When you get up in the morning, get dressed, get breakfast, then head to your car or the bus stop to work, have you ever wondered why? Why do you work?
Some of your answers may be, for paying the rent, for providing for the family, for accumulating money to live more comfortably like buying a house or a new car, for proving my ability, intelligence, value, and worth, for my ambition to climb the career ladder…
I get it. These are reasonable and honest answers. However, If you can give one sentence to define the meaning of work, what would it be?
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. In a book I’m currently reading, Life without Lack, the author Dallas Willard talked about God’s intention towards humankind’s work, which provided me much invaluable understanding. Along with my personal experiences, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about the meaning of work with you.
Job vs. Work
First, let’s differentiate “job” and “work.” Our job is usually what we get paid for. We do all the work required for our job. However, our work is much more than what a job requires. We may be at a point where we do not have a job or do not want one, yet we still have work to do, for God designed humankind to work. Work is human creativity, the expending of energy to produce good and promote blessings in various forms and ways ( paraphrased from “Life without Lack” chapter 3, subtitled “The Importance of Our Work”).
For some of you, the job and work concept might be as clear as the blue sky. But for me, I had to go through some deep self-doubt before arriving at this reconciling understanding.
The Value of Work
I spent nearly ten years working in a mission nonprofit, from my early 20s to the early 30s. The way the organization functions is that each staff is responsible for their income, to cover the accommodation, living expenses, work travels, etc., everything needed to live and work in that environment. The staff has to find supporters for their work. We worked to spread the gospel, to provide biblical and spiritual education through various training programs and activities.
When I was working there, I was accountable to my team leaders. But they weren’t the ones paying me. My supporters gave me money to do the work aligned with the values and visions of my organization, but I’m not obliged to report to them. Though I shared my work with them from time to time in newsletters, it was more for relationship building. They believed in me and the good work I was part of, so they invested financially and playfully in me and the work.
As you can see, how this particular organization function is very different from any other existing one. When the time had come for me to pivot from working in that organization to other possible careers, tailoring my CV became a big challenge. I sent my CV sample to one of my friends who worked in the UN for some feedbacks, and she replied, “you had a lot of experiences in your work. But I can’t see a clear career path in your CV. Where were you going in your career with that organization? Usually, it’s working from a junior to a senior position. Did you get promoted?”
I laughed and cried at her reply. A career path? Is this phrase even included in the Christian vocabulary? I never thought of a career path. I was just serving God with whatever I had at the time. Back then, no one was even talking about skillset. They said, “There is always something for you to do to expand the kingdom of God. All you need is your heart.” Nothing was wrong with that saying per se, except for some possible missing pieces. Today, I would rephrase it this way: “There is always something for you to do to expand the kingdom of God. You need the heart to serve Him, and you will need to develop your skillset and discover your expertise (niche) to better the effectiveness of your service.”
I didn’t land on any job at any international organization I applied for that year when I pivoted from my previous work. Nevertheless, months of job searching and the failure of it made me question the legitimacy of my years of mission work. I didn’t receive any package of benefits from them when I left. And I had zero savings.
What do we use to measure the value of our work? The payment? The benefits? The entitlement and positions? I felt depressed at these suggestions from many of the professional friends I met when I was navigating the highly competitive workplace, for I never got paid by a boss, nor received any benefits package. Had the time I spent in my years of work with that nonprofit wasted?
No Good We Do Is Lost
The definition of work and its biblical perspective I learned from the book Life without Lack gave me so much encouragement and freedom after I wrestled those questions. The kind of work that’s pleasing to God is for producing good and promoting blessings. During the decade working in mission, I gave up a stable lifestyle, sometimes meals and sleeps; I provided and improved my language and leadership skills with a passion for promoting the gospel and increasing His kingdom on earth. At the end of that season, I literally broke, failing to get my CV dressed up for any of the NGOs in Geneva. But that’s ok. God has the final say, doesn’t He?
My eyes welled up when I read this,
God is more interested in your life than he is in any of the other things (various kinds of jobs) listed above. He’s more interested in the person you are becoming than in your work, or your ministry, or your job. And the surest way to realize the full potential of your God-designed self is to live in eternity while you are in time, conscious of the loving gaze of your all-sufficient Shepherd, in whose care nothing of the good you do is lost. It is stored up in your own self, and in the lives of others you have touched. — Dallas Willard, Life without Lack
I finally came to this conclusion: the work I did in my 20s was legit!! You might be steps ahead of me to realize this and laughing at my slow coming-around, but I took it too seriously to settle on any self-imposed persuasion. I needed a true revelation. And I can’t tell you much joy it brought to me when it arrived.
Today, I’m a wife and a mom to a toddler and a baby. I’m also a blogger. I don’t have a job that pays me yet, but I do work. I cook and clean for my family. I take care of my children. I read books and take online classes to improve my skills or learn new ones. I write on my blog for you, my reader. I seek to produce good and promote blessings in all my work, with love and creativity.
Work for His Glory
You and I are on this journey of becoming, mostly through the work we do and how we do it. Jesus taught us to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Mattew 6:33). As a result, what we need will be added to us. This teaching surely rings true in my work life.
We can’t put the cart before the horse. We can’t let money or any other personal gain lead our work. And, if we can’t fit in the mainstream culture, so be it. In our quiet, diligent work, we can always create a new culture of love and service for the glory of God, no matter what we work on.