Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were a little boy? I remember wanting to be a fireman, a policeman, a garbage man, a milkman (there once was such a thing as milk delivered to your door!)....basically I wanted to be a man and drive something, preferably a truck. One thing I don’t ever remember saying is “When I grow up, I want to do nothing”. I believe there is an impulse to work in each of us, a motivation to do something productive, something that matters. This is a mark of God on us. We don’t work to fill our time, we work to fulfill our created nature. God worked (Genesis 2:2) and because we are made in His image, we are created to work. But like many things that God created good and perfect, humans have distorted the motivation for work and even work itself. If we are going to experience God in our work and glorify God through our work, as I believe we can and should, we need to resist being conformed to our culture’s concept of work and “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). We need to think differently about work.
First, think of work as a gift and not a curse. God did curse the ground (Genesis 3:17) as a consequence of human sin but work itself is not a curse. Work at its best is a place to celebrate and use the gifts, skills and strength that God has given us to participate with Him in creating and in caring for others and for Creation. This is a good thing, not a curse.
Second, think of work as stewardship, that is, something entrusted to us by another. Colossians 3:23 asserts that the ultimate giver of work is God: In all the work you are given, do the best you can. Work as though you are working for the Lord, not any earthly master. If we embraced this, don’t you think that Christ’s followers would be the most respected, most trusted workers on the job? Even when colleagues and bosses are cutting corners or crossing lines, we can still work with excellence and diligence and integrity because we are stewards of the Master.
Third, reject the thinking that work establishes our identity and our self-worth. Our North American culture pounds home the falsehood that we are what we do and our worth is measured by our wealth, that we are a bigger somebody when our titles, our offices and our pay checks are bigger. But defining our identity and our worth like this condemns us to lives of insecurity. These things can change in an instant. And we measure ourselves with a sliding scale of comparison. Do I have more power than that one? More money than this one? Am I more likely to be promoted than everyone? If our work is wearing us down with stress, competition and comparison, think on Jesus’ question: “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” (Luke 9:25)
I had a personal encounter with this question in my 30s. I had worked myself to an unhealthy place because I said “yes” to everything, trying to prove my competence and improve my worth. I had pushed my relationships to unhealthy places because I had made succeeding at work a higher priority than succeeding at home. So I stepped out of the workforce for a time in order to get some perspective and to reboot my relationship to work. I renewed my thinking and since then have tried to live by these four commitments:
My identity will not be determined by what I do but by who I am - an image bearer of God, a forgiven child because of Jesus and a worker called to join in building the Kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I will not try to grow my position or my wealth by competing with others or assess myself by comparison with them. I will be faithful with what has been entrusted to me, seeking to be a wise, excellent and diligent steward, and trust my Master to give me more if He chooses to do so. (Matthew 25: 14-30)
I will be more committed to success at home than success in the workplace.
Like Mary (Luke 10:40-42), I will prioritize my relationship with Jesus over all my tasks.
None of those childhood dream jobs ever came true for me (though I did own a truck) but that’s ok. I have learned that understanding who we work for and why is far more important than what we do.