Your neighbor needs your work
Our Mondays are full of all kinds of things. Relationships, family, friends. It’s also full of work: showing up at the office, managing the household, working the job site, attending class, putting together a lesson plan, and so on. Our Monday life is full of work.
So far so good. Here’s what makes this topic difficult. For many of us, we don’t really care about our work all the time. It’s something to get through. To endure. It pays the bills. Pays for the weekends and the vacations, the stuff we actually like about life. It’s fine, but it’s not a calling. It’s not something God can use.
For others of us, it’s just downright terrible. You hate your job. You’re mistreated, underpaid, or overwhelmed with difficult people or seemingly meaningless tasks. The last thing you want is a sermon about working hard for the flourishing of others.
You may be thinking, “What does this guy know about work? He gets paid to pray. That’s a weird job.”
I remember what it was like to have a “real” job. I haven’t always been a pastor. Many of you know this, but my first job was sales in a national retail company. Which is a fancier way of saying I worked in the bedding department at Linens-N-Things.
But honestly, that was the hardest job I ever had. Here’s why: I wasn’t particularly good at it, my bosses were not supportive, my co-workers were not nice, the customers were impatient, the cash register was impossible, and my pay was depressing.
I hated almost every day I worked there. And if you had told me being a follower of Jesus meant working diligently for the flourishing of all at Linens-N-Things, I would have punched you in the face.
That is one of my bigger regrets from my younger days. Now I know how much that time mattered to God. When I look back at how many opportunities I wasted to grow, and love, and serve that I squandered in clock-watching and bad attitudes, it makes me sad.
God took that time seriously; I did not. Our work, what we do with the majority of our time, wherever that is, matters deeply to God. It’s serious business. And if we want to follow Jesus on Monday, it means taking our work seriously.
This is one of those things I think we all nod our heads to on Sunday, and immediately dismiss on Monday. Because we just don’t believe anyone sees what we do. “No one sees me changing this diaper for the hundredth time.” “No one cares about this spreadsheet.” “Gosh, why am I reading this boring chapter of this textbook?”
We think no one sees and no one cares, but this is a lie. Even if no one else does, God sees and delights in you. What you do is an act of worship to him. And no job, no opinion, no oppressive system, no cultural attitude, no label, can take that away from you. Jesus delights in what you do. Those 40 hours a week are not throwaways. And they are so much more than a means to a paycheck.
Discipleship on the job
Work is often where you learn and practice patience and gentleness with people. Where you experience joy in hardship. Where you practice self-control in a meeting. Where you serve people most tangibly throughout your day. Where you are generous with customers, clients, or co-workers.
And the reward is incredible when we allow God to work on us. Paul says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s the kind of person God is making you to be. Think of the gift it truly is to become more and more a person who lives like that! Who doesn’t want to promote that person? Who doesn’t want a boss like that, a colleague like that?
Every moment God gives us in our work is a moment to become more like Jesus and experience the reward of the faithful life. Tish Harrison Warren, in her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, puts it like this:
The new life into which we are baptized is lived out in days, hours, and minutes. God is forming us into new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today. We tend to want a Christian life with the dull bits cut out. Yet God made us to spend our days in rest, work, and play, taking care of our bodies, our families, our neighborhoods, our homes. What if all these boring parts matter to God? What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us?
Your work is seen and delighted in. Your work is a reward in incredible ways. And your work is so much bigger than you.
One of the more dangerous lies we believe about work today is that it is mostly about me. My passion. My fulfillment. My comfort. I mean, maybe it was just me, but that was essentially the commencement speech I heard at my high school graduation. “Find what you love and do it!”
Here’s why I just don’t believe that anymore. First, it’s really only possible for the extremely privileged. In the history of the world, and so many places in the world today, and for many of us here, work is about survival, not passion. Sometimes you just have to eat.
Second, it’s unrealistic. Not everybody can do what they love. Some jobs just need doing, and nobody loves it right away. How many lives have been ruined by that phrase, “find your passion,” then struggle to capitalize on their passion for video games.
And third, if that’s our motivation, it makes work, which is so much of our lives, completely self-centered. It’s all about you, so of course, you’re going to be miserable.
At best, this thinking is a distraction. At worst, it leads to people making huge career changes they probably shouldn’t because they are looking for something that they already have: purpose.
Not every job is fun. Or adventurous. Or a perfect fit for you. But, in God’s economy, your job has a purpose. Even what we think is the most mundane, boring, or meaningless work. And that purpose is so much bigger than us.
The purpose of our work, besides worship to God, is to love and serve our neighbor. God may want your work and designed you for it. But your neighbor needs your work.
Unlikely help and a burglary
I experienced this really personally a few weeks ago. When my wife and I got home from our Christmas vacation trip out of state, we pulled into the garage and realized our home had been broken into while we were gone. It was one of the most sickening, awful feelings in the world. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, so worried about how to take care of my family and make this right. I prayed that God would help me.
Here’s how he answered: He sent me an insurance agent that walked me through everything I needed to do to be made whole again. He sent me a real estate agent, a friend here at church, who connected me with a contractor who could help assess and fix the damage to my back door (since I can’t, you know, fix things). He sent me a police officer, who attends this church, who came to my home after his shift, late at night, to bring me a police report for my insurance, to ensure my family was safe.
I am so glad that none of these people thought their job was too boring, too mundane, and that God couldn’t possibly use them in a significant way. I’m so glad that they had a vision for their work that was bigger than just themselves and their own personal fulfillment. Because over those really hard weeks, they changed everything for me.
I wanted to share this because I know for many of you, this is hard to believe, that what you do matters to God or matters to other people. Many of us get the test answers right. You know, “Does your work matter to God?” Most of you will answer yes.
We can pass the multiple choice. But the written test is harder. When we asked, in a survey, “How does your work matter?” the answers were harder to come by. When it got personal, many of us lacked imagination for how God uses our work to love and bless others.
Yet in the most surprising ways, God reminds us that our work can help people flourish in ways we’d never have thought possible.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a sermon delivered by Andrew Jones, pastor at Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas. This version has been condensed and edited for the purposes of this article. You can listen to the full sermon at christcommunitykc.org.Topics: Christian Life, Common Good, Discipleship, Meaning in Our Work