Finding Yourself in Your Work

Colossians 3:17 

How did you decide what you were going to do with your life? And by that, I mean your work or your career. Did you go to school, get specialized training, work as an apprentice? Is yours a family business where you learned your trade from your father or mother, or you followed in their footsteps and knew from an early age what you were going to do with your life?

Some of you work for yourselves – you own your own business and employ others to work for you. The rest of us work for someone else, either an individual or a corporation or the government. You may have worked a series of jobs, following your interests, going where the work was, never settling into something permanent. Maybe you’ve changed careers or shifted fields. Perhaps you began one career, retired and began another career. Some people work their entire lives with one company, moving up the company ranks, others go from company to company acquiring skills and knowledge that are valuable in the marketplace as they head up the corporate ladder. You may have been fired or let go or downsized a time or two. You may have burned out or struggled to hang on. You might have questioned whether you chose the right path and wondered what you missed out on not doing something else. Some of you are just starting out, others are settled in, still others are winding down.

Any way you look at it, most of us spend the majority of our lives working. Whether it is to bring home a paycheck, find fulfillment in life, or simply kill time in between vacations, we invest a lot of time – a lot of our lives – on the job.

The question is, do you feel that what you do matters? And more than that, does your work matter to God?

Most of us compartmentalize our lives into distinct segments. We divide out our time into categories that help us make sense of our worlds. We have our time at work, which is our vocation, then there is time away from work, which is our avocation. And then we further divide our pursuits into secular and spiritual – our work and recreation being secular and our time at church or in Bible study as spiritual. And we tend to keep those walls pretty rigid. We assume that what matters to God is the spiritual side, and that what we do in our work and recreation, as long as it isn’t harmful or sinful, doesn’t really concern God.

That’s the assumption a group of businessmen made – that business is business and church is church. But James took them to task for that assumption: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)

They assumed their time and their lives were theirs to spend as they wished. They (like we) had compartmentalized their lives and left God out of the “secular” pursuits of their lives thinking God doesn’t care or involve himself in that part of our lives. When the fact is, God cares about every part of our lives. He cares about our work, about our recreation, about our families – he cares about everything. And to leave him out of the consideration about what we do (and why we do it) is a terrible mistake.

You may remember Paul’s words to the Christians in Colossae: And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:17) When Paul says “whatever,” he means that everything we do matters to God, and everything we do should be done with the ultimate purpose of bringing him glory and honor.

Can you say that about your work? And I don’t mean by that that one vocation is more spiritual than another or that God approves of one more than another. This isn’t comparing carpenters with accountants or teachers with waitresses. It’s not white collar vs. blue collar or even clerical collar. This isn’t even higher vs. lower calling. Going into ministry isn’t more pleasing to God than building houses.

What God is interested in is what you are doing with what you have. When we talked about giftedness last week, we spoke in terms of how those gifts bless the body of Christ. But God also blesses you with gifts with which to pursue a livelihood. When God created Adam, he gave Adam work to do. Work is not a curse – now, the thorns and thistles came with the curse and work became difficult and toilsome, but work was not a curse. God created work to be a blessing.

Your work is intended to be a blessing to you, not just as a means to a paycheck, but as an opportunity to serve God and bless others.

There are a couple of characters in the OT, whose names you may not recognize, but they were said to be full of God’s spirit, and listen what the Spirit did in them:
“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you.” (Ex 31:2-6) They expressed their fullness of the Spirit not by preaching sermons but by the excellence of their craftsmanship as they designed and built the implements and furniture for the Tabernacle. When you use the gifts that God has given you, you are working in the fullness of the Spirit to glorify God through your work. There is a sense of purpose and satisfaction when you use your gifts to do your work and do it well.

You might remember the movie Chariots of Fire. It was about the Scottish runner Eric Liddell, who was supposed to run in the Olympics, but he also felt called to go as a foreign missionary to China. His sister came to him and chastised him, “You are supposed to be preaching the Word, that’s God’s work. How can you waste this time on running? Eric responded back, “I know preaching the Gospel is of paramount importance and I plan on doing that for the rest of my life. But God also made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure.” There is a sense there for a person who may be working in a “secular” job, but he is doing what he loves to do – what God created him to do – that he feels God’s pleasure.

The NT doesn’t have any passages of scripture that give specific direction to employees or employers, but there are several that speak to the relationship between masters and slaves, and the principles involved are very helpful:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. (Col. 3:22-24, 4:1)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Eph. 6:5-9)

Here are the principles:
1) Work diligently and honestly.
2) Treat people fairly and with respect.
3) Remember it is the Lord who you are really serving.

Your work is the realm in which you spend the majority of your time. In that work you interact with numerous people, either as a co-worker, an employer or employee, a service provider, and the list could go on. Every person you interact with is an opportunity to touch someone’s life for God. And I’m not talking about overt evangelism, but as the salt and light of the world. Paul described it this way: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15) You can be the one constant for God in the lives of the people around you at work. It doesn’t matter whether you are hammering nails or sacking groceries – what matters is whether you are the aroma of Christ. Where you are and the people you are around is the ministry God has given you. You have been certified and commissioned as his representative to the people with whom you work. What you do at work matters to God because it reflects what kind of a relationship you have with him.

If you are always complaining and difficult, it reflects on him. If you are dishonest and unreliable, it reflects on him. But if you bring godliness and faithfulness into your work, even if the people around you don’t believe in God, they will be affected by the God you do believe in. Peter wrote: “You are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God.” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT)

Your work is your ministry – it is your going into all the world – and through it you are ministering on behalf of God to people who may never darken a church doorway. You may touch the lives of people who will never hear a sermon or open a Bible. You have the power to change the eternity of someone for whom you are the only Christian they will ever really know. It is an incredible opportunity, it is an awesome responsibility. It is a challenge to look at your work in a completely different light.

And I know that some of you do:
When Dale Hawkins delivers a package, he isn’t just completing a transaction, he is the aroma of Christ in the lives of the people he interacts with.
When Dennis Brown is working on your plumbing, he isn’t just fixing a leaky faucet, he brings some of God’s blessing with him into the lives of the people who are having a bad day.
When Diana Roberts teaches her kindergarteners, she isn’t just teach literacy and math, she is imparting to her students the joy of God through her life.
When Jan Jacob takes your temperature and blood pressure when you come to the doctor’s office, she shares some of God’s peace and compassion in the way she treats her patients.
When Lynn Bader creates a flower arrangement she is sharing the wonder of God’s creation with the people who receive her arrangements.

Everyone of you has more than a job – you have a ministry that touches the lives of people throughout your day.

So what if you hate your job, or you can’t stand the people you work with? What if your job is a dead-end with no future in sight? You could change careers; find one that better fits you. And that may be the course you choose – find a job in which you find fulfillment and ways to use your God-given gifts. But until you change, how do you survive? You still have bills to pay and obligations to meet. The problem just might be less the occupation and more your outlook toward it. So before you change jobs, try changing your attitude. When you find that new job, if you take the old attitude with you, you will still be miserable.

We’ve been talking about finding yourself, and some of that search will involve the surroundings in which we find ourselves – our job, our family, our church. But the larger, and more significant part of that search is looking inside. What we find inside is far more important than where we find ourselves outside. Our attitudes and our outlook have the power to change all the externals. That annoying co-worker that we avoid might actually be God’s opportunity to show compassion and friendship. The boss that we find overbearing might actually be looking for something that we can help them discover. All of those customers that come through the doors of your business are opportunities for you to be a little dose of good news in a world filled with hopelessness. In any equation of human relationships, the only factor over which you have any control is you. And when you start changing you, every other part of that equation will also change.

Before I finish, I want to say a word about stay-at-home moms. Yours is the most important work and ministry you can have. And often your work is minimized or even looked down upon. But I want you to know how significant your contribution is. We made a lot of sacrifices for Diana to stay home when our children were young. And it was difficult financially to do that, but we believe that was the most important investment we could ever make. And I want our moms, whether you are stay-at-home, or have to work another job on top of that, to know that your work especially matters to God.

So, when you show up for work tomorrow morning, know these three things:
1) God values your work – your work matters to God.
2) God gives you work to do and gifts to do it well.
3) Your work is your ministry. Your job isn’t to earn a paycheck, it is to change the world one person at a time, and glorify God in the process.

And when you figure that out, you’ll have taken huge strides on this journey to find yourself.