By Andrew Hoffman
Huge portions of our lives are spent working. We give our best hours, energy and ideas to work. It is no surprise, then, that work can inch its way into the central parts of our being, overtaking our identity and demanding our ultimate allegiance.
That the Hebrew word “avodah” can be translated as both “work” and “worship” raises an intriguing question. Is it possible that God’s intention for work was something entirely more spiritual than we’ve commonly understood? The answer is yes and a quick review of the “avodah” story in the Old Testament helps us to see why.
Even before the fall, “working the ground” (Gen. 2:5) was a key part of what it meant to be a human living in continual worship of God. It was good. After the fall, the goodness of work was tarnished but not destroyed (Gen. 3:18). Evil oppressors in Egypt transformed work into slavery (Ex. 1:13-14). But God intervened and redeemed the people, including their work lives. “Let my son go that he may serve (avod) me,” says the Lord to Pharaoh. In so doing, he calls Israel out of enslavement-work and into worship-work. This worship-work includes activities like singing at the tabernacle and celebrating passover but also more traditionally “secular” activities like working in the fields, making fine linen, etc. As it turns out, all of these things, carried out in the presence of God and for the glory of God, are our work and our worship, both at the same time. What we “work at” we are also intended to “worship through.”
This is just the merest scratching of the surface of the work-worship idea and all its implication for our lives. It is a deep mine of discipleship treasures waiting to be explored. Our ongoing journey involves focused scripture study, exploring the lives of Christians who’ve been working hard to integrate their faith and work and Sunday morning commissioning of all our people as missionaries in their unique fields of endeavor. The hub of all this activity is the monthly Saturday morning Avodah seminar. Join us on the journey.
Finally, we may be encouraged to know that we humans are not the only one’s hard at work in the world. God himself is working for the redemption of all things. And he has sent his special “servant” (Is 42:1, same root word as avodah) to bring his work to fruition. Our God doesn’t send us where he is not heading already, eager to meet us in the midst. Are you ready to go with him?