As a pastor, I’ve had countless instances of the following situation: someone comes up to me at some point in his or her Christian life, usually during a particularly vibrant season. It’s clear that the person loves Jesus and wants to honor him through his or her work, saying, “Ed, I’m praying about going into full-time vocational ministry. I’m trying to discern if God wants me to become a pastor/minister/missionary.”
It seems to be completely normal in church. People who think this way also typically think that if they really love the Lord, they need to serve him full-time, which is true—we do need to serve God full-time.
But constantly serving God does not always mean going into ministry. Right now, I want you to think of a person in your life who is a consistent, faithful follower of Christ. Although you may be thinking of your pastor or a leader in your church, I’d bet that many of the people who come to mind have a job outside of ministry.
One issue today that often leads us to separate glorifying God from our work is that many people see work as a way to make money. The bigger purpose behind a career—glorifying God—is easily lost in the busyness of paying bills and providing for our families. Work is almost transactional now: we do our assigned tasks, we get paid, we repeat the cycle. It has become much more difficult to keep God at the forefront of work.
Another issue is that people today generally think of work as being hard. They typically see it this way because of Genesis, when humans are assigned by God to “toil the land” after the Fall (Gen. 3:17). I think it’s important for us to recognize that work is actually part of life before the Fall. In Genesis 2, God puts Adam in Eden for the sole purpose of caring for the land. Work is made more difficult because of the Fall, yes, but it is not a result of the Fall.
Since the beginning, part of our role as humans has been to work. It’s a reason for our being. And because it’s such a big part of who we are, it’s usually a topic that comes up in churches from time to time. Conversations about work usually lead to conversations about vocation, a word that comes from the word call. I think it’s useful to apply it to whatever job you perform. For example, I have a sense of calling to ministry and writing, while a teacher feels a sense of calling towards educating others.
Martin Luther and countless other theologians (and just regular people of God) have been studying vocation for centuries. Luther especially spent a lot of time talking about what it means to be human and answer the call God places on your life. Specifically, he studied and wrote about how we can be our best for the glory of God in whatever role we are called towards.
One of the things that he emphasized was the idea that as humans work, God works through humans. For example, every material thing that we are blessed with, whether it’s a house or clothes or a car, is made by a person. Luther calls these people “God in disguise.” He says that God uses people to create goods that can be used by God. Everything that humans accomplish is really an accomplishment for God, because he works through our work.
Knowing that God works through our work means that we should be taking a different approach to our jobs. As I mentioned earlier, the problem today is that we approach work with the wrong mindset. We get stuck in the belief that work is for money, alone.
Christians sometimes believe that the purpose of work is to make money, give a percentage of that money to the church, then come to the church on weekends to worship and potentially serve. I think we need to flip the switch and take a new approach to work.
Yes, donating money and serving others is important, and it is a blessing to be financially stable enough to give to others. But our ability to financially give back to our church is not our entire platform. Our platform is our entire life. Because work is such a crucial part of our lives, we need to see it as a platform for Christ’s glorification.
In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average person spent eight hours working every day. It would be a mistake to spend those eight hours focused solely on making money and crossing tasks off the to-do list. That third of our lives needs to glorify God, just like the other two thirds does.
The main point here is that we can glorify God through our work by using our jobs as places to live out our purpose. Today, I want to challenge you to change your approach to work. In your interactions with coworkers and in your tasks, make it a goal to be mindful of the ways you are glorifying God through your work.
Ed Stetzerholds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.