by Ben Escabarte
The Gift of WorkA gift is commonly defined as something given, something we do not earn. On the other hand, work is the effort we exert to accomplish something of value in return for just compensation. While gift is synonymous to effortlessness, work requires effort; and that is why describing work as a gift seemed all too ironic.
As Christians, we are told that we are to work as though we are working for the Lord. For me, it meant that I should always be on top of my game, giving my best at my job and going beyond what is required of me. It meant that I should abide by company rules and policies, that I should serve the interests of the company as well that of my fellow workers, etc. I have endeavored to live by uncompromising ethical standards when it comes to work. All these and more I strive to attain because of the idea that it will ultimately lead me to professional success. I was doing well when I was new at my job, but after a while, the routinary nature of my work got to me that I succumbed to mediocrity. What happened to my so-called uncompromising ethical standards? Well, like any purely human effort, we are hardly ever able to sustain it. Why? Because I have a distorted idea of what success really is all about. We often associate success with people of wealth and power, such as Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, but rarely do we connect it with Jesus. To borrow the words of Bill Heatley, “Was Jesus successful?” I think every Christian worker ought to reflect on this.
Like most of us, I was brought up with the idea that doing well in school would give me a better chance of finding a decent, good-paying job. And so I did my best to get good grades in college, but the reality was, other people were just simply better. Fast forward to graduation and the search for a job that would somehow fit into my “preferred” salary range. But fortuitous events led me to my current job. It isn’t my dream job, but I could say that it is “perfectly adequate” as of the moment.
Inevitably, we associate money with work; after all we work to “earn a living.” It was a payday, and I was walking along with a colleague to the office. I forgot that it was a payday, but my officemate reminded me about it. Since I only had twenty pesos left in my pocket, we went to the ATM to withdraw some. As we went on our way, we ended up talking about how money slips out of our hands so fast that we don’t even have a chance to enjoy the fruits of our labor. There was a moment of silence, and in that moment, I felt God teaching me an important lesson. I realized how ungrateful I am every payday, not because I didn’t have enough money to meet my needs, but because I didn’t have spare money to “enjoy” life in a wordly point of view—eating out with friends, buying things that I sometimes rationalize as needs but are really wants, watching movies, and more. I have always grumbled about such things, although not outwardly evident, but God sees through all the smokescreen of piousness within. And then God told me, “Ben, didn’t I provide for your needs?” That left me dumbfounded! I had failed to understand that my money was meant to meet my needs and not to fuel my wants. When I thought about it, I realized that God had miraculously supported me every day by faithfully providing for my needs even when circumstances were bleak and resources were often scarce. I think this is the reason why most working people, including me, always seek to find a better-paying job—not because we have a problem of inadequacy but because we have an issue of contentment.
It is often said that in Christianity, the physical and spiritual aspect are not two separate things. Every single thing is of spiritual nature; that’s why Paul said, “So whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, we do it all for the glory of God.” Christ is not only Lord over the spiritual aspects of our life but is also the Lord of every aspect of our lives, be it work, finances, relationships, ambitions, or goals in life. He is not only Lord of the important, life-changing decisions we are going to make, but is also Lord of the the ordinary things that we do. He is to be Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. We often fail to invite Christ in the workplace, and that is one of the main reasons our work can be stressful, boring, and tiring. And when work becomes a burden (symptoms include the Monday morning syndrome of laziness), life gets messy. If we fail to understand that work is a gift from God, then we will never ever appreciate it for what He meant it to be, for what it really is.
Bill Heatley discusses all these issues presented above—and many more—in his book, The Gift of Work. If you truly desire to get a better understanding of the purpose of work, this is a book I recommend you read.