When we use spiritual gifts in the workplace, it’s not because the gifts aren’t special. It’s not because “everything is spiritual” in some vague but inspiring way. It’s because Jesus’ death and resurrection has made our bodies the special, set-apart, holy place of God’s presence. The special and spiritual now travels with us into our everyday lives and work.
Sometimes, the things we dislike about our jobs are the very things that grow us the most. As the proverb goes, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. Challenge and difficulty are what engage us and call forth our internal resources, stretching us beyond where we’ve been before. In spiritual terms, the person who is willing and able to embrace challenge and pain for the sake of doing what’s right is a courageous person. In a word, that’s how not to quit your job: find the courage you need at work.
Like all virtues, the joy of loving an imperfect job doesn’t happen by accident. It takes work to love your work. It’s easy to feel miserable about the challenges of work. Most people do. Energy and zest and a bright spirit are harder to come by. It takes some creativity to find the joy in the middle of the mundane. But if the result is loving your job, then the effort will pay off—not just for you, but for everyone around you.
We ask questions like, “How can I reduce stress at work?” Or even, “How can I eliminate stress at work?” But as Christians, stress at work can be a starting point for a spiritual journey that we don’t want to miss. It may seem counterintuitive to speak about stress in positive spiritual terms. Didn’t Jesus promise to give us peace and tell us not to be anxious? But a closer look at both Scripture and the science of stress can give us a different perspective. Often, the best way to conquer the enemy of stress is to make it your friend, embracing it as part of God’s design. If we let it, stress at work can sometimes even help bring us closer to Jesus.
God’s mission in the world includes the efforts of his people in every line of work. Even beyond Christians, God is concerned about the outcome of all work endeavors, for good or ill, because of their effect on the world he created and especially on the well-being of people, made in his image. That means God wants to provide wisdom, guidance, and encouragement for people as they plan their projects at work.
A genuine love for God always goes with a love for other people, ready to act in order to meet their needs. A genuine love for one another is also a deep, heartfelt love. These two features of love, readiness to act and heartfelt affection, each resonates with work or play. One of the main ways that we act to meet other people’s needs is through our work, while one of the main ways we express affection and connection is through play.
The landscape of Scripture is populated with saints who faced unmerited deprivations that affected their whole lives, including their work. Joseph was enslaved and then imprisoned on a false accusation. David was on the run for years despite being the rightfully anointed king. Esther survived being held captive in a pagan harem, and found a way to advocate for her people in such circumstances. I may feel the allure of achievement telling us, “If you work hard and do the right thing, you’ll get ahead.” In contrast, Jesus tells me, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV).
Bad news about work situations is par for the course. I shouldn’t be offended by it, as though I deserve better or are somehow above the vicissitudes of life that common mortals face.
It is the joy of Jesus himself that we enter into as we abide in his love. This is the work of the Spirit. It is not a joy that we manufacture; it is a joy that we receive. And, just like Jesus, we enter into it through laying everything down at God’s feet. We die with Christ, and we share in his resurrection life.
Jesus’ teaching is that the kind of heart that reacts to others in anger is a heart that will lead me toward God’s judgment. Anger is a sin that fails to honor the precious people whom God has created. When I routinely directed anger at Katie over money matters, I was failing to see her as the kind of being to whom such anger simply should not be directed. She is too precious for that.
Somehow, my pain had become a place where I could experience God’s love. It was as though I needed the warm-up of paying attention to my emotions more intentionally for a few months before it was even possible for me to experience something like that. As I got to know my emotions for myself, I now could share them with God. I could find God in the sadness.