Why All Work Matters
The last two months has seen majority of employees work from home, without routine and their productivity reduced significantly. Questions have begun to emerge about work or what we commonly refer to as a job. Questions such as; why am I engaging in this kind of work? What value does my work add to society? Is my job unimportant now that I am supposed to be at home by 7 PM to beat the curfew hour?
On the other extreme of the spectrum are those who find themselves in the essential services jobs. The challenge here is that their work hours have increased, their income is still intact and for some, income has increased in this season. The Spiritual danger here is that this category might over-identify with their work and make it the primary source of satisfaction.
In this period, it is important for us to affirm that all work matters and is important. Some quick reminders will help us affirm this as we seek a bearing for these many questions. Lets begin with defining work.
What is Work?
Work can be defined as “All moral and meaningful activities apart from leisure and rest, including paid and unpaid; private and public.” (Keller) From the definition, we see that the work spectrum ranges from un-paid work, such as washing utensils at home, cooking to feed a family, farming to feed a family, and volunteering. On the other hand, we have paid workers such as teachers, church workers, doctors, police officers, drivers, matatu conductors, and garbage collectors.
Work must be moral and have meaning. Think about washing dishes at home. It is one of those nagging tasks we know, no sooner do we wash them than they get soiled. Worse still is when you are washing, someone else picks the one you just cleaned, soils it and returns it for cleaning again. When will this ever end, we wonder? Yet this menial task creates a clean environment where people can eat and drink thus prevent contracting illnesses or bacteria. When we see that the small daily chores have meaning, then we get some impetus to keep working.
In the Beginning
Work is not foreign to the Bible; it is very much a part of the Bible story. Tim Keller rightly observes, “The Bible begins talking about work as soon as it begins talking about anything—that’s how important and basic it is.” (Keller) The first page of the Bible is a scene of God at work, creating the heavens and earth. In the second chapter, man is put in the garden to work (Gen. 2:15). God intended human beings to till and subdue his creation in a perfect world without sin and idolatry.
To emphasis this, Gen 2:5, “Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth, and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth, and there was no one to work the ground.” Two ingredients. Rain and man to work on the earth. It looks like God’s initial purpose for man was to work the ground.
This work takes different forms. The doctor, nurse, and clinical officer treating patients at Mbagathi hospital. The cleaner who ensures the same hospital environment is clean. The matatu and boda-boda man who ensures workers get to the hospital on time. The farmer preparing the land deep in the village to ensure there is a supply for the hospital—the truck driver who fetches the food and supplies it. The garbage collector who traverses different towns and estates, picking waste to ensure there is a healthy environment. All this work is God ordained from the beginning, and it has a meaning. More reason why it should matter to us when we do it and how we do it.
Faithful servants glorify God with their work
If we agree that work is God-ordained, it is then not a necessary evil and it gets meaning. It follows then that it matters to God how we work. Man was made the property manager or steward by God to cultivate the garden and guard it. Cultivating here means using what God has already created to continue the creative work that brings delight to God (All He created was good).
It is at this point that we see how our work delights God. And this is the basis of the meaning of work. We are to do it for the glory of God. In Colossians 3:22-24, we are reminded to work in full remembrance that our ultimate master is the Lord. Servants to obey their earthly masters not by way of eye-service but with sincerity of heart. He goes ahead to ask them to work heartily in whatever they do as to the Lord and not men.
When we engage in that job that looks menial with delight, remembering it brings delight to God, we begin deriving enjoyment from it, and God blesses our feeble efforts and abilities. An important question here to us will be whether we use our creative abilities in our jobs to continue creating. We honor God when integrity and faithfulness are continuously applied in our work, whether we do it from the office building or a small space at home. The project officer working from home due to this pandemic will then use her time well and send in the work reports as required while the entrepreneur will not cut corners to maximize profit at the expense of his customers’ well being.
Work to serve others
Going back to the earlier picture of working at Mbagathi Hospital. Imagine if the garbage collector does not do his job correctly. Or, the cleaner expected to sanitize every section in the hospital and because of idleness, skips some of his tasks. Or the doctor who does not serve patients on time and they end up dying because he attends to other better paying private practice? Do you see how the neglect of our work can lead to chaos in the world?
Jesus summarizes the greatest law as to love God and love our neighbors (Mat. 22:34-40). Every time we do not love God and do everything to his glory, high chances are, we end up not loving our neighbors and instead use them to feed our selfish and motives and idols of work. My observation is that when my personal walk with God is shaky, my relationship with others is also affected.
How does it relate to our work?
“Christians cannot make their living doing work that provides no real benefit to other peopleWhile this may be a challenging idea for us to process due to the rise of capitalism and undue love for self, it has been the traditional understanding of work. Work provides for others. In African culture, work was not only a communal affair but also essential to the well-being of the individual and the community’s survival through provision.
This idea does not fall too far from the Bible. The church at Ephesus is reminded of the same virtue of working for the service of others. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Ephesians 4:22-28. The motivation for work here is so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. It is service to others.
Our gifts and abilities are to be used to benefit others while honoring God. Martin Luther reflecting on this idea, said: “When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And he does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of a farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, the person who prepared our meal
Other people in the society are served by means of our work, and the Lord answers their prayers through the service we provide. And this is how interdependent we are to each other so that the pastor does not act as the security guard for his church, the engineer as his own banker, and the firefighter as his own lawyer. Our work then adds value to the quality and diversity of society and shows our love to our neighbor.
Our labors matter whether we work as high officials within governments and big corporations or in conventional duties like a bus driver or school teacher. God ordained for us to work, and we cannot afford to go on with our work mundanely while He the King of the Universe demands of our accountability. Where we work from is not as important as to whom we work for – God. Therefore we should be faithful to discharge the duties entrusted to us. In the same breath, we should not belittle our work because we get to serve other people too.
May the Lord grant us the passion, the courage, and wisdom to attend to our work diligently, efficiently and with integrity during these COVID-19 times.
 Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Broadway, NY: Penguin Random House, 2014)
Richard D Phillips., The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010)
 Gene Edward Veith Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002)
Article by Anthony Kamau. Anthony works as a project officer for Afya Bora Exchange programme.