When Work Feels Hard: 4 Things To Remember

by | Oct 22, 2018


It’s hitting 6 pm and you’re avidly counting down the minutes. You make sure you use the bathroom and say your goodbyes on company time. As the hand hits the final minute, you’re on your sprinting block and prepare to exit the office. For many of us, we see work as drudgery or something we have to get through to pay the bills.

We can’t shake off thinking about work even when we’re finished. We think of leaving our jobs or if we are blessed to enjoy work, we carry this unwanted nagging ache that we should be further ahead in the game. We see ourselves as small cogs in a big wheel and desire to make a bigger difference elsewhere. If you feel any of these things as I have at some point in my working life. Here are 4 things I think will help you to know.

1) The Beauty Of Work

This may come as a surprise but God created work as part of paradise when he formed work in the Garden of Eden. The true essence of work is reorganising chaos to bring value. And God demonstrated this when out of nothing he created the sky and earth and filled with animals and nature (Genesis 2:4-7).

Using the same 7-day work cycle we Brits are accustomed to today. God “finished from all the work he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:2) on the 7th day.  He was able to look back at his rich masterpiece and take extreme satisfaction from it for “God saw all that he has made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

God initiated this pattern of work and gave us humans the special tasks of continuing this.  “God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).  Each of us is called to a “garden” or a place of work when we take the resources from the ground and turn them into something valuable and useful for others. Collectively when all our all our works come together, we advance human societies and produce living communities that we can shape and influence.

Could God have easily set up societies himself? Yes, but God understood the sense of fulfilment we humans gain when we’re enlisted into service. This sets us apart from the animal kingdom. As humans, there is something intrinsic in our DNA that flourishes when we feel needed. When we see our vision coming to pass and our efforts being rewarded. That’s the reason why God gave us humans “dominion to subdue and fill the earth”. Being made in His image, he wants us to share in the same delight he takes when he works to create order out of chaos.

2) Dysfunctions At Work

People move to vibrant and industrious cities like London to work. We are home to some of the largest companies in the world. People will move here fuelled with drive and ambition. When the human heart deviates from God’s intention for work. The human heart shifts it’s attention inwardly and thinks “how can I make myself look better than my neighbour?”.

If you’re watching the BBC Apprentice then you will see the manifestation of the human heart clearly on display. Competitiveness, control, selfishness, gossip ferments during the tasks and erupts in the boardroom as Alan Sugar ejects a contestant with the departing words “Your Fired!”

Why has the goodness and joy of work become corrupted?  Part of the fall of man meant our gardens bore more than just “good fruit from our labour”. It became fertile to bad crop and infested thorns and thistles grew alongside it. Our workplace and societies at large can become a battleground as people duel to “make a name for themselves”. 

The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:2-4) is the perfect illustration of the human heart’s propensity to want to elevate itself and “reach the heavens”. The people’s plan was motivated by a self-glorification as they sought to elevate their statuses “to the heavens”.  In other words, they wanted to take the place of God and be worshipped.

God wisely frustrates the people’s plans to “making a name for ourselves” by confusing their languages and turning up the conflict dial. That’s why sin in workplaces leads to high levels of social dysfunctionality and difficult relationships are cited as the main reason why people leave their jobs.

3) Unfulfilled Expectations.

It wasn’t unusual for our parents or grandparents to stay in one workplace for more than 20 years, however, it’s commonplace today for millennials to run from job to job every year with unmet job fulfilment.  Within 6 months of the next job, we feel exactly the same way. Our brains have been accustomed to the dopamine hits from our instant likes on social media and we’ve grown up in a culture where we’re sold the mantra that we’re destined to be great and we can’t settle for mediocrity. Our brains have been falsely set up to believe that if we are not “winning” then we are not making enough of an impact.

When we face resistance to our aspirations being realised and we don’t feel satisfied by our labour, we jump ship believing we can make a difference elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with wanting to find a role that fits in with our God-given talents and abilities but when we’re lacking in job satisfaction then we fail to realise one thing. Sin had affected work and it was now seen as “toil” (Genesis: 3:17). This means that work often bears little fruit and sometimes becomes futile as setbacks come in all forms.

Sometimes we’re not as productive as we’d like because we lack the ability, or if we are in the arts – we feel stuck in small jobs that don’t display our full potential. If we are in law enforcement, we see wasteful cycles of disorderly behaviour on the streets. This doesn’t mean we’re in the wrong place, frustration has become a necessary part of even the best jobs and we accept that because of the fall of man.

4) When Work Lacks Purpose

We can often thump along with daily work tasks with a clear view of what and how things should be done. Yet barely lift our head above the micro details of this.  As Simon Sinek puts is in this Ted Talk, we need to be connected to a bigger “Why?”. “We need something that will fuel our outward tasks”.

Sinek explains that the most innovative companies understood not only what and how but also “Why?”. They understood the purpose behind their behaviour. Tech giant, Apple’s goal is not only to make great products and more profit. But they communicate this inspiring vision; “We challenge the status quo and happen to make great products”. Sinek argues that deep practical purposes like “To be the first to bring the product to market”…”To give others total control of their TV sets” can set employees aflame with passion.

Sinek is accurate is his understanding of what sets Apple apart from other computer companies.  Yet our thirst for “progress” through products of innovation still feels lacking. Being made in the image of God, we still sense a deeper connection that doesn’t just tie our “Whys” back to the material world (albeit a better material world with better TVs). We can develop mastery in our profession but often live with the tension that one day it will amount to nothing.

Even Apple’s boss Steve Jobs was confronted with this reality during his battle with cancer;

“It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.”

Jobs personal intuition left him wanting of a transcendent experience that could no longer be located in the material world. Life without a transcended God can feel that way, in Ecclesiastes 2:17 the writer gives us an honest description of work “So I hated life because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it meaningless, a chasing after the wind”.

As Christians, we gain satisfaction from applying our talents to bring value to others. But we have a central understanding of the limited hope to be found in the material world. This side of heaven, we have far more visions and ambitions than we have time, abilities and resources to realise them. We are not the perfect version of us and we see tiny steps in bringing our vision to fruition. We can never gain full fulfilment out of work on earth because we understand the world has been subject to futility (Romans 8:20) and creation waits for something better and perfect.

A Deeper Why?

In our work-obsessed culture, it easy to get carried away with the tide of restlessness from our unfinished tasks. When we awake we already feel like we are behind, when we go to sleep we still feel lacking.

As Christians, we have true rest for our souls because we recognise the greatest work of all works has been finished. God’s augmented a plan of salvation for mankind which was finally completed through Jesus’s magnificent work on the cross. When we take full rest in that then we can begin to unshackle ourselves to the world’s idea that you can only rest once you have proven yourself and gain your status in the world.

Jesus finished work on the cross liberates us from the enslavement of all the world’s dictates. Assurance in the gospel story means trusting God has taken care of the most important thing. When we take delight in that, we draw from a spiritual and abundant well that just keeps giving. By connecting everything to the deeper “Why? it will outlive the material world and reinvigorate us. Providing the renewed source and passion we need for all our work under the sun. 

Written by Ann Ajet

Ann Ajet is a lead writer at Bread and is based in London.  She covers real-life issues in the Christian walk. When she’s not writing, she’s exploring street food markets with her husband and daughter.



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