Why Your Work Matters... and Why it Doesn't
- Kelly Givens Contributing Editor to Crosswalk.com
- 2012 30 Aug
Since graduating college three years ago, I have held two full-time jobs, one temp job and a paid internship - none of which have had the same job description. I’ve filled out dozens of applications in between those jobs. I’ve lost sleep fretting over unemployment and questioning my decisions to pursue certain types of work and not others. In short, I can very much relate to anyone who wonders, “What should I be doing with my life?” or, “Does this job I’m doing even matter?”
As Christians, the questions of calling and vocation become even more challenging when we factor God’s will into the equation. It’s not just, ‘What do I want to do?’ It becomes, ‘What does God want me to do?’ It’s more than, 'Is what I’m doing meaningful to me?' It’s also, 'Is what I’m doing meaningful to God?' These are hard questions and many struggle with them. However, I don’t believe they are as important as we think. Here is what I’ve come to realize about calling and God’s will: what we do vocationally both matters to God and doesn’t matter to God. This isn’t a contradiction. Let me break it down.
1. What you decide to do with your life matters. In other words, your work matters. Why does the work we do matter to God? Because work itself matters to God. Work is the first thing we read about when we open our Bibles - “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God went to work! What did his job consist of? Taking nothing and creating something - something incredible. He took what was void and empty and created order and structure - the heavens, earth, water, land, plants, animals, humans. Then we read that when God created man and woman, the first command he gave them was to exercise dominion over the whole of creation (Genesis 1:28). God put humanity straight to work - it was his first order of business for us!
Of course, we know what comes next. When Adam and Eve sinned, their disobedience affected everything - including work. Work is now painful, toilsome and often unfruitful (Genesis 3:17-19). Thus, we think of work as intrinsically bad, a “necessary evil.” Yet to God, work is intrinsically good. As Christians, we don’t know how to deal with the implications of sin on work, so we put work into different categories - some work is “sacred,” or ministerial, some work is of a more “secular” nature.
I remember about a year ago getting a letter in the mail from a friend my husband and I financially supported; she was a ministry leader at a college campus. She was requesting prayer because she was about to leave that ministry, and was trying to, in her words, find a good “secular” career. At a wedding I recently attended, another friend was telling us how she was trying to decide between a job in ministry and a job in a “secular” field.
It’s funny how we as Christians use a term for work that God never used. The 'secular vs. sacred’ dichotomy is something we created, not God, and it’s not how we should view work. Work is sacred because work is a reflection of who God is. He does not sit idle - he is active, working to bring himself glory.
If you’re a janitor at a high school your work is important because you are helping to create an environment that is healthy for children to learn. If you are an actor, you can bring glory to the Kingdom by telling good, true stories about the human condition and the need to look outside ourselves for salvation and true fulfillment. If you are a police officer your work is valuable because God values safety. The work we do has value when we understand that work is fundamentally good, corrupted only through our own sinfulness. As author Wendell Berry writes, "There are no unsacred places. Only sacred and desecrated places." Likewise with work.
Now that I’ve made a case for why work matters, I hope you’ll see the subtle difference when I say that...
2. What you do with your vocation doesn’t matter. Or, God will use you regardless of your career if you allow him.
When you understand that work in general matters to God, it takes the pressure off to find one specific vocation that brings God glory. Let me illustrate with an example of someone very close to me.
My mom, after decades of being a homemaker, recently decided to go back to work. She first stepped into her office role as a secretary and now works in H.R. When she first got to work she realized that some major organization needed to be done. She spent a lot of time filing, sorting and throwing away irrelevant papers and materials. She cleaned that place up! Her being gifted in organization has been a tremendous asset to the company. She is also an incredibly merciful person with a gift of hospitality. I’ve seen that shine through in her work as she’s thrown together an impromptu bridal shower for a coworker and handled delicate employee issues through her work in the H.R. department. I’m so proud her for using all of her gifts and skills to bless her office.
Suppose my mom decided not to take this job and stay at home. Well, she was using her gifts and skills at home just as effectively. She’s always been in charge of our family finances - keeping track of spending and savings, letting my dad know if they could afford to get a repair on the house or if they needed to pinch pennies one month. She wakes up in the morning knowing what’s for supper every evening - at least I always thought so! I can’t ever recall her turning down friends or family to come over and share a meal. God has clearly used her gifts in administration, hospitality and mercy in our house as well, and I’m just as proud of her work as a wife and mother as I am of what she’s done outside the home. Her work is God-glorifying and Kingdom-impacting.
It doesn’t matter what your job title is. If you’re doing exactly the thing you’ve always wanted to do, that’s great - keep bringing God glory in it. If you're not sure what you want to do and are jumping from job to job trying to figure it out, that’s great - do all those jobs to the glory of God as well. If you're stuck in a job you can’t stand, it might help to write down any ways you see your job impacting the Kingdom in positive ways. Whether you're working as a missionary overseas, in a cubicle downtown, or somewhere in-between, your work can and should reflect God’s glory. The challenge isn’t finding a job that glorifies God - the challenge is seeing how the work you’re doing already does.
Kelly Givens is an editor at Salem Web Network. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and enjoys reading, writing and spending time in the great outdoors.