Remember why we work

Remember why we work September 13, 2010
Remember why we work
Spaarnestad Photo (Wikimedia Commons)

They call it a “livelihood” or “making a living” for a reason. Mostly because of the money we earn, but also because of the energies we expend, the sacrifices we make, and the lessons we learn, we depend upon on our work for life. We also resent it sometimes, maybe a lot. (Just typing those words brings to mind the lyrics of David Allan Coe’s most popular song.)

Resenting our work is the result of our forgetfulness, according to the Serbian priest and monk Thaddeus of Vitovnica. While speaking about morning prayer and the need to keep God in mind throughout the day, Thaddeus said,

We forget that He is everywhere and that any job we do and any task we perform is His. We think that the job we are doing is for someone else and we often perform our tasks unwillingly. When we perform a task unwillingly, soon resistance and a feeling of disgust are born in us, and then our life becomes filled with resistance and disgust for everything, and we grow old in this manner.

Before his death in 2002 (he was born in 1914), Thaddeus was a cherished spiritual father, counselor, and advisor. Over and again he reminded people who asked that all of our work, any kind of work, is God’s work, a perspective that comes from Paul’s admonition in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

We do a poor job and hate doing it, said the monk, because we forget our real master and serve the wrong boss. “We always work with reservation, without sincerity…. We should not think too much about who our superiors are, or who our employer is. What we should bear in mind is that every type of work on earth and in all the universe is God’s work, and as such it should be performed from the heart, without reservation.” The moment resentfulness rears its head that is a sign that we have forgotten who our real boss is and are no longer working “from the heart.”

What if a particular job or position is intolerable? It seems like a common enough problem for all of us at some point or another. One woman came to Thaddeus and told him that her job was “beyond anyone’s endurance.”

“Of course it is,” he answered, “but you can’t do it yourself. You need’s God’s help.”

All work is God’s work. It’s his gift to us for our sanctification. When tasks are impossible, we lean on him. Unendurable situations teach us to lay our concerns and troubles on God rather than relying upon our own strength, which is guaranteed to falter and disappoint. When he focused on his troubles and those of his brothers, Thaddeus confessed that “Even the easiest job is carried out with great difficulty.” But when he surrendered his cares to God, “even the hardest of jobs gets done with ease. There is no pressure, and peace reigns among the brethren.”

In this sense our work is sacramental. We are given work by God in love and mercy. We give it back to him in thanks and praise. And in the process we are conformed ever-more into the image of Christ. That’s the ultimate purpose and challenge of our vocation.

Worth reading: Our Thoughts Determine our Lives: The Life and Teaching of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica.

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  • Danny Ragland

    Joel, what’s the best way to “Share” this post on Facebook. I have some friends that would benefit from this.

    • I think you’ll have to manually do it at Facebook, unfortunately. I need to install a “share” feature here.

    • Danny,
      I think you can just go to your wall, type in a few comments and then click where it says, “Attach … link.”
      Copy & paste the link to this article and, boom, there you go. See if that works,

    • Snap. It turns out that it’s as easy as that. I was able to find an install the “AddToAny” sharing feature above pretty easily. Thanks for giving me the prompt to do so.

    • Danny, just choose Facebook from the drop-down menu when you click on the “+ Share/Save” button just above.

  • This is fabulous, Joel!

    • Thanks! Thanks for loaning Fr. Thaddeus’ book to me. I love it.

  • This is super encouraging because while I know that law school was the right move for me, I’ve been miserable all day because I’m so darn sleepy! All of this work feels so thankless right now, but my enduring hope is that I’ll use it for Him one day…even when it feels like I’m paying an exorbitant amount to be tortured! 😉

    • You’ve got the right perspective. One of the desert fathers says that when we try to start a fire, the smoke irritates our eyes, but the light that eventually comes from the effort makes them glad. I try to keep that in mind when the tiring effort of something starts getting to me.

  • Thanks for the afternoon pick me up. I like the emphasis you place on God using our work as a means for sanctification. Thanks for sharing.

  • Taylor solomon

    This is a great post! I am currently working a job that seems like pointless, and it is easy to get discouraged. Thank you I really needed to read this!

  • Joel, thank you for the amazing reminder. Well written.

  • Pam Ghaly

    Thanks Joel for a great word. I got to your blog via Michael Hyatt and really enjoyed what you had to say above. I’ve been very “stuck” with work lately and am so encouraged by making sure my perspective is on the right “boss”!

  • B Deanne

    Earlier this summer (on vacation, no less!) I heard a sermon on work that really stuck with me. Your post (via Michael Hyatt) reminded me to go back and review the notes from that sermon I heard 3 months ago! Thanks for the encouraging words!

    Here’s the outline of the sermon I heard:
    Get…to Work
    Proverbs 6:6

    I. Work is given to us…
    A. As a good gift from a loving God.
    B. As an opportunity to serve others.
    C. As an opportunity to partner with God.
    D. As an opportunity to be like God.

    (Work was hard before the fall. God cursed the ground which brought thorns & thistles.)

    II. In your service of others…
    A. Thorns and thistles are produced easier than wheat.
    B. Thorns and thistles drive you back to dependence on God.
    C. Thorns and thistles train and prepare you for future service.

    – Some jobs are not for Christians.
    – Choose work carefully…don’t choose for what it can do for you but what it can do for others.
    – Retirement is not a biblical term. There’s only a change of service.
    – Trust God to place you in the area of service he wants you in.
    – Trust God to place you in the perfect timing in your work.
    – I need to change my thinking from “work is a necessary evil”.

  • Kingsly

    Thanks for this useful write-up. Right now am very frustrated with my job. When i read you blog i was encouraged and knew That my Master was God himself. But practically i find it very had to enjoy this Job…i dont know where to start. Am trying…

  • Great post! Thanks joel for sharing!

    It is very difficult for me to see work as a gift from God for my sanctification.

    I still need to learn much about this. To really remember for whom I am working for.

    God bless

  • I’m sorry to say it, but I really needed this reminder today. I came into my office early to catch up on work that I feel is “outside” my job description. : ) Now that I’ve read this, I know nothing is outside my job description, and my stinky attitude is much adjusted. Thanks.

    • Awesome. I’m always humbled and joyful when I keep this perspective and lots of other things (none of them good) when I lose it.

  • Amber Benson

    I teach a class called SALT: Faith That Works at Freedom Life Church in Dallas. Last week we talked about shifting our perspective from “convict” to “calling”.

    Prisoners are sentenced, the called are selected
    Prisoners are confined, the called are unlimited
    Prisoners are deprived, the called are blessed
    Prisoners are isolated, the called are divinely surrounded

    Prisoners see their fate as inescapable
    The called know they must surrender to their calling.

    Jesus’ greatest temptation wasn’t in the desert with Satan, it was in the Garden of Gethsemane when he could have refused to surrender to his calling and be left underutilized by God. It’s our greatest temptation, too.

    When your 9-to-5 feels like eternity, find eternity in your 9-to-5.

  • Dorothy Sayers’ essay, “Why Work?” in Creed and Chaos is another great connection between faith and work. Great post.

  • Excellent post my friend. Well done.