by Shane Fookes, MA LPC Intern
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, we are in the middle of a collective redefinition of what it means to work because of the Coronavirus pandemic. While this may be challenging, we can find hope and help from the Bible. The Bible invites us to see work as a primary means through which God grows and matures us. In particular, we can see a four-fold progression for maturing in what motivates our work.
Value Exchange: Paycheck? Purpose?
When it comes to work, we generally start out with a “paycheck-driven” motivation. At this basic level, work is a value exchange – we work to get something in return. This often means earning money, but not always. Since work is part of God’s design for a good life, we can find joy and satisfaction when we work to meet our basic needs. However, if a paycheck motivation is all you have, at some point you will come face-to-face with futility (Ecclesiastes 2:18). We need more from work than merely earning something in return.
Thankfully there’s more available. As we mature, we discover a second motivation for work, a “purpose-driven” motivation. Each one of us reflects something of God because we are made in His image (Genesis 1:27). What you do flows out of who you are, not the other way around. Of course, that means you need to know who you are so that you can know what you’re created to do! One way to understand this is through the acronym SHAPE, which stands for Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences. You can discover a sense of purpose by exploring how you are crafted in each of these areas.
Finding your unique design for work is very important. Yet, it is still not sufficient motivation for work. If work is simply a self-discovery project, you’ll remain self-absorbed and operate as if the world around you exists for you. You continue to mature in your work when you develop a “philanthropy-driven” motivation (Ephesians 4:28). In this way, you work so you can give. You give both what you produce through your work and what you earn with your work. We all come into this world with a ‘take’ mentality because we’re hardwired by sin to make ourselves the center of our story. When self is the center of the story, consuming is our primary focus and others exist to satisfy our needs. But God’s story centers on working and giving. That’s who God is and what God does. And that’s what we do when we become like him.
This motivation for work undergirds every human institution. For example, marriages and families require philanthropy-driven motivation because they involve a lot of work. Couples and families grind to a halt when they operate with a value-exchange motivation which sounds something like: “You do your part and I’ll do mine. If you don’t give me what I expect in our relationship, I’m out of here.” A value-exchange approach to relationships doesn’t work very long because it provokes comparison and competition rather than generosity. Marriages and families also don’t function well with a purpose-driven motivation because they require us to do many things we don’t feel created to do, like changing diapers and doing the dishes.
As wonderful as it is to have a philanthropy-driven motivation for work, it still isn’t enough. It isn’t fully sufficient because it doesn’t accomplish the central reason for our existence on earth. This brings us to the fourth and final motivation for work: a “praise-driven” motivation (Ephesians 6:7-8). With this motivation, your work becomes worship and your workplace holy ground.
If this sounds odd to your ears that probably means you’ve bought into a dominant lie of our culture. This lie says that life can be divided into categories of sacred and secular. It’s like we have two buckets in which we put different aspects of life: a sacred or religious bucket and a secular bucket. We then put the activities that we consider ‘holy’ in the sacred or religious bucket; things like Bible reading and Sunday morning worship. We put everything else we do, including our work, in the secular bucket. We do this with places as well. The church building goes in the sacred bucket; our workplace goes in the secular bucket. And so on.
The Sacred Place of Purpose
But we see a fundamentally different understanding in the Bible. Rather than activities, events, or places being sacred, people are sacred. What makes an event or activity or place sacred is not the thing itself but the people present in it. A thing or a place is holy when God’s people do what they do for his glory and fame.
Why settle for working merely to gain attention, collect power, make money, or prove yourself when God invites you to grow and mature through your work? Wouldn’t that be a far better story to live?
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