By Joseph Rhea (Posted on thegospelcoalition.org)
Working a job you love is a wonderful thing. To be sure, all gardens this side of the Fall have thistles and weeds, but doing a job that fits you, that excites you, feels different. It fills you, gives you a sense you’re doing what God meant you to do.
But what do you do when you get stuck in a job you don’t love? When you’re waiting for a better one to come along, feel called to stay in certain work, or aren’t yet qualified for a job you think you might enjoy more? Is it possible to keep getting up day after day and actually have joy in your work?
Scripture promises that we can have joy through any work. Ecclesiastes 2:24 says work is a gift of God, and it is good to “find enjoyment in [it]”—the Hebrew literally reads, “make his soul see the good in [it].” Some jobs will make this joy easy for us; some won’t. But God wills that we make our souls see the good in our work, whatever it may be. We may never become heel-clicking happy about our job, but it is possible for us to have robust joy in it.
Here are five ways to cultivate joy in less-than-ideal jobs:
1. Repent of “ideal jobolatry.”
It’s a gift to be doing work you truly love. But if we dream about our ideal job and start saying, “I will be truly happy when I’m doing ______,” we elevate work to a functional savior and give it the place in our hearts reserved only for Christ.
No job will make you happy in and of itself. Ecclesiastes, an ever-reliable bucket of ice water to the face, tells us, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. . . . This also is vanity” (2:22-3). Watch yourself for the beginnings of “ideal jobolatry” and turn from them, reminding yourself that joy depends entirely and only on Jesus Christ.
2. Fill yourself with Scripture and prayer daily.
Christians ought to be practicing these disciplines anyway, but believers in unpleasant work environments especially need this reminder. Every difficult environment is like a soul-desert—it dries us out, sapping life rather than giving it.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 tells us that the one who makes flesh his strength will have a soul like a parched shrub. By contrast, though she faces heat and drought, the one “whose trust is the Lord” plants her roots in a life-giving stream and does not wither. Psalm 1:1-3 uses a similar image specifically to describe our relationship to God’s Word—feasting on God’s Word enables us to bear arid spiritual climates. Meditating on Scripture—not just reading it, but thoughtfully and prayerfully digesting it into our souls—provides us with soul-nutrition that can help us through tough job situations.
Praying throughout the day connects us to God. Think back over your morning meditations. Remind yourself of the gospel with simple prayers like “Abba, Father/I belong to Thee” and “Jesus, Son of David/Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
3. Invest in the tasks and the relationships of your work.
It’s easy to be tempted to slack in a job you don’t enjoy. But we’re actually commanded to “work heartily” in everything we do, “knowing that from the Lord [we] will receive the inheritance as [our] reward” (Col. 3:23-4). And when we take ownership of a job and strive to do our best in it, we come to enjoy it more. See God as your true boss. Remind yourself that he is the one from whom you hope to be rewarded.
Investing in your work community can also cultivate joy. If you work with Christians, these relationships may come easily. If you work with mainly nonbelievers, give thanks for this natural way to minister to neighbors outside the church. And look for ways to invest redemptively in your work relationships. I’ve worked in offices where most of the water-cooler conversation involved complaining or gossip. Resist the temptation to remain silent and disengage. Challenge yourself to find ways to introduce loving or pleasant conversations into your workplace.
4. Contemplate the goodness of your job.
It’s easy to think of the unpleasant aspects of a job we already dislike. Dwelling on them reinforces our dislike. But most jobs somehow harmonize with God’s redemptive work in creation.
Does your work bring order out of chaos? Then you’re in effect gardening, in line with the command to fill and subdue the earth. Does your job involve correcting errors? Then you’re establishing justice, which is part of God’s character. Even if your work doesn’t resonate with your sense of calling, look for a way in which it does something good and connect that to the goodness of God.
5. Remind yourself that your identity is in Christ, not your job.
We tend to define ourselves by our work. “What do you do?” is one of the first five questions we ask people we meet, and it chafes us to say something like, “I park cars.” We must not esteem ourselves (and others) highly or lowly depending on how we perceive our jobs (and theirs).
Paul wrote to the Philippians, “For [Jesus’] sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (3:8-9). If your job feels beneath you, remind yourself that you belong to God through the sacrificial death of Jesus alone. You have infinite value to God because of Jesus. Find yourself in Christ alone, and you will find joy in any job circumstance.