Ever since I turned fifteen and could get a worker’s permit for a summer job at a pool concession stand, I have loved to work. My work history includes time delivering mail, as a garbage collector on my college campus, in marketing sound systems, and now as a missionary with an organization training pastors in expository preaching.
Even though I had wonderful Christian parents who taught me the value of working hard, I didn’t always see work as a major element of Christian discipleship. In my head, I knew some truths about how my Christian faith informs my work, but those truths didn’t make the journey down to my heart.
Several times I had to learn the hard way of how God wants us to approach work as a Christian. God, in His grace, revealed to me several lies that seeped into my work life. I pray that the lessons I learned will give you a greater view of God and His purpose for your work while strengthening you to work for His glory.
Lie #1: Work is not a part of God’s perfect plan.
For a long time I believed that the necessity of work was a result of sin and not part of God’s original plan and good design. This probably entered into my brain as a kid watching TV characters complain about work or hearing the constant whining of peers complain about their homework. “In a perfect world,” I would think, “Nobody would have to work and I could just sit around all day doing what I wanted”—which in those times was playing video games, eating junk food, and watching sports. (Funny, I didn’t think about the thousands of people whose work made enjoying food, video games, TV, or even sitting on a couch possible for me!)
The Scriptures show a different reality, one that says work is a fundamental part of God’s good plan for the world. God gave Adam what theologians call the “Creation Mandate”—the command to subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing (Genesis 1:28). This command for purposeful work to cultivate the earth came before humanity’s fall into sin. Sin tarnished God’s good design, making our work toilsome (Genesis 3:17-19). While sin changed many elements of work for us today, it did not change the fact that we are image bearers created to reflect the image of a working God.
Lie #2: Work is all about me.
I believed this lie for a long time. In my mind and heart, I was the one I worked for. I wanted the money, opportunity, and status that came from my work. When something at work made getting what I wanted difficult, frustration would overwhelm me, causing my attitude and motivation to suffer.
Scripture says that our work should be done, “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 6:7). This means that He is our ultimate boss, the One we will ultimately report to for our work. Our work also touches many other people because in God created work to be a means of blessing others. This goes for the barista, the car salesman, the truck driver, the teacher, and the banker. This new focus away from ourselves helps us obey the two great commandments of Scripture: to love God and love others.
Lie #3: Full-time ministry is the only work that serves God.
I struggled finding my calling in work for a while because I believed the false dichotomy that said I couldn’t serve God while working a “normal job.” Sure, a ministry job like pastor or a missionary uses your skills to more directly advance the Kingdom (which is an honorable thing!). That doesn’t mean a job other than pastor or missionary doesn’t serve God as well. If you do your job for the Lord, it is serving Him.
Think of Joseph, who by faith honored God as a shepherd, prisoner, overseer of Potiphar’s house, and eventually the second in command of all of Egypt. By faith, Daniel similarly served in the Babylonian government and stood for his God against strong cultural pressures and even death warrants. By faith, Obadiah, as an official of the king, protected and fed God’s prophets in a cave while they ran from the queen who sought to kill them (1 Kings 18:3-4). Time would fail me to tell of all of the other brothers and sisters throughout history who were faithful gospel witnesses in their workplace, stood compassionately for biblical truth, fought for justice, showed mercy, cared for the poor, and stewarded the resources God gave them in service to His Kingdom. Bottom line: we are servants of God no matter if we serve in “official” ministry positions or not.
Lie #4: Rest is optional.
One summer during my seminary days, my boss gave me a great offer: “Kevin, this summer you can work as many hours as you want—even if you go into overtime.” Overtime and overtime pay? The ears of this cash-strapped seminary student perked up and I soon made it my goal to cash in on this offer. After a few weeks filled with 55+ hours of work while trying to balance responsibilities at church, I realized that I slowly began to dread work, serving at church, and spending time with friends. I was drained both physically and spiritually—I needed a break!
I was missing a vital part of God’s plan for work. In God’s design, man is to work and to restfrom his work. This imitates God’s rest in creation (Exodus 20:8-11) and in the words of Tim Keller is “a celebration of our design.” True rest refocuses our hearts on the Creator and rejuvenates us for more work.
Rest has many dimensions and doesn’t only refer to physical rest. Spiritual rest is found in Christ and obtained when we put our faith in Him. In Christ we rest from trying to earn God’s approval through works (Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 4:3). This means we need the rejuvenating effects of spiritual rest in communion with God through prayer and the Scriptures, solitude, and fellowship with other believers.
Lie #5: My work gives me an identity.
This lie is actually more of a half-truth—work does shape part of our earthly identity. But if I bank my life and entire identity on my work, my self-worth and emotions will be dependent on my performance. If work is going well, it quickly becomes an idol. That idol will eventually disappoint me, leaving me disappointed until I have reason to hope in myself again. And when things get difficult, I question my identity and if I’m doing what God called me to do.
Jesus wants us off of the emotional rollercoaster that comes with finding our identities solely in our work. First and foremost, we are forgiven sinners, bought by the blood of Christ and are children of God. The very reason Jesus died was “to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). If you believe in Christ, your core identity is no longer in your work but is in your new identity as belonging to Christ. This fundamental aspect of your identity should be weaved into the very fabric of your being both today and 100,000 years into the future.
Working in the Gospel’s Power
Christ’s death and resurrection gives believers a new identity and a new power in the Holy Spirit for our work. Instead of separating work from worship, we can fuse them together for the glory of our King. Instead of focusing on the frustrations of work in a fallen world, we can rejoice that Christ’s work on the cross makes it so it won’t always be this way. And instead of striving to achieve worth, you can rest knowing that you are of infinite worth in your Father’s eyes.
When you are tempted to believe lies about work or who you are in Christ, may these truths serve as a steady anchor for your mind and heart.
This post can also be read in Spanish.