A Primer on Work for Recent Graduates

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Summer months mean this: thousands of U.S. graduates from high school to university institutions walked across the stage to receive a diploma of completion over the past few weeks. And even more sat through the roll call of names waiting to hear just one familiar one, culminating decades of hard work.  

As freshly minted graduates transition into new day-to-day vocations and rhythms, the following Gospel principles can guide both good days and bad. These principles are for all - those who celebrated with the graduates and those who will welcome them into workplaces. It’s a theology of work for all to model as these new minds breathe new life into our organizations.  

1. You were created to work.

In the first sentence of the Bible, God creates.  Then He makes man and woman “in his image.” By being created in the image of God, you are created to work.  And like God did his first six days of creation, you can bring structure out of chaos over and over. Every job is some version of structure out of chaos - healthcare, starting a company, financial analysis, parenting.  Scripture also tells us to be “fruitful and multiply” and “take dominion over the earth” Can these extrapolate beyond agricultural work and child bearing? Analysis of scholars seeing the original text language help us understand that these passages can be interpreted more widely as “create flourishing.” How can you think of your job if you know it is to “create flourishing”? As noted by Tim Keller and Katherine Alsdorf in Every Good Endeavor, “we are continuing God’s work of forming, filling, and subduing. Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and 'unfold' creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development.” Work itself is a basic need for man and helps to provide both purpose for our lives and means to serve and honor the Lord through the labor of our hands.
 

2. Work is broken.

In the third chapter of Scripture, brokenness entered the world.  You are broken and work is broken. Because of this brokenness entering humanity, we now experience frustration and toil in our work on earth. Regardless of your job or industry, you should anticipate thistles and thorns in your work. The old adage “love what you do and you will never work a day in your life” is the American dream for a happy career, but it does not align with biblical truth. People are broken, systems are broken and therefore work will be hard at times.
 

3. God’s good work can come from anyone, not just those who believe in God.

The concept of common grace affirms that all good gifts in a person come from God, regardless of a person’s personal beliefs.  Every man and woman is created in HIS image. The world may be enriched, brightened, and preserved through anyone and that goodness is of God, even if the one doing the work does not see it. Because all human beings are image bearers, it should not surprise us that all are capable of doing great work.
 

4. Work is an opportunity to use the gifts you have been given.

Do you think of work only as a way to pay the bills, get ahead, or provide a convenient schedule for you? If so, you may need to reassess how you can serve the work rather than the work serving you. Regardless of your position, workplace, or title, your work serves a purpose in God’s unfolding story. Dorothy Sayers said it best: “Work is not primarily a thing one does to live but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker's faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God."
 

5. We are called to rest from our work.

God rested on the 7th day. And he commands us to rest. The pace of the American workforce and 24/7 connectivity can pressure us to be “on call” at all times.  Rest is not only a way to restore our minds, souls, and bodies (and many “secular” articles suggest that comes with productivity and creativity improvements), but it also increases our dependence on God.  In the words of Keller and Alsdorf, “To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward.”  He calls us to rest.
 

With these principles in mind, how can your day-to-day work be transformed with this renewed perspective? “The Gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through work, for we are already proven and secure. It also frees us from a condescending attitude toward less sophisticated labor and from envy over more exalted work. All work now becomes a way to love the God who saved us freely; and by extension, a way to love our neighbor.” - Katherine Alsdorf and Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor.

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