(An article for my local paper.)
I seem to spend most of my time at work. I am not special.
A survey done in 2012 found that a typical employed adult spends an average of 46 hours per week at work. That’s about 49% of our waking hours. We should think carefully about anything that we do so much of the time.
We should develop an effective way to think about work. One’s overall thoughts about the world around him or her, one’s worldview, will ultimately decide his or her approach.
My way of thinking about the world is distinctly Christian, and my faith informs my outlook toward the work that I do. I see my work as a “vocation,” a distinct calling that God has extended to me, just as important as the ‘call to preach’ experienced by many pastors. My work is not just something I do to make money so I can support my true interests and enjoyments; it is a “calling.”
The Bible, the primary influence on my worldview, commands us to work diligently if we can. God’s original command to people is “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over [it]” (Genesis 1:28). Working is the only way to have dominion, or rule. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). “If anyone does not provide for his relatives … he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
Some Christians belittle work for profit, but the Bible does no such thing. Abraham is cited as an example of a rich man (Genesis 13:5). King Solomon, another hero, impressed a prominent queen with his wealth (1 Kings 10:4-5). Jesus himself commended the accumulation of riches through entrepreneurial endeavors in a famous parable (Matthew 21:33-43). Of course, when we have done our best, we are told to “be content with what we have” (Hebrews 13:5), and we should always give 10% or our profits to the work of God’s kingdom.
Martin Luther, a leader of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, took an approach that destroys the distinction between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ vocations. Luther said, “Every kind of work, including what had heretofore been looked down upon – the work of peasants and craftsmen – is an occasion for priesthood.” He said elsewhere, “An official who governs well pleases God. A mother who cares for her children, a father who goes to work, and a student who studies diligently are all servants of God.”
God works through us to serve others, even if the work we do does not seem like much in the eyes of the world. Gene Edward Vieth, a Lutheran theologian and author, says:
God healed me. I was not feeling well, so I went to the doctor…in no time I was a lot better. But it was still God who healed me. He did it through the medical vocations…God fed me…with what the teenager working at the fast-food joint gave me…God clothed and sheltered me, with the help of my employer. God protected me, though I wish the highway patrolman hadn’t pulled me over. God gave me pleasure, thanks to the talents He gave that musician playing on my new CD.
All honest work done for the benefit of others is for God’s glory and for His pleasure.
God does not guarantee our success in business. Luther wrote, “God tells us to do the best we can and leave the rest to him. He didn’t promise that everything we do would be successful.” God is not a vending machine who automatically delivers to us the things we pay for. Our true benefits are only guaranteed in heaven (Matthew 25:40, 46).
My calling is to help people make things in the role of a Safety and Environmental Manager in a manufacturing plant. I prayed long and hard about what I should do after earning my degree in industrial engineering. I had taken a course in industrial safety that I enjoyed. I had the financial means to go to graduate school, and I could take coursework that prepared me for the safety and environmental management. It is a calling as real as any calling felt by any pastor.
In summary, we are to engage in honest work for the benefit of others and in obedience to God’s commands, whether we feel a special calling or not. This ordinary work is honorable, and we are to be rewarded for our efforts. Profits earned through business that serves others are ours to enjoy, after we tithe our 10% of course.
May God grant us the eyes to see our jobs as true callings. May He give us the chance to serve others in our work.