Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Chances are, when you read or pray Jesus’ words from the Gospels, you’re not thinking about how God’s will for humanity plays out in your day job. Maybe you’ve never even thought about your job’s significance beyond your paycheck.
There’s a lot of pain in the world — and if you’re not a pastor or front line worker, it’s easy to miss the broader picture of how your work improves people’s lives, or at least alleviates their suffering. But your work — yes, even your job — has more significant impact than you think. Even if you’re not lauded on the cover of a magazine, you’re an essential worker.
Not convinced about how your work fits into God’s mission in the world? Here’s how 11 different people who wrestle with the same thing find meaning in their jobs.
a school teacher in Staunton, Virginia
Everybody has that teacher — the one you still think about, decades later, and wish you could thank. That’s who Anna Kirkpatrick aspires to be: the kind of teacher who’s equally concerned about her students’ personal lives as she is that day’s math homework.
Currently, Kirkpatrick teaches distance learning students at a private, Christian school. But some of her most foundational lessons about finding meaning in teaching took place in the Chicago Public Schools, where the majority of her students came from poverty or tumultuous home lives.
Making sure her students understood their lessons was, of course, a big part of her job. But as a Christian, Kirkpatrick believes student success hinges on meaningful relationships. Some days, connecting with a student was as simple as saying “I’m proud of you.” Other days, it was finding unique ways to apply the kids’ personal interests in the classroom.
One student, for example, told her he wanted to be a preacher — so Kirkpatrick told him to read the lesson out loud in his preacher voice. “It’s kind of silly, but I wanted him to hear from someone that he’s capable of what he wants to do, because I don’t think he was getting that at home,” she says.
Seeing hungry kids hoarding food from their breakfast got tiring, she says, and sometimes she didn’t know which injustice to focus her energy on. It’s in those moments she honed in on why she’s there in the first place: to help them flourish in the real world, starting in the four walls of her classroom.
“I try to remind myself that God has put my students in my life, even if just for nine months,” she says. “If they can see Jesus in me at all, I’ve done my job.”
a senior compensation business partner in Minneapolis, Minnesota
“Is everyone winning?” That’s the simple question Taji Onesirosan asks himself to determine if he’s succeeding in his human resources job at a Fortune 50 company. Lucky for him, opportunities to help others “win” are baked into his job description. His role is focused on ensuring leaders have the tools and information they need to make informed and equitable pay decisions, and whenever there’s an opportunity to reward people on the lower end of the pay scale, he makes it happen.
Thriving at work is just as important to Onesirosan, who’s also a leader of his organization’s diversity action committee.
“Creating space to amplify Black voices, reinforcing their value, and ensuring they are seen and heard — that’s kingdom work for me,” he says.
It can be awkward to address touchy topics like race, mental health, and politics with coworkers, but Onesirosan feels his company can only thrive when individual workers feel like they belong, even if they don’t always agree.
When everyone has the resources and opportunities they need to be their full selves, they can do their best work — and in the end, everyone wins.
a firefighter in New York City
Frank Sarcone remembers wearing his dad’s fire boots as a kid. But he didn’t realize until he had boots of his own that kicking down doors and walking through smoke can be just as spiritual as preaching a sermon or leading worship. Because staying composed in an emergency situation — cutting a 19-year-old out of a car or crawling to a back bedroom to rescue someone — doesn’t come naturally to most people, but for Sarcone, it’s a form of ministry.
“When we go out the door, it’s often the worst day of someone’s life,” Sarcone says. “These people need someone who’s calm and knows what to do to help them.”
Sometimes, things get scary. And when he’s crawling around through the smoke, Sarcone talks to God — and when he emerges safe, the spiritual metaphor of going through the fire isn’t lost on him. He remembers David, crying out for God’s help in the Psalms, and he sees the Bible in a new way. “My work has given me new ways to trust God and relate to his Word,” he says. “I grew up with the Bible, but it’s a little different when you’ve been through the shadow of death.”
Rachael Kincaid, DNP
a nurse practitioner in Homer, Arkansas
You can learn a lot about living by watching someone die. One of the biggest lessons Rachael Kincaid has gleaned in her job at a rural nursing home? Living out the gospel can be mundane, exhausting, even gross — but it’s always worth it.
We really like the idea of loving our neighbors as ourselves, but few of us have as many daily physical opportunities to apply it as health care workers. “I bring all the Scriptures about loving my neighbor to mind when I’m physically turning someone on their side to clean them up after a bowel movement in bed or trying not to breathe through my nose doing wound care,” Kincaid says. “That’s what keeps me going when I’d otherwise get tired of it.”
But finding meaning in medical work isn’t all in the clinical to-do list. Kincaid’s patient population affords her unique opportunities to express Christ-like empathy, whether she’s simply sitting with a sick, scared patient or comforting a grieving family member.
Forbearance in suffering, an essential part of Kincaid’s job and the Christian life, doesn’t always come easily when you’re accustomed to fixing and answering questions — and in culture at large, which conditions us to squirm at the sight of suffering.
But in her slow, heartbreaking work, Kincaid is learning that putting a washcloth on someone’s forehead, reminding her that she’s not alone, is just as fruitful as doling out a medical procedure. “Presence is an attribute I’m seeing more and more as I study who Jesus is,” Kincaid says. “He was just as content sitting in the quiet with people as he was healing them.”
an insurance claims adjuster in Phoenix, Arizona
Nobody wants to talk to Matt Poppe when he shows up for work, but he’s learned how to make the best of it. As an insurance adjuster for vehicle injury claims, Poppe spends his days helping people recover from the unexpected — or, as he describes it, “making people whole again after a loss.”
When you’re not using insurance, you probably think of it as just another bill on the list. But when someone comes to him with a claim, Poppe immediately has opportunities to make their life easier by setting them up with a rental car, taking care of their repairs, and getting them compensated for their pain and suffering. Mirroring his commission as a Christ-follower, Poppe gets to be first in line to deliver good news after a crummy experience.
Poppe says he finds meaning in fulfilling the promises his company’s made to its customers — paying what’s owed, but also being a source of stability and comfort for someone going through a tough time. “Not to diminish the power of ‘thoughts and prayers,’ but with so much suffering in the world, as an individual there’s only so much you can do to ease the burden in a tangible, physical sense,” Poppe says. “The beauty of my industry is how it actually gives me the resources to do something to make someone’s burden lighter.”
For anyone caught in the doldrums of a customer service job that doesn’t feel so immediately meaningful, Poppe encourages the same outward-facing mindset. “In those cases, maybe the meaning comes in just being faithful to be the best you can be in your job, so you can provide financially for yourself, your family, and your community.”