Fuller

Thankful Work

November 17, 2018 • Life for Leaders

Give thanks in all circumstances.

1 Thessalonians 5:18a

 

Why are we thankful in the context of our work?

Is our gratitude rooted in relief? Do we “Thank God It’s Friday (TGIF)”? Are we simply glad when our work is over? In a fallen world, work is often burdensome. So, it’s not surprising that there is a sense of relief when it’s done. And the frenetic pace and intensity of modern work heightens our appreciation and gratitude for rest when it comes. Still, having rest and relief become the focus of our labors (and our gratitude) is problematic.

Les Botteleurs de Foin by Jean-Francois Millet (1850)

Les Botteleurs de Foin by Jean-Francois Millet (1850).

Is our gratitude rooted in comparison? In the words of an ancient Jewish prayer, do we (if we happen to be Jewish men), “Thank God I’m not a woman, a gentile, or a slave”? Some modern hearers will find such a prayer not just odd but offensive (more on that below). Nevertheless, we must admit that it’s surprisingly easy for us to frame our own gratitude by comparing ourselves to others—of course, with language that is much more socially acceptable!

Or, finally, is our gratitude rooted in participation in divine labor? It seems to me, that should be the source, the taproot of our gratitude in our work. As Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). The work to which we are called is never solitary. We work alongside and together with God. Remarkably, when we are invited into the life and fellowship of the Trinity, we are invited into its work as well. The Father “is always at his work to this very day.” So is Jesus, the Son. So is the Holy Spirit. Like children in a family business, we have the unimaginable privilege of entering into the work of our divine family. Today. In the ordinary life and work of our lives. That’s a remarkable and transforming vision of our work. And that’s a good reason for our gratitude and thanksgiving.

For that reason, it’s worth remembering that our position, privilege, and responsibility are meant to bless others, not just ourselves. Giving thanks for our blessings is intended to provoke us to respond to those blessings in a way that benefits others (as even the ancient Jewish prayer reminds us—on which see a contemporary Jewish feminist perspective). We are called as God’s people to care for those who are disadvantaged—“the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns (that they) may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 14:29).

The work we do is a gift from God. In the early church, the work week began on Sunday, the day after the Sabbath. Christians began their work week worshiping God and giving thanks together. For many of us today, Sunday has become associated with rest. Losing the connection between worship, giving thanks, and our work is deeply unfortunate. Recovering our work as a context for worship and thanksgiving is one of the challenges of our generation.

This reflection is being published on the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day in the United States. While Thanksgiving is a holiday, it’s worth noting that it always falls in the middle of the work week. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate not only the fruits of our labor but the gift of labor itself—the privilege of working in our Father’s “vineyard.” With Jesus, our elder brother, we are given the gift of participation: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” In that context, the Apostle Paul reminds us to follow Jesus in how we do our work. In all that you do, in every place and time you find yourself, be joyful, be prayerful, and be thankful, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18b).

Something to Think About:

What makes you thankful at work?

Something to Do:

Tell someone why you are thankful for their work.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, we are grateful that your work makes our work possible. Thank you for inviting us into the life and work of the Trinity. Thank you that you gave each of us, as members of your body, the opportunity to share in divine labor. We are grateful for the gift of participation in your work in the ordinariness of our lives. Help us to do our work joyfully, prayerfully, and thankfully. We ask this in your name and for your sake, Amen.

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