(Note: I wrote this article and posted it on my blog before my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession was published by WestBow Press in February 2018. This critical topic was later included in the book. I invite you to check it out. This article was also published in the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Coram Deo blog.)
Despite this tongue-in-cheek Dr. Seuss-like poem above, I really do love my job! I don’t love everything, but overall I can honestly say that I do love what I do.
Even though Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones couldn’t get “no satisfaction”, I think that Christians can indeed find it as a by-product of the abundant life that Jesus promises (John 10:10). I want to discuss the topic of job satisfaction in general from a biblical perspective, share some personal observations about my own situation, and then challenge my fellow Jesus-followers to consider how they can find contentment and peace where God has put you right now, fully resting in his sovereignty and provision and knowing with confidence that He has a divine purpose for you as a co-worker with him in your place of employment.
The book of Ecclesiastes says a lot about work. The purpose of this unusual book is to show what life is like “under the sun”, to contrast it with the abundant life that is found “under the Son”.
It often paints a bleak picture of work, highlighting what we know from Gen. 3:17-19 as “the curse”, where God declared as a result of the Fall in Gen. 2 that work from that point on would be much more difficult than it was designed to be. The Preacher, possibly Solomon himself, emphasized in Eccl. 1:2 his theme which he boiled down to one word “Meaningless!” (NIV). (Other versions use the word “vanity”.)
The author says that everything is meaningless, especially work: “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (1:3). In 2:17-26, he elaborates, saying that work is “grievous to me”; it is a “chasing after the wind”. He hated what he had worked so hard for. He did not know what was going to happen to what he had invested his time and energy after he was gone. He wonders, “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?” (2:22).
And yet, in the next chapter, we find a curious admonition. Considering the fact that God is in control and has “made everything beautiful in its time” (3:11), he states that men should “be happy and do good while they live . . . eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God . . . there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot” (Eccl. 3:12-13, and 22).
This reminds me of what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:12-13: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Whatever Paul had, he was grateful for, knowing full well that His Lord provided it all, both good and bad. As Job faithfully exclaimed in humble worship of the God who had just taken his family away from him: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21-22)
I will tell you that being satisfied and perfectly content in a stressful job that wears us down is not always easy. However, I have personally experienced for over 30 years working for the Department of the Army as a Soldier and as a civilian employee true joy, unexplainable peace, and a deep sense of purpose at work, despite all the thorns and thistles that come from fallen people, places, and things I encounter every single day.
Specifically, what am I satisfied with?
In taking an online survey about the climate at my workplace a few months ago, I saw an in-depth description of what make a job a good one. There were dozens of questions over a series of screens that asked me to agree or disagree with statements regarding job satisfaction.
My heart was filled with gratitude and praise when I found myself honestly answering “Strongly Agree” with a host of indicators such as: I enjoy my work, my work gets me energized and excited, I care deeply about my work, I feel personally connected to my work, I do my work with passion, and I find my work fulfilling.
It asked me what I get to do at work, to which I responded with a “Great Extent”: try creative or innovative things, spread excitement about work to others, look for ways that I can help others with their work, look for ways to better apply my abilities at work, and try to help my colleagues see their value and importance at work.
The survey asked about “emotional labor”, which is “managing one’s own emotional state as well as that of persons with whom one is working”. Once again, I found myself strongly agreeing with several items: my work requires me to guide people through sensitive and/or emotional issues, I am good at getting people to calm down, I help co-workers feel better about themselves, and I attempt to keep the peace by calming clashes between co-workers.
Lastly, I rejoiced when I could say I also strongly agreed with the following: my work is a good fit for my capabilities, I like the amount of challenge and complexity in my work, I like the variety of tasks and responsibilities in my work, my work gives me a good opportunity to apply my talents and strengths, my work helps me develop and grow in a personally meaningful way, and my work is consistent with my core values and beliefs.
As confirmation, I often get to see how God is using me where I work. Just this past week, I had two conversations, one with a senior Army officer in the morning and another with another civilian employee that afternoon, where I got the opportunity to show genuine concern and compassion which allowed them to open up about what was going on in their lives. This happened because I have been assigned alongside these individuals and had previously earned the right to be involved in their lives for God’s glory.
I have known for some time, with respect to my current position, that I am uniquely qualified for this job based on my skills, talents, personality, and experiences. This adds to my understanding of God’s call in my own life, which has taken a lot of twists and turns along the way. (See article on my personal career journey.)
Surely, I am not the only one who feels this way. I have seen family, friends, and co-workers who are also at the right place and time, with the right gifts and talents, and are making a difference for the glory of God in their jobs.
To give just a few examples, I know some amazing school administrators (biblical principals using biblical principles), teachers (from preschool to college level), computer programmers, public affairs specialists, salesmen, engineers, beauticians, mothers, medical laboratory specialists, actors, Soldiers, speech therapists, students, and community volunteers who all to some degree recognize God’s purposes, plans, and presence at work. And knowing this brings some measure of satisfaction.
So, what about you? Do you have a sense that God has designed and prepared you to do what you get paid to do? Are you filled with contentment and the peace that passes all understanding, resting in God’s grace which has led you safe thus far and will ultimately lead you home?
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.