Why Work? Part 1: The Problem

[Part 1 of an adaption of the “We are at Work” sermon at The District Church on May 17, 2015.]

A new report says that more than half of Americans are unhappy at their jobs. That’s a problem.

Another problem is that when we think about faith and work, I think there’s a lack of understanding and integration. All of us experience these things to a greater or lesser degree, for a variety of reasons: because we’re finite people and we don’t know what we need to know, because we’re fallen people and we don’t always do what we were made to do, because we inhabit a broken world and things are not as they should be.

The reason why this lack of understanding and integration is a problem is that work is probably where most of us spend most of our time. There are 168 hours in a week. If we spend 40, 60, 80 hours a week at work—and I’m not saying all of that is healthy, but that’s what we do—that’s anywhere from a quarter to a half of all of our hours, and as a proportion of the hours we’re awake, those figures only go up.

Work is probably where we spend most of our time, which means it’s the place where we have the most influence and opportunity as Christians—as follower of Christ who help others follow Christ.

And so here’s the problem: if we don’t allow God to work through us in the places where we work, the places where we spend most of our time, whether because of a lack of understanding or integration, we miss out on not only what God has for us in those places but also what God has for those around us in those places.

Some people experience a lack of understanding; they don’t understand what faith has to do with their work. Functionally, this can lead to two extremes: either feeling the need to mention Jesus in everything you do for fear that if you don’t, it doesn’t count as acceptable to God; or siloing your spirituality into a couple hours every Sunday—and then going into the week as if God wasn’t even real.

Maybe work—rather than God—is the center of your life; maybe work—rather than God—forms the core of your identity. But God says that who you are—and who you are becoming—is far more important than what you do. We’ve been pounding this point home over the last few months for the very reason that it’s the opposite of what you hear in our culture, so let me say it again: who you are—and who you are becoming—is far more important than what you do.

Then there’s the struggle of integration: we may know that if Jesus is the Lord of all of our life, he should be Lord in all of our life, including our work; but we may struggle with how to integrate our spirituality into our work or our work into our spirituality, maybe because we find ourselves in a job whose purpose we’re not quite sure of or we’re working for an organization or company or government that doesn’t explicitly have God at the center—or even in the picture.

Fifteen years ago, I started a law degree—partly because it seemed like a practical thing to do, and partly because—to be really honest and vulnerable with you—the 90s TV show Ally McBeal made the lawyer’s life seem really fun … yeah, that was part of my discernment process. At the time, I was also drifting from my faith, not really rejecting God but definitely not diving into anything God had for me. I didn’t really have the will or desire to bring faith into my life, let alone into what I would end up doing. And as I pursued my law degree, I realized that I didn’t want to work 80 hours a week for anything; see, I had no overarching framework or structure for my life, no understanding of the importance of God in my life nor really any sense of what God might be calling me to.

My problem was that I didn’t know the story of God.

Read Part 2 here.

Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

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