Stewardship of our Presence II
Jesus in the Marketplace
Going to the National Youth Service was definitely a marker in the lives of many of us who went through the compulsory program in the late 80’s. It was a tough encounter and stretched us to the limit. But it had its down side too. There are some things that we did which resulted in a negative response. And for me, that was work. Work was made a form of punishment and some times – I guess any Kenyan who has been to boarding school or prison knows this. The result is that when I came back from N.Y.S, I was less industrious than before. Whereas I enjoyed doing some manual work, I tended to avoid it. Where before I walked a distance without thinking, I started taking public transport. I did not realise how much I had been affected until much later. It took diligence and effort to reshape my view and appreciation of work.
We continue with our series for this month on the Stewardship of our Presence. As I said last week, the intention of the series is to ask; How can we have an influence on the people and community God has placed us in at home, away from home, at work and other social and formal places? How can we live out the LIFE of Jesus in such a way that people are drawn to the source of that LIFE? If last week we looked at Jesus in our neighbourhood, this week we look at Jesus in our Workplace. How do we bring Him there; how do we represent Him there.
Our view of Work
Allow me to begin by saying that we cannot be good representatives of Jesus in the workplace if we do not share God’s view of work. What is your view of work? I suggest three broad categories in response. First there are those who have never questioned why they work and what work exists for. They have always known that when you grow up you work and then you retire. It is simply the cycle of life. Born, grow up, work, retire. You have never really thought about why you work.
But second, a good number of us have gotten our view of work from our parents. If your parents were civil servants, you know you try to keep your job then return to the village after your retire and sort of figure out the rest of your life. If you parents were farmers, you sort of just keep going till you drop, and often hope that the rains come when they are supposed to; If not, too bad. If your parents were businessmen, then you work to get the last coin possible, often getting home late. Others had or have parents who did not work, or saw their parents lose their job and struggled for their livelihood because of that. You lived with the shame of being chased from school for lack of school fees was too much. You know that losing a job is a disaster and therefore you know you must do anything for financial security.
There is a third category of people, who view work in a slanted way, maybe even with a biblical angle to it. Such people think that work is a curse. All was good in the garden of Eden until Adam and Eve sinned. They quote Genesis 3: 17 – 19,
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.19 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.”
For these people, there is nothing good about work but a necessary evil – to sweat and toil till we drop back to the dust from which we were taken. These people view work as a punishment and a necessary evil. I therefore repeat again, you cannot be a true representative of Jesus in the marketplace if you have the wrong view of work such as this or any other. You notice I have said nothing about people who appear to love to work – Monday-to-Monday they just work.
From the book of Genesis 2, I would like to give my view on the earliest perspective from scripture on work so that you may view it in the right way and thus represent Jesus at work in the right way.
A Biblical view of Work
God is the originator of work: The creation story can be seen as a matter of words, because we have understood it to be that God spoke and it came to be. And rightfully so, until you understand how God did it, V 2 says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done”. God worked and therefore the concept of work – using effort and energy to bring forth something – is from God. It is not an act of capitalism or any ism. It is an aspect of God.
God created us to work: When God finished the work of creating, it is said that He rested from that work. He was done. But that very creation needed nurture and care. And God would gave that responsibility to no one else but the one He made in His own image. And so in Genesis 1: 27 – 30, after God makes man in His own image, He blesses him and then gives him rule and responsibility over all He created. Not only that, He gave him a clear mandate to work on what He had created – Read Gen 2: 5 – 7, 15. The land needed the work of man for it to be fruitful and productive. In other words, God created us to work so that there could be gain from what He had already given to us. Wherever we are, we work as stewards of what God has given us on this earth. We are partners with God in our work.
God wants us to have partners in our work: We very quickly see Eve as primarily a romantic addition to Adam – a solution to his loneliness. But the context that the Genesis 2 refers to Eve as a helper is that of labour, not love. In v 18, “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”. May I suggest that even in the matter of procreation it was so that there could be others who would carry out the mandate of God of being stewards of what He made – protecting it, nurturing it, and getting profit from it. And that is why it is equally important to help our children understand God and His purpose for work as we demonstrate a good attitude towards work. God does not want us to work alone. He wants us to team up with others.
God wants us to rest from work: I mentioned earlier that I had not commented on the people who just love to work and work and work. Well, I have a take on that. I say a person like that has issues that they need to resolve. It may be insecurity and wanting to prove that you are needed. It may be something they are running away from outside work. It may be the misconception that success is to work yourself like a donkey. Whatever the issue, the scriptures indicate that we must rest from work. I do not mean laze around and not work, no. I mean rest from work done. I repeat Genesis 2: 2 – 3, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done”. God by His actions prescribes rest. Indeed if I may milk scripture, the order of every day of God’s work, “there was evening and then there was morning – the first day”, and so forth for all six days. It seems the day began with rest, followed by work.
Are we going to be good stewards of our presence at our stations of work? It will not be by doing evangelism even if that is good. It is not by being the most polite even though that is good. It is not by being a busybody, and that is not good. It is by having the right attitude about work, and the right approach to your work. It is about God’s purpose for work – that we may be good stewards of what God created and put here on earth for us. When we work, we partner with God in accomplishing His purpose, “So that in everything Christ might have the supremacy” (Coll 1: 18).