Reflections on Work Life
I reached a milestone recently: two years in the workplace. That's approximately 4500 hours spent at work, over 1000 support cases solved, and tens of thousands of dollars earned (and spent). The day, October 14th, 2015, passed quietly enough. No fanfare, no balloons, no celebration — not that I was expecting any. In fact, I didn’t think much of it at all —that is, until I got this email:
This is all probably oversimplified, but what are verses and resources you've appreciated regarding post-college/working life or job searching? What are the guidelines, questions, and filters in deciding what to do after college out of an eternal mindset? What do you wish you had done and what were you glad you did, your first 2 years out of college? (All either in principle or practically)
Wow. Talk about a good question. And, as always, good questions require good answers.
There's just one problem: a comprehensive answer would require an entire book. And I don't exactly have that kind of time on my hands.
But, it's a good question for me to dwell on and a good question (hopefully) to answer for all of you. I have by no means mastered this area of life; I'm a dwarf among giants. Yet, what I've learned has been helpful, for at least me. I hope it proves useful to you too.
For me, adjusting from college life to work life was hard. It took me four months to wake up in the morning on a weekday and not immediately think, "Lord, I really don't want to go to work today." And that was with a no-stress training period, an understanding manager, and absolutely nothing to complain about.
Why? Why did I have such a difficult time? It would not be an oversimplification to say my grief was due to my poor theology of work. I didn't think rightly about work because I had a wrong framework for working as a Christian. Sure, I had thought about it a few times in the context of school, but I had not figured out how to glorify God with my life when most of my waking hours are spent doing inherently 'unspiritual' things. I needed a better understanding of Scripture.
Over the years I've come to rest my working doctrine of work [pun intended] primarily on four passages. They are Matthew 6:33, Colossians 3:23-24, 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 and Ecclesiastes 2:24-25.
Now, of course there are many verses in the Scriptures about having a good work ethic (search Proverbs for "sluggard" and Ecclesisates for "vanity" to see what I mean). But I've found the following verses mostly comprehensive, and absolutely foundational.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing] will be added to you.
This gives us bearing, as our North Star in the dark night, to point us to true realities. Our foremost desire as Christians ought to be to honor the Lord Jesus Christ and work for His kingdom and His righteousness in every moment and endeavor. We must tell ourselves, "My purpose on earth is not to earn a paycheck, get promoted, find my dream job, or derive meaning from my contribution to the world. My purpose is to honor the King!"
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
This is our anthem, reminding us that our True Master is not an earthly boss or manager, but the Lord Himself. Why work hard? To please the Lord, for we serve Him. Why work honestly? To please the Lord. Why excel? To please the Lord. The true reward of a job well done comes from the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:10-12
… But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
This gives us our ambition, to be always excelling and ambitious to live quietly, humbly, and industriously to meet our physical needs. A Christian must aim to work so that he can provide for himself, for his family, and for others out of his surplus. In fact, the one who refuses to work and does not provide for his own "has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim 5:8). Let that never be said of you!
There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?
This is our privilege. All of the earth is the Lord's, and He owns all that it contains. But God Himself does not only give us "the power to make wealth" (Deut 8:18), but also the power to enjoy using that wealth. Even as we give a portion of what is already His back to Him in tithes and offerings, He lets us keep much of it, not only to meet our basic physical needs but also to enjoy His good creation. It is, of course, idolatry to serve wealth/mammon (Matthew 6:24) or to love the gifts rather than the Giver (Jas 1:17). Yet, to use the wealth God has given to enjoy food, drink, company, recreation, etc. is not sin; it is "from the hand of God" for no one "can have enjoyment without Him."
Some Limited Resources
For the inquisitive among us, those four proof texts are hardly satisfying. They do not answer the many questions that could be asked: "How do I choose one job over the other? What do I do if I can't find a job? What do I do if I'm not good at my job? How do I evangelize at the workplace? What social events can I participate in with my coworkers? How much should I tithe? What are good things to enjoy?"
I don't have those answers. They are questions answered with wisdom and experience. To answer them require a detailed, nuanced understanding of the circumstance at hand, as well as the person asking them. After all, part of spiritual maturity is being able to make such decisions for ourselves.
That being said, there are resources on this topic. Over past two years, I've been curating articles from outstanding blogs about every Christian topic imaginable. After skimming thousands of articles, I've unfortunately only come across a few that actually helped me glorify God in my everyday, boring, normal work. Here they are below:
Ordinary Christian Work - Tim Challies
The Center of a Productive Life
A Philosophy of the Christian Life
Only One Life - by C.T. Studd
If you know any other [better] resources, I would be happy to learn of them.
For the time being, I pray that the verses and resources listed above provide an adequate foundation for a working theology of work. And for all the questions that haven't been answered yet, I encourage you to ask the church members who have been working for much longer than I for their wisdom and guidance.
To my fellow laymen, let us strive to glorify our God in whatever we do, whether it be eating, drinking, talking to customers, wrangling spreadsheets, growing bacteria cultures, or combing through code. He ought to be honored in all of our life.
Soli Deo Gloria