TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].
I know that work is meaningful, but I rarely feel that it is. Tips?
The goodness of God’s creation means that we can at times experience work as cultivating a fertile garden, like Adam and Eve must have felt in Genesis 2. But as humans living after Genesis 3, we more often feel as if work is toilsome, pointless, and fruitless, as if the ground is bearing thorns and thistles just for us.
We often believe Genesis 2 while feeling Genesis 3. So what should we do?
To feel what we know to be true, we have to constantly orient ourselves around God’s promises.
God’s Promise for Our Work
Work is meaningful because God promises that our labor is not in vain. Not because if we work hard, with sufficient skill, diligence, and effort, then our work will bear visible fruit; not because on our own we can undo the curse on the ground and get back into the garden. No, our hope rests on God’s promise for our work. And that promise is rooted in the resurrection.
In Isaiah 65, God promises to create new heavens and a new earth, and Isaiah tells us that at that time our labor will not be in vain. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes a magisterial chapter on the resurrection—essentially, the resurrection happened, and it’s going to happen to you—and he concludes by saying your labor is not in vain.
This is Paul’s claim: we have hope for our work because God brings fruit out of death.
We have hope for our work because God brings fruit out of death.
Waiting until the new creation to see any fruit doesn’t seem very motivating. But we don’t have to! Jesus has already conquered sin and death. Isaiah’s promise is true now, even as we eagerly await Jesus’s return. No matter how fruitless it feels, no matter how pointless and insignificant, we now work in a world where God brings life out of death and works all things together for the good of those who love them.
There are several ways you can internalize this reality.
Patterns of Resurrection
First, look for the patterns of resurrection in your work. Where can you see the possibility that God might be bearing fruit among the visible thorns and thistles? It may be easy to see the “death,” but remember, that’s the forerunner to life. Can you see hints of God’s activity at work? Can you envision God bringing life out of death?
There is no square inch of our company or workday that doesn’t belong to God. There is no chance he isn’t working in your workplace. Ask him to give you eyes to see what he’s doing and to show you how to join him there. The more we look for God, the more we see him moving.
Promises We Can Believe
If the fundamental hope of the resurrection warms our hearts, feeling hope for our work will follow. God’s promise for our work is downstream of much more significant promises, which are surely harder to feel or even to believe. Most of us feel our work is meaningless precisely when we fail to believe that God is good and truly loves us. After all, what’s harder to believe: that work can be meaningful, or that the perfectly just and righteous God of the universe loves us?
Most of us feel our work is meaningless precisely when we fail to believe that God is good and truly loves us.
And which is easier to say, “Your labor is not in vain,” or “Your sins are forgiven, pick up your mat and walk; in the new heavens and the new earth you will be presented to God as a perfect bride because Jesus defeated death and was raised to an indestructible life”? If you hear Jesus saying the latter, the former will be easier to receive.
If we’re going to feel the hope of God’s promise for our work, we couldn’t do better than meditating on the glorious truths of who we are in Christ. As we meditate on the risen Jesus and all the heavenly blessings he bought us, we’ll find it easier to feel hope for our work among the multifaceted hope Jesus promises.