Currently the Christian blogosphere is abounding in pieces about Christians and their secular work. The majority of these articles are written in order to help the Christian think deliberately about their day-to-day work and how it fits within God’s plan for their lives. While these pieces can be helpful (and others theologically questionable!), it seems to me the majority of them are overly positive about work.
What happened to acknowledging the fact that sometimes work is just plain hard? Isn’t this the picture we see in Genesis? As a result of man’s rebellion the ground is cursed and work is hard, toilsome, and laborious (Gen 3:16-19, 5:29). We see a similar picture in Ecclesiastes: “I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccl 2:11).
Obviously this isn’t the whole picture. The Bible has more to say about work, and the purpose of work, than just ‘toil’ (see for example Eph 4:28; Col 3:22f). However, in being overly positive about work, without acknowledging its difficulties and toilsome nature, we can place a burden upon our daily work that it cannot bear. We are being told that there is great meaning and fulfilment to be found in all work, but for many of us that supposed ‘greater’ meaning can be impossible to find. We might then begin to think that the problem lies with us, and not the difficulty of our work. Many in our churches, let alone our world, simply work to survive and to provide for our basic needs and for the needs of those for whom we are responsible. And isn’t this a good, biblical reason to work (2 Thess 3:6f)?
Now, please don’t hear me saying that we should swing the pendulum the other way and be completely negative about our day-to-day work. It is good and right to help our Christian brothers and sisters see how their work ‘fits’ in this broken world. However, what I am saying is that sometimes the best thing we can do pastorally for people is to acknowledge that work is hard and laborious and a reality of this sinful world we live in.
Once we do that, we can then point them to words like that of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Or to Peter’s words:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet 1:3-5)
Or to that great vision and future we see in Revelation, when God will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Rev 21:1-4). For those who struggle in their work, we can encourage them to look to that great inheritance and rest we have in Christ. What we experience now is not the end of the story. Perfection in the new creation is what lies ahead for those who are faithful to Christ. Work (or perhaps ‘service’) will no longer be toilsome and laborious in the new creation.
While I understand the motive in helping those in our churches find fulfilment in their work (we do spend a huge chunk of our time working!), for many this is hard to find. If you do enjoy your job and find great fulfilment in it, praise God! Thankfulness should be the response. However, finding fulfilment in our work is not the biblical imperative—being faithful is. In this regard, our daily work does matter, for we are called to be faithful to Christ in all things, which includes our job.
For those then who find work hard and toilsome, know that being faithful in that work pleases God. Keep faithfully serving Jesus in all things, and look forward to that day when the Master will say “Well done good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your Master” (Matt 25:21). Can there be anything greater or more fulfilling than hearing those words from our Lord?