but you can do that math for yourself.
Let’s consider what this means over the next 50 years of your life. If you sleep 56 hours a week and work 40 hours a week, that would be 145,600 hours of sleep and 104,000 hours of work over the next 50 years. If you think in terms of 24-hour days, that means over the next 50 years, you would spend the equivalent of 6,000 full days asleep…and over 4,300 full days working. If you’re scoring at home, that’s over 16 years of sleep and 11 years of work. Anyone can see—that’s a lot of time. We already talked about rest last week, so today I want to address work. If we’re going to be spending so much of our lives working, the way we work will shape us in significant ways. Here are a few questions to consider.
For whom do I work? Growing up we learn to work for others. We work to please our parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses. Along the way, many of us also learn to work for ourselves, for the rewards and validation we feel when we do well. When I was in college, Paul’s words in Colossians 3 started to make an impression on me. As I heard Paul saying “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” and “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” I knew my perspective needed to change. Though we certainly must work for others throughout our lives, the Bible teaches that Christians are ultimately working for and serving the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter what they are doing.
How should I work? Once we answer the first question, answers to other questions about work fall into place. If we are only working for ourselves or another person, we naturally frame our definitions of success accordingly. But the Lord gives us a new perspective on work. Though we may see a teacher, coach, or boss in front of us, the Lord calls us to see our work as an opportunity to worship and serve him. Work is simply a part of our whole life, which belongs to God and is meant to be an offering of praise to him. In our passage, Paul instructs us to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” He tells us to “work heartily,” which makes sense if we are ultimately working for God.
What is my work? College students often see work as something they will do one day in the future. I think Paul would encourage you to see your academic career as work. But this passage covers more than just your schoolwork, internship, or job; it covers all of life. Twice Paul says “whatever you do” as he calls us to a life that glorifies God. If we can’t learn to glorify the Lord where he has us now, should we expect that we can one day flip the switch and live differently? In reality, the disciplines and habits we are forming now will shape the way we work and live going forward. Because of God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can grow and change.
How can I work in a way that glorifies God? In Colossians 3:1-3, Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” These verses provide the context for Colossians 3:17, 23-24. What Paul says about work in the Christian life only makes sense for those who have been raised with Christ, for those whose life is “hidden with Christ in God.” Jesus lived and died and rose so that those who are “in him” by faith might live an altogether new life. With their minds set “on things above,” it makes sense that Christians would think about work (and everything else) differently.
Jesus completed the greatest work ever accomplished—the work of redemption (see John 17:4). Before we can do anything for him, he calls us to rest in the work he has done for us. One day some people asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29). I encourage you to start here. Have you trusted in the work of God, in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? If you have, you have been raised with Christ, filled with the Spirit, and given the privilege of living the rest of your days “for the Lord and not for men.” You may have over 100,000 hours of work ahead of you. Will these hours shape you into someone defined by his or her work? Or by God’s grace, will you shape these hours into an offering of praise to the Lord Jesus?
A few questions to consider:
• 1. For whom do I work? How do I work?
• 2. What if I were more overwhelmed by the finished work of Christ than the work I have to do?
• 3. What would change if I began to see my work as a way to worship God?
• 4. By God’s grace, how could I work in a way that glorifies God?
A few things you could do:
• Tim Keller has written an excellent book on the relationship between faith and work. When you have time, I encourage you to read it! Every Good Endeavor
• For a few weeks or a month, keep a log of where your time is going. How much are you sleeping? Working? Hanging out? Doing “nothing”? Figure out where 168 hours in a week are going, and ask the Lord to help you plan and use them in a way that honors him. Meditate on Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”