I received a note from an old college friend in response to my recent article on finding our purpose. He had this to say:
I have spent many years in this field. I love the basics of what my job entails. I love my customers and they demonstrate love towards me. It’s been very rewarding on many fronts. But, I think the job may kill me. The stress is constant. I work many nights struggling to keep up with the paperwork, not getting home until 9-10 pm. It’s affecting nearly every facet of our lives…I am stuck in fear. I feel I cannot continue doing what I’m doing, and I’m afraid to leave.
My friend is actively seeking God’s guidance but is hearing nothing. He occasionally looks for other jobs, inside and outside his profession. He acknowledges that it would be extremely difficult to find some other line of work at his age.
This is a common tale for so many professions where this kind of stress is the norm: in retail, medical, legal, and law enforcement, stay-at-home parents, those who own their own business, pastors, deployed military, high school drama teachers putting on a musical, and farmers, to name a few. Careers in which you get paid well and have reasonable hours are probably the exception rather than the rule.
No Black-and-White Answers
My friend poses a valid question about a very challenging situation many people face, believers and non-believers alike, of overwork. There are no easy answers.
He paints a realistic picture of his work life. The job stress sounds relentless; he feels trapped. He faces unrealistic expectations daily, which are undoubtedly compounded by the nagging feeling of letting his family down, not to mention the risk of his own health. Things are out of balance, and he doesn’t see any easy way to lighten the load.
His reluctance to make a change at this point in his life is understandable. Ultimately, he is blessed if he stays and blessed if he goes. There are biblical illustrations of those who stayed in impossible situations (Daniel, for one) as well as those who left their situation to go elsewhere (Onesimus, perhaps? See the book of Philemon).
I shared all this with my friend and told him he was wise in keeping his eyes open for new opportunities. Paul’s advice to the church in Corinth about whether to change careers when they came to faith in Christ has some relevance to his situation (see 1 Cor. 7:21—”if you can gain your freedom, do so”). This was written for slaves, but can be read to mean any employee. In my friend’s situation, he feels like a slave.
He is right; all that training and experience should not be casually tossed aside when things get tough. However, that does not mean that he can never leave, like those who have checked into the Hotel California. I encouraged him to reflect on God’s attributes, particularly his resurrection power to not only give him strength to endure but also for deliverance from bondage.
Now, here are a few more points to consider if you are in a similar situation.
1. Is it a closed or open door for God to work?
Jesus talked about what his disciples should do if they ran into hard-hearted resistance in their missionary efforts. In Matthew 10:14, Jesus said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” He wasn’t just describing a difficult situation, but a setting in which it was impossible for them to minister. So, Jesus instructs them to move on to find another field ripe for harvest. In any situation, it’s important to assess whether you’re facing a closed door or whether, conversely, opportunities to glorify God exist.
2. Being discontent isn’t always a bad sign.
One could also say that the idea of contentment would apply here. We, like Paul, can learn to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves (Phil. 4:11). However, this does not mean we cannot take action to improve our situation if we are able to do so.
3. Take time to pray and consider what’s going on in your heart.
Maybe the issues are complex. A former seminary professor, Dr. Grant Howard, in his classic book, Balancing Life’s Demands, exhorts those of us who are struggling in our jobs to be alert to the various issues at play:
Is your work hard? God put that challenge into it. Is your work frustrating, boring, repetitive, even frightening? It could be a result of the curse. It could be your attitude. Maybe you need to change your job. Maybe you need to change your attitude. Maybe you need to do both!
4. God moves people to different jobs and careers for his good purposes.
When a family member recently decided to change careers, my wife reminded me that some jobs or careers are meant for only a season. God’s specific direction for you can change, and each change is always for our good and his glory.
5. Remember, God is with you and for you.
For those like my good friend who feel stuck, rest in this: Pay attention to the “holy dissatisfaction” you feel. There may be a purpose in it. God may be preparing you to begin another chapter in your life. If you decide to go, God will be with you wherever you go to. He will give you wisdom to make the best decision in his time.
Finding a new job in your same field or making a radical change to something new is always a spiritual journey. You may need to boldly step out in faith. God may change the circumstances, or he may change you.
Either way, he is working on your behalf because he is a worker, and has called us to be co-workers with him.
Editor’s Note: Your work matters to God, but why? Read about the biblical purpose of work in How Then Should We Work?
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