Messes are an everyday occurrence in my house. A house filled with five people (three of whom are younger than 4) means spills, laundry, and more spills. Few things make me wonder if my work matters like spilled milk on a freshly mopped floor. But in my most coherent moments, I’m reminded even the simple act of wiping up spilled milk is valuable work.
On a practical level, leaving milk on the floor is hardly sanitary (or pleasant to smell over time). On a deeper level, cleaning up a mess is a way to love the neighbors in my home—which is the purpose of all our work.
God uses us to love the world he has made, even if it’s cleaning milk off the floor.
Terrified of Heaven
This world is fleeting and fading. We all want to know that what we’re doing now has a lasting effect on eternity, right? We get that our work is affecting souls who will never die (John 11:26). We get that loving our neighbor is a way to worship God (Mark 12:30–31). But what does our work have to do with our future home, the new heavens and new earth?
God created us to work. It wasn’t an afterthought to him (Gen. 2:15). It isn’t a result of the curse. It’s woven into our personhood. The fact we were created to work directly reflects him whose image we bear. God works, so we work, and because of this, work won’t cease when when we arrive in glory. It’ll simply be better, perfect, unstained by sin.
I used to be rather terrified of heaven. I don’t like being bored or having nothing to do, and I figured heaven was one endless worship service where all you do is sing and play music while floating on clouds. I looked at the world around me—the work I enjoyed, the food I liked to eat, the people I loved being with—and I couldn’t see how (even though I’d be without sin and with Jesus) heaven was better than what was right in front me. I think many of us feel that way.
We need a robust understanding of the new heavens and new earth. Yes, we’ll be free from sin (hallelujah!), but we’ll also be part of a new earth. Think about the garden of Eden for a moment. What was there? Food, people, animals, beauty, work, and leisure. The things we love most in this world—the good gifts God has given us, like our work—are just foretastes of the greater glory awaiting us when this cursed world passes away and a new one is born (Rev. 21:1).
The point of all of our work is to reflect the God who created us, to display his glory to a watching world, and to draw others to see it too.
So how does our work now have any bearing on eternity, besides the effect on souls?
Your Vocation in a Trillion Years
Pastor and author Tom Nelson has helped me to understand how my work now affects my work later:
In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30), Jesus paints for us an enticing and hopeful picture of a future that brings with it great reward for diligence and faithfulness. Our future reward involves a joyful intimacy with God. We will “enter into the joy of our Master,” but we will also be given greater work to do in the future. In many ways we are training now for reigning later with Jesus. The work you do now matters more than you often realize.
Nelson goes on to say that if the new heavens and new earth described in 2 Peter 3 really is a purified earth (and not burned up or destroyed), then our work has eternal value. God works through us, his image bearers, to restore his creation to its rightful state.
In the garden God gave Adam and Eve work to do. It was good work. They were to cultivate the ground, rule over the animals, and enjoy the beautiful world God had crafted. I imagine they also had the ability to grasp how every part of their work pointed them back to the God who made them. There was no mundane task, since they could see the purpose in the things we find ordinary. There was no conflict in their soul about serving one another, because they knew who was their neighbor and gladly worked for the other’s good.
We don’t live in that world any longer. But we will.
While we may be clouded by our own sin and the overarching curse of fallen life, our work still points us back to God in worship and points us forward to the life that is coming.
Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God (Crossway, 2017).