Article Apr 16, 2018

When passions don’t pay: Trusting God with your work

A friend sat across from me and said, “I know my job is good work, but I’m just not passionate about it. I know I’m called to this other kind of work, and I’m wondering when God will let me actually do it.” I remembered myself, 10 years earlier, sitting with a mentor and saying the same words to her: Will God ever let me make a living doing what I love instead of this grind?

This grind for me, in that season, was office work, answering phones, typing emails, editing documents, setting up rooms for meetings, making coffee, and spending hours on the phone with customer service reps when our printer was on the blink. It felt meaningless to me, a waste of my degrees (English and Fine Arts), and not at all good. I knew on the surface the work was good, and I believed in the organization for which I worked, but the work itself felt monotonous. I believed the lies that if God really loved me or if I was really a faithful Christian or if someone would just notice my gifts, I wouldn’t be stuck. I blamed God, myself, and others for the reality that my passions didn’t pay.

God’s mercy to me in that season was that my discontent with life actually led me to realize I did not understand the fullness of the gospel. It was the reality that God is a worker that began to unveil my eyes to the gospel.

After leaving my passionless job and the shred of faith I thought I had, I landed in north Texas at a church where one of my first interactions was at a women’s Bible study. My first night there the teacher taught on Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created. ” I’m not sure I heard anything else that night, only that God was Creator, and he created. Something about this concept of him shook me that night. God was the first worker, he created work and called it good, and any gifts I had were only because of and for him. Whether anyone noticed my gifts or passions, I was still imaging him simply because I was created by him. And that was enough.

God is always at work

God, more than any human he ever created, knows what it means to work, create, wait patiently for fruit, to say the same things repeatedly, and to see his work desecrated by others. God knows what it is like to care intensely about something and see it mistreated or misunderstood. Our Creator is not like the old clockmaker, precise with his creation, but stepping away as soon as it works on its own. Our Father is not an idle God, twiddling his thumbs on his throne far away.

Our God is intricately involved in our work because it is primarily his work. He is accomplishing all he said he would accomplish, even in what seems weak or foolish to us. Our Father is never a distant or cruel or punitive manager. Christ is never a disobedient or arrogant servant. The Spirit is always at work within the children of God.

All God does is good, therefore work is good

God designed man to work, tend, keep, and have dominion over the wildness of the garden as a picture of what he was doing with man, beckoning them into fullness of life in him (Gen. 2). Yet, if we’re not attentive to what God is doing, we can begin to believe all work is a post-fall aberration. We begin to believe it diverges from our desire to dwell in a perpetual Sabbath, Eden as we envision it, void of drudgery, toil, and sweat, or anything that doesn’t bring us immediate joy. While it is true that there is an element of hardship to our work that’s born of the fall, it is not true that all work is meaningless unless it is easy, desirable, what we feel called to do, or want to do.

It can be tempting to look at the fruitlessness of our work today—the emails that keep coming, the diapers that need to be changed, the folks who need counseling, the policies that never seem to change—and to think none of this is producing something, but it isn’t true. The goodness of work is not in the production of the work itself or what it accomplishes, but in what it is producing in us and in others (Rom. 5:3-4). We do not work for work’s sake; we work for God. All work is good if it is done for the glory of God, even monotonous, rote, messy work.

God made you to work and called you good

God called man very good in the creation narrative, not because of anything man had accomplished or would accomplish, but because all God created was called good, and man was the chief good of creation. Even as the capstone of creation, though, man was still fallible, and sin entered the world. Therefore, there is an element of our work that is broken, but the essence of our work is still good. It is still—even in seemingly pointless endeavors—participating in the redemptive work of the kingdom of God.

All God does is good, therefore work is good

When we live quiet lives and work with our hands (I Thess. 4:11), we are imaging a beautiful attribute of God, his faithfulness. It is easy to be faithful when what we’re doing is exciting or seen by others, but that is not faithfulness as much as it is attentiveness. Faithfulness is continuing in the work of our hands when there are no accolades or affirmations.

We can begin to believe simply because we’re passionate about something or feel a certain inclination toward it, God means it for us now or in the future, but God’s Word never promises this. Over and over God tells his children to be faithful, work hard, trust him, and empty ourselves. We’re reminded in Scripture of men and women who worked a very long time and never saw what actually was promised to them (Heb. 11).

When we believe a desire for a vocation means we will get to do it all our life, we’ve made the passion for the thing our idol. How much better to trust the work of our hands to the Creator of all, knowing he takes what is a formless void and makes it all beautiful in his time? Our work is good because, when all was still a formless void, God was preparing us for good works (Eph. 2:10).

God gave you your passions and your work for today

What are we to do when that which we’re passionate about doesn’t provide a living wage and isn’t something we get to spend much time doing? Simply put—we can be faithful with what we can do now to hone in on the gifts God has given us, instead of burying them as the unfaithful servant did in Matthew 25. Some of the servants were given more talents, others fewer, but all were given the opportunity to be faithful—even the one with the least. What are some ways God might have you be faithful today with what you have in your hand right now?

There are things we can do to kindle the sparks of joy we find in our God-given passions: host an art night at church, submit a poem to a literary magazine, take family photos for some friends, practice hospitality in our homes, serve our churches in lay ministry, tutor students in biology. Keep your appetite whetted for the beauty you find in your passions, even if they don’t pay. God is your provider, for both your daily bread and for the vocation you desire.

What my mentor said to me, and what I said to my friend that day in the coffee shop, was that God had not called us to anything that wasn’t the best for us today. Our work was good as we did it unto God. Our desire for work we were passionate about was good too, but not if it eclipsed our trust in God’s goodness for each day.

This quote from Martin Luther helps remind me weekly of the same truth, "What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow."

Proverbs 18:16 says, “A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before kings.” Whatever your gifts and passions are, it is God who gave them to you and who designed them to make a way for you. I beg you to trust him with the timing and the way. Until then, continue on in today’s good works which were prepared for you before the foundation of the world.   

This article is from Light Magazine. You can read it for free here