What is the work beneath your work?

Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah….When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (Genesis 29:30-32)

In today’s passage, we find one of the best biblical case studies for what Tim Keller calls "the work beneath [our] work.” On the surface, Leah’s work was that of childbearing. But her real work—the true why underneath all of her labor—was the exhausting work of winning Jacob’s love. 

After her first son Reuben was born, Leah said, “Surely my husband will love me now” (v. 32).

But evidently, he didn’t, because Leah said the Lord gave her a second child, “Because…I am not loved” (v. 33).

Maybe the third son would be the proverbial charm, Leah must have thought. So she gave birth to Levi and said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (v. 34). 

Do you hear Leah’s angst? Her striving? Leah was desperately trying to get something from her work that God never designed her work to give her—namely the love and affection of another human being.

But by the time Leah had her fourth son, something had changed. When she gave birth to Judah, Leah didn’t say anything that would connect her work as a mother to her attempts to earn her husband’s favor. She simply said, “This time I will praise the Lord,” and “then she stopped having children” (v. 35).

It was only once Leah found love and acceptance outside of her vocational performance that she could rest her body and soul. It was only when the praise of the Lord was her primary ambition that she was freed from the work beneath her work.

The question, of course, is what is the work beneath your work? And how does the gospel free you from that work? Those are the questions I’m going to challenge you to answer over the next few weeks. 

Now, the reality is that the “why” of your work is always going to be mixed. Some of your motives are likely honoring to God, while others aren’t.

But we’d be wise to discern the primary motives of our hearts. Because until our motivation is predominantly to “praise the Lord” through our work, we will be restless, unsatisfied, and overworked.

Start this morning by praying that God would begin to reveal the work beneath your work. And join me next week as we explore one of the most common ambitions that the gospel can free us from.


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