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Can You Imagine a World Without Work?

Imagine waking up one day.
You feel a bit ill and look at the clock, but it’s not working. You press the light switch. Nothing happens.

The toilet smells a bit. When you go to wash your hands, no water comes out of the taps.

You dress and go to catch the bus to work, but there’s only a long queue at the bus stop and no sign of a bus. After waiting for an hour, you go to the supermarket – but it’s closed.

You’re still feeling quite ill now, so you go to your doctor. Again, there’s only a queue of ill and injured people there. No sign of a doctor.

It’s a week later. Rubbish has piled up on the streets, shops have been looted and food is already scarce. The lack of running water means diseases not seen for decades are starting to spread fast.

Fights over food and water are starting to break out. There’s no medical care or police. Fires are starting to rage around the city. The TV doesn’t work so you don’t know what’s going on.

The elderly and vulnerable are dying in their homes as no health professionals come to visit. There’s no transport and your phone doesn’t work, so you can’t visit or call your family to ensure they’re OK.

You would try and get your money out of the bank, but there’s no open bank and nowhere to spend the money.

This is a world without work.

Perhaps through imagining a world without it, we can begin to see that it is through our work that the kingdom of Jesus comes about and the love of God is embodied on earth.

As we work to provide each other with food, water, leisure, heat, shelter, medical and social care and much more, we love each other through our actions.

All of this aside, we spend a third of our waking hours at work, so surely it should matter to us?

Besides talking of the workplace as “a large unreached people group,” the church seems to have little to say about it.

Few of us have ever heard a sermon about work, and most assume (wrongly) that if we don’t work for a charity or religious organization, our work doesn’t matter.

Dream with me a second and imagine that everything actually matters to God (especially the poor and marginalized) and that there was no real divide between the “material” and “spiritual” jobs? What would that mean for our work?

What if work is actually an opportunity to love, serve and give to others – the true embodiment of “loving God and my neighbor as myself”? Maybe work is not a grind, but something we were designed to do, which changes and develops us?

Perhaps God isn’t calling us to leave our office job to become a missionary in Africa, but to bring about his kingdom and loving rule within a supermarket or accounting firm, and to be imitators of Christ there.

Maybe workers evangelize as they transform economics, politics, media, family and the arts according to Jesus’ gospel values?

Scarier still, suppose that our work has eternal value and will last into eternity, that we are accountable for what we chose to spend our working lives doing, and how we did it, and that God may not be too impressed if we spent our lives in advertising, making people feel unhappy so they bought things they didn’t need.

Or, worse still, we worked for a charity which made us feel good, but we never evaluated our work so didn’t realize it was doing more harm than good to those we claimed to serve.

James Brown is the author of “Why Work Matters.” A version of the column first appeared on the blog, Resistance and Renewal, and is used with permission.