“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24, NKJV).
Often, when we think about work, we tell ourselves that if only we could find the right job, career path, or passion project, then life would be so much easier. And as a society we perpetuate the false truism that if we find the right line of work, or the perfect job, we’ll never work a day in our lives. But this isn’t true. Life requires hard work, and that’s not a bad thing.
Millennials and Gen Z adults, who are quickly becoming a significant portion of the workforce, have generational ideals that don’t always align with the reality and challenges of today’s workplace. In fact, Purdue University built an infographic detailing some of these different ideals. For example, Millenials and Gen Z adults prefer work that allows for flexible scheduling, a premium placed on work-life balance, a fun work environment, and the ability to have an immediate impact. In and of themselves these ideals aren’t wrong, nor should they be discarded; however, the reality is that these young adults will face a work environment very different from these ideals.
It is our responsibility as leaders, mentors, coaches, pastors, teachers, professionals, and parents to ensure our young adults entering the workforce have realistic expectations. Perpetuating the myth that if you find the right job, you’ll never work a day in your life will only plant seeds of doubt and discord in the minds of young adults. This will bear thoughts of an idealized, fictional world where every day of their professional lives must be easy or fun. Not only is this untrue, but it also perpetuates false expectations and could potentially lead to lifelong discontent. Instead, we need to teach our young adults that life requires work, hard work at that.
God’s original plan for work was evident in Eden, when He placed Adam as the sole caretaker of the garden (Genesis 2:8, 15). Adam’s work was a divine calling, a special responsibility that was his own. It’s important to note that this was not Adam’s own decision, rather God chose Adam’s vocation. Adam had to accept God’s will in his life. We would all do well to remember this fact, especially when faced with a job or task that we don’t particularly care for, and remember that the Lord alone assigns our life’s work.
In the New Testament we see Paul’s example of hard work. Despite being in the midst of establishing his ministry he worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3), perhaps to make ends meet, as we would say nowadays. Furthermore, Paul exhorts Christians to work and never be a burden on others in 2 Thessalonians 3:8. And earlier in the New Testament, in the book of Luke, Jesus preached that “the laborer is worthy of his wages,” further reinforcing the idea that work is valuable and deserves remuneration (Luke 10:7, NKJV).
We must continue to reinforce the premise that the Bible calls us to work hard. Laziness or slothfulness is to be decried as our enemy. This means that even if you love what you do, you must still work hard with every ounce of your being. Proverbs has multiple examples of what industriousness and laziness look like. Proverbs 12:27 teaches us that diligence is valuable possession, i.e. we must be diligent and hard working with all of our tasks, regardless of our opinion of the work. Proverbs 15:18 teaches us that the work of a lazy man is like a hedge of thorns, something that pricks and cuts at our flesh, an uncomfortable image; however, the diligent worker is like a highway, a smooth, easily accessible and traversable path.
Ben Witherington III, a biblical scholar on work, summed up the impetus of the examples from Proverbs above in this way: “the Bible’s critique of laziness and slothfulness is that it does not merely assume that hard work is the norm. It assumes hard work is a good thing, a way to provide for one’s family and one’s future.”
It’s also important to remind ourselves, as Christians, that sometimes our life’s work may result in difficult times, lean years, or outright persecution. This is what Christ preached in Matthew 5:10, that we would face persecution. This occurs at work because our identity as Christians is inextricable from our work lives. As Christians we don’t turn on and off our work lives and separate them from our faith; instead, our faith drives our actions at work (Colossians 3:23-24).
We don’t turn on and off our work lives and separate them from our faith; instead, our faith drives our actions at work.
But this thought of persecution, of difficult times, can bind us together as believers in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). We face the challenges of this world together as a community.
We would do well to remind ourselves and our young adults that this is a truth we will all face: challenges in the workplace. This countermands the thought that you’ll never work a day in your life if you find the right job. Regardless of work or job we are fighting against the world and its perceptions of right and wrong. However, as believers we have the hope that comes through our faith in Christ. This faith leads to the ability to face our trials and tribulations with the knowledge that it will build perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:1-5).
This lesson teaches us that life will bring many struggles that we must overcome, but through it we will grow and learn as Christians. This creates a character of hope and peace that cannot be destroyed by the world. What a wonderful and practical lesson for us to cling to—that our faith will bring peace in the midst of tribulation. This is what we must remember in the workplace as we struggle with long hours, bad leadership, toxic environments, etc.
Ultimately, we must teach and reinforce a biblical understanding of work and avoid the world’s glossy version of what life should be. As Christians we understand that life may be difficult, but we conversely live with the peace and hope that is unmatched by anyone outside of our faith. Through this we find joy in work and what we accomplish throughout our lives, knowing that we must work hard, diligently, and to the Lord. Only then will we have true peace in our vocation.