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Work That Makes a Difference
January 30, 2014
I once had a job I hated. Day after day I sat in a windowless basement office surrounded by hot, noisy computers. Day after day nothing happened. I had no major projects to inspire me, no big goals to work toward, no clear mission to fulfill. It was a bland and boring existence down there, just waiting for something interesting to happen. But nothing ever did, at least until the day came when they laid me off. I hated that job. I hated going to that office. The eventual pink slip, though intimidating and humiliating, was also something of a relief because at least it promised an end to those days.
I have thought about that job many times as the years have passed. Sometimes it is in the context of periods when the job I do now, a job I love, seems dull and insignificant, when pastoring involves more paperwork than people. Sometimes it is in talking to Aileen who often struggles with the humdrum nature of the work she does in keeping house and raising family. Sometimes it is in talking to other people who feel their skills exceed their opportunities, or who believe their training ought to take them beyond the tasks that consume their working hours.
And then I think back to that job in network administration, to the grumbling and discouragement, and in retrospect, and upon further reflection, I have to own my guilt in it. What I see more than anything, and what concerns me more than anything, was my utter lack of joy in what I was doing. I fully believe that job was my calling, my vocation, at that time in life, and yet I did it without any passion, any drive. I did it without any joy. I failed at my calling in that time and in that place. I deserved to be laid off!
But the job wasn’t the problem. I was the problem because I refused to attach any significance to the work I was doing. The work was boring and mundane, dull and tedious, because I allowed it to be that way. I wasn’t thinking Christianly about that job or the work I was meant to do there. My lack of joy in doing my job was a direct result of the lack of significance I attached to it.
Here’s the thing I had to see, and the thing I still need to call to mind: Work is not significant only when it utilizes my full capacity or full capabilities. Work is not significant only when it offers unusual challenge or special opportunity. Work is not significant only when it is measurable in dollars and cents or praise and compliments. Work has intrinsic significance because it gives me the opportunity to do something with joy—with joy in the Lord. I can do my work in such a way that it glorifies God, or I can do it in such a way that it dishonors him. Anything I can do to God’s glory has significance. It has great significance!
How do I do my work to the glory of God? I embrace that task, no matter how menial or insignificant it may seem. I do it when I’m told to do it, I do it to completion, and I do it with joy. When I do it this way, I am glorifying God.
I think of Jesus the carpenter. The Son of God had created humanity, he had created the earth, he had created the cosmos, and for most of his life on earth he created household furniture. But I don’t think he grumbled about it. I think he did it to the glory of God.
I think of Paul, the great intellectual, the brilliant scholar, the pastor and church planter, who was content to stitch together tents. I don’t think he grumbled about it either. He did it to the glory of God.
I think of that same Apostle writing to slaves in Colosse and telling them, “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.” By definition such people were unpaid and disrespected, and yet Paul could tell them that their work was full of significance because it gave them the opportunity to serve and glorify God.
Every day and every moment I have the choice before me: Will I do my work in such a way that it glorifies God? Or will I do my work in such a way that it dishonors and displeases him? In the face of such questions, I know my work matters. No matter what my work is, it matters. It matters because my work is a stage to bring glory to my God. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”