At Work & Public Square

We All Dream of Finding Meaningful Work. But Can It Really Be Found?

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Everyone desires to find meaningful work.

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

We All Dream of Finding Meaningful Work

Research done last year 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 Towards 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 (Ephesians 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 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.

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  • Dr. Gordon P. Richards

    Thanks, Hugh. Your writings have meant a lot to me over the last couple years. I have been blessed to serve others for most of my career. As a military officer and a commander, and now as a professor and department chair at a small private Christian college, it has been relatively easy to see how what I do is service and worship to our God. For a short time when I worked in industry as a software developer, I lacked this perspective, even though I have always been a follower of Christ. I have seen both sides. I can say with confidence that it has been the times when I held a biblical view of the doctrine of work that I was most fulfilled (a biproduct of obedience, not the goal or the pursuit). Thanks again for you work. May God bless the path he has prepared for you. See you soon!

  • F. Scott Beranek

    Very well written.
    I am a Principlest. My focus is on the nature of principles.
    The definition I use is this: a principle is the explanation of how a thing functions,

  • Andrew

    I wonder if some confusion regarding what constitutes meaningful work is a result of Marxist ideologies that have influenced our culture, on either a conscious or subconscious level, that encourage Christians to work for nonprofits rather than profit seeking corporations. This seems like an area where studying basic economic concepts (e.g. gains from trade and specialization, the idea that a transaction only takes place if it benefits both parties) can liberate christian minds, because it shows that all profitable work serves others, even if it is as commonplace as the work done by the garbage man to take out people’s trash, or the plumber, electrician, etc. On the other hand, these basic concepts show how even very lucrative work is honorable, not selfish, because it helps others flourish, otherwise it would not take place in a free economy.

  • l klaj

    thank you for this – with our kids leaving for college, this is always on my mind. For me, though, it is more about how best to use my gifts. I have used some of them well;others, not at all. I have always felt that I will be asked about how I used what God gave to me, and I am convicted on a few fronts. One is that I am old enough to know what it is to fail – and I don’t want to. I also don’t have as much energy to start new things – its easier to live in the past. Its also difficult to change my habits at my age. All excuses of course; I see that clearly. Just praying through it for clarity and energy and some kind of mentorship.

  • Lila

    I was recently referred to the IFWE website by a group leader in my church. This is so helpful! I am in my twenties and I am a nurse. By the grace of God I found this calling. Nursing is seen as a very godly profession but it’s incredibly stressful. I have had to leave a new job because I could not keep up with the fast pace. I will have to find a slower-paced setting and I feel very called to long-term care. Some nurses look down on nurses who work in long-term care. This discourages me but I keep encouraging myself by saying exactly what you just said: all work has dignity and value. I just have to embrace whatever work God has in front of me and present it as an offering to Him. Thank you!

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