“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? Ecclesiastes 2:24-25
One Friday afternoon, I picked up my car after it had been serviced at the dealership. As I checked out, I asked Christopher, the service representative with whom I’ve built a great rapport over the last three years, “How has your week been going?”
He sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Well, it’s been going.”
I said, “I’m sure it’s challenging, but at least you have a job that will make a difference in the history of the world.”
He didn’t look at me like I was a nut. Actually, he seemed curious, so I continued. “All these people bring their cars to you for service so they can have reliable transportation to go to work where they will earn the money that pays for their groceries, car payments, rent, children’s education, health care, and so much more. You are on the front line to make sure that happens.”
“And then there are all the mothers who depend on you to make sure their cars work properly so they can safely drive their children to school, sporting events, and after-school activities. Imagine for a moment what would happen without you. People’s cars would stop working; they would have no way to get them fixed; they wouldn’t be able to go to work; their children would miss school; they wouldn’t be able to pay their bills—it would be catastrophic.”
Christopher said, “You know, I’ve never thought of it like that. I guess my work really does make a difference!”
I’m certain Christopher already felt like his work was worthwhile. But I also think he gained a fresh perspective about just how important his job is in the bigger scheme of things.
There is no greater feeling than to believe, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing, right here, right now—even if it’s hard.”
Do you have that feeling? Nothing is more normal than for you to find satisfaction in your work:
This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil, this is a gift of God. Ecclesiastes 5:18-19
And nothing is more excruciating than a job we don’t like. My first “company” job, after mowing lawns and helping my dad for a couple of summers, was working in the produce department at Publix Super Markets during my senior year of high school. The problem was that I loved Publix (and still do), but I didn’t like produce. Every day was a drudgery. It was agonizing to drag myself in to work because I did not enjoy it or find it satisfying.
Many men pose questions like, “I spend a lot of my life at work. How can I find ways to continue growing at work? How can I build a dynamic career that makes a difference in the world, while providing for my family?”
Is work something we do to earn money so that we can do what’s really important, or is there intrinsic spiritual value in the work itself?
A Theology of Work
Not many men have a “theology” of work. That’s unfortunate, since most of us will spend about half of our 112 waking hours each week at work if we include getting ready and drive times. Half of your life!
Every noble concept in the work world has been lifted straight out of the Bible, whether it’s about excellence, integrity, vision, leadership, planning, execution, exceptional service, and so many other things. In fact, you could teach most of the Harvard Business School case study method right out of the book of Nehemiah. Yet many men would be hard-pressed to explain what Christians believe about work, so let’s start there.
What should we think about work?
You were created to do real work that makes a real difference.
Whether you’re bagging groceries, fixing a computer, pounding nails in a roof, practicing law, selling real estate, or whatever else—it’s important. Work isn’t merely something we endure to earn money to pay for the things we really want to do when we’re not working.
There is intrinsic value in work. If you work at Home Depot, when you get a ladder and pull something off the upper shelf so that a housewife who can’t reach it can get the product she wants, Christianity proclaims there’s intrinsic value in that act.
Why do Christians believe this? It’s because of a passage in the Old Testament known as “the cultural mandate.” In addition to bringing the kingdom into our culture, God calls us to tend that culture as stewards of God’s creation—this is “the cultural mandate.” God has delegated dominion over creation to us as a sacred trust. Here’s the key passage of Scripture:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:27–28
Work is part of our DNA. God designed us to do good work on earth and charged us with tending all he’s made. What an awesome privilege and responsibility!
Work is a calling for which you are ordained by God.
God doesn’t just call us to salvation. He also calls us to work. God ordained Adam to agricultural work. He appointed him, giving him responsibilities and authority: “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).
If you are an attorney, you are an ordained attorney. If you are a forest ranger, you are an ordained forest ranger. If you are a first responder, you are an ordained first responder. If you drive a bus, you are an ordained bus driver. If you are the service rep at an auto dealership, you are an ordained service rep.
Every vocation has dignity.
The world’s first job was farming. There is dignity in every job, because every job makes a difference. Just ask anyone who has lived through a garbage strike.
Mike Rowe founded the television series Dirty Jobs. During an interview on one of the Sunday morning talk shows, he explained his big takeaway from doing the series: “For me, as a group, there was a level of job satisfaction that was undeniable and surprising. And it has to do with the ability to complete a task.”
He also said, “In Dirty Jobs, the big lesson was there’s an awful lot of people who are doing really important work who nobody really pays affirmative attention to.”
After that interview, I started watching the men around me doing dirty jobs. Our bug exterminator, Charles, is still going strong after forty years on the job. He loves his job and leaves a residue of joy, in addition to bug spray, once a month. He’s providing a genuine and valuable service. If you’ve ever had a bug problem, you know this is work that really matters.
About the same time, our septic tank drain field had to be replaced. While the work only took a couple of days, the permitting process lasted two months. If you don’t think that’s a job that makes a difference, try living with an inoperable septic tank for two months! Those workers understood. From the very first day, all the men who worked at our home were enthusiastic and sincere about getting us back to normal. It brought them a great deal of personal satisfaction when they finally turned the last shovel of dirt over our repaired drain field.
Every vocation is sacred to the Lord.
The Bible makes no distinction between sacred and secular vocations. If you have a concordance in your Bible and look up all the references to the word secular in your Bible, how many do you think you would find? Zero, because the word secular does not appear in the Bible. There is no such thing as a secular job. Every vocation is sacred. The Bible is dripping with the holiness and sanctity of vocation.
Work is hard because of the Fall.
I once asked Bill Bright—the founder of a large college ministry called Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru)—who traveled constantly what percentage of his work was hard. He said, “Ninety percent of what I do is hard, but it’s just what needs to be done.” Oprah Winfrey once said, “People think I have this wonderful, glamorous life, and it is wonderful. But about 80 percent of it is just hard.”
Work came first, and it was good. But because of the Fall, we must do our work while feeling the prick of thorns. We looked at this verse in the marriage chapter, but let’s look at it again from the perspective of our work:
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Work is not just a platform for ministry; it is ministry.
Everything we do is for the glory of God. For example, whether you’re an airline gate agent or a barista in a coffee bar, every customer is an occasion to demonstrate the character of Jesus Christ. If you are a manager, every conflict between two employees presents an opportunity to model the love of Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
In other words, you don’t just tolerate the work you’re doing until the lunch break so you can do what’s really important, like sharing your faith with a coworker over tacos. That’s great, but if you haven’t done your work well from 8:00 to 12:00, you’re not really going to have credibility from 12:00 to 1:00.
Because there is intrinsic value in the work itself, it’s not just a platform for ministry. The work itself is ministry. That’s what produces the feeling, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing, right here, right now—even if it’s hard.”