This excerpt is adapted from Paul Rude’s new book, Significant Work: Discover the Extraordinary Worth of What You Do Every Day (Everyday Significance, 2013).
The interview playing over my car radio was standard fare. The host of a Christian program was interviewing a wildly popular contemporary Christian music star—little more than background noise as I drove down the highway. But then the discussion landed on the topic of serving the Lord in ministry. The musician told the listening world how his brother was once a truck driver but gave up trucking in order to serve the Lord as an assistant pastor. This drew hearty affirmation from the host, who was actually laughing at the comparative insignificance of truck driving. The music star then recounted his congratulatory words to his brother: “I always thought you had more in you than being a trucker.”
There are 3.2 million truck drivers in the United States.
I turned the interview off and silently drove down the highway, wondering, What are the truck drivers who heard this feeling right now? A superstar Christian just implied that 3.2 million truck drivers are less significant than assistant pastors.
A massive question now hangs in the air—a question loaded with profound implications for the significance of your life and vocation: Are truck drivers—the same drivers who transport our food, clothing, building materials, and church sound systems—less significant to God?
Ultimately, the only true measure of significance is how much something or someone is valued by God. But many people mistakenly believe God only values ministry work, because it deals with eternal souls. In their minds, ministry is the only work that counts for eternity. They assume God places little, if any, lasting value on work that deals with the temporal things of everyday life. The implied ranking of our vocations is obvious. Additionally, when someone who holds that belief isn’t careful with his words, it sounds as if he’s applying that same ranking to each person’s individual value to God. Our superstar probably didn’t mean to imply that truck drivers are less significant to God, but that’s what many of us heard.
I’ve listened to hundreds of similar testimonies in seminars, conferences, and churches across the continent. You’ve probably heard them, too. Missionaries, pastors, and relief workers stand up and tell us about making the leap from nearly every profession imaginable. They answered the “higher call” to full-time ministry. They cast aside their marketplace jobs in order to do something meaningful—something “for the Lord.” Meanwhile, everyone else, the remaining workforce, looks up from a pew and listens to their stories—stories often laced with contempt for the speaker’s former, “meaningless” work.
Audiences will sometimes affirm the speaker’s decision to leap “from success to significance” by offering up an “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” They may even give the speaker a stirring round of applause. But what’s the truck driver—the one quietly sitting nine pews back, third from the left—feeling at that moment? And the godly accountant, engineer, retail associate, bank manager, and all the other people who will get up early the next morning and bend their backs at jobs just like the one the speaker renounced—what must they all feel at that moment?
They’ve told me. I’ve listened to their frustration, their unapplauded stories, and sometimes their despair. You see, I’ve been that speaker—the one standing on stage, receiving the applause. I’m a former corporate finance guy who became a missionary and then somehow wound up doing some public speaking, too. Whenever I speak, I hang around afterward and talk with individual audience members about their specific questions and concerns. As a result, I’ve had countless conversations with people looking for an answer to the question of significance. They sit in those pews and wonder, Did I miss my calling in life? Is my life’s work meaningless to God? Is ministry the only way to impact eternity? Sometimes they lower their eyes in resignation and guilt—vocational guilt. But that guilt is a lie.
The truth is stunning. The truth is that the regular, everyday, earthly work of a Christian’s life possesses breathtaking significance bestowed by the touch of God’s magnificent glory. God pulls the white-hot ingot of eternity from the forging fire of his sovereignty. Then, like master to apprentice, he entrusts the hammer to our hands (Eccl. 9:10; Col. 3:17, 23; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Thess. 3:6-12). He says, “Strike it. Strike it right here. This is your place. This is where I want you to influence eternity. Live the life I gave you to live.” And so, in stammering awe, we take up the hammer. We live our lives—our regular, everyday, toilsome lives. The hammer falls. Sparks fly. Eternity bends, and the Master is delighted (Matt. 25:21).
God, the Maker of the universe, destines our everyday lives to make a difference? Yep. Fuel filters, tax returns, laundry, and Southern-style barbecue are important to him? Yep (especially Southern-style barbecue). A life as a gospel-driven engineer, florist, or realtor can be as meaningful to God as the life of a pastor, missionary, or humanitarian relief worker? Absolutely.
There’s something massive going on here—God’s epic cosmic story—and we’re smack in the middle of it. He knows your name and mine. He’s given us each a life to live—a regular, everyday life—a particular place for us to shape eternity (Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12; 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:6-12)
You and I look at our ordinary lives and think, “Seriously? That’s supposed to be epic?” But the Master delights in it. He forges his masterpiece with it. And when we see what he’s done with it, it will blow our minds (1 Cor. 2:9). It will thrill the souls of men, dazzle the angels, delight the heart of God, and glorify his name. Forever.