When you’re finding deep satisfaction in your work, you wonder why others aren’t enjoying their work. You want to arrive early and you can’t understand why some of your colleagues are always late. When you’re in a season where work is quite enjoyable, it can even keep you awake at night – out of sheer excitement.
But when you’re dissatisfied with your work, you think there’s something wrong with people who seem to really enjoy their work. You think, “They must be pretending. Or their job is easier than mine. Or they must make a ton of money that makes their work worth it.” When you’re bored with your work or you hate your work, it can keep you awake at night – wondering if there’s something you might enjoy doing more and if so, how can you get into that as soon as possible.
Regarding work, some of us wonder – should I love it more than I do? Others of us are thinking – do I love it too much?
How much does God want me to care about my work?
That’s a good question, but the only way we can adequately answer that question is to ask this one:
How much does God care about my work?
We have as many approaches to our work as there are people in this room + all of you watching online today. How much are we supposed to care about work? What kind of value should we put on it? How do we know if we care too much about it or not enough? This is one of my favorite things to learn about and to teach about. I believe part of my God-given vocation is to help others step into their God-given vocation. And I want you and I to be able to actually carry our significant assignments with the easy yoke Jesus promised us. I believe there’s hope for all of us in this message I’m calling, “Can Work Satisfy?”
Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them – for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil – this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.
Ecclesiastes 3:22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?
Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom I am toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless – a miserable business!
What if we could value work for what it’s actually worth, no more and no less?
This is the quest I want us to go on together.
Work is a gift from God.
(v.19) To be happy in our toil is a gift of God. If you are deeply satisfied in the work you’re doing in this season, you don’t need to feel guilty about that. You should enjoy it. And you should give thanks to God for it every single day.
To work with God and for God is one of the greatest invitations God has ever given to human beings.
Genesis 2:5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground
Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
When the pages of Scripture open, the first words we read are, “In the beginning, God created.” In other words, from the outset – God has been working. And then just two chapters in, He does the unthinkable – He delegates His work to a human being. And He’s still doing that today with you and me.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
“God wants to work with us. He wants to create with us. He wants to start, share, and complete new projects and ideas with us.” Henry Kaestner, Faith Driven Entrepreneur
God intends for our work to be a “get to”, not a “have to.”
There is a way to find satisfaction in our work.
When Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he was there because he was tired. He was thirsty and hungry. His disciples go into town to buy food. When they come back, they realize he’s deeply invested in a conversation with this woman. They try to encourage him to eat something. Listen to his reply:
John 4:34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
Jesus found nourishment or satisfaction in doing the work God had sent him to earth to do. Are you finding satisfaction in doing the work God has given you to do? Don’t limit the word “work” just to the stuff you do that gives you an income. We love the word “vocation” here at Epic because it encompasses all of God’s assignments for our lives – being husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, neighbors, volunteers, friends, and so much more.
“We make our way through the occupations of life, hoping and hoping that as we do our vocation becomes clearer to us, that over time we will come to know more and more about who we are and what matters to us, and who God is and what matters to him.” Steven Garber, Visions of Vocation
So work is a gift and it meant to bring some satisfaction into our lives. But it is possible to ask our work to do things for us that it cannot do for us.
The endless pursuit of more work is an addiction that robs us of satisfaction.
In Ecclesiastes 4:8, there was no end to this man’s toil. He could not stop. Why couldn’t he stop? What was he after? What did he think he would find at the end of all this toil? Why was so much never enough?
If all you’re after is MORE, that quest never ends and contentment never arrives.
Why can’t you stop? When will it ever be enough? Why can’t I stop? When will it ever be enough that I can let it rest for a few hours or a day a week or a few weeks during the year? There are seasons for all of us that are uniquely demanding – having a child, launching a new company, or going after a major milestone without much time to cross the finish line. But sometimes we try to appease our guilt by telling ourselves and those closest to us that this is just a season. Let me ask you a question:
Is this really just a season or has this just become what you call your life?
The person in Ecclesiastes 4 was doing all this work, making all this money, but had no one to share his life with. Our work can’t just be for our own good.
If you overvalue work and undervalue relationships, everyone in your life loses – including you.
Here are 3 questions Arthur Brooks asks to diagnose whether we’re overvaluing our work:
Do you fail to reserve part of your energy for your loved ones after work?
Do you sneak around to work?
Does it make you anxious and unhappy when someone – such as your spouse – suggests you take time away from work for activities with loved ones, even when nothing in your work is unusually pressing?
Who is impacted when you take work too far?
When we worship our work rather than God, we make work an idol that will never do for us what we’re asking it to do for us.
Work is a wonderful gift from God, but work is a terrible god.
“You will not have a meaningful life without work, but you cannot say that your work is the meaning of your life. If you make any work the purpose of your life – even if that work is church ministry – you create an idol that rivals God.” Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor
So what is God saying to us about work? I think it depends on how much you care about work. To some He’s saying, “Enjoy your work a little more.” Or He might be saying, “Go seek work that’s in line with how I’ve called and gifted you.” To others, He’s saying, “Stop asking work to do something for you that it cannot do for you.”
If you’re a student – do your best, but don’t give more weight to your report card than God’s voice when it comes to your identity.
If you’re retired – you didn’t lose your identity when you left the workforce. You still have a vocation. What time, wisdom, and experience could you give to others?
If you’re unemployed – You are not less than. Seek work. Receive support from this community. Use your time wisely.
If you hate your job – Pray. Ask for a new job or a new perspective on your current one.
If you love your job – Create boundaries. Give thanks to God for this gift, but don’t worship your work. Have a life outside of work and it will also improve your life inside of work.
We need to be having these conversations regularly as a church community.
We don’t work to gain God’s acceptance. We rest in the work Jesus did to freely give us acceptance from God.
John 6:28-29 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”