By David Hegg
While everyone wants to engage in an employment situation that is satisfying, noble, and even fun, the sad truth is that most end up on jobs that are just plain work. Or at least that is what we’ve been led to believe by the change in our national ethos over the past generation.
The question is this: Do you view your job primarily as a means of gaining income? Or, do you see it as a privilege to serve your community? In other words, what is the foundation of your ethic of work?
In the biblical book of Genesis we find that God himself was the first worker. The creation account states that he worked for six days, and then rested on the seventh. Further, God is said to be the first employer. He placed the first man – Adam – into the garden and commanded him to tend and work it. Work was God’s way of giving man something meaningful and valuable to do. It was also the very first way that man could mirror God. Work, from the beginning then, was both a noble service, and an act of worship.
Historically, work has played an enormous part in our self-esteem, especially in the West. Often the first question asked upon meeting a new acquaintance is “so, what do you do?” What we do has become a huge part of who we are. Ask someone who has been unemployed for a long time, and they’ll tell you that they often start to doubt their value, and even their continuing worth to family and society.
And therein lies the great problem we face today. We attach great personal merit to what we do, even as work is increasingly being seen as a necessary evil in the pursuit of money. There is an increasing sense of cognitive dissonance in this. As the nobility of work is morphing into a merely utilitarian concept, so too is the perception we have of our worth as humans, and our value to the world around us. When the reason for work is reduced to a paycheck we soon find that the hours and energy we spend working are unfulfilling, even drudgery.
But it hasn’t always been that way, and it needn’t be so today. What is needed is a recovery of a work ethic where the work itself is seen as honorable, regardless of the pay or prestige. What some refer to as the Puritan work ethic recognized every kind of work as both valuable to society, and fulfilling to the worker, if understood as a privilege granted by both society and God. And so, the cobbler, instead of thinking primarily of profit, determined to make the best shoes possible, for in this he found great satisfaction, and his customers were given great value. The same could be said for every type of work and industry.
Imagine if, today, craftsmanship once again overtook profit margin as the driving force in manufacturing. And what would be the effect if hard work and dedication again became the primary characteristics of our work force? Of course, these are not entirely lacking today, which accounts for those companies and products consistently preferred by consumers.
I, for one, love work because what I get to do not only brings me great personal satisfaction but also provides benefit to those in my sphere of influence. For those reasons, it isn’t really work. As someone has said, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I’d like to change that slightly. “See work as a privilege, and you’ll love working every day of your life.”
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.