‘I love my job. I’m so privileged to be able to do something for a living that I enjoy so much.’
‘I hate my job. I can’t see myself doing this for the rest of my life. Maybe it’s time to look for something different.’
Does either of these statements resonate with you? Maybe you’ve found yourself thinking or saying something similar. How can work be so enjoyable, rewarding, fulfilling and then so frustrating, difficult, and pointless? Well, I’m a Christian, so my faith should have some answers to these questions. That’s an obvious answer, but in practice, does it? If I am honest, there have been times in my life when I’ve operated on the basis that God is interested in what I do on Sundays, and on weeknights when I help out at Kids’ Club, but he’s not really interested in my work… unless I’m having a gospel conversation: a ‘dualistic’ approach. At other times, I think I’ve just absorbed and practised the attitudes and approaches to work of my colleagues: ‘the world around squeezing me into its mould’, as J.B. Phillips paraphrases Romans 12:2.
But the great news is that the Bible has a huge amount to say about work and how I approach it. So how does the gospel make a difference to our work?
We have been studying the first three chapters of Genesis on Sunday mornings at my church. It has been so helpful to be reminded that right at the start of the Bible we see God, in whose image we are made: working, in designing and creating our universe. And he declares his work is good, showing his delight in his work. God also models rest from work (Gen. 2:2).
So how does this make a difference to me tomorrow, when the alarm goes off? First, I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that work is part of the curse, that it is a necessary evil that I have to endure until I can get home and enjoy being with my family or going to church. It is good for me to enjoy other parts of creation, in my rest and leisure, but my work is not an interruption to that, or purely a means of paying for it. Second, I remember that God designed me to work. Tim Keller – in his excellent book Every Good Endeavour – summarises with typical clarity: ‘We are called to stand in for God here in the world, exercising stewardship over the rest of creation in his place as his vice-regents. We share in doing the things that God has done in creation… This is a major part of what we were made to be.’
So my prayer as I walk through the doors of the hospital where I work is: ‘Lord, you designed me to do this; help me to work purposefully today.’
My faith also explains why work is often difficult. In Genesis 3 we see humanity rebelling against God, choosing to put ourselves in his place. We told God to go away, that we wanted his gifts but not him, the giver. We wanted creation, but not the creator. And so work is now cursed.
So what difference does this make to me as I walk through the doors of the hospital? First, to remember where I’m living and have realistic expectations, to look at the world around me honestly, to see where things are not the way they were meant to be, and seek to restore it with God’s help. Second, to know myself; not only am I living in a fallen world but I’m a flawed person. What often frustrates me at work is when things get in the way of my wants, my ‘needs’, my desires. I find myself wanting my work to define me, to get adulation, status or approval. I need to keep my work in perspective. Keller again sums it up well: ‘Work is not all there is to life. You will not have a meaningful life without work, but you cannot say that your work is the meaning of your life. If you make any work the purpose of your life – even if that work is church ministry – you create an idol that rivals God.’
Redemption and restoration
In Genesis 3:15 we have the first promise of the one who will reverse the curse, and restore us to God and to one another, and will restore creation. God kept that promise sending his only Son, to die on the cross and to rise again to secure all this. I was restored to my Creator as an 11 year old boy and I’m looking forward to the new creation where God will once again live with his people, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:4).
So what difference does this make to my work? All the difference!
I am forgiven, adopted, and have an immense reward in Christ. When God looks at me he sees his son, Jesus. My identity and security are in him. I already have God’s approval; I can’t earn it through my work, and I no longer need work or other people’s approval to provide my identity. I am set free to enjoy work! And in response to all that Jesus has done I want to respond with a life of grateful love: ‘in view of God’s mercy… offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship’ (Rom. 12:1). That means doing my work out of grateful love to God, distinctively for his glory, and pursuing excellence in my work, loving my neighbours, for their good.
What does this look like in practice?
For me, as a Christian physiotherapist, to be committed to my patients, being fair, honest, caring, and compassionate because Jesus has been to me. If a patient is ungrateful, or makes a complaint, I shouldn’t become resentful or bitter. I would love to have a reputation of being unusually forgiving, and reconciling, because that points people to my Saviour.
Rather than treat our colleagues and clients as obstacles or vehicles to us getting what we want, we should want to engage with them, seeing them as people who are made in God’s image, treating them all with respect and love. So the person who tends to offend us should be treated equally, with the same value in the workplace as the person we naturally get on with.
There are so many practical applications of the gospel to work that could be written here. As I am writing, I’m all too aware that so often I fail to apply the gospel to my work. I fall back into using work to put me on the throne, rather than God. My motives aren’t always right or pure. And the gospel speaks to me again: God loves me, he has redeemed me, there’s grace to forgive me, and God still uses me for his glory and his kingdom, in spite of my weakness and failings. Isn’t God’s grace amazing? Let’s seek to be people who are motivated by God’s grace and take every opportunity to demonstrate God’s grace in our workplaces.