The picture to the right was taken seven years ago this month.

Yes, that’s me along with a co-worker at Cracker Barrel. One of the managers put us in front of the fireplace and snapped a photo. Next thing we knew we were plastered all over Louisville as a recruitment tool to get more people applying for jobs at the restaurant Ed Stetzer calls – “a garage sale with food.” (And please, no cracks about violating child labor laws.)

I keep this “free job digest” in my office today. I’ve lived in multiple towns and worked in multiple places since then, but I can’t part with it. The picture takes me back to a tough 18-month period in which I was adjusting to being a former missionary and trying to survive seminary. It’s a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness to us during a difficult, sometimes frustrating, season of life.

I never wanted to work at Cracker Barrel. I had business experience as an office manager, plus five years of international missions experience tucked under my belt.

But none of that mattered when the most pressing question was, How will you provide for your wife and son this week? Like many before and after me, I did whatever was necessary.

Some of you are in similar circumstances. Perhaps you’re no longer in ministry due to a bad church experience or budget cuts. Maybe you’re in seminary and just trying to get through your classes and stay financially afloat. Or perhaps you sense a call to full-time ministry in a church but the right doors haven’t opened yet. Whatever your situation, you’re doing whatever it takes to make ends meet, yearning for the day you can use your gifts full-time.

Let me encourage you. There are hidden blessings in unwelcome work, but you’ll have to remember a few things in order to receive them.

1. Remember that God has a plan, and He is still at work.

God’s plan wasn’t mine, and nothing reminded me of that truth more than encountering situations I didn’t anticipate and didn’t ask for. The work didn’t fit my vision of what I should be doing to use my gifts. But then again, God’s vision was different from mine. It’s different from yours.

I wonder if the only way Moses could learn the humility he was later known for was by milking sheep for forty years. Ever tried that? If you think milking a cow is hard…

God doesn’t love you for what you can do for Him. He loves you because you’re His child.

God’s promise to us isn’t that we’ll spend a lifetime of ministry on the mountaintop. The promise is that we’ll be made into the image of Jesus. Trouble is, there are a lot of valleys on the road to becoming like Jesus. So trust that He has a plan – not just for your foundation in ministry but for your formation as a minister.

2. Focus on your identity as a missionary, no matter what.

It’s silly to think that we have to be paid as a full-time staff person in order to be on mission. I had to learn this the hard way. After having spent a few years doing mission work overseas, I expected to find a job in a church fairly quickly. That didn’t happen.

Within a few months I went from having an ongoing ministry in several churches and a radio ministry in Romania to sweeping floors, taking orders, and cleaning salad dressing stains off the cabinets. I used to be a missionary, I thought.

Thankfully, there were other seminary and college students who worked at Cracker Barrel. Through them, God reminded me that I was still on mission.

From conversations in the break room to witnessing encounters with other employees, God reminded me: you are always My missionary. The same is true for you. The locale may have changed, and the tasks may be different, but you are still on mission.

3. Get used to serving when it’s hard and you’re heart’s not in it.

Looking back, waiting tables was one of the best ways God prepared me for local church ministry. I learned truths you don’t find in a seminary textbook.

Cracker Barrel doesn’t call their employees waiters and waitresses. We were “servers.” Maybe that was a way of keeping the term gender neutral, but I think it was intended to affect our mindset. We were supposed to view ourselves as servants.

There were many nights when that dimly lit restaurant was the last place I wanted to be. But through the experience, I’d pray, ask God to fix my attitude, and then I’d try to treat every guest – no matter how ornery, picky, or insufferable – like I’d want to be treated. I couldn’t make everyone happy, but I could do my best to serve.

Church life is sometimes the same way. You don’t always have a heart full of love for the people entrusted to your care. You need the practice of asking God to jumpstart the wires of your heart so that you’ll love with His love and serve with His heart.

4. Remember this is only for a season.

Perhaps the best thing to remember is that you will probably not spend the rest of your life in this “in-between” stage. Keep reading, keep serving, keep evangelizing, keep providing… knowing that the season won’t last forever.

Glean what you can from the difficult times, because the truths you learn in the valleys keep your feet steady on the mountaintops. There is a time for everything – even unwelcome work. Look for the hidden blessings.

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30 thoughts on “4 Things to Remember During Unwelcome Work”

  1. Paul says:

    Trevin, you’re an inspiration. Thank you.

  2. Steve says:

    Trevin, I found this to be a relevant article for myself and a couple of friends. I worked for roughly 2 years in a credit union as a teller and member service rep doing what I could to take care of my little family. It wasn’t for a year until after seminary that the Lord provided a full-time ministry position in a missions organization. But, the skills and job experience that I learned in those years at the credit union have been the reason that I’ve been able to do what I’m presently doing as an Analyst for another ministry. If I had to add one thought it would be that God doesn’t always give you what you want, he gives you what you need.

  3. lucile says:

    Great read! I really needed to hear this thanks

  4. Chris Z says:

    So cool to hear your testimony. Mine has been very similar over the last 8 months or so, and God has been teaching me a lot of those same lessons. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Excellent reminders. My “inter-ministry” jobs were some of the best education and preparation for ministry that I had. I came to value the truth “In all labor there is profit.”

  6. Brian Roden says:

    This is timely. In about a year I’m probably going to have to leave my IT job and relocate to finish seminary (next spring I will exhaust the classes I can take via modules or distance learning). Only God knows what kind of work I will have to find to support my family of 4 while finishing out the last 18 hours of my MA.

  7. Brendan says:

    Trevin, thanks so much for sharing. When I lost my prestigious job on Wall St. in 2009 I had to work from 4am to 1pm at a flower wholesaler in Queens to pay my rent for six months. In retrospect, God used that experience to 1. faithfully provide for me and keep my in NYC and 2. humble the heck out of me, and snap me out of being the conceited jerk i was becoming…to God be the glory

  8. Erik says:

    Awesome message here. I am a ministry student and working full time as a “server” as well. This article came right on time for me. Just last night I sat up praying, distressed that I am stuck in this restaurant job and not progressing as a minister. There was a time when I had a strong focus on my identity as a minister right there at the restaurant, but that sense of identity has waned significantly. Here lately I hate my job. I needed this article today. Thanks for being God’s voice in my life reminding me to persevere, and to remember that He is sovereign over these things and has a vision and plan that will come to pass in due time.

  9. Brian Foulks says:

    This is the narrative of my life brother. I am in the midst of this very thing. Bless you brother…

  10. Mitch Landress says:

    I needed this today. Thank you.

  11. Bill Stinson says:

    Thanks Trevin this is easy to forget when you are going through it and it is during that time you need to remember it the most.

  12. Tara says:

    This was very relevant to me as well. I’m a nanny while I’m waiting to be accepted into graduate school. I have a four year degree but after countless interviews- the job I “deserved” never came. My pride has never took such a beating! Being bossed around by a ten year old was never my idea of a career. However, like you said, the Lord is making me more like Him, and that is more important than any worldly success I could accomplish.

    Thanks for this article, Trevin.

  13. JP Williams says:

    For about six months, I was the only gas station attendant in SW OK that could read Hebrew. I was there in part by my own stubbornness (trying to ‘escape’ the established church for more ‘pure’ ‘organic’ greener pastures, like house-churches, since they *never* have any drama or problems like ‘real churches’…). I felt a sense of utter meaninglessness.

    Then, a few days in to my job, a lady I had known from an interim pastorate came through the doors. I asked her how she was, and she looked at me with a deadpan grouse and said, “I just left divorce court…” Her husband had spent a weekend with three other women, in their house, while she was away on business. There were no other customers in the station, so we stood there and talked for a good fifteen or twenty minutes. I told her I would be praying for her. She was very appreciative.

    The Lord used this and other moments to show me that 1. I could not escape what He had ordained for me to do (once a pastor, always a pastor) 2. There was plenty of ministry to be done during that season of seemingly meaningless existence. (“soft pack or box sir…”)

    Anyhow. Over time, I found myself more desirous of returning to a church. One night I laid facedown on the linoleum and prayed, “God, you’ve got to get me out of here…” Less than a week later I was contacted by a church that had received my resume’ from my college and within six weeks we were packing. I was at that church for four years and have been where I am now for two.

    It is much easier to see God’s hand in all of that from here. Hang in there guys. God has you in the palm of His hand.

  14. Lidia Pop says:

    Trevin, mi-ar face mare placere sa traduc acest articol pentru a-l publica in revista crestina pentru femei Lydia. Ai fi de acord? Articolul ar putea sa apara in numarul din iarna al revistei (inainte de Craciun 2013) sau in nr din vara (iunie 2014). Astept rapsunsul tau.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Sigur! Sper sa fie de folos pentru cititorii vostri. Salutari la Radu si Dani!

  15. Lidia Pop says:

    Multumesc mult. Sigur va fi de folos pentru cititoare. Stiu ca pentru mine a fost. Voi avea insa nevoie de poza aceasta scanata la o rezolutie suficient de buna pentru a fi publicata. Inca o data, multumesc (si pentru salutari, pe care te rog sa le transmiti si tu intregii tale familii).

  16. Thom says:

    I needed this today. I’m halfway through my MDiv, but taking it at a painfully slow pace, because I have to work full-time to provide for my family. My heart and passion are preaching, teaching, and working with people, and yet for almost the past two years, I have been working for a cremation tray manufacturer. Not my ideal job, but it helps pay the bills. My wife wants to eventually stay home with the kids, but many days, I feel trapped, because I can’t get a better job because I haven’t finished my masters, but I can’t finish my masters because I have to work to pay the bills. Some days are filled with frustration, and some days, the Lord reminds me that He is being faithful in the midst of all of this.

    All this to say that the Lord is constantly providing and protecting us, even when we do not acknowledge it. Thank you.

  17. Trevin, this is very encouraging. As pastor, I’m really interested these days in helping folk find God’s purposes through their daily work. I’m so sick and tired of the lie that only pastors and missionaries are really serving God. A big obstacle is the tremendous discouragement some have with their jobs. I’m passing this on!

  18. Michael says:

    “Perhaps you’re no longer in ministry…”

    Perhaps waiting table at Cracker Barrel is exactly the “ministry” God has called you to. As someone who has worked in the restaurant industry for 20+ years and is currently opening a restaurant while planting a church, I find this post disheartening as you seem to suggest that working at Cracker Barrel was somehow beneath you. After all you had “business experience as an office manager, plus five years of international missions experience tucked under my belt.”

    I get how God taught you many things through your experience, but what about all the faithful servants of God who will never write a book, serve on a church staff, or travel and live internationally? Are they not worthy of their calling as well? I get you have an audience that you are writing too as well. That is, church leaders, etc. But I cannot help but think of the man or woman on his or her day off trolling the internet looking for someone to tell them that their work matters also.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Michael,

      I think you’re reading into more than is here. Lots of people understand the difficulty of working in areas where you don’t feel like you’re in your “sweet spot” – or doing what you love. You are right that, in that moment, we need an attitude adjustment that makes our current place of service a “ministry.”

      It is not about being “above” certain work, or that certain work is “beneath” others. It has everything to do with one’s sense of fulfillment and joy in the work we do.

  19. Mike says:

    Thank you for the encouragement!

  20. Rich Kennedy says:

    There’s NO better job for learning about service with dignity and humility. Dignity would be the only way you’d get good tips. Humility would be learned through being pushed around and maintaining dignity when you have no control over surroundings. Now, as Children’s Ministries Superintendent, I have very little control. I’ve learned hosting and pitching in for collective good among ministries. Humility is always elusive, yet God shows me my history and experience with it when I fall short.

  21. Dan Higgins says:

    Wow. This article is old I know, but it’s so funny that God would have me stumble upon it just now as I just finished a shift at Cracker Barrel with many of the same emotions. I recently got my undergraduate degree and am doing part-time campus ministry along with my new server job but I hope to be preaching someday and then teaching in a University. This article helped me to see the value in my job and helps me to choose to have a true “serving” attitude that has been lacking in my last few shifts. Thanks alot.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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