Preparing students for everyday work is one of the practical reasons for education. Parents and students alike are interested in knowing whether what is taught will help get a "good job." If a teacher hasn't thought carefully about the meaning and purpose of work, it is unlikely that they will be able to equip the next generation for the jobs of the future. If teachers don’t communicate a Christ-centered view of work, their students will be inadequately prepared for the good work God has prepared for them (Ephesians 2:10). The required skills will undoubtedly change, so it is essential to consider basic principles of work from God's perspective.
An article by Robert Alexander, February 25, 2016 in The Gospel Coalition addresses some of these essential truths.
A friend who just lost his job sits across from you with tears in his eyes. “I know I have a purpose,” he says. “I need to know that what I do matters, that I’m doing what God wants me to do.”
“My work is so stressful,” a hard-working executive confesses. “Even when I’m home I’m connected to work electronically. I know my family wishes I wasn’t always ‘checking in,’ but they don’t understand what’s expected of me. I don’t even have the time to think about God and what he wants. It seems like just one more thing to do.”
“Homeschooling my children was so much work, but I loved it,” a mom said. “But now my oldest son doesn’t want to go to church or do anything. What was it all for?”
Questions of Faith and Identity
How about you? Most likely you also have questions about the meaning, significance, and motivation for what you do. We all want the work we do to make a difference, yet we feel the gap between the realities of daily work and our lives as Christians. We wonder: Am I doing the right thing? My work is unpaid; does that mean it’s unimportant? Why is it so stressful? Why do I get so afraid when I make a mistake at work?
These questions are not just about work. They are spiritual questions about faith, meaning, significance, identity, and the struggle with sin. The struggle to bring work and faith together is as old as the fall of humanity. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced God’s good gifts of work, childbirth, and relationships as broken and hard. We know this isn’t the way it’s meant to be, but we wonder how—even if—our lives can be made whole again.
The Gospel changes everything
In Genesis 1 and 2, we see God at work, creating, separating, filling, examining, and declaring all things good. His intent was for human life to bind together work, family, personal, spirituality, and worship into a seamless tapestry. The need to apply faith to work wasn’t necessary before the fall, since Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect relationship with God, each other, and creation. And one day it won’t be necessary again—when life in its fullest sense will be restored through Christ’s completed work.
Right now, though, we live “in between.” Life is still broken, but something new has happened. God has come to earth to be with his people. When we come to him in faith and repentance, our sins are forgiven. We are given the gift of eternal life and a whole new life right now. The power that raised Christ from the dead is now working to remake us and everything we do (Ephesians 1). This is the essence of the gospel message.
Because of these realities, even the simplest tasks we perform by faith become acts of worship reflecting God’s character and ways. This is the new vocation or calling of those who live by faith. Faith changes everything we do. The 16th-century Christian reformer Martin Luther put it this way (paraphrased):
When a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other menial task for his child in Christian faith, God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith.
Do you see how living by faith can transform our idea of vocation? We can participate in God’s work wherever he has called us because, when it’s done in the service of the King for his good purposes, all our work is kingdom work.
This gives meaning and significance to the simplest of tasks. Whatever our role—student, dishwasher, stay-at-home parent, office staff, church staff, small business owner, contractor, waitress—we do all things with Christ, because of him, and with his Spirit’s help (Philippians 4:13). This is what vocation means for those who know Jesus. It’s not something relegated to a narrow sector of life. Everything is transformed.
Gospel truths for everyday work
The idea of partnering with God through your vocation may not be the way you naturally think about life. Our tendencies will always be to minimize God’s presence in our work—making everything a grind for survival or elevating our own efforts and accomplishments apart from him. In light of this, we must see that the believer’s work is a partnership with Jesus, who already achieved success on our behalf and offers mercy and grace in every struggle (Hebrews 4:14–16). We need, therefore, to hold onto gospel truths to live out our vocation in this broken world. These truths include:
- Daily forgiveness. We need the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us on the cross for the ways we live for our work instead of for God’s purposes (1 John 1:9–10).
- Daily help from the Spirit. We need the Spirit to change us so that we live for God as partners in his kingdom (Luke 11:13).
- Daily faith perspective. We need God to help us see life from his perspective instead of our own (Eph. 2:8).
- Resurrection power. We have to ask for the power that raised Christ from the dead to give us strength and help (Ephesians 1:15–23).
- God’s power and control. When work goes badly wrong, when we or others fail, we need to remember God has the final word. All things work for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Meaningful work isn’t all there is to life, but a meaningful life isn’t possible without the knowledge that God is at work, using our ordinary efforts for his extraordinary purposes. As we make the gospel the true center of our work, the Lord will use us in his kingdom and will use our work struggles to make us more like him.
This excerpt is adapted from Robert Alexander’s The Gospel Centered Life at Work: Leader’s Guide (New Growth Press, 2014).
Robert Alexander (MBA, DMin) is the operations officer of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and its network of sister churches. He is also the former director of eCommerce and mass markets for PECO Energy, southern regional vice president of constellation energy, and is the author of The Gospel-Centered Life at Work and Professionals: Men and Women Partnering with the Trinity in Everyday Life. He and his wife, Rebecca, teach a multi-campus Graduate Student Fellowship focused on faith-and-life integration. They have two children who help keep it all very real.