A few years ago I attended a training with fellow Social Workers. At the time, I was really struggling to find meaning in my work. During this training, one of the speakers asked why we, as Social Workers, do what we do. The general idea that arose was that we work for our clients, so any of the difficulties we encounter are worth it because of how our work helps them. I clung to this idea, believing that it would give my work meaning, and refresh my resolve to do my work well. Unfortunately, any feelings of refreshment that I had during that training were short lived. While I had (temporarily) shifted my focus from myself, I still hadn’t shifted it to the right place: Christ. My goal for my work should not be to glorify myself, it should be in serving others, but that should not be my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal should be glorifying God through my work, and allowing Him to place meaning on it.
We see this idea in Genesis chapter 2:15, which says, “15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”. God placed Adam in the garden to work it. Adam didn’t come up with this idea on his own. He was directed by God, and that made his work good. Productive work, directed by God, is part of God’s good purpose for His creation, but we distort it with our sin nature. We try to place our own meaning onto our work, and that causes frustration and hopelessness. When our focus is trying to glorify ourselves, or even helping others, it is misplaced, and it becomes meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
It appears that the author of Ecclesiates was struggling to find meaning in his work when he penned the first eleven verses of the book. He writes in verse two, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”, and in the next verse asks, “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” This points us to the truth that everything is meaningless, if it is motivated by our sin nature, and is outside the glorification of God. The Apostle Paul writes about this in Colossians 3:23-24. He says, “23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Do you feel that the work you’re doing is meaningless? Do you feel like all of life is a chasing after the wind? Perhaps you have been attempting to place meaning on your life and work on your own, like we all do at times.
How can we “work heartily, as for the Lord”, as Paul says? We can first acknowledge that God is the author of meaning; we are not. Then we can ask Him to direct our work and show us how to work as unto Him through the work of the Holy Spirit, and trust that He will do it.