Work hurts sometimes—and that’s a good thing

Tom Nelson | June 22nd 2016

There’s no doubt about it—work can hurt.

Overbearing bosses, unmanageable stress, gossiping colleagues, difficult customers, mind-numbing boredom: these are painful realities that all of us experience occasionally, and some of us experience daily.

But for Christians, workplace difficulties bring us face to face with the gracious plans of a sovereign God.

When work is tough, we’re presented with a truth to grasp hold of, and a choice to make.

When work is tough, we’re presented with a truth to grasp hold of, and a choice to make.

Difficult work shouldn’t surprise you

For the sons of God—those who are in Christ, who have been given the Holy Spirit—this world will often be a place of suffering. A quick glance at Genesis 3 shows us that we are all contributors to the brokenness of our workplaces, because we are all sinners affected by the fall. But thankfully, that’s not where God leaves us.

Consider the apostle Paul’s words:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. … And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8 v 18, 23)

Suffering. Groaning. Eager waiting. Paul tells us that this life in broken creation will be marked by human frailty and will be a place of suffering. One place this will certainly display itself is in your workplace. But the good news is that suffering does not have the last word. Everyone who is redeemed by Jesus is destined for glory.

The wider context of Romans 8 makes it clear that suffering and glory go together. Suffering, pain and hardship in our work is a part of the process God uses to renew us into glory. The relational conflicts, the ethical difficulties, the brokenness of our workplace, are not because God has lost control of his fallen world.

Rather, these things are all included in his sovereign plan to renew YOU, to reshape YOU and refocus YOUR hope. Like our Lord and master, the pathway to glory is through suffering.

The protestant reformer Martin Luther once said, “God’s complete work is set in motion through vocation.” Luther’s point was that our work is not an impediment to our spiritual growth, but is vital to it.

“God’s complete work is set in motion through vocation.” – Martin Luther

A dangerous choice

However, there is a danger here. Work can either reshape us into the image of Christ, or it can lead us into greater sin.

Think of this example. Imagine you work in the customer service call centre. It is easy to make the connection with Christian vocation. As people call in with a problem with their insurance policy, computer or tax return, you are helping them solve and remove a difficulty in their lives. You are directly obeying Christ’s command to love your neighbor.

However, this particular kind of work can lead in two different directions. You can easily become cynical towards your neighbor—because customers can be self-centered, rude, and disrespectful. Call-centre workers, waiters, shop workers, and bus drivers constantly face the worst of what humanity has to offer. We can become disrespectful and bitter towards the people we serve.

Work can either reshape us into the image of Christ, or it can lead us into greater sin.

On the other hand, it can lead to a deeper love of your neighbor, even toward the worst customers. We can allow the gospel to reshape us to be more like Jesus, who wept for the blind, the lost, those whose rudeness springs from their own fallenness. We can be reshaped into the image of the one who died for those who disdained him, those who mocked him while he was on the cross.

This means as Christians we have a choice. We can view our work, along with the rest of the fallen world, as either a burden or an idol. Or we can see it through the lens of God’s work in the world.

If work is difficult today, bask in this wonderful truth. Hardship and frustration in the workplace doesn’t need to be meaningless. Even today, you can embrace it as one of the ways God is renewing and reshaping us into his image.

Adapted from Gospel Shaped Work by Tom Nelson—a new 8-session curriculum on how the power of the gospel transforms our everyday occupations. Developed with The Gospel Coalition.

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Tom Nelson

Tom is the Senior Pastor of Christ Community in Kansas City, USA. He serves on the board of The Gospel Coalition and Trinity International University, and is the author of a number of books, including Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. He is married to Liz and has two grown children.

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