Work is Worship

The late Sultan Qaboos of Oman addressed the work attitude of his people in a speech at the Oman Council on September 25, 2001: “Work is no longer a personal hobby, but it is indeed part and parcel of worship, and, therefore, it should be performed with sincerity, perfection and honor.” He reminded his citizens in the quoted speech that work is ultimately an act of worship to God. An employee might be accountable to his boss for his work. But whether the boss sees every part of the employee’s work performance or not, God sees it. That means that in the end a man will honor or dishonor God by the way he does his work and is responsible to Him for the performance of it. Honoring God is worshipping him. For someone who believes in God, the statement of Sultan Qaboos sounds very good and agreeable. Yet, it would be interesting to see where the root is for the view that work is an act of worship. In most religions, salvation comes through good deeds. One earns heaven by doing good deeds. Let’s put this thinking into the context of how one sees work itself: The believer sees work as part of a summary of deeds by which he could earn his salvation. If his work performance is good, earning his entrance to heaven is more likely than through a bad work performance. But if someone has to earn his salvation through good deeds / good work performances he enters a never-ending struggle of making up for bad deeds through good deeds. For each good deed done, several bad deeds come to mind so that one has to try again even harder. Eventually one gives up even trying to do good because it seems impossible to break through this vicious cycle. When we have a look at the Protestant worldview, we see a different approach. Salvation comes by grace alone – as Luther stated. That means for the Protestant believer that he cannot add anything to his salvation by his deeds. It is all done by the grace of God who provided an atonement for sins. In the context of how to view work, the Protestant believer cannot earn heaven through a good work performance because heaven is already granted to him by grace. Now for him the meaning of his life is to honor God as a matter of thankfulness for the grace he received. He is trying to honor God through his work performance as a part of his whole life of worship. If someone is freed from the pressure of having to earn salvation by a good work performance - having to make up bad deeds with good deeds - actually doing a good work performance is much easier based on the assurance that heaven is already earned by grace. Therefore, the statement “work is an act of worship” seems to be more fruitful in the Protestant belief system. A quick look to the countries that initiated the industrial revolution points to the same: The most successful countries based on their inventions and generation of wealth during this period have been predominately Protestant countries.