Here are some quotations about work that I like:
“The brain is a wonderful organ: it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and doesn’t stop until you get into the office.” (Robert Frost)
“I always arrive late at the office, but I make up for it by leaving early.” (Charles Lamb)
“Work without love is slavery.” (Mother Theresa)
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” (Aristotle)
“The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity.” (Carlin)
“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” (Madeleine L’Engle)
And to balance, some on leisure:
“If I am doing nothing, I like to be doing nothing to some purpose. That is what leisure means.” (Alan Bennett)
“Anything for a quiet life, as the man said when he took the situation at the lighthouse.” (Dickens)
“Just about the time a woman thinks her work is done, she becomes a grandmother.”
“Just about the best leisure is the amount of time you spend asleep”
And now from Colossians 3:17:
“Let every word and action, everything you do, be in the name of the Lord Jesus, and give thanks through him to God the Father.” (REB)
As followers of Christ, what issues do we face in this area of work and leisure? There are those of us who do too much work and don’t get enough leisure; there are those of us who are un- employed or under-employed and long for more work; and there are those who have retired and wish they didn’t have so much leisure.
Then there’s the quality of our work and leisure. Professionals in Britain are working more and more hours and experiencing more fatigue, and the little leisure they are having, far from being re- creative and restorative, is merely ‘crashing out’. The average worker in the UK gives only 20 hours a week to leisure, and 10 of these are spent watching TV.
And we should also mention the way we abuse work and leisure. So workaholics live for work: work is their ‘god’ and ultimately their source of self-esteem and purpose. But equally we can make ‘gods’ of our leisure activities, where we live for the weekend, where sheer escape is all we are after.
We need to think as Christian disciples about these topics. First a definition of work: “Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community and glory to God.” (Stott)
Leisure encompasses two things:
A quantity related to our doing – hence the Sabbath – six days of work and one of non-work
A quality related to our being – restful, fun, joy, freedom and celebration
There are some distorted views on work and leisure: 1) Work is all I am about; 2) Leisure alone makes a human life worth living; 3) There is no difference between work and leisure. The Christian integrated way is to realize that work makes leisure pleasurable and leisure gives new energy to work. You see, the Bible records that humans are workers, but were also created to celebrate and to enjoy rest. I never get tired of pointing out that Adam and Eve’s first experience of creation was rest. And that precious rest is seen to be pictorial of faith – God has done it all, and we enter into all he has be resting in his finished work. Any work they subsequently did was from rest. All our best work is done from rest. Not to rest, not to take a Sabbath – far from being admirable and exemplary – is in fact to put yourself a judge of God himself, and hence a terrible provides for the needs of individuals
Is a means of fulfillment (you can’t call what the animals do ‘work’)
Is an integral part of our being made in the image of God; it makes us fully human
Allows us to be stewards of God’s creation and to work with our Lord and Redeemer and Creator in his world.
idolater. We have the Sabbath precisely because God wants us to see that there is more to life than work – that worship, relationship with him and our family and friends are also vital to live human lives to the full.
The Bible records that ever since the Fall, work can become a drudge. God is the life and soul of the party – leave him out and life turns sour. Work becomes harder and harder, more and more frustrating, more and more consuming and less and less satisfying. As the Preacher in Ecclesiastes said, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless! What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?” (1:1-3) He uses that phrase, “under the sun”, as being shorthand for saying there is no reference to God, there is nothing higher over us. He later says sadly, “When I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind, nothing was gained under the sun.” (2:10-11)
But that isn’t what God wants. So we need to see work in the light of the Resurrection and the plans God has to renew heaven and earth. The new heavens and the new earth will see our commitments to work and leisure transformed – and nothing will be wasted.
How do we know that Jesus is Lord over our work?
If you are a Christian dustman, don’t be down on yourself – you are the Lord’s freedman. Hold your head up high, for all you are doing you are doing as unto the Lord, for his glory. If you are a Christian doctor, don’t get full of yourself. You are just the Lord’s slave – because you are not fulfilling your vocation for the status or the money, but for the Lord. The Incarnation has sanctified all labour – paid or unpaid, glamorous and noted or unknown and humbling. Your worth and self-esteem are not defined by how much money or how little, or how much worldly kudos you gain in your employment. They lie in the gracious choice that Christ made in thinking you were just the right one he wanted to bring home. You can be a homemaker/unemployed/too infirm and never receive what your work is worth but your value is the precious blood of Christ – that’s how much he treasures you.
How do we know that Jesus is Lord over our leisure?
The 10 commandments give us God’s scale of values: the first five are to do with protecting our relationship with God (including a holy day, 1 in 7); then comes the sanctity of life; then comes the sanctity of marriage and sex and what we do with our bodies; then comes God’s values on property, truth and things.
Looking at the 10 commandments will give us a useful rule as to how to live out our leisure times as Christian disciples: we will want to keep Sabbath; we will invest in family; we will see the value of life-giving celebration; we will place people above things.
At the core of our lives Christ resides. We should make sure that in both our work and leisure we are in the place where his light best shines. We witness to Christ best in both when our lives are in godly shape, conformed to him. We witness best by learning Christ’s priorities afresh.
Jesus is Lord of the whole of our lives, be they spent in work or leisure. None of us live for work or leisure. We are called to live for Christ. It is only as we put Jesus first does he organize the remaining parts of our life. It is wrong when either work or leisure become our religion. Both can become things we consume and they can end up consuming us: our time, our energies, our relationships, our spirituality, even our physicality. Wherever we go, let’s go with God. Whenever we rest, let’s rest with God. When we play, let’s play with God. When we work, let’s work with God. Whatever we do, let’s not think there is anywhere God has no business to be. He is the King of our work and leisure.
“Let every detail in your lives – words, action, whatever – be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” (Colossians 3:17 MSG)