Why should we work? Should we work to have enough to live? Should we work to have enough to live comfortably? To live well off? Can we find joy in work? People often say that they are “married to their career”. Others say they can’t wait for 5 PM on a Friday night when they are done with their drudgery and can get on to what they actually want to do. If someone doesn’t have a passion, we think of them as lost. When we meet people, we often ask “what do you do?” Or, in college, “What are you majoring in? What are your plans after college?” As I considered the classic question of what I wanted to do after college, I found myself asking myself these questions: Why should I work, and what should I work for?
I have always heard in church and around that I should work for God, but I know that I can work for God no matter what I do. Beyond finding the topics that interest me and the ones that I am skilled in, how do I work in a way that allows me to be the most faithful daughter of God?
Ecclesiastes has a simple answer. Enjoy your work and/but find joy in God.
Enjoy: To see good
Something that always surprises me in the Bible is the way it calls us to view life. Every passage in the Bible almost seems to add a whole new dimension to what I see daily. Whether it be the lens of godliness, the lens of love, or the lens of the Gospel, the Bible always challenges me to see the world differently than how I saw it before. Ecclesiastes is no different. Overall, it calls readers to view the world through the glasses of “vanity.”
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 5:10
In most sections of Ecclesiastes, everything is given the label of “vain”. Whether it be money or youthfulness or honor, the writer concludes prioritizing any of these things ultimately has no impact on our lives. I wonder if we were to actively realize all the “vain” things we do in life if our lives would look extremely different.
Instead of spending those extra minutes worrying about that spot on our faces that doesn’t look “perfect” (after all, vanity is vain), or instead of spending those extra minutes dreaming about the perfect meal, would we be living differently? Would our lives prioritize different concerns?
When it comes to work, Ecclesiastes strongly suggests yes.
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. – Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
As I read these words, I wondered what it means to “take pleasure” in work. So, I looked in the Bible for other places where the same Hebrew words were used. It turns out that the same phrase is first used all the way back in Genesis 1.
God saw that the light was good – Genesis 1:4
The Hebrew words used for “was good” are the same words used for “take pleasure” in Ecclesiastes. God was working during the creation of the world. He was focused on creating a world that He could see the “good” in. When we work, we must also look to create “goods” that are “good”. This is what will allow us to enjoy our work.
Instead of looking to work as purely a means of making money or a means to find our lives’ purpose, Ecclesiastes suggests that work should be a lot simpler. It should be enjoyable, knowing that we are creating something good. Whether it be knowledge (for those working in education), health (for those working in healthcare), experiences (for those working in service), or anything else (for those in other careers), the final products should be good.
Joy: Only from God
Although the previous section may have challenged many of us who work without enjoying our jobs, those who are career-driven may have felt pretty comfortable. Unfortunately or fortunately, for us who are career-driven, Ecclesiastes does not stop there.
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart – Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 [Emphasis added]
At first glance, the passage above seems purely encouraging. The word for “enjoyment” above is again the same term of finding the good. However, the passage is also challenging. Although we should “see the good” in our work, Ecclesiastes 5:20 reminds us that our lives are short and that we should be living for more than ourselves.
Ultimately, the passage points to the fact that God and only God should be our source of joy. This joy is different from enjoyment. Joy is more than seeing the good in something. It is entering into a state of being.
As one theologian explains:
Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the centre of the self. – Peter Kreeft
Joy is deep-rooted. It transforms our perspective and our life. Work often tries to become the space that we use to find joy. However, work can only be used to create goods that allow us to enjoy our labor. Work cannot give us ultimate joy.
No matter how many “goods” you create, how many hours you work, how successful and famous you become because of your work, you cannot find ultimate satisfaction in the fruit of your hands. When we turn our eyes to God, everything else fades away. Our fruit become background noise in the light of the glory of God. God takes over our minds in giving us joy and transforming us.
Conclusion: Consider your fruit
So, at the end of the day, let us all work to create good products in the world and still find our ultimate joy in God. Let us especially consider the “fruit”, the products that we are creating.
Are we creating products that give us a source of identity? Are we creating products that are second-rate just to get a paycheck? Are we putting work over God? I hope we all can grow and find joy in producing the fruit of our work with our hands that please God and that impact the world for Him.