Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord and not for people. Colossians 3:23 (CEB)
I have grown up and grown old with Madonna, and I have always been fascinated by her ability to reinvent herself in world that, as a whole, is incredibly resistant to change. I recently ran across a quote from an interview she did with Vanity Fair many moons ago, and Madonna said, “This is what my music is about…every time I accomplish something great, I feel like a special human being, but after a little while, I feel mediocre and uninteresting again, and I find I have to get past this again and again. My drive in life is from the horrible fear of being mediocre, and I have to prove to myself and to others that I am somebody.”
Madonna’s work is not just about work; it’s about her. It’s about self-promotion, self-provision, self-fulfillment or self-justification.
And it makes me sad for her. She is looking for something that she will never find—at least not in any kind of permanent sense. Because she is leaning to her own efforts to give her something only God can provide. The knowledge that we are special and unique and precious, not because of what we do but because of Whose we are.
It is a mistake that many of us are making at increasingly alarming rates. We look to our work—be it as a student, a parent, a volunteer, a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker—to give ourselves an identity and to justify our existence. And because what we do, what we achieve, what position we hold will never be enough in itself to bring meaning to our lives, we can never get to the place we need to be. We over work. We are stressed. We are anxious. We are afraid.
And on the flip side, if our work means nothing, if it is just a means to an end, just a paycheck, just a way of paying the bills, then there is no meaning and no joy.
You would think you could look to Jesus for an answer here…except for the fact that there is no Biblical record of Jesus ever actually holding down a job. Seriously. We call him a carpenter, but there is no verse about Jesus building a house or a barn or even a hut. There’s certainly no record of him taking bids for jobs or building a house on spec.
He was a teacher and a doctor. He was a storyteller and a weather predictor. He was a food distributor and a litigator. And some claim he was a bellhop because he was always taking people’s baggage. Work for Jesus was indeed a gracious expression of creative energy in service to others.
That’s the work wisdom we can take from Jesus. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart in service to the Lord. We can continue to be teachers and nurses and lawyers and social workers and ditch diggers and builders with the realization that our work has value, not because it contributes to our own wellbeing—but because we work for the wellbeing of others. Whether it’s making the streets safer, the bathrooms cleaner, the students smarter or the day better.
While we all have to pay the rent, put food on the table and keep our kids in clothes, we should never lose sight of the fact of Whose we are. If we do what we do to glorify God rather than to impress our neighbors, please our parents or boost our own egos, we stay on track to make a life and not just a living.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Doubting Believer is a progressive and inclusive community of Christians. Follow us on Facebook, sign up for emails or learn more about our member group.