Many Christians work in jobs we would not necessarily choose for ourselves. I have before — maybe you are now. We did choose it at some point along the way, but just for less inspiring reasons.
I have to pay my rent.
I have an engineering degree.
I only received one offer.
We start jobs for money and a hundred other reasons. After a few years (or months, or even weeks), the satisfying security of the paycheck wears off, and we’re left wondering if we settled too soon and missed “the one.” We start dreaming about something different — different, more comfortable pay; different, more empowering boss; different, more fulfilling responsibilities.
Our Vocational Anthems
Meanwhile, the culture’s choir sings beautiful harmony to our melancholy melody:
Find a job where you get to do what you love to do most.
Follow your heart.
Don’t settle for any job you’re not passionate about.
The songs and slogans are sold by the millions, but for those willing to be honest about our work, at least three realities set in over time:
- That dream job simply does not exist for many.
- If it does, it either does not pay enough to cover the rent, or we are not qualified for it.
- An awful lot of work has to be done that no one dreams about, which means an awful lot of the available jobs are not dream jobs.
The hard reality is that we can’t glorify God in the job we want (at least not yet). But we can glorify God in the job we have.
I wonder how the songs we Millennials hear most about our careers would have landed on Christian slaves in Ephesus? The apostle Paul writes,
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:5–8)
Paul writes to “bondservants” about their work, not to support the institution of slavery, but to strengthen faith and inspire joy among the enslaved. To be clear, such slavery was not the brutal and dehumanizing chattel slavery in American history, but these men and women were not as free as we are in America today, either (Ephesians 6:8).
If Paul could write these self-denying, countercultural, other-worldly words to slaves about their livelihood, could he write them to us about our jobs? If so, here are three ways we can glorify God in our job, whether we are working the dream, or dreading our work.
1. The work is for God, regardless of who we report to.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling . . . as bondservants of Christ. (Ephesians 6:5–6)
Your tax forms may say you work for the government, or a business, or even for yourself, but Paul says you work for God. You are always first and foremost an employee for Christ. Every task you complete comes underneath his lordship. You may never be paid to share or apply the gospel, but it still hangs high over everything else you are paid to do.
Work as if Christ were your superior — with holy fear and trembling, and with sincerity. Why? Bosses can cheat us, mistreat us, even fire us, but Christ can do far worse — and far better. He not only sees our every move at work, but knows our every thought — nothing ever gets by him. And he can send us to hell. If your boss monitored you all day every day, would you work differently? Your almighty Savior and Judge sits even closer than that.
If we go about our everyday work with greater seriousness and joy, people will ask about our boss. And if there’s nothing remarkable about our boss, they just might ask about our God.
2. The standard is not mere excellence, but heartfelt service.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters . . . with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but . . . doing the will of God from the heart. (Ephesians 6:5–6)
Some will hear “doing the will of God from the heart” and hear “work as much and as hard as you possibly can.” But that is more American than Christian. Men and women chasing the American dream love to be told to work harder and achieve more. They work from the heart — it’s just a heart in love with money, or recognition, or control, or themselves.
Christians dream about our jobs differently. When we work from the heart, we work from a passion for Jesus. We don’t spend time counting all the things we can have or achieve here on earth. No, we “count everything as loss” — paychecks, promotions, progress, retirement — “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:8). “For his sake [we suffer] the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that [we] may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8–9).
We never have to fake joy in our jobs because our joy does not come from our jobs. We work from full hearts, not striving to fill our hearts. That kind of heart — not mere excellence — makes our work distinctly Christian.
That does not mean Christians should not do their work excellently. We should, as if we were completing our work for Christ. But excellence can easily be mistaken for Christlikeness, when in and of itself, it says nothing about Christ. Lots of doctors, teachers, engineers, and mothers do their work excellently and hate Jesus. The quality of our work might punctuate what we believe, but no one is saved by commas or periods.
Something else must set our excellence apart from every other kind of excellence, and that something else happens in our hearts before it ever reaches our hands.
3. The goal is not another paycheck here, but treasure in heaven.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters . . . knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:5, 8)
Do you think about your job primarily in terms of what it will reap in this life, or in the next? The work these slaves did each day may have led to many things — favor with their master, financial or circumstantial gain, maybe even precious freedom — but Paul says the most important outcome could not be had or achieved here on earth. No, the work they were doing was mainly about storing up treasure in heaven. As Jesus says,
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21)
Another paycheck may feel like our most immediate need, but it is another grain of sand compared with all God will give us in eternity. Paychecks are so objective and predictable and tradable next to the overwhelming unknowns of “this he will receive back from the Lord.” But the adrenaline high and false security runs out so fast. And every one of those paychecks will bounce in paradise.
Instead of settling for a few higher numbers on a tiny piece of paper (that we’ll probably spend before the month runs out), let’s work like those who are waiting and working for more than we could ever imagine for ourselves (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Better Than Your Dream Job
None of this means we should pass on a job opportunity that would employ more of our gifts, or a job that we would enjoy more, or one that would free us up to do more ministry. But it has everything to do with how we work when God does not open that door, maybe for months, maybe years, maybe decades. Do we know the secret of job satisfaction? Paul says elsewhere,
I have learned in whatever [job I have] to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
Paul knew the secret. He passed it along to the bondservants in Ephesus. And he wanted you to carry it with you to your job each day. Work for God, from your joy in him, for treasure far greater than money, recognition, or comfort. Bring those dreams to your day job, instead of looking for happiness in your dream job.