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Avodah: Unifying Work and Worship

Language shapes our reality. It can either limit our understanding of the world, or expand and enrich it. The Hebrew word “Avodah” is a prime example of this.

Having several meanings, including “work” and “worship,” avodah is used in Scripture in a variety of ways:

– “Six days you shall work (avodah), but on the seventh day you shall rest.” Exodus 34:21

– “People go out to their work (avodah) and to their labor until the evening.” Psalm 104:23

– “But as for me and my household, we will serve (avodah) the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

– “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship (avodah) me.'” Exodus 8:1

When translated into English, the rich meaning of the word avodah splinters. It silos work and worship, leading us to view them as separate and unrelated activities. It risks minimizing worship to singing hymns on Sunday and work to a necessary evil that takes place throughout the week.

Unifying work and worship has profound implications for how we live; it has the potential to bring meaning, purpose, and greater depth to our work and our faith.

As we enter another year of work in 2018, here are two beliefs to carry with us that reflect a spirit of avodah:

1. Work is an opportunity to reflect the image of God.

Every human being is an image-bearer of God. As Genesis 1:26 reads: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.'” One way humanity models God’s image is through our daily work. Though work may feel mundane at times, it is an opportunity to joyfully reflect God’s creativity and celebrate the unique gifts and abilities we’ve been given.

As Genesis 1:26 goes on to explain, one aspect of being an image-bearer is exercising dominion. Dominion implies stewardship and a sacrificial sense of responsibility for creation. Through our work, we have the opportunity to exercise dominion. As God loves, cares for, and serves humanity, so we are called to image God by loving, caring for, and serving all of creation through our work.

Through our work, we have the opportunity to exercise dominion. As God loves, cares for, and serves humanity, so we are called to image God by loving, caring for, and serving all of creation through our work.

2. Work is an opportunity to pursue shalom.

Work is not only a way to provide for ourselves, but an opportunity to bring about shalom and human flourishing in the world. Through our daily work, we are able to partner with God in the ongoing task of renewal.

We witness this every day at Partners Worldwide, as the entrepreneurs in our global network model a spirit of avodah by using their businesses to serve God and others. They are creating jobs and a welcoming community for marginalized women in India. They are fighting slavery and environmental degradation in the Philippines. They use their profits to fund social services in their community and help others start their own businesses.

Whether a barista or a CEO, we are called to serve, bless, and show kindness to others through our daily work. In doing so, we play a role in ushering in the kingdom of God.

. . .

Work is not only a means to support ourselves, but an opportunity to reflect the image of God, serve and bless others, and pursue shalom. As a new year begins, may we resolve to re-unify work and worship—consecrating our ordinary, daily work as holy, meaningful, and a key part of God’s plan for renewal in the world.

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