Last week we considered how meaningful work enhances our self-esteem. We usually feel better about ourselves after a hard day’s work. A more significant benefit is that God uses our jobs to develop our character. Our work serves not just to make us happy…but to make us holy.
It’s often said, “Find something you love to do and then you won’t have to work another day in your life.” There are a few people who love everything about their job. They can’t believe they get paid for doing what they enjoy so much. But that’s rare. Most of us who say we like our jobs will usually admit that there are aspects of our occupation that we find unpleasant.
For example, I really liked being a minister. I enjoyed studying, teaching, preaching, making hospital calls, interacting with people, casting a vision for the staff. But I have to admit there were some aspects of my calling that I did not enjoy. Administrative responsibilities, fund-raising, responding to criticism and gut-wrenching funerals weren’t much fun. And for me, marital counseling was absolutely deplorable!
Recent surveys suggest as high as 80% of people are totally unhappy with their jobs. They would quit if they could find something else to do that would sustain their lifestyle. My dad worked for forty years on an assembly line at a Zipper factory. He didn’t enjoy his job. He couldn’t wait to retire. He was reared during the Great Depression, and he didn’t work for fulfillment, he worked to provide food for his family.
My initial response is to feel sorry for people who despise their jobs. I think, “How sad to spend a lifetime doing something you don’t enjoy doing. Those people should quit and find another job. They should do something they enjoy – something they are gifted to do.” But sometimes that’s not possible or practical.
The truth is there are very few perfect jobs. Almost every occupation has aspects to it that are tedious and unpleasant. That’s why it’s called work! It’s part of the curse of Adam’s sin. Almost no one is totally happy all the time. It seems to me that it’s often the distasteful part of our job that God most often uses to enhance our integrity and develop the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us.
That irksome patient, that rebellious student, that demanding supervisor, those irritating co-workers, those lazy employees, that irresponsible supplier, that unreasonable critic, even that galling government agent may be heavenly sandpaper that God uses to smooth out the rough edges in our character. He’s polishing and developing us for future service.
I recently made a list of the various jobs I had as a young man before entering the ministry. I recall picking elderberries as a grade-school boy so I would have some money to go to the county fair. I spent time baling hay for our neighbors. My first full-time job was hoeing weeds at a nursery for 80 cents an hour. That was strenuous labor for a fourteen-year-old.
After graduation from High School, I had to pay my own way through college. My freshman year I worked as a member of the campus maintenance crew. (The only time I ever got fired!). One summer I worked at a foundry that made Brake shoes for trains. The following summer I worked at a pickle factory and then as a playground supervisor. While taking classes, I worked nights as a stock-boy for A&P Foods and as a janitor of a church. I tried to sell records and vitamin supplements on the side.
Some of those jobs were difficult and exhausting, but all helped to strengthen my character and teach me a work ethic. I learned where my gifts were and became familiar with what went on in the marketplace. You could say that putting up hay motivated me to go into ministry. I knew I didn’t want to do that the rest of my life!
Working at Albro Pickle gave me staying power. Every time I would get discouraged and think about quitting the ministry, I’d remember the pungent stench of pickle brine and ask, “Do you want to go back to that?” I’d keep preaching!
Working in a foundry gave me an appreciation for Christians who have trouble controlling their language. My first week in the foundry I couldn’t get over how many creative ways the “F” word was used. I was initially appalled. But after two weeks I got used to hearing it. After four weeks I discovered that foul word would occasionally pop into my mind and it took discipline to prevent it from spilling over my lips. That rough environment later made me more patient with church members who struggled with disciplining their speech because of what they heard every day at work.
All jobs, especially tough jobs, help develop our character and prepare us for effectiveness in God’s service. Maybe that’s why so many of God’s servants in the Bible were called when they were working. David and Moses were tending sheep, Amos was picking figs, Gideon was threshing wheat, Elisha was plowing, James and John were fishing, Matthew was manning a tax collector’s booth. Work developed their character and prepared them for their contribution in God’s kingdom.
If you get discouraged about the unfavorable assignments that accompany your job, and you’re always pining for something different, remember that God uses difficult work to deepen your soul. Perhaps God has you exactly where He wants you, and He’s refining you for a significant role in His future plans. Even unpleasant work strengthens our moral fiber if we allow it to.
James 1:2-4 puts it like this: “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
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