Aug

20

2013

Elise Amyx|12:01 AM CT

Is Your Job Useless?

When I graduated college, I saw many of my Christian friends apply for campus ministry and rush to missions work in Africa for fear they would not find significance at a standard 9-to-5 desk job.

I watched plans to become dance teachers, chiropractors, and entrepreneurs dissolve as my peers gave up their dreams in order to pursue "full-time ministry." They feared one day waking up and feeling they weren't changing the world or advancing the kingdom of God. They were ready to do anything to avoid that gnawing feeling.

They aren't alone. Today, three-quarters of Americans feel unfulfilled in their work -- and job dissatisfaction may be an even greater struggle in the Christian community. What do we do, then, when we feel our work is useless?

Biblical Basis of Work

When thinking about our vocations, we should remember God created us to work. According to Genesis 2:15, work is not a curse, but a gift from God given to us before the fall. Work was—and still is—a tool for us to develop the creation and be salt and light in the world for the glory of God and his kingdom.

As a result of the fall, however, our work will at times be frustrating and difficult. So work can often seem useless. But Christ came to restore all things, which means even the most boring job is redeemable.

All Work Is God's Work

Though some work may seem useless, Christians understand that all work is God's work. Our work only seems insignificant because we fail to grasp the big picture. This is what economists refer to as the "knowledge problem." The knowledge problem means we can't always see the big picture because knowledge is dispersed among many people; no one person knows everything. In the vocational sense, this means we may not understand how our work is part of a much larger economic dynamic. If we can't easily see how our work contributes to the common good, we may understate the effect of what we do.

Some positions make it difficult for workers to see the end product, but that certainly does not mean that their work is insignificant. Just because a factory worker doesn't receive the instant gratification of seeing the final product that he helped to create doesn't change the reality that his effort contributed to that product.

Hugh Whelchel articulates this idea well when he writes,

The work of believers possesses a significance which goes far beyond the visible results of that work. . . . All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God. Work is the potentially productive act of praise.

It's important to remember that the value of our work may never be fully realized in our lifetime. In medieval times, it could take hundreds of years to build a single cathedral. The laborer laying the cornerstone might never live to see the top of the steeple.

Clearly, the knowledge problem is also a faith problem. Rather than being discouraged in seemingly insignificant work, we can humbly rest in the confidence of God's master plan.

However, there are a few cases in which work is truly useless. They occur in industries where demand for a product or service is immoral or if the product or service doesn't meet the intended purpose. Examples include anything from pornographic material to goods that do not function properly.

Every Task Significant

All good work can be "Christian" and no work that serves mankind is useless. Even interns who enter contact names into a spreadsheet add significant value to their organization—and the organization's mission—through their labor. Likewise, the factory worker who churns out widgets day after day is actively participating in the work of God.

Though some routine assignments seem unimportant, every task is significant if God has called you to it. We fulfill our call to Christian work when we put our hands to the task he has called us to do—and leave it to God to see the final outcome.

Elise Amyx is the communications associate at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. She has previously worked with the values and capitalism project at A.E.I. and the Acton Institute. Her articles have been published in Real Clear Religion, The Detroit News, and AFF Doublethink. She has a BBA in economics from James Madison University.

  • Pingback: Bookmarks 8/20/13

  • Dave B

    I am sorry but this is just another cookie cutter, trite attempt to make people who do not like their jobs feel better or in some case feel worse for failing as a Christian to know and follow something that seem so clear in scripture.
    What is provided in this piece are truisms. Absolutely true statements from God but, I think, words of God in a genre of biblical literature that its application in this context is not appropriate. I am not sure, I would need to do more study. However, that's is my first impression.
    As one in a job I do not like and in profession with a high job dissatisfaction rate, the advice given here and in so many similar articles ring very muffled.

  • fellow traveler

    Dave B,
    I appreciate your concern. I have experienced the pain and frustration of day after day, year after year, going to a job that didn't seem to fit my gifts, talents and calling. And, these were very even good jobs with good employers. But I was miserable. Some people are in that situation for many more years, and some for all their working years. Scripture nowhere promises that we will love our work per se, or that we will value immensely its contribution to to society. Nor does Scripture point to the larger product of what our work is producing in society as a motivation. Therefore, trying to get people to "see their impact" is misguided. Those I know who flourish spiritually in lines of work where they see little fruit do so by focusing on how God is shaping them by doing what they dislike, by being thankful for what they are able to do with the money they earn, and by rejoicing that their work is an act of worship that is inherently valuable because it is done in faithful obedience to God. A word on money: the Bible actually emphasizes money as one of the most tangible outputs of our work, and for some it is the thing that they can with all godliness be most happy about from their work. It is a noble thing to do something that you deeply dislike because it is legal and provides money. In fact, it forms Christ in us. He worked painfully to pay for us.

  • http://lifeschooled.com Daniel

    The point in this article is difficult to swallow, but that doesn't mean it's false.

    Two days ago, during our Sunday study through Ephesians, I had to prepare a study about Paul's words in Ephesians 6: 5-9, which describes way grace transforms our work ethic. It was difficult to swallow, but very true.

    For starters, Paul refers himself to 'slaves' — men and women who had no rights, received no salaries and were punished and tortured by their owners. What does Paul tell them? "Work your hardest as unto the Lord." Our Savior watches at all moments and He is able to reward (or revenge) our work. Don't be men-pleasers, who only work when their boss is nearby. Use your work to glorify God.

    In other words, Paul refutes the notion of 'sacred vrs secular' work, as well as the notion of working hard because of 'my calling' vrs working the bare minimum because 'I am in it for my salary'.

    It was a kick to my gut. I am not very pleased with my current work situation. There are days it is a rugged chore to work the 9-to-5 routine. But Paul's exhortation to slaves can be completely applied to me: my work can be grace-based, Christ-centered and God-glorifying. And that's the best vocation in the work.

  • Johnny Appleton

    Wait, I thought that work *WAS* part of the curse from Gen.3? Tending the garden in Ch.2 was (and is) a rather pleasant activity, but following the Fall of man in the next chapter, the result was the curse of long hours working the soil to cultivate food from the ground (just as childbirth for women is supposed to be the curse for the non-TIME-magazine reading Christian women). Men work with the understanding that this is a result of Adam's sin and rebellion, and we also work because as Paul said, if we don't work, we don't eat. It's not always glamorous and it's rarely pleasant (especially office work, of which I'm neglecting as I write) but it is something that we do to the best of our abilities to our earthy masters, giving glory to God through an understand that the curse of work will be taken away in the new heavens and new earth thanks to the perfect work of Christ on Calvary.

    This article went totally in a direction I did not expect.

    • Lois

      Johnny, I suggest you go back and read Genesis 1-3 again. God worked to create the universe, how could that mean that work in itself is a curse? Tending a garden requires work, and in some translations it says in Genesis 2:15 that Adam was placed in the garden to work it. Also, God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply before they sinned against Him, so childbirth for women was not a curse in and of itself.

      The curse that came upon Adam and Eve is that the joyful tasks they were given to do, work the ground and bear children, became painful (Genesis 3:16-17).

    • Ben Miller

      We must see the curse in Gen 3 as frustrating the goodness of the our pre-fall condition. We were commanded to be fruitful and multiply and the curse made obedience to that command laborious and painful in the curse on the woman. We were commanded to cultivate and subdue the earth and the curse made that task arduous. Sin is what enters and corrupts the original perfect design. But that does not mean the original was corrupt in itself. Work is God's pre-fall perfect design. The fact that it is lack-luster and often painful is indeed a result of the fall. But as we return to perspective of work consistent with the kingdom of God, we can see that it existed before the fall under his domain, should be pursued in God's way in the midst of the fall, and will probably exist after all things are made new in a new garden where the creation no longer wars against its cultivator. Man was created to be God's representative ruler through work prior to the fall, during its existence, and likely after its redemption.

  • zack day

    I agree with dave b for the most part but want to take it in a different direction. There is some work that is utterly useless. This is the type of work where your sole job is promoting the state of manufactured necessity that our economy thrives on.We create a product, convince people of its need, and then 20 years later they dont know how to live without it. Ex. How would one glorify god as a video game designer? Your whole purpose is promoting unreality and slothful escapism. How does one glorify God when working at McDonald s knowing he ill effects of what your position offers others? If one wants to take the sork mandate seriously, the exploitive nature of the current industrial systems must be questioned from a biblical standpoint. As christians we cannot afford to be mere cogs in these machines.

    • Kyle W

      Hey Zack,
      I would certainly agree that some work is utterly useless... in the aforementioned article, the author notes that work is useless when it

      "occur(s) in industries where demand for a product or service is immoral or if the product or service doesn't meet the intended purpose."

      However, as for video games... I'd like to think my hours spent playing video games with youth is "quality" time with meaning and/or growth relationally. I've been able to see the fruit of playing Madden or other games in which kids get to see me as someone who enjoy a nice respite every now and then. I do see where you are coming from, but I pray, for the sake of living a glorifying life that reflects the cross, that playing a video game (which is the fruit/offspring of the ones who created it) is not useless but rather a means to grow relationally with kids who need to know the gospel.

      If I am wrong, I would hope someone could point this out to me scripturally.

  • zack day

    Basically we should be joyous that God has given us work to do, but we shouldnt necessarily pretend all of it is worthwhile or good.

  • David

    I won't reply to any post in particular, but I think there are two sides to the issue - just like most, if not all things, this is not a one-dimensional issue. 1. The end goal of the immediate task is not necessarily YOUR end goal. I'm currently stuck in a job where I buy tobacco, condoms, and fountain drink cups for my company to sell to other stores. I find no use or gratification in the end result of my company's objective to service our customers with convenience goods. However, I do know that I've grown here and developed parts of my person that I would not have developed elsewhere. I'm lightening fast with technology because of it, and have developed the ability to multi-task and handle hundreds of emails a day in addition to my buying responsibilities. I'm learning not to sweat it when you can't please anyone and the overall treatment from the company is negative and overly demanding with no recognition for anything good that you do. All of these things that i'm learning are all parts of developing me as a person. And what is our main objective? To win 100 souls? 5 souls? 4000 souls? or to be faithful to our God anywhere we are at and allow the results to follow how God would empower? learning faithfulness in God is more important that being in a position where I am only faithful to "ministry." I hope to be in ministry some day but that day has not come. It's what I went to school for, it's what I have a passion for. But we need to remember that sometimes you learn necessary skills by merely waxing a metaphorical car over and over and over and over(to reference a classic). We would not have the same skill, or have it in the same way had we not had that seemingly meaningless job. 2. Sometimes we do need to get a different job. Just because you are in a situation, does not mean you have to just sit there until something else falls in your lap. Sometimes you need to get out and find something else. There is nothing in the bible that says you cannot pursue another job if you don't like your current job. But honestly, sometimes we are in a job we don't like for the following reasons: a. the money is good even though we don't like the means of earning it, and we won't make the same money elsewhere, b. we don't know how to do anything else, c. we are too lazy to learn a trade, skill, or too afraid to take the risk of pursuing something we do love. Sometimes doing what you love means you have to move into a significantly smaller house, buy a cheaper car, and stop going out to eat for lunch everyday and eat more leftovers. But at least you and your family are happy and thriving rather than cold and discontent.
    Either way you look at it, stop complaining about your job and either make it work, or find different work, or MAKE different work.

    • Lois

      David-

      I was glad to read your comment until the very end. How is the last sentence you said at all graciously motivating or encouraging for someone who is struggling to find meaning in his or her job in a God-honoring way? It is wrong to assume that everyone who posts about the job they dislike is simply complaining for the sake of making noise. All your helpful comments beforehand go by the wayside when it the last sentence makes it look like all you are doing is judging others for what you seem to, by God's grace alone, have made peace with already.

      • David

        Lois, I'm sorry if you were offended by my last comment - it was meant to sound a bit harsh because it is my assumption through experience that many of the people struggling with this need a kick in the pants to get going. It was not meant to be demeaning, just a kick that many of us need. Though perhaps I could have said it a bit differently.

        • Lois

          David, you may be right in saying that many (not all, I have to reiterate) need a "kick in the pants," but in light of God's grace, which is THE thing that transforms lives, I think that "kick in the pants" should come in the form of loving rebuke from those who are involved in these peoples' lives, not from a faceless person in a commenting discussion.

          Sometimes rebuke can be harsh, but it must always be loving and gracious first within the body of Christ, both of which are missing in your comment. I am convinced that a kick in the pants MAY bring about change in one's ways, but experiencing God's grace authentically WILL bring about change.

          • David

            Point taken. Thank you.

            • Mike

              David, you are a humble man and I appreciate your response. As for me, I thought your final comments were not out of line at all (Ex. 14:15). I think it is a bit of an exaggeration that they "go by the wayside." Keep posting.

  • Rob

    I disagree Zack. For example, you mention video game designer and assume video games are only capable of inspiring unreality and slothful escapism. The same kind of accusation has been leveled at books, films, theatre, opera and many other forms of "entertainment"

    However, is reading Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment an exercise in unreality and slothful escapism? No, I would think it is more an exploration of the psyche and how we hold ourselves to account through our own moral compass. Would reading some cheap Mills and Boon novel be an exercise in unreality and slothful escapism? Almost certainly... It is only the same with video games, some can be deep explorations of what it means to be human, some are there simply as puzzles for us to practice honing our minds and problem solving skills, whilst some are indeed an exercise in unreality and slothful escapism.

    I agree with your premise i.e. not all work is good. However, I think we are called, not to give up or look for "worthwhle work", but to redeem the work which we are in. I am in no doubt that all types of work environments have their problems. For example, I am a scientist, many people publish lame journal articles that aren't quite polished or complete because they are under pressure to publish or not be funded. There is a cut throat atmosphere in academic science as your colleagues are often your competitors. Howeer, I, as a christian, am called to do good, fully correct ad accurate work. I am called to love my colleagues and help them. I am called to be salt and light here and now even though that actually makes my life hard. I take up my cross and follow him. However, because I follow my Lord, and I have him beside me and helping me, my yoke is easy and my burden is light...

    Come and see the God who for strange indecipherable reasons, decided to work through fallen people to start to redeem the world...

    • Rob

      That being said, there is a burden of wisdom to make sure we are in a place where we can actually have a redeeming effect. Preferably, a place where we can have the most redeeming effect...

  • Matthew Morizio

    To confuse vocational work with kingdom work is to err. A friend once explained to me:
    "Jesus' work has not redeemed (made new) my actual vocation. Rather, he has redeemed my heart so that whatsoever thing I do, I do it heartily as unto Him . . . not as manpleasers . . . but as pleasing the Lord. So whatever state I happen to be called in . . . whether slavery, free, soldier . . . we can joyfully serve Christ."
    (AND)
    "God is at work establishing a completely new escatological Creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come. Christ is now the New Creation - and all those who are in Him are united to Him as living branches. God is not working to bring us back to the original Garden. The new Garden is Jesus and his Bride."
    Amen!

  • Mother of Hope

    What a disappointing article. Another opportunity missed to speak life into the hearts of those who endure lifeless jobs in corrupt world systems.

  • Dave B

    Please allow me to chime in again. I wonder if the issue does not arise from what is meant by work or job. Is it the labor itself or what we do during the time required by work that I can be happy about. I hope I am getting my point across. I am making a distinction between the work we do and what we do with the time at work.

    I think this is the point most articles like this miss. I may go to a bad job but laugh all day with the guys or gals about various thing, I may console a coworker or make a life time friend. I may feel good because I helped stranger along my route or other trip. Witnessing fits in but is not required to go home at night and at least not unhappy.

    Jesus had a job to do and he knew how it would end. He needed prayer and asked that he be relieved of his job if God allowed. Yet, he was joyfull because of how he spent his time.

    I hope this makes sense.

  • Pingback: The Lasting and Creative Consequences of Daily Work | Acton PowerBlog

  • Mike

    I know this is just a short blog article, and the focus is more on job dissatisfaction, but it seems there are a number of bold statements in it that are in need of some qualification. Just to mention one, workers who do even insignificant work are said to "add significant value to their organization—and the organization's mission—through their labor" and are "actively participating in the work of God." Yes, work is a good thing but many of our places of employment do not uphold this ideal (Eccl. 4:4). In fact, the "under the radar" mission of many organizations seems to be against the purposes of God, while many Christians go to work every day struggling under the burden of compromise. These aren't companies selling "pornography or goods that don't function properly," yet neither are they "serving mankind" in any biblical sense. We are talking about a good number of American businesses (not to mention some powerful Western conglomerates) that have unbiblical, unjust practices - and which probably employ large numbers of believers. So I am struggling a bit with the statement that "all work is God's work." Might there really be more "useless" jobs than this article leads us to believe? Perhaps my view of what qualifies as "good work" is too strict, but I am wondering also if the view expressed in the article is too unqualified.

  • Dave B

    I am disappointed that Elise has not responded. I would like to hear more from her. Maybe the space constraint did not allow full explanation or I just am wrong and she should tell me.

    So often the blog/article is posted and the readers are left to speculate what was meant or if that is exactly the intent. More interaction is appreciated.

  • john

    I wonder if there are any people who promote the whole faith/work thing who actually don't like their day jobs.

  • Dave B

    John,
    What do you mean by this "whole faith/work thing?"

    • John

      I guess I mean this fresh push in confessional circles to help people see their work in the light of God's redemptive purposes.

  • Chad Damewood

    I'm shocked by the amount of confusion here. We work "as if unto the Lord."(Col. 3:23) He is glorified and our work has value. It doesn't matter what you do as long as it's ethical and within the bounds of God's intent and design for humans.

    Like most things in life if work is viewed as an end to itself it will ultimately be dissatisfying.

    Great article by the way.

  • Pingback: “…where were we?” | worship in spirit and truth

  • Dave B

    Chad:What does "work unto the lord mean?" It is not very clear, especially out of context.

    The New International Translation has "Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people," as the lord will provide your reward.

    So, I hate my job, work my heart out and serve my employer well. The "job" remains dissatisfying. I am working hard to please God and in doing so I satisfy my employer. The Job is dissatisfying, has no value to me, but the time spent is of value as I served God.

    But, I think we have moved away the intent of the article. That is, "no work that serves mankind is useless" and "every task is significant if God has called you to it."

    Is that saying two different things? Is it the task or serving God that counts?

  • Pingback: Is Your Job Useless? | ceo-book.comceo-book.com | Business Ownership from a Spiritual Perspective

  • Pingback: {concerning vocation} reading round-up (11.22.13) | abby hummel

  • Pingback: What Is The Role Of Work And Rest In The Christian’s Life? | Coffeehouse Cleric

  • Pingback: Values & Capitalism » Friday Five: Why We Need Community and Business and More » Values & Capitalism