For the past several decades, I have met many in the marketplace who suffered from an identity crisis yielding genuine frustration. When work and career have not gone as expected, despondency and depression often followed.
Coming from a Christian worldview, my understanding of identity has long been grounded and rooted in an understanding that there is greater meaning and purpose in my life (and work) endowed to me by my Creator, the God of the Bible.
Identity and purpose have become less clear as we have moved further toward removing faith, belief in God, from so many aspects of our contemporary lives. It now depends on the individual to confer meaning and purpose.
“What does faith have to do with it?” has become a popular internal, if not externally voiced, question for so many issues we face.
Rather than attempt to argue the larger questions, for a proper understanding of God’s interest in (and, in fact, dominion over all) issues of life, I’d like to take a pragmatic view that integrating the Christian faith into work, labor and creativity can bring purpose and fulfillment in the work experience.
What is Work?
If we recognize and acknowledge work as a gift from God (given to us, the Bible states, prior to the Fall of Man), we are able to explore the original intent and purpose for work in our lives.
I believe that work has been gifted to us by God, which means it comes with certain responsibilities as well. We are to work in a certain way (to God’s standards, if you will) that result in the bringing forth a great value to the society and community where the work is done. Work should be an addictive process, filled with value for the worker and those who benefit from the creative or sustaining act.
Integration of faith and work allows and provides for a purpose-driven view of work. Work is to be done to the glory of God and celebrated as an endeavor that provides joy to the worker and blessings to the beneficiary. Work removed from the faith context (that is given to us by God) has been reduced to purposes far below the high position and calling originally given to it.
Most today see work in terms of the individual rather than for the purpose of glorifying God and enjoying him in our work. We’ve seen work lowered to the purpose of achieving mostly personal financial benefit. It is not lost on the author that the coming generation is asking more of their work experience. The fact that millennials by and large are looking for significance to their work is hopeful. Their work is often more an extension of their lives.
When the only function of work is profit-centered—for personal gain and wealth—versus the recognition of the divine privilege of expressing the qualities and character of God who granted it, work becomes far less satisfying and far less beneficial to the society and the context in which the work is done. The result is a reduction of work to the world of selfish ambition—the fictional character in the 1987 film “Wall Street” Gordon Gekko’s world of “greed is good,” resulting in harms to society (and the individual) rather than the intended, God-glorifying good.
Work was meant to be an expression of what Christ called the greatest commandment—“‘and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
This expression, this act of worship if you will, of doing work that demonstrates the love one has for God and to the benefit of one’s neighbor infuses our work with meaning and joy. Ultimately, the power of a faith-infused work is one that embraces and enjoys the great purpose that God intended for work.
How to Think about Work & Faith
The challenge remains, even for the Christian, to think properly about work and faith. Many experience great and meaningful experiences in their Sunday worship, but begin their workweek on Monday completely devoid of a connection to their faith. The phenomenon can be called the “Sunday to Monday gap,” the “sacred and secular divide” or practical atheism. Call it what you will, but seeing all aspects of our lives through the lens of our faith in God can often be counterintuitive.
One of the most powerful images of joy in God-centered work is illustrated in the movie, “Chariots of Fire.” When Eric Liddell, the Scottish athlete portrayed in the film, is confronted by his sister over her perceived higher calling of a sacred missionary work to the work Liddell is engaged in, he responds with the blessing of an integrated view of work and faith. In the movie, he says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
Exercising and enjoying the God-given gift of our work—the expression of our skills and talents in proper perspective—is our great privilege from God. It is in the infusion of our work with our faith that allows us to enjoy and reflect the pleasure of our God.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in a special report by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and The Washington Times entitled, “Faith at Work: Individual Purpose, Flourishing Communities.” Reprinted with permission.