At Work & Theology 101

Can Meaningful Work Truly Be Found?

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Everyone desires meaningful work.

For Christians, the question of meaningful work might actually be a trick question.

We All Dream of Finding Meaningful Work

Research done in 2014 by the Barna Group shows that 75 percent of U.S. adults say they are looking for ways to live a more meaningful life. Only nineteen percent of adults say they’re extremely satisfied with their current work.

The desire to find meaning in our work is important across all age groups.

Many people in their forties and fifties are leaving their occupations for what they perceive to be more important, meaningful jobs.

Twenty-somethings currently entering the job market are particularly interested in work that will make a difference to them and society. They are looking for work that expresses their identity and lets them creatively use their talents to help others. They believe this type of work is to be found, for the most part, in the NGO/nonprofit world.

Even in Christian circles there still persists a belief that some jobs have more meaning because these jobs are more important to God.

Working for a nonprofit or NGO has been added to the traditional jobs of pastor and missionary as jobs that seem to have special status, jobs with the potential of fulfilling our dreams of finding meaning in our work.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to work for a nonprofit or NGO. But one doesn’t have to be employed by that kind of organization to find meaningful work.

The Trick Question

Everyone wants to be involved in some kind of “meaningful” work. The question is: “Meaningful to whom? You or the end user?”

For Christians, this is a trick question.

For the Christian, life without work is meaningless, but work must never become the meaning of one’s life. We must find our identity in Christ, not in our work.

Our union with Christ transforms our hearts and gives us the desire to serve him out of gratitude as we engage the world through our work.

This is where we find meaning, because through our role as God’s image bearers we are to bring him glory regardless of what type of work we do. All of our work is meant to glorify God and serve the common good.

We Find Meaning in Our Work by Working Toward Biblical Flourishing

During the Reformation, Martin Luther’s theology put special stress on the dignity of all work, observing that we are the agents of God’s providential love for others. This understanding elevates the purpose of work from making a living to loving our neighbor.

To paraphrase Luther, we love our neighbor by doing our jobs well.

Scripture makes it clear: The goal of our work is not to find personal meaning, but to serve God by serving others in a way that brings about biblical flourishing.

When you’re looking for meaningful work for your own sake, it will be difficult to find.

But when we use our skills and talents to accomplish the work God intended us to do (Eph. 2:10), our work takes on tremendous meaning.

We must see how our work combines with the work of others to provide flourishing for the larger community. This idea often escapes us.

We think our specific, individual work can’t be meaningful because it seems so insignificant. We see the bigger picture when our work is combined with the work of others.

No Work Is Insignificant

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once wrote, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Our dreams of finding meaningful work can be fulfilled, for no work is insignificant when done for the glory of God and in service to others for the sake of biblical flourishing.

Editor’s note: Read more about how your work contributes to flourishing in Be Fruitful and Multiply: Why Economics is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.

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