“What do you do?” One of the first things people ask when they meet someone is what they do for a living. Because work is so central to who we are, it’s one of the most important and telling factors in a person’s life. “I’m a stockbroker. I’m a poet. I’m a soldier.” We can understand a great deal about a person simply by knowing about their work.
We teach our kids to have a good work ethic, measure our country according to its employment rate, and even observe a public holiday to acknowledge laborers.
But as central as work is to our culture, we seem to have a love-hate relationship with this national preoccupation. It seems the vast majority of people work for the weekend, so to speak. That is to say, we work for our paychecks—the things money buys, like necessities, security, and a few luxuries—rather than working for work’s sake.
The Bible speaks frequently on the subject. Two themes in particular are repeated: Work hard and work for God. Colossians 3:23 sums this up perfectly: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (ESV) There is a spiritual dimension to work—and it is important to God.
Popular business literature tells us that good work is aligned with career advancement: Be dependable, be innovative, be marketable so you can stand out, make the next pay grade, and build your resume. It’s not about the work itself, but rather where it gets you. What’s missing in this advice is an understanding of the meaning behind our labor. The Colossians verse would seem to suggest that passion is an integral part of the equation.
It is interesting that the earliest mention of labor in the Bible is the Lord’s respite from six days of intensely creative work (Gen. 2:2). As a result of Adam’s sin, work became troublesome for humans, and a connection between our toil and redemption was established. We do not simply till the soil to bring forth sustenance, but our labor should produce spiritual fruit as well. There is a redemptive nature to work.
Our purpose should be aligned with God’s purpose for us so that we don’t wake up in the morning wondering why we get out of bed and drag ourselves to the office every day. This doesn’t mean that if you earn good money, you aren’t doing good work. Nor does it mean that advancing in your career is an unworthy goal. What is pleasing to God is an attitude that puts Him first—which helps us to put our priorities in the right place.
When we do this, our focus shifts entirely. The process of our work becomes as important as the end goal. The paycheck, while still important, becomes something of a byproduct of a richer pursuit. Placing passion above money and recognition is both liberating and rewarding. In this scenario, good work becomes its own reward.
Dr. Stanley talks about the benefits of our toil in his message “How to Get the Most Out of Your Work” airing today on radio.