Exposing the Empty Promises of Work
Scripture is very clear; men were created to work. Work provides direction and allows us to use our talents and abilities to express ourselves and impact the world. From day one in Eden to day one hundred million in eternity, there has been and always will be work for us to do as image-bearers of God and co-creators with Him. Ultimately, to be made in the image of God is to be made in the image of a worker.
God has positioned each of us in the world and commanded us, as He did Adam, to "rule over and subdue the earth." The creator of the universe has made us the steward of our own small piece of His kingdom and then charged us as men with the responsibility of not only preserving but prospering it. However, the reality is that we are fallen people living in a fallen world. Our sin has warped our attitude toward work. We struggle to see it as anything but a necessary evil, and the redemptive purpose behind our work is buried underneath the empty promises of wealth, power, and recognition. Work becomes something we do to provide for the parts of life we enjoy, to gain the approval of others, or to feel in control. We are no longer motivated by God's idea of work but by whether or not our job meets our deepest needs. In essence, we have elevated work to a place it was never intended to be while simultaneously stripping it of all of its deeper, God-given meaning. The irony is astounding.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, "Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise." For most men, work is this thing Lewis speaks of, a thing that always over-promises and under-delivers.
These three promises of work mentioned above—the promises of wealth, power, and recognition—are not enough to satisfy, yet they dominate the marketplace. They are the motivations that wake us up in the morning, drive us during the day, and always leave us unfulfilled as we lay our heads down at night. Yet, we continue to chase them, hoping tomorrow will be different, expecting different results from a recipe with all of the same ingredients. How do we get out of this "cul-de-sac of stupidity", as one pastor has called it? How do we free ourselves from this search for meaning?
We must expose these empty promises for what they are...LIES.
WealthThe lie of wealth tells us that if we just made more money, then we would be fulfilled. If we just made more money, we could be more comfortable at home, take better vacations, save more for retirement, retire earlier, etc. It tells us that our salary defines our value and beckons us to do whatever is necessary to increase it.
This lie runs rampant in our capitalist society where the sole goal of most men is to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible so they can retire as soon as possible, leading to over-worked men who spend the best hours of their days in the best years of their lives trying to increase the bottom-line, instead of pouring time and resources into those they love and the world around them. It is a lie that may build a bank account but will never build a legacy.
We must see the incredible impact that a life invested can have. As I have heard it said, "You'll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul." You cannot take it with you. There will come a day where we all meet death, the great equalizer, and, in that day, it will not matter how big our account balance is but how well we stewarded what was entrusted to us for the glory of God and the benefit of others.
Many men are also prone to believe the lie of power. The lie of power offers true fulfillment when we are in control. These men take delight in the submission of others to their command. They say things like, "it's my way or the highway", or "If you don't like it, you can leave." They have no regard for the well-being of others; instead, they relish the opportunity to put someone in their place and show someone who is boss. This lust for power will eventually create a vicious tyrant who reigns supreme and whose very presence warns others that they dare not defy him. His wife cringes under his leadership, his children resent him, and his employees ask for a transfer.
Yet, the irony of it all is that any power we as humans may have is simply an illusion. There is not one of us who at any moment could not be stripped of everything for which we have so aggressively fought. It takes only a pebble thrown down from on high to topple the walls of our own weak, little kingdoms we try so desperately to defend.
Lastly, we as men may be motivated by recognition. The lie of recognition tells us that fulfillment at work will come when people recognize our accomplishments. Once people see how well we do our job or how much work we do, then we will be appreciated. The lie of recognition tells us to ensure that we are visible, to elevate ourselves above others and to look out for ourselves first. Those who buy into the lie of recognition cannot be supportive of someone else's work because they view others as "the competition". They are always looking out for themselves because they are afraid that someone else might take their praise, or worse, their position.
The lie of recognition might be the most painful of all because it puts us on the treadmill of performing. We must recognize, as an authentic man, that meaning and fulfillment are not found in how well we compare to others but in what God has said about us when He showed His love and grace through His Son.
It is my prayer that we as men would not buy into these empty promises involving work but would, instead, be motivated by God's grace, what He's already done for us and His call to further the portion of His kingdom that He has already so graciously entrusted to us. Might we take Him at His word that our work matters regardless of how much wealth, power, or recognition we obtain. It matters because He promises us that, in Him, our labor is not in vain.
For addition insight on how to embrace the biblical concepts of work, get a copy of 33 The Series Volume 4: A Man and His Work. View Session 1 of A Man and His Work.