Work Is God’s Mask

Mark Mullery

How do you feel about work? Whether your work is in the military, at school, at home, in the marketplace, or even retirement, work can be difficult, can’t it? Many people find themselves spending more time working than any other waking activity, so it’s a vital part of our lives. How can we as Christians find joy in our work and work in a way that is different from other people around us? First, let’s follow a coffee bean and, second, let’s learn from first century slaves.

Follow a coffee bean with me as we think about all the people who turn that bean into a good cup of coffee. A planter in Ethiopia plants the coffee plant, the picker puts it in bag that a wholesaler buys. A trucker drives it to a dock where it is loaded onto a ship. The captain transports the bean here where a buyer purchases it and a roaster cooks it to perfection. It ends up in a bag the barista puts in the grinder and then brews for you to enjoy. What’s happening here? God is working through all these people to do his will in the world, bringing the blessing of a morning cup of coffee. God is fully able to do anything and everything on his own, but he chooses to do much of his work through means, through people like you. “[God] uses our labor,” Martin Luther wrote, “as a sort of mask, under the cover of which He blesses us and grants us what is His…”[1] God is present at work in an unseen way, bringing his good will into the world through people like you and me. Catching a glimpse of this can be incredibly envisioning and motivating at work.

Second, we can find joy at work as we learn from the first century slaves Paul wrote to when he said, As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. 7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. (Eph. 6:6a-8 NLT). Here are four takeaways that will help in our work:

  1. Identity: slaves of Christ. We spend so much time in our vocations that it’s easy to draw our identity from what we do. We tip this off when someone asks us what we do and instead of saying, “I do work as an engineer,” we say, “I am an engineer.” Our role at work is important, but can’t hold the weight of identity, which must come from belonging to Christ, who bought us with the price of his own life.
  2. Mission: do the will of God with all your heart. Why are we involved in doing what we do as workers? To make money? Stay out of trouble? Accomplish something great? There are a million reasons people work, but the most important reason is to do the will of God. God works through workers to bring his good will into the world. Working to do God’s will shuts off certain employment options – drug dealer, burglar, etc. – and opens us up to doing what is good and true everywhere else.
  3. Attitude: work with enthusiasm… When we know our identity is anchored outside our work, and when we see God at work with us and through us, it will encourage us to work with enthusiasm and joy, which can be a powerful testimony to God’s presence in schools or workplaces or home environments where complaining and corner-cutting can be rampant.
  4. Outcome: Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do… It is frustrating to be passed over for a promotion, to be underpaid or unemployed or see someone else credited with your hard work. Fear not, your reward is coming from the Master who sees everything, forgets nothing, and loves to reward good and faithful workers.

When we work for the Lord, with enthusiasm, when we see God at work with us and through us, we are able to be a blessing to the people we work with, the kids we are raising, the students we study alongside. Working like this brings God’s will into the world through both our attitudes and our accomplishments.

[1] What Luther Says, ed. by Ewald Plass, vol. 3, p. 1495.