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Part 15 in a series on The Work of Our Hands

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards…I bought male and female slaves…I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. —Ecclesiastes 2:4-10

The secular, scaled-down version of Solomon’s lifestyle shows up in the modern bumper sticker:

He who dies with the most toys wins.

And on a newer, post-modern version:

He who dies with the most toys wins, but he is still dead!

For many Christians today, the acquisition of material things and the pursuit of pleasure are the driving forces, the measuring rods for living a successful life.  We have bought into the ancient Greek myth that leisure is good and work is bad.  We are working for the weekend.

At the close of the twentieth century, during the height of rampant materialism, work was seen only as a means to an end. Today, many people are coming to understand the futility expressed by King Solomon:

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Such demoralizing futility is hitting people at an earlier age. Google “quarter-life-crisis” and you will get over one and a half million hits about twenty-somethings who are unsatisfied with the direction of their lives.

These overachievers diligently worked at getting superior grades in high school, so they could get into the right colleges and get the best jobs. Many are filled with feelings of anxiety and failure now that they are in the workforce. They realize that the world of work is not giving them the satisfaction they expected.

One anonymous twenty-something wrote,

You look at your job. It is not even close to what you thought you would be doing, or maybe you are looking for one and realizing that you are going to have to start at the bottom and are scared.

Another bumper sticker seen on a 20-something’s car shares this sense of frustration. It reads, “Commute, Work, Commute, Die.”

We have taken our understanding of work to two extremes.  We have taken work, a good thing that God has given us, and turned it into an idol that we worship in place of God.  From the worship of our jobs we seek approval, comfort and security.

Our sacrifices give our idols their power; they have no power on their own. When we make our jobs an idol we take everything and sacrifice it for the sake of our lifestyle, business, or our definition of success.  Our jobs become a destructive end in themselves. We build our identities—our self-worth and happiness—on something other than God.

The other extreme is seen in those who aren’t really passionate about or interested in their work. They see it only as a means to an end, but a much different end.  These are the people that are only working for a paycheck.  They put in the minimal effort, and see little connection between what they do at work and the rest of their lives.

Neither of these approaches work very well in the long haul. Instead we need to find a more balanced approach that sees the importance of our work to God

Christians needs to know who they are and who they serve. Followers of Christ are called to find their unique life purpose in order to use their particular gifts and abilities for God’s glory.

If we as Christians employ our real gifts through our vocational callings, we should find a rich sense of joy – and even adventure – in knowing that we are moving in God’s will for our lives (Rom 12:1-2) Our work unifies purpose and practice.

As Frederick Buechner wonderfully writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

How do you view work? Is your outlook changing as you discover where your ‘deep gladness’ and the world’s ‘deep hunger’ meet? Leave your comments here

Hugh Whelchel

About Hugh Whelchel

Hugh Whelchel is Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and author of "How Then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work." Hugh has a Master of Arts in Religion and brings over 30 years of diverse business experience to his leadership at IFWE. Read More...

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