In fact, much has been made of the fact that the Hebrew word avodah (עֲבוֹדָה) can mean work, worship, or service, depending on the context. The encouragement is for Christians to see their work as an important act of worship, not only because of the end product, whatever it may be, but also because the act of working itself is a sacred response to our Creator. And with this, I completely agree!
Are worship and work the same?
At least one writer, however, suggests that the fact that the same word is used for both suggests that "Avodah reveals that our labor can be a form of worship." He and others point out the necessity of leading an integrated life in which our so-called "secular" work is seen as a means to serving and loving others, and a way of loving and serving the Lord, as well - and this idea of having every part of our life focused on serving the Lord and bringing Him glory is certainly in line with the Scriptures. In 1 Corinthian 10:31, Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."
What interferes with work being worshipful?
At the same time, not every act of work can or should be seen as an appropriate act of worship. I believe three things can interfere with "work" legitimately being an act of "worship".
First, if the work results in sinful activity, it is not something that glorifies God. Extreme examples of this might be a terrorist whose "work" results in the deaths of innocent people, or of someone whose "work" involves exploitation of others.
Second, if the way the "work" is done is sinful or contrary to God's revealed will, then I don't believe such "work" is "worshipful". This is where we must decide day by day how to apply biblical principles to our work - how we prioritize things, how we treat the people with whom our work brings us into contact, how we apply values of honesty and integrity and lawfulness to our business decisions.
Third, if the "work" displaces or distracts from worship, then I don't believe it is "worshipful". I believe this is part of what we see in Matthew 21:12-13 when Jesus drove the moneychangers from the Temple. Those "working", supposedly to enable worship, were instead distracting from the atmosphere of worship, and in the area meant for Gentiles to draw close to the God of Israel, they were focused on their own desire to make money. Jesus makes it clear that was not the intention of the Temple.
What does worshipful work not entitle us to?
A bricklayer building a church for God's glory is not allowed to be personally exempt from paying taxes on the income he earns for that work. A piano teacher helping her students learn music that praises God is not able to get a property tax exemption on the room in her home where she gives lessons.
A Christian-owned fast-food establishment is not eligible for 501c3 status just because the owner loves Jesus. A private, Christian-owned tutoring business generally cannot begin holding classes in places such as a public library or the YMCA or a church facility - places that are reserved for community or nonprofit use - lest the property tax exemption of that place be impacted.
For the most part, that should not matter to us. If we are following the Lord, if we desire our work to be an act of worship, then our focus will be on bringing Him the glory, regardless of what it costs us. We will to go to all lengths necessary to honor Him by following our local and federal laws, by loving our neighbor as ourselves, and by holding ourselves to the highest standard of biblical integrity - because it is indeed the Lord we are serving (Colossians 3:23-24) and representing, every day of the week.