I watched plans to become dance teachers, chiropractors, and entrepreneurs dissolve as my peers gave up their dreams in order to pursue "full-time ministry." They feared one day waking up and feeling they weren't changing the world or advancing the kingdom of God. They were ready to do anything to avoid that gnawing feeling.
They aren't alone. Today, three-quarters of Americans feel unfulfilled in their work -- and job dissatisfaction may be an even greater struggle in the Christian community. What do we do, then, when we feel our work is useless?
Biblical Basis of Work
When thinking about our vocations, we should remember God created us to work. According to Genesis 2:15, work is not a curse, but a gift from God given to us before the fall. Work was—and still is—a tool for us to develop the creation and be salt and light in the world for the glory of God and his kingdom.
As a result of the fall, however, our work will at times be frustrating and difficult. So work can often seem useless. But Christ came to restore all things, which means even the most boring job is redeemable.
All Work Is God's Work
Though some work may seem useless, Christians understand that all work is God's work. Our work only seems insignificant because we fail to grasp the big picture. This is what economists refer to as the "knowledge problem." The knowledge problem means we can't always see the big picture because knowledge is dispersed among many people; no one person knows everything. In the vocational sense, this means we may not understand how our work is part of a much larger economic dynamic. If we can't easily see how our work contributes to the common good, we may understate the effect of what we do.
Some positions make it difficult for workers to see the end product, but that certainly does not mean that their work is insignificant. Just because a factory worker doesn't receive the instant gratification of seeing the final product that he helped to create doesn't change the reality that his effort contributed to that product.
Hugh Whelchel articulates this idea well when he writes,
The work of believers possesses a significance which goes far beyond the visible results of that work. . . . All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God. Work is the potentially productive act of praise.
It's important to remember that the value of our work may never be fully realized in our lifetime. In medieval times, it could take hundreds of years to build a single cathedral. The laborer laying the cornerstone might never live to see the top of the steeple.
Clearly, the knowledge problem is also a faith problem. Rather than being discouraged in seemingly insignificant work, we can humbly rest in the confidence of God's master plan.
However, there are a few cases in which work is truly useless. They occur in industries where demand for a product or service is immoral or if the product or service doesn't meet the intended purpose. Examples include anything from pornographic material to goods that do not function properly.
Every Task Significant
All good work can be "Christian" and no work that serves mankind is useless. Even interns who enter contact names into a spreadsheet add significant value to their organization—and the organization's mission—through their labor. Likewise, the factory worker who churns out widgets day after day is actively participating in the work of God.
Though some routine assignments seem unimportant, every task is significant if God has called you to it. We fulfill our call to Christian work when we put our hands to the task he has called us to do—and leave it to God to see the final outcome.