The work-obsessed mind–as in our Western culture–tends to look at everything in terms of efficiency, value, and speed. But there must also be an ability to enjoy the most simple and ordinary aspects of life, even ones that are not strictly useful, but just delightful. Surprisingly, even the reputedly dour Reformer John Calvin agrees. In his treatment of the Christian life, he warns against valuing things only for their utility:
Did God create food only to provide for necessity [nutrition] and not also for delight and good cheer? So too the purpose of clothing apart from necessity [protection] was comeliness and decency. In grasses, trees, and fruits, apart from their various uses, there is beauty of appearance and pleasantness of fragrance. . . . Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use?
In other words, we are to look at everything and say something like:
All things bright and beautiful; all creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful–the Lord God made them all.
(Every Good Endeavor, p. 41)
In Luther’s Large Catechism, when he addresses the petition in the Lord’s Prayer asking God to give us our “daily bread,” Luther says that “when you pray for ‘daily bread’ you are praying for everything that contributes to your having and enjoying your daily bread. . . . You must open up and expand your thinking, so that it reaches not only as far as the flour bin and baking oven but also out over the broad fields, the farmlands, and the entire country that produces, processes, and conveys to us our daily bread and all kinds of nourishment.” So how does God “feed everything living thing” (Psalm 145:16) today? Isn’t it through the farmer, the baker, the retailer, the website programmer, the truck driver, and all who contribute to bring us food? Luther writes: God could easily give you grand and fruit without your plowing and planting, but he does not want to do so.”
(Every Good Endeavor, p. 70)
Even though, as Luther argues, all work is objectively valuable to others, it will not be subjectively fulfilling unless you consciously see and understand your work as calling to love your neighbor. John Calvin wrote that “no task will be [seen as] so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight.” Notice that Calvin speaks of “obey[ing] your calling in it”’ that is, consciously seeing your job as God’s calling and offering the work to him. When you do that, you can be sure that the splendor of God radiates through any task, whether it is as commonplace as tilling a garden, or as rarefied as working on the global trading floor of a bank. As Eric Liddell’s missionary father exhorts him in Chariots of Fire, “You can praise the Lord by peeling a spud, if you peel it to perfection.”
Your daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped you to do it–no matter what kind of work it is. In the liner notes to his masterpiece A Love Supreme, John Coltrane says it beautifully:
This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.
(Every Good Endeavor, p. 80)