Workism and Working the Garden
“And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17, ESV).
Workism is a dangerous thing. It’s dangerous because it takes Jesus out of the position of “holding all things together” and it inserts you, via your vocation, into that position – one you were not created to fit into.
I think without Jesus, just about anything we do becomes impossible. Which makes sense, really, when you read Colossians 1:17 – He is the one that holds all things together, not us.
Paul is writing on the preeminence of Jesus – how He is before all things, both in pre-existence and in priority, and in Christ all things of this created world are held together – including our lives, our hearts, our minds, our businesses, our families… All things.
Thinking about what holds us together is something that we can often escape from, and workism is one well-traveled route to self-sufficiency and the failure to remember.
Before Paul makes this brazen statement for the pre-existence of Christ, where the phrase “is before” indicates a present tense of past existence1 (yeah, get that one), He writes this,
“For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16, ESV).
Isn’t the Bible poetic? Man, that is beautiful. “All things were created through Him and for Him.”
If that is the case, which we take that it is, how is it that we assume the role of working for ourselves?
I’m not talking about an entrepreneurial venture, because that’s great, really it is, but I’m talking about working for the sake of you. That’s where we get mixed up. And workism just supplies us with a title for something that we’ve already been doing for ages.
Long story short, I served through a tough time in my life recently where God spent every day teaching me to depend on Him. I forfeited my preconceived notions on theology, work, relationships, and anything else I could think of, to better take on His yoke and walk according to the molding & formative patterns of the Holy Spirit in my life. That sums up a good month or two of painful daily dependence, but I emerged from the water much better than I went in.
Workism forms us into a pattern of self-dependence. It allows us to see ourselves as provider, to see ourselves as Jireh, and rely on ourselves to accomplish, fulfill, and satisfy everything we need or desire. While this is a celebrated work ethic outside of Christ, when we are in Christ, this is not the identity of our born-again spirits. We are not workism models – we are the workmanship of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10). While others may glory in the name of the “self-made” man or woman, we glory in the name of Jesus. This is what separates us from the heart of workism and allows us to desire to live & serve God in all that we do.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17, ESV).
Paul writes this verse in the context of us “putting on the new man”, which is being renewed into the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:10). He says that since we have put off our old selves after being born-again, we are now to put on our new selves, which are more interested in serving both God & people with excellence. This concept of excellence translates to every walk of life; from student to service coordinator to engineer to CEO, we are to do all things well because we are doing it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Again, this excellence sets us apart.
I used to say all the time that Christians have a terrifically unfair advantage in the marketplace because we can have joy in anything that we do. We can have the joy of the Holy Spirit in no matter what circumstance we may go through. That’s terrifically unfair to most people! This joy doesn’t come from just having a positive attitude or wanting to make a lot of money, but it comes from Jesus and from serving Him.
To contrast, this is an obvious method to subvert workism. However, workism is a subtle threat more often than it is a con artist in black & white stripes.
The fact that we love, serve, and honor the true King of kings and Lord of lords in our everyday life is an honor & a privilege – one that we should not take lightly – and, given this, we should have the tendency to let our work become our worship; however, most often, we let our work become what we worship because we end up allowing ourselves to depend on our own two hands for our provision. This is workism – a form of worship & idolatry to the works of our own two hands.
It sounds so normal but remember that it is God first who gives us the power to work and to get wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). Remembering God’s place is the first step to duck idolatry and to dodge out of workism. Remembering our place is second.
Looking to serve God in our workplace is still something to strive for every day, no matter what our position is. I reminded myself of these verses every day when I was working as a janitor last year,
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV).
These verses kept me going every day. Every time I picked up a piece of garbage or mopped a floor or threw away a five-gallon bag full of dirty diapers, I reminded myself that I was working for the Lord Jesus. I worked for Him, not for the company. That was my mentality. This kept my eyes on Jesus and exhorted me to work harder, better, and with more grace than any other motivator could have. This was the gospel at work in mywork.
I worked as worship in that place. I worshipped God all the while I ran halls to get garbage and swept up food, and I let the joy of the Lord minister to all of those that I met. This is the ethic that lets people see Jesus in all that we do – we work hard, we work well, and we work with love & joy. That’s worship at work.
Work was something that we were created to do from the very beginning. God put Adam in the garden and said, “work this ground boy!” (Genesis 2:15). Work was created as good, but when we misappropriate the heart of its creation, that’s where it goes bad. God put Adam in the garden with everything he would ever need for food & provision – He even created all of the provision before He ever created Adam (think about that). Yet, He still told Adam to “work it and keep it”.
We know that work is good, but God wants to keep us working & flourishing in His abundant glory and not grasping for the wind. He wants to be our sole sustainer & provider. He wants to be our Jireh.
Today, let’s allow God to be our provider. Let’s commit ourselves and our work to Him, and allow Him to be our initiator, our sustainer, and our end goal. And may we be found faithful in the middle.