Worship God: Work the Land
Farmers in Burundi demonstrate a healthy theology of work
by Annelise Jolley
On a multiple-choice test, which word would you choose to describe your job: purposeful, competitive, tedious, stressful? To answer accurately, most of us would look for a fifth option—all of the above. Our daily labor can feel like a thousand things in one week. Even at a dream job, moments of stress and strain are more common than we'd like to admit.
There is a reason for this. Adam and Eve's initial sin disrupted the joyful task of labor. God had established the good work of caring for a garden for Adam and Eve's benefit. They welcomed the labor and the purpose it brought. But when they disobeyed, the earth began to fight back. Notably, work was not the punishment for their rebellion. Instead, the ground itself became cursed, transforming their work into something difficult, laborious, and exhausting (Genesis 3:17). This dissonance echoes today in our own fragmented view of work.
So how do we redeem our relationship with labor, whether mental or physical, paid or unpaid? In his book Every Good Endeavor, Timothy Keller writes, "According to the Bible, we don't merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and to live fully human lives." We were made to work, and work was made for us, an avenue for worship through the labor of our hands. Fully human lives come not through skirting responsibility and avoiding the daily grind, but by giving our toil over to a great God. If obedience includes worship, it makes little sense to separate that from how we spend the majority of our time—at our jobs.
Former Burundi refugees are being inspired by the curriculum to get busy, plant crops, construct churches, and start businesses.
But what if this form of worship was not even an option? In the small East African country of Burundi, years of civil war splintered the country and sent families fleeing across the border to refugee camps. Economic activity became impossible and refugees were prohibited from working. Years passed. Inside the camps, people married, children were born, and lives formed. In 2004, when war and violence finally dried up, Burundians returned to their depleted land. They brought with them stories of growing up without working a day in their life. In a country where over 90 percent of the population depends on agriculture to survive, farming families returned to ravaged farms with years of idleness and feelings of uselessness aching in their bones.
But today, a biblical motivation to work is being restored in these farmers. Plant With Purpose, a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating poverty in rural communities, partners with former Burundian refugees. Through a "Theology of Work" curriculum developed by Plant With Purpose, farmers hear the good news that they have a purpose—to glorify God through the work of their hands. Former refugees are being inspired by the curriculum to get busy, plant crops, construct churches, and start businesses. Through the program, over 10,000 Burundians have already developed an integrated, biblical understanding of their call to work.
The purpose that farming families are finding in Burundi reminds us that we have a lot to learn from a biblical take on work. In The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan writes, "The opposite of a slave is not a free man. It's a worshipper. The one who is most free is the one who turns the work of his hands into sacrament, into offering."
Find freedom in what you were created to do by worshipping God through the work of your hands. Whether tilling the soil, sitting at a desk, or ringing people up on a register, we are made to consecrate these tasks to God. Though work is a shadow of what it was in Eden—and what it will be again in heaven—we can make strides toward turning our labor into sacrament. A starting point is to pray with David, "Establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands" (Ps. 90:17). Ask for the grace to turn your work into worship, acknowledging God as Lord over our labor and lives.
To learn more and to sponsor a village in Burundi at Plant with Purpose.
Annelise Jolley is outreach coordinator for Plant With Purpose, where she works to cultivate community and church partnerships.