My first job was pretty typical: I mowed grass all summer for a guy in my town with a lawn care business. It wasn’t a great decision for a kid who suffered from allergies, but it did put a little money in my pocket for a while. At least I had something to use to buy Kleenex.
That’s pretty much what that first job was—it was a means to an end. The means was pushing a lawn mower for eight hours a day; the end was money. I felt no great calling to agricultural engineering; nor did I sense the presence of the extraordinary in the weed eater string. I just showed up, day after day, doing the same thing as I did the previous day, and then got a check on Friday. For most of us, that’s the same way we still approach work.
Work is a means to an end.
Work is something that’s necessary, but not something particularly desirable. There are indeed the two percent of people out there who are doing what they love and jump out of bed every morning like they’ve been lying on a spring. God bless them. The rest of us, at least part of the time, have to take a deep breath over a cup of morning coffee to go back and do the same thing today that we did yesterday. We tend to work not as an end in itself, but to get to do something else.
We work to go on vacation. We work for the weekend. We work so that someday we don’t have to work anymore. In other words, we work in order to be at leisure. But, the Bible presents a different vision of our work. Notably, the apostle Paul describes our attitude toward work like this in the Book of Colossians:
“Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
Notice that Paul doesn’t say we need to get a new job; he doesn’t even qualify the kind of work that we are doing. Instead, he makes a holistic and inclusive statement about whatever work it is we are doing. It is possible, according to Colossians, for us to mow grass, work on spreadsheets, crunch numbers, or rebuild engines as unto the Lord. This is a different perspective indeed than just “putting your nose to the grindstone” in order to bring home a paycheck.
How do we gain that perspective? What do we need to remember if we truly want to do our work, whatever it is, as unto the Lord? Here are three things:
1. Remember work’s purpose.
There is something more going on here than just going to the office. Work is part of God’s plan for humanity, not just as a means for providing for ourselves and our families, but for providing for the common good of His creation. Ordinary people like you and me are the sovereignly designed means by which God is caring for the people of the earth. He has ordained that we, as human beings, exist in a state of interdependence on each other. That doesn’t mean God has isolated Himself from the world; it simply means that God is providentially using the talents, opportunities, and regular old jobs of regular old people to provide and care for humanity.
Think of that. As we work, we are the means of God. We become like the rain that falls on the just and unjust alike—the means of common grace through which human life and well-being is sustained and provided for. When we see it like that, a sense of great wonder and awe returns to our everyday working life, for we come to see that God is channeling His love through us as we work.
2. Remember your true authority.
Part of working as unto the Lord involves remembering who our true authority is. Even as we are extending God’s common grace for humanity, we are ultimately doing so under the authority of Jesus. He is our true boss, no matter who it is that gives us our annual reviews.
Indeed, this is the biblical argument for why and how we should submit to any authority over us. We don’t do so ultimately because that person is worthy of our submission; we don’t do so just because it is in our self-interests to do so; and we don’t do so just because we want to be respectful. We submit to the authorities in our lives—be it the government, our boss at work, or even our pastors and elders at church—because we believe that any authority in our lives has been put there by the Lord. Our submission to earthly authority is a reflection of our submission to our authority in heaven. Our perspective on our work changes, then, when we remember who our real boss is.
3. Remember where your satisfaction lies.
One of the reasons why we struggle with work is because we tend to ask our work to do that which it was never intended to do. Specifically, we ask our work to be the source of our validation, our self-worth, and even our identity. Work was never meant to carry this kind of weight.
Ultimately, we must find our true joy, satisfaction, and validation in Jesus and in Him alone. When we do that, we find that we are able to work with a different perspective. We are able to work from a posture of rest—rest in our souls—knowing that we are fully loved, accepted, and satisfied in Jesus. This makes us more confident, more joyful, and more able to give ourselves in a healthy way to the work set before us. But, the opposite is also true—until we are satisfied in Jesus, we will always struggle with our work because we will try and use our work to fill holes in our hearts that are Jesus-sized.
We are going to work today. Whether we are working in an office or at home, whether we are officially retired or not, we are going to work. But, today is an opportunity for our work to mean something more. That greater meaning isn’t just about where we work, but about the spirit we bring to it.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua, Andi, and Christian. He serves as director of Groups Ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.