My first job after graduating from college involved working with undergraduate students at a small Christian university. On good days, I described my job as time spent advising undergraduate students on a variety of degree requirements and university processes. Doesn’t that sound nice? On the hard days, spent at my desk in a windowless basement office, my job consisted of sharing the difficult news that a student needed to complete additional credits to fully satisfy the requirements of the degree. My current position is much of the same but with graduate students, graduate departments, and faculty members, and I still work in a basement. I have been doing the same type of work now for about 7 years. I hoped that with the completion of my master’s degree last March that I would be able to secure a new position but as I shared here, the right opportunity has not yet opened.
I am tired of my job. There are days when the mundane nature deeply unsettles my heart. I fight negative thoughts towards my colleagues and battle desires to stop caring about my work.
Can you relate? Perhaps you are in a similar work situation, or maybe the days of tending children and home wear on your heart that also desires to pursue other passions, callings, and interests. Perhaps your current job or how you spend your days is something that you love. Regardless of where you might find yourself, your work matters, and how you spend your days matters to the God who created you.
Why do we work?
The very first page of the Bible in Genesis opens with God working to create order, beauty and the natural, physical environment in which we presently exist. Our creation as humans is unique. We reflect the image of God; the activity of work is part of that image. From the very beginning of the human story in the world, work has been a part of our purpose.
In Genesis 2, God creates Adam, and He intentionally places Adam in the Garden of Eden to “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Woman is created to help man (Gen. 2:18-25). With the sin of Adam and Eve and disobedience of mankind, our relationship to work became disjointed, a swift deviation from the original intention God had for us. God’s curse to man and woman in Genesis 3:16-19 introduces hardship and agonized labor in work:
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
The ability of humans to work, despite the fall, is unique in the created world. We are creators, innovators, thinkers, writers, and builders. We tend our homes and children, strive for organizational efficiencies and structures, and even exercise to work our bodies towards health. The countless warnings in Proverbs against lazy and slothful living are a clue that we are purposed and built for activity.
We live in the tension of Ecclesiastes 2, where Solomon rightfully identifies toil as meaningless, yet comes to this conclusion:
“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”
Solomon rightfully sees that enjoyment in our work comes from God as the provider of our food and satisfaction and that we are to take pleasure in our labors. (See Eccl. 3:9-13, 5:18-19.) Work and labor hold a rightful place in our lives.
So, when work is difficult, when we find ourselves desiring more satisfaction, what are we to do? In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul exhorts us “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” We know that dissatisfaction in our work is part of the fall, yet when we work, we must remind ourselves for whom we are laboring.
If the purpose of your labor is to please yourself, your children, or your boss, your work will become meaningless because none of these people are worthy of your work. When you view your work according to Paul’s view, as working for the Lord, to serve Christ, your work is meaningful and significant because of the God who gives your life purpose.