Workism and the Hero

December 31, 2021
By: Scott Brown
Workism in Association Any good movie or book that we invest in typically gives us the opportunity to associate with the main character. We see ourselves in their story, their actions, or even their mannerisms. We associate ourselves with their role – the one that the movie or book is centered on – and suddenly […]

Workism in Association

Any good movie or book that we invest in typically gives us the opportunity to associate with the main character. We see ourselves in their story, their actions, or even their mannerisms. We associate ourselves with their role – the one that the movie or book is centered on – and suddenly we become the hero.

When workism enters the picture of our daily life, we associate our work as the main character in our story, and we associate ourselves as the main character of THE story – the story of the entire universe.

While we are busy associating ourselves with the hero in the movie or the story, God is busy working out the details that it takes to pull off this big plan of His, but we are too occupied in the mirror of the dressing room to remind ourselves of our role.

Workism works similarly – it keeps us in the dressing room, longing (or panicking) over the image in the mirror, idly minding the name on the back of the chair and not the name on the title of the movie (or the director, for that matter).

God is the director, the editor, the main character, and the producer, as well as being everything else, such as stunt double, janitor, and demolition crew for the story of the universe. Yet, we are guilty of titling ourselves with all these roles – guilty by association.

We associate our own selves with the main character, subverting God’s plan for our role and relegating Him to a secondary service role, rather than the Creator & cast of the show.

Workism does this to us as well, both in our personal lives and in our relationship to God.

Righting the Role of Work from Workism

When it comes to understanding the role of our work, we must start with understanding our own role. Erik Cooper writes in his book Missional Marketplace that “we aren’t meant to be gods; we are made to reflect God” – and this applies to our work as well!

Our role is secondary in the story that God is writing. We are not the star role in this film – He is – but we so often cast ourselves in God’s role and forget that we are meant to play a supporting role, and that the star, or the hero of the story, is and always will be Jesus.

In our daily grind, workism takes the place of us reflecting God and it turns our work into leverage in our effort to become gods. Our attempt to create the life we desire, achieve the ultimate societal status of “self-made”, and derive our affirmation & fulfillment from how much we accomplish or produce has always been a symptom of workism, and therefore a symptom of idolatry.

Don’t get me wrong, not all personal goals are ungodly, but all goals that replace God’s goals are. Anything that takes the place of God, including us, creates idolatry. And what do we do when we place ourselves at the center of the story? We create an idol of ourselves, and we worship the work of our hands (Isaiah 2:8).

What does it take to reroute our idolatry, our misguided worship, into proper worship? Maybe not quitting your job, but certainly renewing the way you think about it.

Workism in the Center

I’m a big Star Wars fan. Openly & unashamedly. I’ve seen all the major movies, most of the side shows, and now I’ve begun to crack into the animated side series “Clone Wars” because it also includes a lot more detail about the storyline that the movies do not.

I was in a binge mode of this show for about a week or so and I found myself constantly thinking about it. I was practically dreaming this show. It was here that I began to wonder if my thoughts being consumed by this so frequently was beginning to be an issue in my worship. Was I sacrificing in other areas of my life? Not really. But what consumed my mind most of the afternoon? Star Wars.

It’s that easy to create an idol. I may not have fashioned Star Wars myself, but I certainly spent a lot of time thinking about it – maybe even more than I should have. Was it workism? No, but maybe Star Wars-ism.

This is a small example of how subtle the threat of workism can be in our lives. It is a beguiled wandering of our heart from the things of God to the things of our hands. Our work becomes our center – the core of our identity, but this most often doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slower transition; more gradual & intentional.

It begins with an excitement; something like, “Oh I can’t wait to get back to work and work on this project”; and it slowly transitions into something more along the lines of, “Oh I’ll be home late again [for the 12th time this month]”. That’s a scale of workism.

Again, try not to misunderstand me here, work is GOOD! God made it good. And He made doing good work a good thing. Okay? Good.

God created work in the garden way back in Genesis 2, but man perverted that after the Fall. However, through Christ, even our work is redeemed and used by God to meld into His perfect story of Creation through Restoration.

Workism simply aims to thwart that plan of God and to insert our own goals & desires in place of His. Those goals sitting right at the center of our heart – right where God’s throne belongs.

Workism and Restoring our Hearts

God is a God of restoration. He loves putting things back together and putting things back into alignment, just the way He created them to be. That’s why healing is such a beautiful thing; God takes a broken human and restores them to their fullest physical potential: how He created them to be. We certainly play a role in this, too, however, and God often will walk us through seasons of life to teach us how to BE well and how to maintain a healed body, should He do the work to restore it.

Why? Well, what good is a healed body if we fail to maintain it?

Similarly, what good is restored work if we keep putting it back in the center of God’s temple?

Our worship belongs to God – it has since the beginning of time and it will at the arrival of the New Heavens & New Earth. Our worship is not our work alone, but our work can become a form of worship when we put it into proper alignment.

Diagnosis: workism & idolatry.

Cure: proper worship.

Proper worship is worship that puts God at the center. Worship that puts Him back on the seat of our hearts and recognizes who is Lord.

Erik Cooper writes again,

We aren’t made to be gods; we are made to reflect God. We are beloved and cherished members of the supporting cast. This is where we find our purpose, our meaning, our joy, and our calling.” (Marketplace, p. 50).

I couldn’t agree more. Our recognition of our supporting role is a one-punch knockout to workism, and most idolatry altogether. Workism cannot last in conjunction with our supporting role – it only functions when we insert ourselves at the center.

Let’s remember God and remember our role. We are here to support Him, magnify Him, and accomplish His will. Anything else is secondary.


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