Do you ever feel like you’re wasting your life?
As if the work you do day-in and day-out is meaningless?
I get it. So did the writer of Ecclesiastes.
I work full-time as a systems analyst (a software developer who does a lot more analysis and design – not just “coding”). I also work a part-time job as an adjunct professor, teaching more of that systems analysis “stuff”.
On the one hand, I am fortunate to have excellent jobs with understanding, wise bosses. However, sometimes I just “don’t wanna!”. Sometimes it can feel like “I’m wasting my life.”
Wouldn’t it be better if I could devote my whole life to some form of Christian service, like I once thought I would?
I come from a rich heritage of missionaries and pastors spanning multiple generations. My brother is a pastor, my uncle is a pastor, and I have cousins involved in service opportunities like Bible translation. I was once sure I was headed to full-time ministry, too. But I’m obviously not.
It’s easy to commit the sin of “Christian envy”, wishing for the chance to serve God in some way that seems somehow more devout than where life has placed us.
If God were calling me to service and I were answering no, that would be a tragedy such as Jonah’s. But so long as I am walking in obedience to Him, the sin is in the envy – or in the ungratefulness and impatience as I urge Him to send me some place “better” than where I am now.
Consider this passage from Ephesians 6:
5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
Paul tells the Ephesians who are slaves to serve as if their masters are Jesus. He tells them that they should be focused on pleasing the Lord with their work, instead of trying to gain favor with people. And he says that whether someone is a free man or a slave, their good works are perceived as the same by God!
Those of us in secular employment are not enslaved (no matter all the hoopla regarding “wage slaves“), but sometimes we feel like our work is somehow less because it doesn’t tie directly into spreading the Gospel or helping the poor.
We shouldn’t feel that way. This passage tells us it doesn’t matter what kind of employment we have: as long as we are doing good work with the aim to please God, He accepts it.
On the other hand, if we succumb to envy, wishing we were “anywhere but here”, we miss the opportunities right in front of us. We will find ourselves miserable, constantly looking for a way out, and certainly not performing to our full potential.
Proverbs 14:30 speaks to this, saying: “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.”
If we keep looking around at the way others are obeying God, we create our own pit of despair and completely miss out on the abundant life that can come from the chance to be excellent at whatever task is in front of us. But if we decide to leave envy behind, we will have life! To me that suggests abundance – a chance for health and robustness and purpose. Certainly we cannot find those things if we are envying our brothers and sisters their vocations.
Galatians 5:26 is quite blunt about it and tells us essentially “don’t want the glory for yourself – stop envying each other.”
And here is a verse in Colossians 3 that says it perfectly:
17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
It’s not easy – I get it.
We chafe with the desire to teach or evangelize or help in natural disasters or provide health and human services, but instead we are “stuck” answering phones and running numbers in spreadsheets and making buttons in software do complex calculations.
And we wonder, does what we do really matter?
YES. Here are a few reasons why.
When God created this world He said it was Good. We should also create quality that we can say is good, because careful craftsmanship is a way that we can be more like the Creator.
In the Garden of Eden God ordained work. Even Paul worked to support himself by making tents. Work itself is good and has its own reward.
People will judge our faith and our God by our actions. And if we are sloppy at work or have a dissatisfied attitude, people will not be attracted to our God, for what is admirable about a lack of excellence?
Respect brings with it freedom. If we are excellent at work and our coworkers know us to have good character and good quality work, then they will also be more likely to respect or at least tolerate occasional discussions of what makes us “tick” – our faith.
We are expected to teach our children the value of work. Proverbs is full of wisdom regarding how to live and how to raise children. The basic principle that children learn what they see is both good religion and good psychology. If we want our children to find joy in their work one day, we too should find joy in ours today.
Finally, anything less than a good attitude is disobedience. The verses above make it clear that God expects us to do our daily, mundane work as if we were directly serving Him. So we will.
Remember that God put us where we are and this is a chance to get praise from Him, not people. This is a chance to live good, quiet lives of gratitude and service and good works. And that is not a waste of our lives!
Do you have any further thoughts on the issue? What are some reasons I missed for why it is so important to work cheerfully and with excellence? If you are a stay-at-home parent how might you apply this concept to your life to fit your unique situation?