Spiritual Formation at Work

August 30, 2021
Adam Whitescarver

Work is a spiritual thing. It comes from God who is a Spirit, and it is part of His perfect vision for humanity. To begin with, it was found in the paradise of Eden, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). Notably, this is before the infamous Fall where Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit to bring sin into the world. In other words, work is not a result of sin, or of the Fall, or just one of the many evils we have to deal with in this world.

This truth is bookended in the final few chapters Bible. When God is once and for all restoring the loss and damage of the Fall, He also gives dignity to work. Revelation 21 vividly portrays a key feature of the new heaven and earth is a beautiful city (it is "prepared as a bride adorned") where God dwells with his people forever, and there are no more tears, sorrow, or death. 

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:1-4).

So Heaven has a city, and cities, as we all know, require a lot of work. There will be work to do in Heaven, but it will be joyful and life-giving work no longer done as a means for survival or to attain wealth because we will live forever and have the greatest of riches in Christ. Instead, this work will simply be us living precisely as who we are meant to be without a mix of confusion, envy, or struggle. There we will all have purpose while remaining filled with love for God and one another. 

Jesus also gives a parable of what the coming of the Kingdom of God and work will be like in Luke 19:11-27. In that story there is a nobleman who symbolizes Christ, and he tells his servants to "engage in business until I come." To get them started, he gives each of them coins to invest as they see fit, and when he returns the nobleman rewards each of the faithful servants who had invested his resources wisely. Strangely enough, he does not reward them with retirement or endless wealth. Instead, he puts them in charge of cities. In other words, he rewards good work with more work, as well as the requisite authority that goes with it. 

Again, this goes to reiterate God's vision for our perfect future: it includes work! Perhaps even more profound is how we get ready for being citizens of this perfect future in His Kingdom. The preparation for the Heavenly work to which God calls us is, well, work! Work is, therefore, part of our spiritual formation. It shapes us and prepares us for Heaven. Work forms us in spiritual ways to become who we are meant to be, and it can fill us with vision and motivation for how God wishes to bring about His Kingdom "on earth as it is in Heaven." 

Consider just for a moment how lopsided the exchange is in this parable. Each servant is given a few meager coins, and then asked to manage them. In return for their careful stewardship of mere coinage the nobleman entrusts his servants with entire cities! Now scale up the model and apply it to ourselves: how much have you and I been entrusted with? More than a few coins! No matter the amount we have been given it is a peanuts compared to all God possesses. So if these servants were given whole cities as a reward for watching over coins, what could God possibly be calling us to in His Kingdom? It is surely something beyond whole cities, and far beyond anything we can comprehend. 

So work as if it mattered, not only for this life, but the life to come because it does. What are the trainings, the tests of patience, endurance, integrity, repentance, and forgiveness your workplace is pushing you toward? Work in this present world to develop Heavenly character that does the right thing, the right way, at the right times, all the time. You and I might die trying to live up to this standard, but doing so will shape us into people who are being made ready for Heaven. Thank God for getting us ready.