In Part 1, I explained why the Bible leads us to think of our lives as a balance, not between work and life, but between work and rest. If we really want to experience this balance, then we need to learn what it means to work well and rest well.
So what does it mean to work well? Most of us think backwards about work. We want to know HOW to do WHAT we do and assume the WHY is obvious––to get paid and advance in our career. Instead, as Simon Sinek recommends, we should start with WHY we work, then determine WHAT work we should be doing, and then learn HOW to do it with high levels of excellence.
According to the Bible, WHY we work is not just a matter of practicality. We don’t just work to survive or make a living or build a career. We actually work because we worship.
The question of worship is exactly how the Bible distinguishes between good work and bad work. It calls good work “labor,” and bad work “toil.”
In the Ten Commandments, God tells us to “labor”: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work . . .” (Exodus 20:9). This Hebrew word,ʿāḇaḏ, means “to serve” and even “to worship.” “Toil,” in contrast, is a direct result of the curse of sin. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve sinned, God told Adam, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed [is] the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17 NKJV). The Hebrew word for “toil” isʿiṣṣāḇôn, and it means “pain, hardship, and sorrow.” It’s also sometimes translated “idol.”
If we are serving and worshiping God with our labor––if He is our WHY––then we are blessed. This doesn’t mean that our work won’t be challenging or uncomfortable, but it will be free of the mental, spiritual, and physical hardship, torment, and sorrow that comes when we are serving anything or anyone else but Him. Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the LORD makes [one] rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.”
The idol we are most tempted to serve with our work is ourselves. The world around us encourages us to look to our jobs and careers as a source of self-fulfillment, either through achievement and getting to the top of the ladder, or through accumulating wealth so we can do what we want with it.
But whenever our work becomes self-serving––when we become our WHY––we are setting ourselves up for pain, frustration, disappointment, and loss. Why? Because we are stepping out of alignment with God and His kingdom, which are the source of blessing in our lives, and aligning with the enemy, who is the source of “toil.” This is why in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus told us to pray that God would “deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). The Greek word for “evil one,” ponēros, could be translated “the Toiler.” From the beginning, the enemy’s goal has been to take our work, which God meant to be life-giving and full of redemptive, creative purpose, and turn it into something that brings pain, slavery, hardship, and discouragement.
So we must keep God as our ultimate WHY for our work. We work to serve Him, glorify Him, honor Him, and partner in what He is accomplishing on earth. We work to see His Father’s heart of love for all people and the planet expressed in fullness.
When He is truly our WHY, it will define our WHAT. We will allow Him to lead us to the work that He created us to do and help us understand its redemptive, creative purpose––whether that is writing and defending just laws, protecting our communities, engineering safe roads and bridges, teaching our children, producing inspiring stories and entertainment, raising food, running a business with valuable goods and services, caring for people’s bodies and souls through medicine, social work, and ministry, or raising our children and caring for our homes.
And then we will honor Him in HOW we execute that work––with humility, focus, and excellence: “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life” (Galatians 6:4-5 MSG).
What is your WHY for work, and how does it reflect what you worship? Do you see the blessing of the Lord in your labor? Or do you see the presence of “toil” in your daily life?