Nearly everyone has been asked at some point, and maybe at a lot of points, what they want to be when they grow up. Do you remember what you answered when you were little? Probably not a software developer or accountant. No matter what you said, you knew from early on that vocations are an important piece of people's identities. This is true for all of us, including Christians. For Christians, our vocations should fit within the broader context of our faith, and our faith should inform our work.
The Working Christian
Work is a central facet of our lives. The average full-time employee in America works 8.5 hours per day, and many of us continue to check our work emails or work on projects when we're off the clock. When we give such a large portion of our time and attention to work, it's good to consider what the Bible says about work and jobs and the role our careers should play in our lives. There are five main things that play into a Biblical view of work:
1. Work Is a Good Thing
There are a lot of difficult aspects of our lives that can be traced back to sin, but work isn't one of them. Genesis 2:15 tells us that Adam was tasked with tending the Garden of Eden before he ever sinned. The Bible does tell us later that Adam's gardening work was made far more difficult as a result of sin entering the world. However, the concept of work itself has always been a positive thing.
This should be an encouraging reminder that we were created for work and that we should view work as a blessing. Monday morning may not feel like a blessing, but the truth is that we find fulfillment in doing what we were created to do. No wonder some retirees end up working part-time or volunteering.
2. Those Who Are Able Should Work
Bible verses on work abound that tell us how important work is, indicating that if we can work, we should. Proverbs, in particular, repeatedly points to the value of a strong work ethic and warns against idleness. In the New Testament, Paul tells the Thessalonians to follow his model by working to earn their own food so they wouldn't be a burden to others. He even says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."
The key word here is "unwilling." We know that not everyone is able to work, and that's okay. Christians are called to help care for these people. We also know that not all work looks like a career. For some, it means working full-time at home as a parent or caregiver, for example. Any stay-at-home mom or dad can attest to just how hard this work can be and to the fact that they deserve a serious raise.
3. All Ethical Vocations Are Valuable
Some people feel like their vocation is fairly meaningless to God as long as they're not a missionary or a pastor. This is a total misconception. Jesus himself was a carpenter for close to two decades before He began His full-time ministry. God doesn't wish every Christian would go to seminary or head off to the mission field. It's great that Christians work in diverse professions.
The fact is that a wide range of ethical vocations are necessary to make our world function and to meet people's needs. It's important to note the qualifier "ethical" here since some jobs do more harm than good. Being a con artist may be a job, but it only hurts people rather than adding value to the world. As long as a job isn't inherently sinful and provides for a need people have, then you should recognize its value. Whether you're stocking shelves or running a multi-billion-dollar company, what you do matters.
4. Work Glorifies God
What you do matters — and you can glorify God by working hard at your job. Since God created us to be workers, He is pleased to see us hard at work. As with everything we do, our work should be dedicated to our Creator. Colossians 3:23-24 sums this up well by saying, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
In other words, God is glorified by our hard work, and He rewards us for it. When you're fed up with your boss, remember that you're not really working for him or her. Instead, you're working for God — the only one who truly deserves that World's Best Boss mug.
5. Our Ultimate Calling Is to Christ
We've talked about some important realities the Bible teaches us about the role work should play for a Christian. We know that we're called to work and to work hard, but we also need to remember what your ultimate calling is. We "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus." We all share this calling, no matter what our earthly vocation is. As the Theology of Work Project puts it, "The calling to follow Christ lies at the root of every other calling."
This calling remains constant throughout our lives, and we can find our ultimate purpose and fulfillment here. That's good news for those of us who feel unfulfilled by our jobs. It's increasingly common today for people to switch jobs, especially Millennials who are known to work at four different jobs within the first decade after they graduate college, sometimes in completely different industries from where they started out. No matter where we work or how often we switch jobs, our ultimate calling is always to Christ.
Devoting Time to God
While God made us to work, He also made us to rest. After creating the world, God set the precedent for a Sabbath day — a day of rest after six days of work. Today, many Americans stay so busy that a whole day of rest seems like a great idea right up there with being able to fly or having super strength.
It turns out that God had a good idea, though, because ignoring our need for rest can lead to some serious burnout over time. A Gallup poll found that around two-thirds of full-time employees experience burnout on the job. When you're feeling burnt out at work and run down at home, you know you need some rest, and not just a day to veg on the couch. God's plan was that we have a day each week to focus on Him instead of on the mundane tasks that usually occupy our time and thoughts.
Let's look at some practical ways to spend time with God, not just on the weekends but throughout our workdays, as well:
- Mornings: Mornings can be hectic, especially if you're trying to fix breakfast and get kids off to school. If your mornings are nothing but chaos, you're likely to start your day stressed. Mornings, especially when you first get up, are a great time to have devotions. Starting your day with God in prayer and in His Word can help prepare you spiritually to take on your day and help you focus on God.
- Commute: If you have a long commute to work, this can be a great opportunity to listen to a Christian podcast or a sermon — maybe even a sermon on work. You can also pray during your commute. Just make sure to keep your eyes open if you're the one driving! If you take public transit, you can bring your Bible or a Christian book along to read on the way.
- Lunch break: By the time your lunch break rolls around, you may just want to do nothing but turn your brain off and eat, but a lunch break can also be a good opportunity to spend a little time with God. Even a short prayer asking God to help you get through the rest of your workday can be a helpful reminder of who we're ultimately working for.
- Evenings: When you get home, it's time to kick off your shoes and hit the couch, right? Or maybe you come home to kids who need help with dinner or a meal that isn't going to cook itself. Once you have some time, maybe even after you crawl into bed, end your day by reflecting on God's goodness and spending some time with Him.
Bringing Your Faith to Work
We've talked about the role of work and about balancing a focus on God and work in our lives, but it's also important to consider the ways our faith should impact our work. We don't leave our faith at home when we head to our jobs. Many of us have a tendency to compartmentalize our faith, but our faith should permeate every aspect of our lives.
1. Have a Positive Work Ethic and Attitude
So, how can we bring our faith to work? We've already talked about one way — working "with all your heart, as working for the Lord." Our Christianity should absolutely inform our work ethic. Your boss should not see you as a disengaged employee. Instead, strive to go above and beyond, truly giving it your best at every task you're asked to complete, even the ones you think are pointless. Instead of grumbling, choose to stay positive. When you have a positive attitude at work and work hard, your boss and coworkers are going to notice.
2. Make Ethical Decisions
Another way you can bring your faith to work is by letting it inform the decisions you make at work. This comes into play more with some jobs than with others. Christians abide by a certain set of ethics, so if our bosses expect us to do something that violates these ethics, we need to stand firm. The Bible teaches us to treat people as they would want to be treated and to avoid harmful behaviors like lying or cheating. If you run into an ethical problem at work, look to Scripture for guidance.
3. Be a Light to Your Coworkers
Finally, what most of us likely think of when we hear the term "bringing your faith to work" is witnessing to our coworkers. If you're already feeling your heart beat faster, take a deep breath. We know witnessing to your coworkers can be scary, but remember, it doesn't have to look like you standing by the water cooler preaching about the end times.
Matthew 5:16 says to "let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." The Message paraphrases it like this: "You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill." Some of us are tempted to keep our Christianity on the down-low at work, but God calls us to go public with our faith so we can be a witness to others.
Living and Working in the Bay Area
If you live in the Bay Area, then you know that there are some unique blessings and challenges that come with living and working as a Christian here. This part of the country is a hotbed for innovation, and it can be an exciting place to live. One thing that can be both challenging and beneficial for Christians is that SF and the whole Bay Area are nowhere close to the nation's so-called Bible belt.
While this can make Christians feel more like foreigners in a strange land, it can also make our faith stand out more. Consider the challenge of witnessing to people who think they're going to heaven simply because they take part in a sort of cultural Christianity. They may "believe in God" or live outwardly moral lives, but they don't really know Christ.
You're not likely to run into that sort of person in the Bay Area since, as one pastor in Walnut Creek put it, "The lines of demarcation among those who are in Christ and those who need Christ seem clearer here than in vast swaths of the rest of the country." That can be a really positive thing.
It can also be challenging since, if your boss and coworkers know you're a Christian, they may make the assumption that you're a hater and they just need to shake, shake, shake it off. That can be a hard assumption to overcome, but you have the opportunity to demonstrate what it really means to be a Christian. When you refuse to participate in workplace gossip or when you show genuine care and concern for your coworkers, they'll begin to see a picture of who Christ really is.
If you live in the Bay Area and you're looking for a church to call home, come worship with us at Cornerstone. We're a diverse, multi-generational group of believers who are learning, growing and enjoying Christ together. Come visit either our Mission or Riordan locations and enjoy being a part of this loving community.