A few months ago I had a friend ask me when I was going to be going on a mission trip again. She had gone with us on several international mission trips, and had really come alive while serving in different parts in the world. And now years later she and her husband owned a restaurant in another state, and they missed missions. Their business was successful and thriving. She loved her job, but she felt guilty about serving chicken fried steak to customers but not orphans in another country.
Sometimes I hear people say something along the lines of “No one ever thinks on their death bed, I wish I would have spent more time at the office.” And I get what I think they’re trying to say with that. I think they are trying to say that there are unhealthy work-a-holic like patterns that we need to veer away from.
The Myths of Retirement
In the world that the Bible was written it was extremely countercultural. Specifically, it’s view of work.
Most of the Creation stories of the ancient world involved this idea that the world was created from warfare and violence, and the body of a dead god decayed into the creation. So the Greeks viewed work as a curse, they thought that what it meant to be really alive was to be uninvolved in this world.
The Greek view of work was that it was a necessary evil. They believed that in the beginning, the gods and people lived together in “a golden age” and that in that age there was no work. Work was something to be suffered through. It was a means to an end.
But Genesis, starts off radically differently. It involves a God who intentionally works and creates the world with care. In fact, the word that Genesis uses for God’s creative word is just the Hebrew word for everyday work.
The Bible starts off with God working. And then he creates Adam and Eve and immediately puts them to work And that’s important, because before the fall, there was work. God didn’t finish creation, he started it and then joins in a partnership with them as they create culture, name animals and pioneer…well basically everything.
God works with them.
And in the Christian story, this all happens before sin entered the world.
It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t have this idea of retirement. Instead the Bible has the idea of Sabbath. That is you don’t just work yourself to death until you turn 65. You work with the pace of someone who knows they aren’t the Savior and creator of the world. You rest for a season and then work for a season. But you never just decide to not work again.
In fact, the closest thing in the Bible that would resemble what we call retirement is death.
Which tends to stop most people from working.
Tim Keller points out in his book, “Every Good Endeavor” that if you ask most people in nursing homes how they are doing, they will report that they miss having someway of feeling useful to others. They miss work.
Work as Mission
I like the way that Dorothy Sayers says this:
“The Christian understanding of work…is that 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 medium in which he offers himself to God.”
I think this is extremely important. Because the majority of time we tell ourselves a story that has a subtext that our work doesn’t matter. But our work can be the very way we partner with God the most in our lives.
And that brings me back to my friend who owns the restaurant. She had brought up the idea of going on another mission trip because I was telling her about how we had just gotten back from Nepal. I was telling her about the great ministry of the Red Thread Movement and rescuing girls from sex slavery. And she immediately felt guilty for not doing enough good in the world.
And then, 5 minutes later in the conversation, her husband started talking about a girl that they had recently hired from Africa. She was a refugee who had to come to America for asylum after being rescued from a brothel. They had taken her in, trained her to cook and serve food, and now she was a full time employee at a place that gave her dignity at a job that she enjoyed and flourished in.
And they didn’t see the irony. Because they had the wrong definition of mission.
We’ve carved up the world into mission (something that happens out there) and work (something we have to do to survive). And that misses the heart of the story the Bible is telling. God made this world and he made us to work and contribute to the good of it. That’s a part of the mission of God.
So don’t feel guilty about enjoying your job. God made you for serving Him and serving others. And sometimes that’s breading chicken breast to feed your neighbor, And sometimes that involves working to deliver someone from a sex-trafficking ring in Africa. And sometimes it’s giving that girl a job.
It’s mission work.