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How Work and Activity Brings Us Closer to God

Armin J Jezari | May 19, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Armin J Jezari | May 19, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Who doesn’t dream about laying on a beach to get away from the job? Or retiring early to escape the demands of daily work? Or winning the lottery to free themselves from the mundane obligations of life? 

Certainly, we all do. But did you know that striving, being active, and working diligently actually brings us closer to the Creator — and ultimately grants us the true freedom we seek?

Being consistently active, which encompasses not only professional work, but most forms of physical or mental activity, and the expenditure of energy it takes to help others, is a repeated theme of many religions. For example, Buddha said, “Rouse thyself! Do not be idle! Follow the law of virtue!”   

RELATED: Exploring the Future of Work

The Bible repeats that theme:

Let him … labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. – Ephesians 4:28

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense. – Proverbs 12:11

The Baha’i teachings also urge everyone to dignify their lives through diligence and duty. Abdu’l-Baha, in his book The Secret of Divine Civilization, wrote:

And this is man’s uttermost wretchedness: that he should live inert, apathetic, dull, involved only with his own base appetites. When he is thus, he has his being in the deepest ignorance and savagery …

Not only is the notion of being active and engaged in work imperative for our spiritual health, the Baha’i teachings say that work performed in the spirit of service is elevated to the status of worship:

each child must be taught a profession, art, or trade, so that every member of the community will be enabled to earn his own livelihood. Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship.

In the sight of God, the Baha’i teachings assert, neither the rich nor the poor are exempt from the duty to work. Further, the Baha’i writings state that work has value in and of itself because it draws us nearer to God and enables us to better grasp His purpose for us in this world. 

Work, both professional and personal, can give our lives meaning and purpose. As important as work is for our souls, the method in which we carry it out is just as essential. In a talk he gave in Paris, Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, said:

In the Baha’i Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are (counted as) worship. The man who makes a piece of notepaper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. 

Baha’is are extolled to carry out our daily activities at the highest level possible as if we are offering service to God Himself. That activity can encompass all forms of work, effort, and volunteer service, from working a job, serving on a PTA, cleaning the house, organizing a study class, and so much more. 

However, every life requires moderation and balance. To make room for activity outside of our professional and work obligations, Abdul-Baha foresaw a future where the professional workday would be shortened, and labor-saving technology would do much of the work now done by human beings. More than a century ago, as recorded in “Star of the West” magazine (Volume 10, p. 107), the early Western Baha’i Mary Hanford Ford asked Abdu’l-Baha to speak about the economic future of humanity. He said, in part:

The civilizations of the past have all been founded upon the enslavement of mankind and the poor working class has suffered every oppression for the sake of the enrichment of the few. This limited wealthy class has alone had the privilege of developing individuality. The down trodden worker after labouring long hours each day, has not had sufficient mental capacity at the conclusion of his task to do anything but eat and sleep.

That all mankind might have opportunity, it was necessary to shorten the hours of labour so that the work of the world could be completed without such demand of strain and effort, and all human beings would have leisure to think and develop individual capacity.… this working day of eight hours is only the beginning. Soon there will be a six hour day, a five hour, a three hour day, even less than that, and the worker must be paid more for this management of machines, than he ever received for the exercise of his two hands alone.

RELATED: How to Work Joyfully in the Spirit of Service

Of course, our bodies and minds need rest and recuperation to perform at their peak. Just like an athlete who undergoes the intense physical demands of any sport, we, too must take time to allow our bodies to recover from the exertion of hard work. To achieve the spiritual goal of moderation in all things, we all need to find the right balance between work and leisure.  

While this balance may differ for every one of us, Baha’is see it as society’s responsibility to ensure that every person has the opportunity to pursue some form of gainful employment in a way that does not overly tax their health and well-being. To achieve this reality, we must continue to build on the hard work done by countless labor activists of the past and present. As Abdu’l-Baha pointed out in a 1912 talk he gave in New York City:

Baha’u’llah has even said that occupation and labor are devotion. All humanity must obtain a livelihood by sweat of the brow and bodily exertion, at the same time seeking to lift the burden of others, striving to be the source of comfort to souls and facilitating the means of living. This in itself is devotion to God.

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