Fighting for Joy at Work

WorkTruth be told, I often struggle to find joy in my work. Even though I really do like my job, it’s not uncommon to find myself waking up on Monday morning and dreading going into the office. So, when I was asked to write an article about finding joy at work, I couldn’t help but see God’s hand of providence at play. Because finding joy in my work is something that I want to focus on more, I’m thankful for the opportunity to crystalize my thinking on the subject based on biblical principles.

To begin with, it’s helpful to be reminded that God created work to be a good thing. As God’s image-bearers, we have the ability to be creative and productive for God’s glory and for our good. However, because we live in a post-Fall world, we sometimes forget that core truth and often incorrectly view work as a necessary evil. Perhaps one reason this happens is that we’ve all experienced the effects of the curse firsthand: our work can often be hard and unproductive.

The specific ways we encounter the effects of the curse on our work can manifest themselves in a variety of different forms. For example, some people would like to be working, but can’t find jobs. Many are in jobs they don’t like and doing work they find unfulfilling. Others are in jobs that they do like, but still have to deal with organizational politics, harsh bosses, and difficult co-workers.

Despite the fact that work has been corrupted by sin and the curse, we must remind ourselves that work is still something that can be used for God’s glory and our good. In fact, it’s something that we can and should find joy in, even if we have to fight for it.

As believers, how can we take our eyes off of the negative aspects of working and return our focus to ways we can glorify God through it? I believe that Scripture provides insight into several ways we can fight for joy in our work:

1. Working As Unto The Lord - When I work to make a name for myself through selfish ambition or if I feel like I’m only working to please my boss, I lose my joy, because I’ve taken my eyes off of the source of all joy: Christ. In Colossians 3:22-24, Paul reminds us who we need to be working for: “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” By realizing that I should ultimately be working for Christ and for the glory of God, I am freed from the fruitless endeavor of pursuing my own glory.

2. Thankfulness - When I’m discontent with my job or where I’m at in my career, that robs me of my joy, because I’m responding to God’s plan for my life with ungratefulness. We’re told in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 to “give thanks in everything” and that obviously includes our work. When I change my perspective to being grateful for both the job that God has given me and the ways that He has provided for me, I can throw off the shackles of discontentment and be free to offer praise to God for His blessings.

3. Diligence - The times where I’m being lazy or not working as hard as I could are moments when I don’t feel joyful, because I’m not fulfilling what God has required me to do. The Preacher tells us in Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” That means that it’s God’s design for us to bring our full selves to our work and to give our best effort every day. We can find joyful satisfaction in our work when we are obedient to that command and approach our work with energy and vigor, especially if we remember that we are ultimately working for Christ.

4. Prayerfulness - When I incorrectly think I’m in full control of the outcome of my work, I forfeit my joy and stress myself out. In Philippians 4:6, Paul tells us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Through prayer, I can acknowledge that God is ultimately in control of the success or failure of my efforts. I can certainly ask for His blessing on my work, but true joy comes from resting in Him regardless of the outcome.

5. Building Relationships - If I’m seeing my co-workers as competition or not looking for opportunities to show the love of Christ to them, I won’t be joyful, because I’m not participating in the mission field that God has called me to in the workplace. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” If I change my focus to realize that God has strategically placed my co-workers in my life, I can be ready to look for opportunities to serve them and create openings to share the gospel.

6. Being Fair - When I try to get ahead by putting others down or don’t deal fairly with my direct reports, I’m not in a position to be joyful, because I’m disobeying Christ’s command to treat others as I would want to be treated (Luke 6:33.) By finding ways to elevate my co-workers through humble service and treating them fairly in every interaction, I can find joy in displaying the love of Christ in everything I do.

7. Having Peace - Since many of us work in the fast-paced environment of Silicon Valley, the temptation to be stressed out seems to be ever-present. When I get anxious about giving a big presentation or about receiving my performance review, I trade in joy for worry by forgetting that God is providentially providing for me (Matt 6:31-34). When I turn my focus to the peace found in trusting in God’s sovereignty and resting in His perfect plan for me, I can reclaim my joy by having peace in even the most difficult circumstances.

8. Finding My Identity in Christ - One of the fastest ways for me to lose my joy is when I find myself too focused on my job title, a promotion, or my affiliation with my company. When I’m finding my identity in anything other than Christ, I can’t be joyful, because I’m forgetting who I really am and I’m creating a false idol. Colossians 3:1-3 says, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” I need to constantly remind myself that Christ bought me with His blood and I belong to Him. I’ve died to the things of the world and my life is in Christ. If I’m finding my identity in my work and turning it into an idol, that’s sin and I need to repent and refocus on my identity in Christ, the ultimate source of joy.

As you can imagine, writing this has been very convicting, as I see how I fall short in many of these areas. However, I’m grateful for both the forgiveness in Christ for the ways I’ve fallen short and the freedom to keep striving to obey through grace. If I can pursue greater obedience in just the areas listed above, that should yield tremendous joy in my life. Please keep me accountable in this pursuit: next time you see me at church, ask me how I’m doing with finding joy at work. Hopefully, extra accountability on Sunday morning will remind me to keep pressing on and fighting for joy on Monday morning.