This may sound odd, but Christians are to work with an eye toward obedience—not toward a paycheck. We are to work for God. And we are to see our money as a reward from God for our obedience to him in working rather than for the work itself.
If we approach our work like this, our attitude about our job won't be governed by how much we're paid. We won't think, If they'd pay me more, I'd be happier. Our happiness on the job would be governed by our obedience, not our pay. Nor would we think, If they paid me more, I'd work harder. Our diligence on the job would not be governed by how much we're paid. Again, it would be governed by our obedience to God.
As Christians, we can work hard without focusing on how much we're paid or on how we are treated by others on the job, because we know that God can reward us beyond our current job. He has resources far greater than your boss or the company for which you work. Actually, God is well connected. If you're not being treated fairly, God will take care of you in another way.
My first real job was in a nursing home. (Looking back, I think that's where God taught me about pastoring and loving people. Something about loving the elderly and infirm is close to the heart of God.) I loved that job. It didn't pay well, and the staff wasn't overly friendly, but I fell in love with serving the patients.
I had been working there for about a year when I hit the ceiling of my salary and position. My supervisor called me into her office to commend me for something I'd done and told me she'd love to give me a raise but couldn't. I remember thinking, That's okay. I love my job. Besides, God will take care of me.
About three months later, I got a call from the local hospital about taking a job with better hours and more possibility for advancement. When I hung up the phone, I could feel a smile from heaven. I had the distinct impression that God was saying to me, "You just work hard and trust me. Enjoy your work. I'll take care of you."
I think that's the way it's supposed to work for the apprentices of Jesus. I don't think God needs your boss or the company you're part of to promote you. In one Bible story, a guy needed help. When the person who could have helped hesitated, Scripture tells us the man responded, "If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance . . . will arise from another place" (Est. 4:14).
God's care for you is not limited to your employment. He may promote you by giving you an idea or by giving you the guts to do what you never would have done on your own (i.e., go back to school, start a business, etc.). Or he may make you stand out to another employer who will pursue you and offer you a better job.
A New Way of Working
If this all seems foolish to you, it might be because you're used to working more like a person without faith than like a believer. (That doesn't mean God loves you less. It just means you're living at a lower level than God intends for you to live.) You're probably still working on your job in a way that conforms "to the pattern of this world" instead of working in a transformed and renewed way (Rom. 12:2).
Lots of Christ-followers believe in Jesus as Savior but don't really live any differently than they would if they didn't. I'm suggesting that if we don't rethink how we face our workaday world, we won't fulfill the life God has imagined for us—the one we were created to fulfill. We won't have a redeemed job life. Our work life will remain under the curse of sin and be full of pain and sweat.
And it won't end there. Working with a motive other than one that seeks to glorify God leaves us no recourse but to work for things like status, power, money, position, and the like. We may end up with all the stuff we hoped for, but it will never be enough to satisfy us. King Solomon was the richest, wisest king in Israel's history. He wrote:
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs. . . . I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure...
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun... My heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor... All his [a man's] days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.
(Eccl. 2:4–7, 10–11, 18, 20, 23)
What was going on? Solomon had achieved great success; but the success box has never come with fulfillment included. In fact, success for the sake of success usually produces more loneliness and alienation than happiness or fulfillment. You'll find a couple of reasons for this. One, people often sacrifice everything—from friendships to their own personhood—on the altar of ambition in the rush to succeed; and, two, the more successful people are, the more they are envied and despised.
Harold Kushner wrote:
I think of Howard Hughes and Lyndon Johnson in their last years, experts at manipulating people to do their will, masters of the art of exercising power, ending up lonely old men surrounded by hired servants and favor seekers, wondering why so few people loved them.
Being in a position to exercise power over other people (employees, mates, children) may be gratifying for a little while, but never in the long run. Ultimately it leaves you lonely.i
Tilden Edwards wrote:
Work is good. But it promises too much. Towers of Babel are work. They can be beautiful and helpful. But they don't reach heaven. If that's what we secretly hope, we're bound for disappointment. Towers reach only ever emptier and more lonely sky. The gates of heaven cannot be stormed.ii
The Christian is not made of the same stuff as other humans. We may move towards acquiring material things, titles, status, position, or achievement in life, but not with the same desperate pursuit or in the same self-absorbed way.
Richard Exley wrote:
The [Christian] sees himself as a steward, his life as a gift to be invested and managed for the Lifegiver, and his work as an expression of who he is. For him, work is its own reward. It's an important part of his life, but only a part. He's obedient rather than ambitious, committed rather than competitive. For him, nothing is more important than pleasing the One Who called him. Consequently he is free to balance his work with rest, worship and play. iii
Working well is one of the best ways we can change the world—a way that cannot be ignored.
Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:
Does your work sometimes feel that it is still under the curse of sin, full of pain and sweat? What do you do at such times?
How can we work with ambition and drive--without idolizing our work and turning into a modern day tower of Babel?
What do you consider to be the primary reward of a "good day's work"?
For more about discovering the purpose of work, read Keith Miller's recent article "The Night I Became King."
[i] Kushner, Harold. When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.), 2002, p. 54.
[ii] Edwards, Tilden. Living Simply Throughout the Day: Spiritual Survival in a Complex Age, (New York: Paulist Press), 1998, p. 187.
[iii] Exley, Richard. The Rhythm of Life, (Tulsa, OK: A Division of Harrison House, Inc.), 1987, p. 20.