Progress for Its Own Sake Isn’t Growth. It’s Cancer.

Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash

The other day I met with a friend going through a career transition. He’d just been let go by his employer. My friend had wanted to be a CFO since he was 12, and he had achieved that dream. But now he was being terminated.

He glowed with joy.

The path to a CFO position was rough on my friend and his family. His kids asked why he was never home. He went from companies with toxic cultures to companies with no leadership, motivated by the desire to reach the corner office. And he had made it.

But the CFO position wasn’t what he thought it would be. It wasn’t right for him or for his family. He saw the termination as God’s mercy to help reorient his career so he could pursue joyful work.

American culture is imbued with the desire to hustle, to pursue success for its own sake. But my friend reached the top of his profession and found nothing but emptiness and exhaustion. Solomon had everything and said it was all vanity. And Jesus asked his disciples, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

The pursuit of growth for growth’s sake is reminiscent of cancer, which is the abnormal growth of cells. It’s the multiplication of what didn’t need to multiply. Too often our careers, I’m convinced, are like cancer—unchecked growth for no good reason.

Don’t Conform

It’s easy to assume that a high-status position or healthy bank account will satisfy us, but these are false assumptions. We can work and achieve beyond our wildest dreams, and yet completely lose ourselves in the process.

In seeking success in our chosen field—be it accounting or carpentry or ministry—we become conformed to the rules of the game we play. We just do. To climb the corporate ladder, for example, we must learn the internal rules of play and then abide by them. And thus we’re changed, little by little, until eventually we become a new creation made in the company’s image.

If our identity is anchored in a future accomplishment, we might turn into someone we don’t recognize. But if our identity is secure in Christ, we can safely navigate corporate cultures and work wisely within our profession’s rules of engagement.

Work Hard

Hard work is a good thing. It was present in Eden as God instructed Adam and Eve to steward his creation. But our effort must be yoked to God’s purpose in order for it to bear fruit.

Sin inspires us to build our own kingdoms; God commands us to advance his.

Sin inspires us to build our own kingdoms; God commands us to advance his.

When we try to build kingdoms for ourselves, we stage a coup against God himself. And coups against omnipotence don’t generally end well.

Regardless of what we do for a living, we ultimately work for God. We are his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), and we do his bidding here on earth. Though working for our own glory brings disappointment and heartbreak, working for his creates great joy and satisfaction—because we are operating in sync with the way the world is designed.

Seek True Contentment

So how do we win at work without losing ourselves? How do we spend ourselves for God’s glory? How do we find lasting joy in what we do for a living?

It starts with contentment.

We obsessively build our kingdoms because we are malcontents. We have a sinful tendency to measure our joy by our circumstances. So many of us use our careers to fabricate new circumstances. We figure if we can just change our job title or our account balance, then we will be happier.

But temporal happiness will never give what our souls crave. There are two reasons.

First, we live within the bounds of time, so good moments end. We may fly to Hawaii and have a wonderful vacation, but we must also fly home. We may have a really productive, satisfying day at work on Monday, only to be followed by a frustrating, time-wasting Tuesday. Circumstances don’t last.

Temporal happiness will never give what our souls crave.

Second, circumstances are fickle. You can surpass your sales goals one month and fail miserably the next. You can get accolades and a promotion one year and reprimands the next. You can find jobs and lose them in a matter of weeks. Our lives are vapor, and our circumstances change rapidly. If we want to find contentment, we need to seek something that lasts. To find contentment in work—and in every other aspect of our lives—we must consider our hope.

To find contentment in work—and in every other aspect of our lives—we must consider our hope.

The reason Paul could be content in every situation (Phil. 4:11)—and let’s be real, his life was often a train wreck—is because he meditated on the hope of the gospel. He knew that, in Christ, he had been given a perfect future and an unwavering hope. And thus he didn’t measure his hope by his circumstances; he measured his circumstances by his hope.

Too often we treat our careers like the Tower of Babel. We want to attain heaven on earth by building up ourselves. Meanwhile, we forget heaven already came down to us, in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If we approach our vocations with the understanding that at the cross we were given everything we need, we can proceed in every endeavor with deep joy and durable hope.

Progress for progress’ sake is cancer, but progress for God’s glory is worth giving your life for.

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