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Work as Worship

What do Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi have in common? They're all giant car companies.

But they also share the same person at the helm – Carlos Ghosn. Or they did until recently, as Ghosn has been arrested for using company assets for personal enrichment.

Whatever the truth of this allegation, Carlos was so work-obsessed he acquired the name 'Seven-Eleven'. According to Forbes magazine, he was 'the hardest-working man in the brutally competitive global car business'.

Evangelist Billy GrahamHis meteoric rise and fall raises questions about the dangers of work. When someone allows work to dominate their lives, they risk subsuming 'being' under 'doing'. That is when work becomes an object of worship.

The Hebrew bible offers a radically different perspective – that work can become a legitimate means of worship. Words matter, and the words translated 'work' and 'worship' derive from the same root word (abad or avodah).

The word first occurs in Genesis. God creates human beings and then puts them to work. Putting humans to work is not an obvious part of the plot. If, as we read, God created everything 'good', what needed doing? Even if there were some odd jobs lying around, getting human beings to do them would be like Mr Bean making a meal.

But if words matter, perhaps we should not confuse 'good' with 'complete' or 'perfect'. Human beings are commissioned to work on things that are good but need to be brought further towards perfection, for the glory of God. Human work brings out more of the beauty that is inherent in God's creation.

All this is happening in workplaces around the world today. Mathematicians perceive patterns in numbers and devise elegant equations. Engineers and architects use those equations to design splendid machines, bridges, canals, and buildings. Musicians hear sounds and rhythms and create breath-taking symphonies. Artists see lines, shades, and colours, and produce magnificent paintings. Entrepreneurs respond to problems by launching marvellous new products and services.

All work will embody aspects of the fall. Work can be draining, dirty, and dangerous. But insofar as it draws out the inherent goodness and beauty of created things, work can also be bound up with our worship of God.

Should we allow work any other role, the fall of the world's greatest captain of industry stands as a warning.

Peter Heslam

For details of a leadership retreat Peter is organizing on Work as Worship from 5-7 April 2019 in Cambridge, click here.

the rise and fall of a global captain of industry is a warning

humans are to develop 'good' towards 'perfect'