Avodah – A Word to Live By

Learning a new word doesn’t usually change your life.

But this was no ordinary word.

Most words are just labels. Useful handles, you might say.  We attach them to objects, actions, or ideas, so that we can easily hand them off to others. You know. Words like ‘cotton’ or ‘jog’ or ‘angry’.  They have simple meanings, carry little in the way of nuance, and are easy to translate from one language to another. Very useful words, to be sure, but not the sort that would change your life.

And then there is another kind of word.

These words are special. They are deep. They are so powerful that they can actually rewrite your entire outlook on life, and sometimes redefine your very existence.

Last week, I ran smack into that kind of word.

What was it?

Avodah.

And no, it’s not English. It comes from ancient Hebrew.  So ancient, in fact, that it’s root word, “Avad,” appears all the way back in the second chapter of Genesis (Avodah shows up later, in chapter 29). Throughout the Old Testament, variations of this word root are found over 1,000 times.

Wow! That’s a lot. So…what does it actually mean?

That’s where it gets interesting. You see, it doesn’t mean just one thing. In the English version of scripture, it has been roughly translated into three different words: “Work,” “Worship,” and “Service.

Wait a minute. That’s a bit confusing, isn’t it? In the English language those seem like three rather different things. How could a single Hebrew word mean all three? Well, that’s what makes Avodah special. It actually takes all three of those concepts, combines them, and creates a whole new way of understanding life.

When I discovered this word, it was like tearing back a veil. All at once, things I had glimpsed only dimly before was suddenly clear, bright, and breath-taking.

For years I’ve had a vague grasp of this concept. (I scratched the surface of it in this post.) The longer I have worked on Lily and Fred’s story, the more I have realized my job as a writer is not just “work.” It’s part of how I am serving God and investing my “talents” for the Master.

But I did not even begin to grasp the fullness of this idea. Until discovered Avodah. And suddenly the lights came on.

You see, the English language separates “work,” “service” and “worship” into three very different categories. Especially worship. If you’re like me, you probably associate worship with some special chunk of time carved out of “real life” so we can do “spiritual” things (like praying, singing, reading, scripture, etc).

But Avodah defies those separated categories. And in so doing, it both expands our understanding of “worship”, and elevates our idea of “work” to a whole new plane.

You see, God doesn’t divide our life up into categories and say “Look. See this hour on Sunday? That’s the worship hour. It’s mine. Now over here is the work week. That’s your thing. And oh, by the way, you ought to carve out a few hours for serving other people too. Don’t forget to work that into the schedule.”

God doesn’t think like that.

He wants every part of us. Our work, our service, and our worship. It’s all intertwined because it’s all part of living our lives devoted to Him. The Puritans actually had a really good grasp of this concept. Unlike the Catholic view at the time, which separated “holy” things and “secular” things (i.e. living a holy life in a cloister vs. the secular life of a spouse/craftsmen/parent etc.), the Puritans believed they were to serve God in all areas of their life. Rather than “career” or “job”, they preferred the term “calling” because they recognized that whatever we do, we are to treat it as a calling from God, and do it for His glory. Check out this quote from William Perkins that seamlessly expresses the concept of Avodah:

The main end of our lives…is to serve God (worship) in the serving of men (service) in the works of our calling (work).”

Boom. There you have it. Work, worship, and service, all woven together.

Avodah means that every day, every hour, every moment, we are living for Him. Whether we are working or serving, whether we are missionaries or plumbers, whether we write books or mow lawns. Whatever we do, we do all for the glory of God. This changes everything. No task in life is too hard, or too menial, when we know Who we’re doing to for, and Whose strength we are doing it in.

Work is worship. Service is worship. LIFE is worship.

Live like you know it.



Have you ever heard of Avodah before? Have you ever found a word that changed the way you look at life? Comment below! (And if you enjoyed this post, be sure to subscribe to the blog so I can let you know whenever I write a new article.)

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