Everyone seems so busy in our fast-paced society. There’s always more work to do or places to go. We fill our calendars with appointments and tasks while marveling at our administration skills. We complain about our lack of rest but we seem more afraid of down time, and the threat of burn-out always looms.
God promises rest for believers when we dwell with him forever in heaven. Revelation 14:13 says, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
Reading about such rest, we breathe a sigh of relief and anticipation. We long for such rest that we can’t find here. A week of vacation certainly provides a nice change of pace and some relaxation, but we recognize the rest it gives is short-lived and unsatisfying, so we long for a greater rest.
Yet, Scripture also tells us that we will serve in heaven (Rev. 22:3). Although we don’t know exactly what it looks like, believers will also reign with Christ, which seems to imply some sort of responsibility (2 Tim. 2:12). In a passage describing the New Heavens and New Earth, Isaiah says “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain” (Isa. 65:21-23).
Building houses and planting vineyards seems a lot like work.
When we imagine eternal paradise with the Lord, we don’t typically picture work because heaven is perfect and work is…well work. We assume when God wipes away every tear and takes away all our suffering then he’ll do away with all our working as well. So, when we read passages that seem to teach we will work in heaven, we can’t help but cringe a little. Surely heaven will not be a fast-paced, exhausting rat race that we’ve grown accustomed to here.
If we work, serve, and have responsibilities, how can heaven be a place of rest?
Work Before and After the Fall
In Genesis, God makes man and puts him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. He gives him plants and trees to provide food. Even before the fall, mankind had to work. God gave Adam seeds and told him to keep the garden, which likely involved planting, watering, and harvesting.
After Adam sinned, God said to him: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” (Gen. 3:17-19).
Adam had to work before the fall, but after the curse of sin work became difficult. Now, man works “in pain” by the sweat of his brow. The work in heaven, however, will be more like the work before the fall. It will be the joyful type work that Adam and Eve experienced in the garden before they sinned.
Yesterday, I reluctantly mowed my grass in the Texas heat. It felt like the temperature was 150 with a heat index of 200 (maybe an exaggeration, but only sightly). The sun burned brightly, lighting up my yard with blinding illumination and nearly setting on fire everything it touched. Any unprotected skin would change from pasty white to lobster-red after fifteen minutes. Under such conditions, mowing the grass was not a delightful chore, it was necessary, dreadful work that needed to be completed.
At other times, especially in the early spring or fall, mowing the grass is more enjoyable. The sun’s heat is not nearly as violent, the breeze feels less like hair-dryer in your face, and there is a pleasant satisfaction of seeing the finished product of freshly cut lawn. I can enjoy the nice weather as I mow for hours while listening to music or a podcast without having to worry about heat stroke or melting away. Rather than feeling like hard work, this type of chore can actually be enjoyable.
While in school, I often grew tired of all my assignments and longed for summer or winter break. On such breaks, I would often read and write, the very things I grew tired of during the school semester. Reading and writing assignments given by a teacher can sometimes be drudgery, but reading and writing on my own is enjoyable. Work can sometimes feel difficult and cursed, other times the very same task can be enjoyable.
Maybe Adam and Eve’s work in the garden before sin was more like this. Yes, they planted seeds and maintained the garden, but it was enjoyable. The land wasn’t waging war against their effort to subdue it. It wasn’t until after the fall that they had to battle thorns and thistles with a sweaty forehead.
Work for Believers
Whatever kind of work we do in heaven, it will be enjoyable because we’ll do it in service to our King. Our sin nature will be gone, we won’t rate certain jobs as more meaningful and we won’t find our value in our work. Anything done for God’s glory will be pure joy to our sinless selves.
While we can’t undo the effects of the curse on our work in this life, we can start thinking more heavenly about it. Scripture teaches: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
We battle against drudgery in our work as we realize we do it unto the Lord. Whether you are the CEO of your company or the intern, whether you are in the room when the big decisions are made or you are the one who cleans the room after the big meetings, whatever you do, do it unto the Lord.
Will this make me love mowing the grass in the heat of the Texas summer? Not likely, but it does give me purpose and helps me persevere. Work in this life will oscillate between enjoyment and drudgery. But, we strive to do all things, even the work we dread, as unto the Lord and for his glory. We work hard in this life even as we long for the rest, even the restful work, that we will experience with the Lord in the good place he has prepared for us.