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Why Work?

work desk

If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you finish your college degree?

If you had enough money that we didn’t have to work, would you? A recent Atlantic Magazine article entitled “Secret Fears of the Super-Rich” highlights an in-depth research study conducted by Boston College that explores the question, “Does great wealth bring fulfillment?” Looking at the lives of multi-millionaires ($25 million or more), the findings reveal what may or may not come as a surprise—deep insecurities, anxieties, loneliness, and fear fill the lives of the very wealthy. Money has not bought fulfillment. And, a life of worklessness may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

One of the most striking sections of the article showcases the painful reaction of millionaires’ heirs when they are told they will not have to work a day in their lives. Here’s what Kenny, counselor of some of these trust-fund children, says,

“One of the saddest phrases I’ve heard,” Kenny says of his time counseling the wealthy, “is when the heir to a fortune is told, ‘Honey, you’re never going to have to work.’” The announcement is often made, Kenny explains, by a rich grandparent to a grandchild—and it rarely sounds as good to the recipient as to the one delivering it.

Not having to work a day in your life! To many of us, this sounds like a dream come true. Or is it? The article goes on to say,

Work is what fills most people’s days, and it provides the context in which they interact with others. A life of worklessness, however financially comfortable, can easily become one of aimlessness, of estrangement from the world. The fact that most people imagine it would be paradise to never have to work does not make the experience any more pleasant in practice.

Is work a blessing or curse? A necessary evil or a good gift? This article—as well as our educational pursuits and career path—should make us question our perception of work. As we polish our resumes and compete for employment offers, we should ask, “why do we work?” Why (deep down) do we want that internship or job?  Is work just something that pays the bills so we can do what we really want to do in life … or is there something more? Maybe we have a bigger and more hopeful view of work right now, but what happens if we don’t like our first job out of college? We need to be mindful of our own perceptions of work as well as the message we get from our culture.

When it comes to work, our culture tends to either demonize it (work is a necessary evil) or idolize it (work is where our worth comes from). As always, the Bible offers a third way where work is redeemed. Here are some important biblical principles when it comes to work:

  • Work—in and of itself—is inherently good. Work exists pre-fall. Adam was called to tend the garden before he and Eve sinned. It’s one of the first commands of the Bible. And, when God creates Adam and Eve in His image, the only thing we know about God up until that point is that He worked, creating the universe! It is a gift to rise and go to work. When we use our talents to make a difference, we image God (and Christ) as we create, design, invent, help, serve, and cultivate.
  • Work is fallen. We know from Genesis 3 that work becomes toil. Like everything else in the good creation, work too is subject to the curse. We know this is true when our employer treats us poorly, when we strive for approval in our jobs, and when we experience frustration in our work. In a fallen world, we will be tempted to reduce our work to what we can gain from it rather that what we can offer to other through it.
  • Work is being redeemed. Through Christ, all things are being made right, including our work. When we work, we love God and love others. All of us are gifted and employed in different fields. Our work reminds us of this beautifully interdependent web. Redeemed work becomes creative service unto others.

When we work, we live into the reality that God designed us for. So, let’s stop idolizing work (drawing strength and identity from it) or demonizing it (seeing it as a necessary evil or a means to and end) but rather enter a third way—where work is worship: an opportunity to love God and love others.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • From your perspective, why work? What are your perceptions of work?
  • How do your perceptions align with a Biblical perspective?
  • Work is created good, work is fallen, and work is being redeemed. In what ways do you see this pattern in your field of study/line of work?
  • What temptations do you need to resist (money, power, approval, security, etc.)?
  • How will you dedicate yourself to being a part of redeeming your field/work?