At Work & Theology 101

How to Satisfy Our Hunger for Meaningful Work

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In 2014, the Barna Group reported that 75 percent of Americans are looking for ways to live a more meaningful life. Many are looking for meaning in “family, career, church, side projects or elsewhere.”

Why this growing hunger for meaning? A Wall Street Journal article explained:

In part, professionals are demanding more meaning from their careers because work simply takes up more of life than before, thanks to longer hours, competitive pressures and technological tethers of the modern job. Meanwhile, traditional sources of meaning and purpose, such as religion, have receded in many corners of the country.

The search for meaning isn’t new. We’re wired to desire something beyond what the world offers us.

But now, more than ever, the desire to see the connection between work and lasting meaning has intensified. In 2017, a Globoforce survey found that the number one reason nearly one-third of employees (32 percent) stay at a job is that they find it meaningful. Having the right salary, benefits, and perks was the third highest reason, behind working with the right team and enjoying the people you work with.

Fortunately, we were designed with the desire for something greater because there is an answer corresponding to that desire. As Christians, we find ourselves asking, “What is a biblical view on employment? Is it wrong to want to do something meaningful?”

The Biblical Background for Our Work

As the first few chapters of Genesis show us, God is active. In just six days, he industriously arranges and sets into motion an entire universe.

His creatures embody this activity and are called to this type of creativity in Gen. 1:28:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

After the fall, we were never told that we were off the hook from working. Instead, through the initial guidelines God gave us, we were given a fuller picture of God’s faithfulness and provision even in our brokenness.

When our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and the earth, were broken, the way forward wasn’t ultimately clear. Fortunately, God didn’t leave us in the dark. He demonstrated his faithfulness by providing for the Israelites, walking them through the desert, giving them guidelines for their interactions with him and with others, and allowing them to flourish in small and large ways.

Between demonstrations of his provision and instruction, God prepared his people to receive Christ and the redemption that comes through his work. Now, when we are in Christ, we can experience the fulfillment of being part of God’s plan for his world.

A Biblical View of Employment

What’s interesting is that in God’s design, work was never meant to be contained in the daily 9-5 grind. The implications are much further reaching.

God designed all our daily activities to matter because he designed us to matter. As Ephesians 2:10 so aptly puts it:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

It is natural that we desire our work (and all our lives) to be meaningful, because ultimately, it does matter in God’s economy. A biblical view on employment is set apart by several things:

  • We work with an eye to eternity. We endeavor to display an excellence in our work that points those around us to Christ and to the new heaven and new earth he promises to bring about (Rev. 21:1).
  • We work with the intent to serve. God designed his world to work together in such a way that we should pursue those things for which we have the greatest aptitude. When we create the greatest value through the development of our God-given talents, we do the most we can to serve others (Gal. 5:13-14; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).
  • We work knowing that the ordinary and the mundane matter. Granted, we shouldn’t punish ourselves by unnecessarily remaining in jobs that don’t suit our talents, but we shouldn’t despair that each moment is not filled with earth-shattering accomplishment. We were called to be faithful, not just fruitful.

And above all of this, we work to find pleasure and fulfillment in the right things. As C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,

History is…the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

Having a biblical view of employment doesn’t promise to completely satisfy our every need. Only God can do that. However, through our employment, we can experience the wonder of being used to further God’s plan to bring about greater flourishing for us and those around us.

Editor’s note: Read more about the biblical meaning of work in How Then Should We Work?

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