Christians have some peculiar ideas about work. They tend to view it as either the curse or the cure of human existence, as either a necessary evil or the very reason for their existence. From a Kingdom and Wesleyan perspective it is neither. We are not simply what we do, nor are we simply defined by what we do. Nevertheless, it is amazing how often I hear these responses when I ask someone Who they are. They tend to respond with their profession or occupation. In my books Work. A Kingdom Perspective, and The Rest of Life, I try to inject some actual theological and ethical reflection into how we view such matters.
Work, for example, is simply our service to God, others and ourselves, so that we may go on living, loving and worshipping. We do not live to work, we work to live. I was deeply disturbed by the results of a survey I saw recently that suggested that the reason a majority of ministers die within five to ten years of retiring is because of a loss of a sense of purpose, or raison d’etre, in life. Their lives were so bound up in their professional tasks that they felt worthless. Life was now meaningless or trivial upon retirement. This is unfortunate as ‘retirement’ is not a Biblical idea at all. It is a modern, post-industrial revolution concept invented to keep workers working hard until they can’t do it any more. The carrot at the end of the stick is pension and retirement or Social Security and retirement. The question at the former Methodist Annual Conference meetings used to be: “Who are the worn out ministers?” This question referred to those no longer able to itinerate around a circuit of churches. You bop until you drop.
While John Wesley had good things to say about the need for healthy eating and resting every day in a balanced way, his Puritan upbringing did not lead him to suggest that ‘play’ was a good thing. To him, that was wasting time, or trivial. A more healthy Kingdom perspective suggests that a balanced Christian life will include both rest and work, both play and study, and so on. I make the case for seeing play as a celebration of the joy of life and of the physical capacities God has gifted us with. Play points us forward to the full Kingdom come on earth where the goal is reached, the race is won, and so on.