What do workers gain from their toil?
- Ecclesiastes 3:9
Have you ever stopped to ask this question?
The average working person will spend more than 100,000 hours at work over the course of a lifetime (and “work” is a broader category than “job”). Stay-at-home parents will make thousands of lunches for kids who are going to need to eat again in just a few hours. The gardener throws away a pile of weeds one day, only to find the next weed-generation standing tall a week later.
You can go your entire life and never slow down enough to search for the meaning behind it all. Is it all about the pursuit of happiness? Is it all about duty and responsibility? Is it meaningless? What do we gain from all the hard work that goes into living a life in the beautiful, hard world?
Dan Pink and Patrick Lencioni, in their respective books on work-motivation (Drive and Three Signs of a Miserable Job), write about the importance of seeing that our work has meaning. We need to know that our effort has a bigger purpose. We need to see that we’re making even a small difference in the world. Without meaning, work becomes miserable and we lose our drive.
God knows how we’re wired. He knows we need our work to be meaningful. He designed work to be a blessing to us. From the moment he created humanity, he’s given us good work to do.
That good work, however, has been tainted by our selfishness and greed. Work has become toil. Frustrated and exhausted, our heads droop and our vision blurs. The meaningfulness of our work escapes our attention. Without God’s help, all our work will crumble into meaningless toil.
But God is generous and full of love. He will work in us to restore to us a grander vision for our work. This is part of what happens in us when we start to walk in step with the Spirit. In fact, this is one of the first things that often happens in the hearts of people who are walking in step with the Spirit: they discover mountains of meaning in even the most mundane work.
Take a few moments today to ask God to help you discover the meaningfulness of your work. How are you helping to make the world a better place, even in a small way? Who are you providing for and caring for as you do your work? What difference are you making?