Beating the Challenges, Seizing the Opportunities, and Doing Avodah Work!

By Pastor Peter Lau

“Transform the workplace? Kidding? I couldn’t even SURVIVE!”

It is the usual response I get when conversing with workplace Christians about bringing their faith to work. It’s NO kidding! Since the pandemic, we have all struggled with survival mode in our work.

The Challenges of Work

Recent research findings confirmed how difficult it is to survive work nowadays: Remote work has blurred the boundaries between work and private life, causing employees to prolong work hours to answer calls or emails, contributing to digital burnout.1 2 Technological advancements such as AI and automation, which result in shorter skill lifespans and the emergence of new occupations, are driving the growing demand for employees to upskill and reskill.3 A high inflation rate has pared wages to the lowest ever sub-inflation level; one can work long and hard, live frugally, and still not make ends meet. The hard skill gap (45%), irrelevant work experiences (36%) and soft skills gap (26%) are making it difficult for job seekers, especially immigrants, to find positions that match their qualifications, and were forced to do inexperience or even downgraded work.4 Those excessive communication at work can lead to information overload, decreased engagement, and productivity.5 People hate work because it is drudgery to many, whether physically or mentally, as they have to do a lot to make a living. Genesis 3:17 uses the term toil to describe work:17 To Adam, he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” (Gen 3:17 NIV)

Work is strenuous (Gen 3:16, 17; 5:29 עִ צָּ בֹון) which carries the meaning of hardship, pain and drudgery. It reflects the reality and curse of sin.16 To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”.18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat

the plants of the field.” (Gen 3:16,18 NIV)

The curse’s effect was twofold: First, it was the ground – the environment or condition on which humans work, was cursed (3:17-18). Work was never cursed because God blessed work in Genesis 1. God couldn’t curse something meant to be a blessing, but the work condition was where all our hardship came from. Second, the working relationship was distorted due to human self-centredness (3:5); males and females were meant to be work partners (2:18) but now began to fight for dominance over each other (3:16b).

As a result, work becomes a necessary evil, a means to an end, an instrumental value for survival, something we seek to minimize or avoid if possible. We work only:

To Survive – to exchange money and daily necessities

To Satisfy our Self – for ambition, promotion and satisfaction

To Seek pleasure – avoid work by all means and become idle (2 Thess 3:6 ἀτακτέω, 7, 11: 1 Tim 5:13; Tit 1:12), because leisure is the only thing that is under our disposal.

The Original Intent of Work

Work was not meant to be toilsome; it was initially designed to serve God’s purpose and give humanity a sense of purpose, as stated in Genesis 1 and 2. We were told in Genesis 1 that humans were created in God’s image to serve God’s purpose of ruling (1:26-27). The centrality of work expresses the human identity as God’s image-bearer, for we are workers just as God is. As image-bearers, humans are to extend God’s work of creating, sustaining, redeeming and consummating.6 We, as image-bearers, are to represent God to exercise dominion over creation (1:26, 28). Dominion is to extend God’s royal reign (1 Ki 4:24; Ps 110:2) to care for the well-being of creation (Ex 20:8-11) and all the royal subjects under humanity’s regal rule (Ps 72:12-14), i.e. the pursuit of the common good. And this dominion work of humanity is expressed by the five (5) commands (Be fruitful, to multiply, to fill, to subdue females have dominion), and was blessed by God (1:28). But work is not only blessed, it is also a means to bless the whole creation intended by God through the work of His image-bearers. And, therefore, God works to create; we work to serve God’s purpose for the common good of His creation.

In Genesis 2, humans were created to serve God’s purpose by working on the soil

(2:4-7). Notice that in verses 5-6, the foundation of creation was laid. Still, there was no growth of plants and vegetation because “there was no man to work the ground” (2:5). Immediately, we saw in verse 7 that “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground” (2:7). In other words, humans were formed to fill a need, to work on the ground, which gives humanity a unique purpose. We are not created accidentally but to fulfill God’s purpose.

Then, in verses 8 and 15, humans were mentioned as being “put” twice in the garden to work, whereas verse 15 states specifically that we are to work on (the ground); in some translations, the term “to work” is translated as “to cultivate” to refer to agricultural work (NASB, GNT, Amplified Bible). The term “work” is of particular importance because, in Hebrew בעֲֹודָּה (avodah) is a rich term that covers a variety of meanings, from Working (to serve humans), Worship (to God) and Service (to both God & humans).

Avodah as Working or Labouring:

“Six days you shall work (avodah).” (Ex 34:21)

Avodah as Worship:

“This is what the LORmentioned ast my people go, so that they may worship (avodah) me.” (Ex 8:1)

Avodah as Service:

“But as for me and my household, we will serve (avodah) the Lord.” (Jos 24:15).

Avodah is a picture of an integrated faith—a life where work, worship and ministering all come together. And the implications of Avodah are vast and significant. So often, we think of prayer as something we do on Sunday and work as something we do on Monday. This dichotomy is neither what God designed nor what he desires for our lives. Avodah suggests that our ordinary work can be a form of worship through which we honour God and serve our neighbours. What we do daily from Monday to Friday has spiritual significance and eternal value if it is done for the glory of God. Service is no longer confined to church and ordained work but manifests in ordinary work. Most importantly, if humans are created to work, worship and serve, work is intrinsically valued! All kinds of labouring, ordinary work or ordained work, manual work or mind work, are included for human flourishing (to develop God’s given resources and created potentials for the well-being of the creation and human society, expressed in the term “ Shalom’to immediately preserve, sustain,

and develop the excellent work of God’s creation. Human work is thus a means to bless humans and nonhumans. We no longer work for exchange or as a means to an end, but we work because it is good and fulfills a divine purpose.

All these implications in Genesis 1 and 2 find an echo in the New Testament from a redemptive perspective because Christ redeemed work through renewing the very purpose of work; it is not for survival, self-advancement, or leisure, but to serve God the Father’s purpose: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish His work (Jn 4:34). As a result of Christ’s work, we NOW work:

To Glorify God – in whatever we do, even in our eating and drinking (1 Cor 10:31)

To Serve God – by offering heartily and genuine service to our earthly supervisors (Col 3:22-24)

To Love our neighbours – through sharing the fruits of their hard labouring (Eph 4:28).

The Opportunity to Do Avodah Work

If we want to restore our work to God’s very purpose and seize every opportunity to do Avodah work, we must work for the common good, worship God, and serve our neighbours. We must rework our work attitude from simply meeting expectations to giving our best and, with divine help, pursuing excellence for the glory of God. Meeting expectations is the most fundamental part of being an employee or a subordinate; this is what we are supposed to do to earn our fair share of income. We are paid for our service and must meet our earthly boss’s expectations. This is the very principle of faithfulness, whether to humans or the Lord. Jesus said in Luke 17:9Does the master thank the servant because he did what was commanded?10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” According to our work contract, doing what is required is both the right thing legally and biblically. This is the minimum requirement for us as employees (1 Cor 4:2). If one fails, one breaches the work contract!

To some, meeting expectations is not a problem, and it is Giving our Best challenge. Some argue that our bosses are unworthy of our best efforts because of their harsh attitudes or unfair treatment; while there may be cases of abuse at work, giving our best efforts is not for our boss but for the Lord! Paul exhorts

Christian slaves in his times:23Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (Col 3:23-24). We are giving our best for our God and our spiritual inheritance. It has nothing to do with our pay or our bosses! Avodah work is our service to the Lord; God is worthy of our best, like the poor widow who gave her two copper coins and received the compliment from the Lord that “she, out of her poverty, put in all she had to live on” (Lk 7:4). Give everything is abiding by the principle of Burnt Offering, that is, to give unreservedly and everything (Lev 1:8-9), which is also the teaching from Shema (Dt 6:4-5) “to love the Lord with all your might.” We need to adjust our work attitudes from simply meeting expectations to giving our best to do Avodah’s work.

How many of us set out to pursue mediocrity? And yet, this world is full of mediocre workers. Why? That’s because excellence can’t be motivated from outside of us — like the allure of money or the threat of being fired. It comes from within —and we can’t just conjure up those motivations. But in the gospel, we’ve got everything we need to be motivated – the glory of God. Peter reminds us: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9). We Pursue Excellence not for ourselves. So even if the job looks hopeless from a worldly standpoint, the task God has given you is entirely majestic: to worship him through your work by working as unto the Lord. That is highly motivating. Like Daniel, Nehemiah, and Mordecai, we also work for a king—the King of Kings! How much more should our attitude, energy, and effort befit service to Him? But how could we pursue excellence if we had already done our best and everything? The key lies in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, as indicated in Daniel’s career: Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom (Dan 6:3).

A few suggestions from my occasional mentor, Dr. R. Paul Stevens, about what excellent Avodah work are:7

Fairness and Justice: Doing the right thing in employee relationships, compensation, purity of product, and money handling (Acts 5-6). This means employee justice, product justice, pay justice, and profit justice. Boundary-Breaking Behavior: In Luke 5:27-31 we read, “A large crowd of Tax

collectors and others were eating with them.” Jesus and the disciples were in the house of Levi. When Jesus was criticized for associating with such people, he responded, “It is not healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” This means inclusion and welcoming people who are different. In his Exclusion and

Embrace, Miroslav Volf:

We need the grand vision of life filled with the Spirit of God. We need reminders that the impossible is possible: we can, and we will communicate with one another while we each speak our languages; submerged voices will prophesy boldly, and closed eyes will be opened to see visions; the needs of all will be met because none of us will call our things only our own. But along with the grand visions, we need stories of small successful steps of learning to live together even when we do not quite understand each other’s language, even when we suppress each other’s voices, and even when we still cling too much to our possessions and rob the possessions of others.

Stewardship and Empowerment: This means treasuring the gifts of others, caring for creation, developing an empowering organizational culture (Mt 25:14-30), releasing other people’s gifts and talents, and helping others to thrive in service. In Luke 19:11-27 in the Parable of the Minas, the king’s servants are told to be pragmatic, to put their money (and talents) to work. They were rewarded with more work in the kingdom.

Finally, Dorothy Sayers in a thoughtful essay titled “Why Work?”:

“The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to ‘moral instruction and church attendance’. The Churchs approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to moral instruction and church attendance. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that is religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables… Let the church remember this: that every maker and workers is called to serve God in his profession or trade – not outside it…The only Christian work is good work well done.”8Indeed, AVODAH work, work that contributes to the common good, to worship God and to serve our neighbours!

1Work-Life Balance Statistics in Canada for 2024 | Made in CA 2Zippia reports that 86% of employees who work full-time from home have experienced burnout. 20+ Alarming Burnout Statistics [2023]: Stress And Lack Of

Motivation In The Workplace – Zippia

3 Reskilling the Workforce for the Future | BCG

4Majority of Canadian employers expecting hiring challenges in 2024: survey | Benefits

5 13 Employee engagement challenges to solve in 2024 ( 6 R. Paul Stevens states that God as a Worker is active to create, sustain, redeem, and consummate. Throughout the Bible, we see different images of God as a worker, such as a gardener (Gen. 2:8), shepherd (Ps. 23), potter (Jer. 18:6), physician (Mt 8:16), teacher (Ps 143:10), vineyard-dresser (Isa 5:1-7), and metalworker and refiner (Mal 3:2-3; Ezek 22:20), to name only a few. 7Blessing God Through Work and Worship — Institute for Marketplace Transformation (

8Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?” in Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass, eds., Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 195.

Author Reference: Pastor Peter Lau currently serves as Pastor of Adult Ministry at Zion Alliance Church. D.Min. Candidate in Marketplace Theology at Gordon-Cornwell Theological Seminary, focusing on Marketplace Leadership & Ethics.