A lot of people hate work. Not just the effort it requires, but the whole concept. I used to count myself among them. Work was something to be minimized, and eventually eliminated through the attainment of wealth. But now that I’m older and I’ve been through a lot more, and I’ve had the opportunity to get the perspectives of others, my view of work has changed. I’m now convinced that work is a gift from God.
That may seem counter-intuitive. But that’s something else I’ve learned – that God’s way generally is counter-intuitive. We often say “God works in mysterious ways”, and I suspect that this counter-intuitiveness is part of that. Whatever we think to be correct, God has another plan. And so it is with work.
The Current Negative View of Work
It often seems as if most people dislike their jobs. Part of that can be explained by the economic pressures that are making all jobs more difficult than they used to be. And perhaps part of it is the influence of the Internet. Both blogs and the social media not only provide people with forums to vent their work-related frustrations, but also to openly strategize on how to crash out.
The Internet has also spawned an entire anti-work related topic area – early retirement. People are now working on plans to retire by 50, 45, 40, and even 35.
Early retirement isn’t necessarily a negative goal either. If you are working toward early retirement for the purpose of creating a more fulfilling life it can be a positive direction. But for a lot of people, it’s just relief from the burdens of work. In that way, early retirement is more of an escape hatch than anything else.
But why should we see work as something to be avoided? Is it possible that work represents a God-given benefit that we should be more aware of? Here are seven reasons why work may actually be a gift from God.
1. Work Gives Us a Sense of Purpose
If you never had to work – if your sole purpose in existing were simply to keep yourself entertained, you could easily go into a downward spiral. Entertainment is only fun and interesting to the degree that it represents the “dessert” in life. Should it become the main course, you would almost certainly tire of it. This likely goes a long way toward explaining why the children of the rich and famous turn to drugs, alcohol and other addictions. After a while you just run out of new highs in life, and you’re open to anything.
Steady work on the other hand gives you a reason – and an obligation – to get out of bed in the morning. That helps to keep you regimented and regulated. Even if you find your work to be boring and dissatisfying, it still has the potential to make the other areas of your life – faith, family, friendships, community, health and entertainment – that much sweeter. It’s the blending of all of those facets of life, in addition to your work, that gives your life balance. And balance is a critical component of leading a purposeful life.
2. Work is our Contribution to the World
There are well over 7 billion people in the world. Each of them has certain needs that must be filled in order for them to survive. In a complex world, it’s not possible to provide everything you need for yourself. Most products and services must necessarily be provided by someone else. This is the interlocking nature of human cooperation: each of us perform certain jobs that benefit many other people. And at the same time, we get the benefit of jobs performed by many other people.
In that way, our work is our contribution to the world. That means that there are virtually no truly meaningless jobs. Any job that you can conceive of doing is job that needs to be done. That’s because there are people on the receiving side of your job with needs for what you’re providing.
That sense of contribution is something we should all appreciate more seriously. Not only does it give greater meaning to our work, but it also represents confirmation of our value to the rest of humanity.
If you think of it this way, it’s much easier to see the hand of God in your work. Collectively, we’ll provide everything each of us needs. That gives us both the ability to provide valuable products and services, as well as the means to support ourselves.
That looks a lot like the divine plan to me.
3. Work Can be How We Self-Actualize
A lot of people, maybe even most, are simply “putting in their time” on the job. If you put yourself in this category, you may be surprised to realize that some people actually self-actualize through their work. I certainly do, and I’ve known many people over the years who do as well.
Sometimes that’s a matter of attaching meaning to your work, and the being happy about it. Other times, it’s a matter of finding work that you feel is meaningful. For me, there was always a writer deep down inside. But none of my previous careers allowed me to let that out. It was a conscious decision on my part – or maybe I had no other choice – to decide to spend the rest of my life doing work that I actually want to do.
You can choose to do the same. I’m certainly not saying that it’s easy, because it isn’t. But the payoff is a better life. You enjoy your life more, because you enjoy your work more. That can happen when whatever your chosen work happens to be also becomes part of who you are, and blends naturally.
4. Work is Our Source of Survival
Maybe you don’t like working, but if you’re like most of us, you do enjoy surviving! If there’s joy in surviving, there should also be some residual satisfaction with working to enable that survival to happen.
That’s a lesson that I learned from my grandparents. They were low skilled, and by upper-middle-class standards they certainly struggled to survive. But at the same time, they took great pride and satisfaction in being able to provide for themselves. Perhaps they wanted better, but it was obvious that they were quite content with what they had.
Maybe that’s the problem with work in general. We tend to want more than we have, and when we can’t get it we translate that inability into frustration with our work. But if we can elevate the nobility of surviving – at whatever level that might be – we might be happier with whatever work we do.
Turning off your TV will also help. That will give you less exposure to the fictional characters that spend most of their time enjoying life, but little if any in earning a living.
5. You Don’t Know How Important Work Is Until It’s Gone
You really come to appreciate honest work when you face protracted unemployment, outright disenfranchisement (the end of your career), or retirement. That’s when you realize how important work is, and how much it means to you on a personal level even apart from the income that it produces.
I learned that the hard way, at age 50, when my career in the mortgage business was certifiably over. There was little else I was qualified to do. The prospect of working in anything that was remotely substantial became an exciting proposition. I just wanted to feel productive again, self-sustaining, and even relevant. Yes, all that goes away when your career is at an end.
That experience, as well as observing others, convinced me that retirement is highly overrated. I’ve known a lot of people who retired from high activity careers, and ended up nothing more than bored. I sense that many of them realized they had made a mistake. Many – perhaps most – ultimately returned to some form of work. It wasn’t always about money either. Relevancy – that quality of life that I had discovered to be critical – is probably a bigger reason. We don’t realize how much of our personalities and lives are merged with our work until that work is gone.
6. An Honest Day’s Work can Keep You Honest
“The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.” – Ecclesiastes 5:12
I struggled with this passage in my younger days, conditioned by the world as I was to view being rich as a superior state of existence. But it really is true, a person who does steady, honest work, usually does sleep quite well. But when you have a lot of money, you’re constantly consumed with protecting it and growing it. Perhaps most of all, you’re obsessed with losing it. After all, if our work can become part of who we are, wealth can as well. You can reach a point where you self-identify with your wealth to such a degree that you cannot imagine your life without it.
But let’s get back to the part about keeping honest. Work does impose a certain amount of discipline on us. It’s not just about “bringing home the bacon”; there’s a whole series of steps that we have to go through in order to make that happen. That’s the part that keeps us honest.
By contrast, a person who survives by means other than work, must often resort to various strategies and sub-strategies that take the place of work.
Here are some examples:
- A person who lives on their investments must constantly be in search of a higher rate of return, which is often not possible or available. He may substitute by taking on excessive risk and the worry that comes with it.
- A person who lives on the good graces of family and others (which is now something of an epidemic in the industrialized world) must constantly be concerned with maintaining the favor of his or her benefactors – or whether or not their wealth will run out.
- I almost hesitate to include this group, but I’ve known people who are on welfare or disability who have no business being there. I’ll bet you know a few as well. They spend most of their time scheming how they can stay on those systems, and milk them for the most gain. That’s not a life I want to lead, and I hope you don’t either.
- A criminal must constantly be worried about his physical safety, the prospect of being caught and prosecuted, or the possibility of being killed by a competing criminal.
As glamorous as these alternative means of surviving may be in concept or on TV, it’s clear that each comes with its own set of stresses and worries. Perhaps this is another reason why God gave us work to do in order to survive. And maybe why we should begin to see work in a more positive light.
7. Work is a Witnessing Opportunity
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” – Colossians 3:23-24
If you’ve spent much time in the employment universe, you’re doubtlessly well aware of the Pareto Principle, better known as the “80/20” rule. In regard to work, it means that 80% of the work is done by 20% of people.
What do the remaining 80% of the people do? As little as possible. They’re just putting in their time to get their paycheck. Bigger picture, they’re putting in their time until retirement.
How much respect do you have for such people? What is their “statement” to the world?
When we get caught up in the world – that is, when we take our behavioral cues from the people around us – we can often forget that our work, as with our lives in general, serve as a witness to others. If you’re a Bible believing Christian, you must be aware of this concept.
In all that we do, we’re serving as ambassadors from Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world. We’re to live as members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), as this is the larger part or our witness to the world. It isn’t just our words professing our belief in Jesus Christ that will bring others to faith. In fact, our words will usually fail. But our actions will have an impact, even if they do it in a much more subtle way.
We can witness to the world by being solid citizens. That is, we focus on being the solution, rather than the problem. Work is an important arena to do that in. Do we get the job done? Are we reliable? Can we be counted on in tough situations? Can we be trusted? Do we participate in office conflict or gossip, or do we do our best to deflect it?
The more reliable you are at work and as a co-worker, the stronger your Christian witness will be – even if you seldom say a word about your faith.
Most People Are Going About Work in the Wrong Way
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” – Genesis 2:15
Whatever our attitudes toward work may be, it’s clear that work is part of God’s plan for humankind. But we can choose to take a more positive view of work, whatever kind we do.
I suspect that most people are approaching their work in the wrong way. If you see it as something to endure as a way to earn a paycheck, and you wrap your existence around your hope for the end of the day, the weekend, your next vacation, and your retirement, you’re doomed to be miserable.
But if you recognize that your work is part of who you are, you might be able to embrace it more fully. Once you do, you might grasp the deeper meaning of what you’re doing. And if you are at a point where even after coming to that realization, you sense that you and your current work are not compatible, you’ll have to summon the courage to make a change.
Sometimes that endpoint comes around due to a job loss or a career crisis. Actually, that almost makes it easier. You are then forced to make a change, so it comes down to how you want that change to come about, and where you want it to lead.
Wherever it does lead, make sure that it’s work that you can feel good about. You’ll know that because the desire and the ability will already be somewhere inside of you. I strongly believe that God has given us each a unique set of skills and interests. Within those skills and interests are the best chance we have of finding the “work that we were meant to do”.
For example, I always thought that I was pretty good at number crunching, mainly because those are the kinds of jobs that I always held. But I always had a sense inside that writing was my true calling – and the course of my life has proven that. Because I’m now doing what I have long suspected I was meant to do, I don’t feel any conflict related to my work. I can blend it much more comfortably with the rest of my life. And I have a greater sense of control over my work life than I’ve ever had in the past.
Here’s another “God revelation”: When I finally began moving into my current career, doors began opening up in unexpected places. Though I can’t say that it was a straight line into the change, but when you consider that there was nothing in my background that prepared me for being a writer, the fact that any doors opened at all was miraculous. I think that’s another way that God works, perhaps as a way of letting us know that we’re on the right path.
You owe it to yourself to pursue a similar situation, at least when the prospect of a career change becomes obvious or necessary.
But you don’t necessarily have to get into a different line of work either.
I was sitting in the lobby of a large building one night, and watching a cleaning woman going about her work. Not only was she smiling, but she also alternated between humming and singing. The writer in me just had to investigate.
Turns out that the woman is a believing Christian, and chooses to be happy in her work. Given that being a building cleaner is commonly regarded as a lower end position, the example that this woman set means that any of us can learn to be happy with our work, whatever that work might be.
Maybe that’s the ultimate lesson – you can choose to be happy in your work. Or you can change it if you’re not. It may not be easy, but I have a sense that the dominoes will miraculously fall in the right direction when you do. And if you’re a Bible believing Christian you shouldn’t have any doubts about that.