How Do You Measure Work?

It was recently reported that Canadians are more overwhelmed by their work lives than ever before, and that most of our waking hours (and our sleepless nights) are concerned with work. How is it going for you? Last Sunday, we heard a beautiful exposition from Jeremy on how we can recast our work, our service, into a larger framework. Listen to these liberating words one more time: Saving is all his [God’s] idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. [Ephesians 2:8-10, Message Bible]

Beautiful, right? We work, but our work is not the first thing, nor the last thing. God’s work is the real work (his making and saving) and our work is the gracious response. And the truth of the matter is that we ourselves are the work of God, his beautiful works of artistic craftsmanship. So, how should we think about what it is we do?

Because I am wired more for philosophy than science, I don’t remember much from the high school and university science courses that I took. The one thing I remember from high school Physics was the definition of work as that discipline defined it. The basic measurable is the joule, defined as the work done by a force of one newton acting over a distance of one meter. This definition is based on Sadi Carnot's 1824 definition of work as "weight lifted through a height", which is based on the fact that early steam engines were principally used to lift buckets of water, through a gravitational height, out of flooded ore mines [this must be true, I read it on Wikipedia!]. In other words, from the standpoint of physics, work is an effect that can be quantified; it isn’t effort that qualifies as work, but effect. From this perspective, one could push all day against a heavy rock, but if it doesn’t budge, no work is produced. One would feel like they worked hard, but by the quantification of physics, if nothing has been affected, no work had been done. On the other hand, move a small feather one inch, and that is work. Work is measured by real change, not by laborious effort.

I find this measurable deeply challenging to my life as a Jesus follower. I have a job – a ministry job to be sure, but it is a job – that carries with it responsibilities and duties. I have a lot of things that I need to do, and other things I feel obligated to do. Sometimes I look at the amount of things that are on my agenda, and I get anxious. When that happens, there are times when I have to ask the hard question: what is being changed through my labors? What am I making different? I have to be careful how I measure my work, because the effort and the impact do not always line up.

And then I realize that my real work is often simpler and more basic then my struggling efforts. I find myself surprised by what actually makes a difference: paying attention to someone who needs encouragement, being open and generous with people who struggle, smiling, taking time to fill my soul with God’s real presence. My real work is to carry the grace and love of Jesus into the places I go, and the conversations I have. My work is to believe when others stumble (see John 6:29), to stay attached to the source of life itself when others are barely hanging on (John 15:5), to continually get in sync with what God is doing (John 9:4). My work (and yours) is often so much different than what I think it is.

So here is my question: what is the effect of all your expended energy? Better, and more to the point for us who follow Jesus: what is the spiritual effect of what you do? I would suggest that the spiritual definition of our work is our effect on people, not our busyness. And in this regard, I would suggest that the practice of prayer and worship are more deeply tied to the effect of our lives than meets the eye.

I am going to stop, but perhaps there is more here to talk about. Meanwhile, we gather for worship this Sunday at 9:29 and 11:11. The effect of our being together in worship will indeed be significant.

Bob Osborne