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

April 16, 2018

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

Lore Ferguson Wilbert

Lore Ferguson Wilbert is a writer, thinker, and learner. She blogs at sayable.net. She and her husband Nathan live in Flower Mound, Texas. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24