If you’re like most people today, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted your job. It may have gotten less reliable, more intense, put on hold, or you may be searching for employment. At the very least, you’re adjusting to new approaches to business in the world around you. These are not normal times.
But even in “normal” times, many of us struggle with the idea of work. Many people are dissatisfied with their jobs. We talk about “the treadmill,” “the daily grind” and “working like dogs.” We celebrate Friday with its own triumphant acronym—TGIF—as if just getting there was a major victory. Apparently, many have given up trying to thrive at work and are just hoping to survive it.
Surely, God didn’t create us for lives of meaningless drudgery punctuated by a few evenings and weekends for pleasure and meaning, did He? There has to be more to the story than that. What are we missing?
I think we’ve misunderstood God’s purpose of work in our lives. We were designed to be satisfied and fulfilled in what we do, to live far above the “daily grind.” But how do we get there if we feel like work is a necessary evil? Can the place where we spend the majority of our waking hours be transformed from drudgery to something meaningful?
Yes—but only if we completely rethink our attitude toward work.
Designed to Work With God
God is a worker who created us to be His co-workers. Co-laboring with Him may seem relevant only to those with specific callings. But it actually applies to everybody.
We know God is a worker; He created and then rested (Genesis 2:2). In fact, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each have a “career.” The Father is zealously accomplishing His purposes (Isaiah 9:7; 37:32); the Son upholds all things by the word of His power and is interceding at the right hand of the Father (Romans 8:34); and the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, teaches truth and manifests the power and presence of Jesus in the lives of His people (John 15:26; 16:8-15). Scripture describes these many ongoing activities—the work—of the Trinity, and they are all part of His plan.
Work was actually created before the Fall (Genesis 1:28; 2:15) and was included in what God called “good.” And since we have been redeemed and are being restored into our original purpose—we are being conformed into the likeness of Jesus, the exact image of God (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:3)—a believer’s work is still good. It’s part of our design and an opportunity to partner with God, even if we haven’t realized it.
The problem, of course, is that after the Fall, work became difficult and frustrating. As a result, our attitudes about it gravitate toward one of two extremes: Either we view it as a necessary evil or we try to find our significance in it. The first perspective can lead to a life of drudgery, the second to idolatry. We either resign ourselves to the necessity or we try to work harder, longer and better because that’s where we’ve found our identity.
Neither of those perspectives is right. But if we change the way we see work, it becomes not a punishment for the Fall or a necessary evil but an opportunity to be a co-laborer with God. We find our unique calling in the desires, gifts, talents and experiences He has given us.
Doing What You Are
When we really see ourselves as redeemed and restored to the image of God, we begin to see work as a calling, not a job.
This is how the New Testament portrays it. The Apostle Paul’s words to slaves and servants in his culture are just as valid for employees and business owners today: “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). In other words, work is sacred, no matter how mundane a person thinks his or her job is.
The Bible tells us that we are God’s workmanship, created to do the good works He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). That statement identifies our identity as “God’s workmanship”—people created in His image and redeemed for a purpose—before our activity.
Identity must always come before activity. The world says our work is our identity: “You are what you do.” That’s what we often talk about as soon as we are introduced to someone. We identify people by their occupation. But God says our work is our stewardship, not our identity. We do what we are. That’s an enormous difference.
We are worshipers of God and followers of Jesus. Everything we do, including our work, is therefore directed primarily to Him, intended one way or another as an act of worship. We can’t compartmentalize life into segments. Our whole lives are His.
That makes everything we do extremely meaningful when we do it as our offering to God. Career advancement and money are not the highest purposes for our work. As God’s workmanship, we have been created with an individual design, passions and talents to do work that honors Him and serves others in accomplishing His purposes.
Your Work as Ministry
The fact that God places such value on our work calls for a response. First, our work needs to be excellent. When you know you work primarily for the Lord rather than a particular boss, industry or clientele, you don’t give less than your best. Can you imagine Jesus doing shoddy work as a carpenter? I can’t either. He’s our model.
Second, when you see your work as an extension of your worship and obedience, you see how integral it is in your relationship with God. You recognize Him in it.
Third, no matter what you do or where you do it, your work is a platform for ministry. Every Christian is a full-time minister, and work creates many opportunities to live that out.
It enables you to provide for yourself and/or your family.
It gives you a forum to represent Jesus to the people you work with. You can love, serve, encourage, counsel, teach and demonstrate His nature in the network of relationships your job provides.
It fulfills your calling as a co-laborer with God. Even if you long for a different work situation, don’t miss the opportunity where you are now. Your work and the spirit in which you do it have eternal consequences, and God honors work done well with the right heart.
It allows you to be generous. You may want more hands-on opportunities for service, but churches, missionaries and other ministries can’t do what they do without funding, and people in need can’t receive help without income-earners. Work allows you to sow seeds in many fields in God’s Kingdom.
We know work is part of God’s eternal design because it’s pictured in Jesus’ millennial Kingdom. Notice all the activity in the new Heaven and Earth in Isaiah 65:21-25. When the Kingdom comes in its fullness, people will still build houses and plant food. “My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands” (verse 22).
If work is included in our ultimate destination, it’s important now. God values it, no matter what direction it takes in the coming weeks, months and years. Everything you do as a believer carries weight. You are partnering with God in His Kingdom every minute of every day. There is no higher calling than that. ©2020 Chip Ingram
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.
Chip Ingram is the teaching pastor and CEO of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. He is the author of 15 books and has taught many seminars at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. His next Cove seminar, “Discover Your True Self,” is scheduled for Sept. 18-20. For more information, visit TheCove.org.
Above: An employee wearing a face mask works on a car at the Toyota factory in Onnaing, northern France.
Photo: AP Photo/Michel Spingler