The precious possession of a man is diligence. — Proverbs 12:27
Do you like what you do? According to recent surveys, most Americans don’t. Most of us are unhappy and wishing we were somewhere else. Some of us are lazy. Others are unchallenged. Some can’t get along with our co-workers. Others have a mean boss or feel under-appreciated for all they do.
In truth, understanding our relationship to work is a fundamental life-question, and if we’re not happy with what we do, this might be a red-flag for some self-examination. Why? Because work, or what we do, encapsulates much more than what we do for a paycheck and therefore speaks more about who we are as human beings than just who we are as employees.
Sure, most of us go to work to earn a living. But, It’s also work to get out of bed, it’s work to exercise, to eat right and keep ourselves fit. It’s work to keep a house clean, to care for infants and teenagers, to love our husband or wife, it’s work to come up with fresh ideas, to keep up with our studies, to go to church, to pray, to volunteer in our community, and so on.
Understanding our relationship to work runs as deep as understanding our relationship to God, to our spouse, our children, or others who matter to us. Because, just like marriage, childbirth, etc., work is seated deep within our psyche and our history. The concept of work is sewn within the fabric of life’s purpose and meaning.
In the Bible, the first thing we read about God doing is work. When he speaks, he does so with a view towards productivity. Through his creative energy, he produces for us light, the earth, the sea, plants, animals, humans–all with a similar reproductive or utilitarian end. They’re meant to work for something. The first commission he gives to man is to work, to cultivate and maintain Eden, his home. Everything has its purpose, and our purpose is typically exercised through work.
The Bible has a lot to say about our relationship to work:
Are you one of those who feels unappreciated at your job (outside or inside the home), like no one understands your value or properly rewards you for what you do? There are lots of passages where God defends equal work for equal pay. And, God does care about justice in the workplace. But, he also cares about your attitude and your sense of duty. God says that it’s better to be a nobody with a job than to be unemployed with no one around to challenge your superiority (1). And, he says that, ultimately, he’s the one you should be working for; he’s the one you should seek your rewards and recognition from (2).
Work produces. Idleness, believe it or not, destroys (3). Idleness is rampant in our culture of electronic self-worship and passivity. When we have nothing to do for an extended period, our love turns inward and our judgment turns outward (4). When we aren’t producing anything, we’re more apt to tear down and, worse-case scenario, to even lose the life and gifts God meant for us to put to good use in the first place (5).
You’ve heard all the stories of people who win the lottery only to end up in bankruptcy, broken relationships, and even death? God says that “the precious possession of a man is his diligence” (6). There needs to be an appreciation between what we have and how much work was done to produce it. Otherwise, we disintegrate into selfishness, and what we do have has no meaning; we incessantly crave and desire and are left with nothing (7).
Now some of you Bible scholars are shouting at your screen, trying to remind me that God gives us our most precious possession, our eternal relationship with Him, through his grace and not our own work. This is indeed true. But, God’s grace, while given freely, is the result of the finished work of his son, and we’ll have no true job satisfaction in life without–in appreciation of the cost that was paid for this free gift–following the same work-ethic Jesus did while on earth.
Essentially, when we accept the rewards of Christ’s work, we do so by signing a new job application. God becomes our new boss. He has already paid us the highest of salaries, and promises to energize us to do so many things we could never do on our own (8). But, ultimately, he expects us, through his power and guidance, to be productive–to help him reproduce in others what he has produced in us.
If you’re feeling disgruntled with your job, with the effort you produce, with your place in life, ask yourself this question: What are you working for? Is it to produce a living, a regular paycheck, food on the table, shoes for the kids? This is right to do. But, you shouldn’t work just to produce a living, but to produce a life–not just for yourself or your own sense of purpose, but for the lives of those around you. That’s really what you were created for.
God says that by working hard, we should remember those in need, whether, physical, or spiritual (9). He says that a person should “labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (10).
Our relationship to work, then, has everything to do with how we work on our relationships. What if we applied the following as a work ethic, both on the job, and in life itself?
“Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody” (11).
Tell me that the work described above wouldn’t produce a reward that is miles beyond your measly expectations of a fair paycheck and proper recognition in your career or vocation. It would both exhaust you and help you sleep more soundly at night. It would produce in you and others a life of purpose and meaning.
Whether you’ve noticed it or not, God’s sign has been placed in the window of your life all this time:
What are you ready to do for him?
(1). Proverbs 12:9
(2). Ephesians 6:5-8; Hebrews 6:10-12
(3). Proverbs 18:9
(4). I Timothy 5:13-18; Proverbs 26:16
(5). Luke 19:20-26
(6). Proverbs 12:27
(7). Proverbs 13:4; 21:25-26
(8). Philippians 2:12-13
(9). Acts 20:35
(10). Ephesians 4:28
(11). Romans 12:9-18