I remember it well. It was a beautiful late summer afternoon in 1960, and my dad had just returned home from work with a recent issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Opening the magazine he said, "John, take a look at this."
He then pointed to an advertisement showing a photo of a shiny new bicycle. The caption read, "Sell just 10 subscriptions to The Saturday Evening Post and receive this beautiful bicycle!"
My dad then said, "John, this would be a great opportunity; I'm sure you could sell these subscriptions." But he promptly added, "It will take some quick work because it's only six weeks to the deadline."
At age 11, the prospect of owning a brand-new bike instantly captivated me. So the very next day I eagerly began knocking on neighbor's doors in an effort to find subscribers. I quickly learned, however, that earning my bicycle would be harder to accomplish than I had expected—partly because the $10 subscription price was a hefty outlay in 1960, equaling about $70 today.
Nevertheless, during the succeeding days I spent hours canvassing farther and farther away from our neighborhood, knocking on many doors in a search of potential buyers. It was hard work, but each time I signed up a subscriber I felt motivated and energized because I knew I was getting closer to my goal. Nevertheless, my zeal was tempered by the worry that I might not make the deadline!
In fact, as the closing date loomed I was still three subscriptions short. Mercifully, my dad came to my rescue with the remaining subscriptions from relatives and a business acquaintance. We immediately mailed in the 10 names, addresses and payment, and within a month my new bike arrived in a big box on a big truck. As I rode my new bicycle down the driveway for the first time, I realized that all the hard work and anxious concern had paid off handsomely!
From that important experience as a young boy, I found that much satisfaction and personal fulfillment comes from working hard to accomplish a goal. Even so, there were important things I didn't yet understand about work, and it would take several years before I learned them. I'll cover more about that a little later.
Work, no matter how simple or ordinary, in or outside the home, is an important part of life. This is true for everyone, including those who endure physical disabilities such as visual or hearing impairment or who are retired from regular daily employment.
So just what is our attitude toward work? Does our work have purpose and meaning? Is the work we do simply a means of earning a living? Do we find fulfillment in our daily labor? And an even bigger question: Just why is work so important, and for whom are we really working?
The all-important subject of work
The bicycle I worked so hard to obtain with the aid of my dad helped me discover much about myself and what it would take to be successful later in the adult world of employment.
Beginning in those early years, I did all kinds of work. At home, my parents assigned my seven brothers and sisters and me regular daily chores. In addition, I often worked with my dad in various cleaning, painting and mechanical projects. From age 12 to 16 I had a daily paper route.
Throughout high school I held various part-time and summer jobs. And working my way through college, I drove trucks, washed windows, repaired equipment, tarred roofs, painted buildings and laid concrete—along with a number of other jobs.
Thinking back on all those jobs, I realize I learned many key work habits—including punctuality, loyalty, the ability to follow instructions, the capacity to work for long periods without supervision, and many others.
How about you? If you have worked for any length of time, you too have likely acquired many valuable work habits. Our personal work opportunities and performance can indeed teach us much, but God's Word reveals and explains the ultimate purpose for work.
The Scriptures explain that work, along with the values it instills, is a critical ingredient in God's long-range plan of character development for every human being. Our Creator certainly desires that we experience the joy of working and take pleasure in the fruits of our labors, but He also wants us to understand the vital, great purpose of work.
Through the biblical record, let's learn what God has to say on this critical subject.
God's words about work
God Himself is a worker. Jesus Christ said, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working" (John 5:17). And God obtains great satisfaction and enjoyment from working. When He shaped and fashioned this beautiful world for human habitation, He was delighted that His efforts produced exceptional results: "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day" (Genesis 1:31, emphasis added throughout).
God worked six days and rested on the seventh day to reflect on and appreciate His labors, establishing the weekly Sabbath (Genesis 2:1–3). He desires that we follow His example by working hard each week and keeping the Sabbath as He did, so we can rest and be rejuvenated both physically and spiritually (Exodus 20:8-11; Hebrews 4:4, 9-10).
When Jesus walked the earth as a human being, He set a vigorous example of one who works, as we just saw, and who enjoys doing so. In John 4:34 Jesus said, "My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work" (New Living Translation). Christ's work was not a burden to Him, and neither should our work be to us. And it won't be if we approach it properly from a godly perspective.
Fulfillment and satisfaction through work is part of the good life that God desires for everyone. Ecclesiastes 3:13 tells us that "every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God."
God desires that all people prosper, thrive and flourish physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But there is a way to bring this about and a way not to. Jesus explains that there is a petulant thief in our midst who works hard to obscure and impede the only real path to an abundant, meaningful life. Contrasting this thief, Satan the devil, with Himself, Jesus said: "The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness" (John 10:10, NLT).
The results of choosing the wrong way
God wanted the first human beings Adam and Eve and their children to have "life in all its fullness." He gave them the challenge of working to maintain the strikingly beautiful Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15) and to follow the way of living that would guarantee their continuing prosperity and contentment. Regrettably, however, they sinned and rejected God's aspirations for them, bringing on man's work the curse of drudgery and hardship (Genesis 3:17-19).
Most of mankind has followed a similar pattern. By declining to pursue God's ways and His laws, history shows that most of humanity has struggled in sorrow and distress. As a result, many people have found their work unfulfilling and unsatisfactory. A poll by the Gallup organization found that only about half of American workers are satisfied with their jobs.
But why is there so much dissatisfaction? As already mentioned, God imposed a curse on man's labor. Yet this curse is not dependent on God's direct action in many cases. Rather, man's own wrong choices automatically bring their own consequences. And being cut off from God, subject to their own lack of wisdom and to Satan's deceptions, people have made many terrible choices.
Indeed, the systems, methods and practices of this age and society are not of God's formation or design. The devil has cleverly succeeded in deceiving the whole world into following his fraudulent, bankrupt way and rejecting God's ideal path (Revelation 12:9). The apostle Paul called today's troublesome, unhappy period of Satan's influence "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). Is it any wonder then that the attitude some people have toward work is negative, gloomy and dismal?
Thankfully, we don't have to be mired in this bad news. There is also good news!
Working for God
Although we must live amid the societal problems of this world, we can boldly reject the world's often sour attitudes toward work. But how? By working for God! This is one of the critical principles I didn't understand in the early days of my working career. But thankfully I was able to discover it later in life by learning it from God through His Scriptures.
Even the most insignificant job can have great purpose and meaning if we bear in mind for whom we really work! How, then, should we approach everything we do—including our daily work as a student, homemaker, employee, self-employed individual or retiree?
The apostle Paul gave important instructions to Christians who were in bondage as slaves, but the principles apply equally as well to our own particular work environment today. He told them to consider their service to human masters as being to our spiritual Master or Lord—Jesus Christ:
"Slaves, always obey your earthly masters, not only when their eyes are on you, as if you had but to please men, but giving them ungrudging service, in your reverence for the Master. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as if working for the Master and not for men, since you know that it is from the Master that you will receive the inheritance which will be your recompense. You are serving Christ, the Master" (Colossians 3:22-24, Twentieth Century New Testament).
Paul further stated in Colossians 3:23, "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men."
Our work takes on even greater meaning when we realize that we're not doing it merely for a salary or for our own personal fulfillment, but that we're working to honor the great God of the universe! As a result, we can bring an attitude of enthusiasm and cheer to our workplace (Proverbs 15:13).
Having a positive work attitude
If we are truly working for God, what are some ways we can cultivate a healthy, positive attitude in our place of employment? The website Career-Success-For-Newbies.com offers some guidelines:
1. Be a "can do" person. When faced with setbacks on the job, we should not give up but rather work at finding a way to successfully complete our tasks. Instead of saying, "No, this can't be done," we can say, "It looks tough, but let me see what I can do." The effort and determination we demonstrate will pay off regardless of the success of a project. Such an attitude is valuable for both fellow employees and superiors who see and appreciate it.
2. Don't complain. Nothing positive comes from simply complaining about a matter. Instead, it's better to discuss a particular problem with a superior if we feel it's directly affecting our job function or performance. When we do, it leaves the door open for something to be done to correct a negative situation.
3. Work hard. The popular expression "Work smarter, not harder" is misinterpreted by some to mean that we can forego hard work. The real meaning is that our efforts should be put to the best use (compare Ecclesiastes 10:10). We still need to exert effort, always doing the best we can. As Scripture says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
4. Be organized. Being organized means we can be more efficient, which allows our superior to consider giving us better assignments. This is because he or she knows we can complete a task efficiently and on time.
But how can we work for God and be energetic in our labors if we have a super-visor who is difficult to work with or seems insensitive and uncaring? Paul explains what to do: "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully" (1 Peter 2:18-19).
Of course, employees are not slaves, and no one should endure mistreatment endlessly. But it's good to remember that, even though we are working for God as our ultimate employer, there is no perfect human work environment. So when we face difficulties on the job, we should exercise the wisdom found in these words: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).
Indeed, God wants us to recognize our need for His help and to ask Him for it. Considering this, I reflect on the assistance my dad graciously gave me when I was short those three Saturday Evening Post subscriptions. If we are obedient to God, relying on His help while doing what we can, He will take care of the rest.
What if you are unemployed?
But what if you happen to be unemployed? It's no secret that finding employment in today's difficult job market involves using creativity, ingenuity and regular, steady effort. In other words, these are the very same qualities needed to perform soundly once you secure employment. You can use the same biblical principles of diligence, initiative and tenacity by making a job out of finding a job.
Just as you would in any other occupation, you can spend 40 or more hours a week working at securing employment. Putting pressure on yourself to reach as many potential employers as possible each day will be motivational and encouraging in confronting feelings of inadequacy and dejection that sometimes accompany unemployment.
Networking with people who might be able to help you in your job search is also a valuable tool. Reading books and articles on how to search for employment more effectively can boost your job-hunting, resume-preparing and interviewing skills.
Furthermore, you can ask God for His powerful help in finding the right job. As 1 John 3:22 explains, "Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
The ultimate purpose of work
As I mentioned earlier, God desires that we find pleasure even in the simplest of tasks and that we enjoy the fruit of our labors. But He also wants us to understand the ultimate purpose of work.
Just what is that great purpose? As incredible as it may seem, God's people in this age are preparing for working and serving alongside Jesus Christ as kings and priests when He establishes the Kingdom of God on earth (Revelation 2:26; 5:10). Jesus spoke about giving His Spirit-born, faithful followers authority over cities (Luke 19:17, 19).
And in the end, all of mankind will be offered a place in God's Kingdom, which is ultimately His eternal, divine family. Those who accept God's offer will inherit the entire universe, being coheirs with Christ of all things (Romans 8:17, 32). (For much more on this incredible future, be sure to request or download our free booklet What Is Your Destiny?) And we will be engaged in rewarding accomplishment for eternity to come.
But just how we can we be training for such amazing work in God's future government on the earth and ultimately over the entire universe if we have spent our career as a truck driver, homemaker, computer technician or in another profession? Well, perhaps we won't use the specific technical skills we learned in those occupations, but we can certainly apply the positive work habits we developed.
Work habits that we've learned during this physical life, such as punctuality, determination, reliability, patience, organization, thoughtfulness, cooperation and teamwork, will suit us well in the awesome future that awaits us.
God looks very closely at our performance and attitude in whatever work we do now as a critical sign as to how we will carry out our responsibilities for all eternity (Luke 16:10-12).
Little did I know when I worked to earn my new bike at age 11 that I was building vital work habits and character to help me prepare for working and serving in God's future Kingdom for eternity to come. The same is true for you! So let us profoundly appreciate God's great ultimate purpose for work and understand for whom we are really working. To be sure, work is more than just a job!