Warning: Breaking Bad spoilers below! (You’ve been warned).
The TV programme “Breaking Bad” is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed shows of recent years. In it we’re introduced to Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who finds himself stricken with (what is believed to be) terminal lung cancer. With no savings and no legacy to leave behind for his family, Walt uses his knowledge of chemistry to make money by…”cooking” Crystal Meth, a dangerous and highly addictive Class-A drug.
Being such a gifted chemist, Walt’s product ends up being very, very popular with addicts and criminals alike. In fact, it’s so good that drug lords from all over the world begin fighting over it, Walt included. The series captures Walt’s rise from high-school teacher to feared drug baron. As he gets sucked deeper and deeper into a life of crime, Walt’s life becomes more and more chaotic. Yet as his life spirals out of control, he finds that he actually enjoys it. Why?
Walt felt “stuck” teaching chemistry to high-school students who’d rather be anywhere else in the world than in his classroom. As an infamous criminal mastermind however, Walt finds the respect and admiration he had always thought he deserved. Walt ends up with everything he never had before, and is finally recognised as the brilliant scientist that he is, even though it ultimately ends in his death and in the ruined lives of those closest to him. In the end he admits that it was never about providing for his family; it was about him. In the final shot of the series Walt lies dying with a smile on his face, having got the fame he deserved, convinced that his gifts and abilities weren’t wasted after all.
Similarly, in the Disney film Soul (which you should absolutely watch, especially if you’re a musician), protagonist Joe is given the good news that he’s finally being offered a full time teaching position at his school. This would give him job security, a pension, a good medical care plan, and would generally see him set for life. Instead of being pleased with this good news, Joe laments; deep down his greatest desire is to play jazz piano for a living, and all this news does is reinforce the fact that he’s stuck in a 9-5 job not following his dream. Even though he has the job security many would dream of, he feels his life is wasted.
It’s not as if TV producers have made these stories up out of thin air. The fear of a wasted life is a very real one. I’m not going to link them all here, but if you do a quick google search on this topic you will be met with pages upon pages of forum posts, blogs, vlogs, TV interviews and articles of adults in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond talking about this. Whether it’s mums who regret spending 20 years of their lives raising kids, or men in their 40s who believe that they’re now too old to live out their dreams, there’s no shortage of evidence to suggest that this is a very real concern for many people in our culture.
My view is that this topic is one worth looking at, especially from a Christian perspective.
With that in mind, we’re in part 2 of a 3 part series looking at what the Bible says about wasting our lives. Part 1 talked about humanity and the purpose of our lives – today we’re going to talk about the stuff we actually do, including our jobs.
To Glorify God: Created for Good Works
How would you feel if I told you that God made us to work? Maybe you’d agree. Maybe you’d disagree – strongly. Maybe the very thought makes you angry, or maybe you just aren’t sure. All of those would be valid reactions.
Now, let me be clear; when I say God made us to work, I don’t mean he made us to serve and slave under men and women who exploit us, use us and treat us unfairly. He didn’t create us to work endless 60 hour weeks, without rest or the opportunity to enjoy the good things he’s given us. He didn’t create us to idolise our career and put it above everything else. But he did create us to work with him and for him.
In Genesis 1, when God creates man, he puts him in control over the whole of creation; man was called to have dominion over the whole Earth, to subdue it and to multiply. Man was called rule over the beasts, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea. Man was instructed to take his food from the good trees and plants that God had created (Genesis 1:28). As his image bearers (Genesis 1:26) man was tasked with carrying the glory of God into all creation.
Work isn’t a result of sin, as some may like to believe! Work was something God created for his glory, and like everything God created in Genesis 1, it was good. However, like everything else, once sin came into the world work was tainted.
You see, it’s only after Adam sinned that work became a bad thing. When God cursed the land because of sin, what was originally the joy of working side by side with God suddenly became hard toil.
Man was still called to eat and multiply, but now the world itself would struggle against our efforts. Weeds, thorns and thistles sprouted up from the ground to entangle themselves with the good life-giving plants God had created. The ground itself became hard and unfertile, and the joy of childbirth became incredibly painful.
People, now knowing good and evil, would become hard to work with. To any parent, teacher, pastor, boss, office worker, nurse, doctor or anyone else who works with people out there – imagine how much easier your job would be if people weren’t sinful? If everyone was perfect, loving and kind, and no one looked out only for themselves, how much better would your job be? Quite a bit, I’d imagine.
Having walked and worked side by side with God in the Garden, after Genesis 3 man would now have to work seperated from God’s presence by his sin. Work became something we had to do, instead of something we got to do. 
Work continued all through the Old Testament into the New Testament, when Jesus was born. In the Gospels we read that Jesus’s adoptive Father, Joseph, was a carpenter, which probably meant that Jesus himself laboured as a carpenter too. The Son of God knows what it means to put in a hard day’s graft!
Jesus isn’t the only New Testament figure who may have worked a day job. The Apostle Paul was a tentmaker, along with Priscilla and Aquila. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen, Matthew was a tax-collector, Luke was a physician, Lydia made a fortune selling purple cloth, some of the early converts were Roman soldiers, etc…
The Bible even suggest that work will continue in the new earth. There are hints all throughout the book of Isaiah for example, indicating that in the New Creation humans will once again work alongside God in perfect peace and joy, free from the troubles and the stresses of today, just as it was in Eden.
As you can see, the Bible isn’t silent on the subject of work, and it’s the work we do today that we will now look at.
A Change of Priorities
When Jesus called his first disciples, they were working. They were fishermen, who spent their days and nights toiling on the sea, trying to haul in enough fish to earn a living for them and their families.
Notice, then, that when Jesus calls them, he doesn’t call them away from work.
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”Matthew 4:18-19 (ESV)
Jesus didn’t change their job title. They were still expected to work – they were still fishers of some sort. Only now, they would be working for the things of God, and not for their own needs. Later on Jesus promised that if they served God, God himself would provide everything they needed (Matthew 6:33). 
The same is true for us today. For most of us, when Jesus calls us he doesn’t immediately call us to be monks, or pastors, or to quit our jobs and move to the Congo as missionaries.
When Jesus calls us our day-jobs may not change, but our allegiance does. Instead of living for ourselves or for our next paycheck, we’re to live for him. Instead of living to promote ourselves, we are to use our God-given giftings and abilities to bring glory to him.
Writing to the early believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul says:
“Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.”
1 Corinthians 7:17, 20 (ESV)
Paul’s advice to believers was that they shouldn’t rush to change their circumstances just because Jesus has called them – unless he makes it very clear otherwise. 
Later on, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica:
“Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ESV)
God isn’t opposed to Christians working day jobs. In fact, we are encouraged to work, in order that we might provide for ourselves and not be dependant on anyone – and so that we’ll have enough resources to provide for others in need.
So what am I saying? This: Are you a shopkeeper? Keep keeping that shop, unless God calls you into something else. Teacher? Keep on teaching, loving and witnessing to your colleagues and to the precious children God has entrusted to you. Caretaker or groundskeeper? Keep caring for that wee corner of the world God has given you dominion over.
Now, this isn’t always the case. If, for example, you’re a hitman who finds himself suddenly called to serve Jesus, it may be the case that the Lord doesn’t want you killing folk for money any more. Similarly, if you’re a drug dealer or sex worker, you may find that the call of Jesus is incompatible with your current line of work. Don’t worry – God has something better for you.
Serving and living for God doesn’t mean giving up our careers. It just means a reorientation of our priorities.
I often hear pastors and preachers say things like “God isn’t your boss – he’s your Father!”, often to a chorus of “amens!”. While this is true to an extent, it doesn’t paint the full picture. God is God. There is no single direct human term we can use to describe him – it’s impossible. This is why the Bible uses so many different words to describe God and how he relates to us. Don’t get me wrong – He is our Father, our provider and our helper – absolutely – amen to all of that! But he’s so much more, too.
Jesus often uses the terms “Master” and “Servant” in his parables. He is the Master, we are his servants. Yes, he calls us brother, sister, friend. Yes, we are sons and daughters of God the Father, Brothers and Sisters of God the Son and empowered and filled by God the Spirit. But God is still God; he is Lord, we are not. He is our kind and loving Master, who is a joy to work for and serve. He looks after us, provides for us, gives us all we need, and we in turn give our lives to serve him.
As a worker, you are to work diligently for your current employer (whether or not you hate them) as if you were working for God himself (Colossians 3:23).
As a follower of Jesus you are to adhere to his teachings, follow in his example, and be a witness to his resurrection.
And as a member of the Body of Christ – The Church – you are to serve His church with whatever gifts, abilities and passions God has given you (1 Peter 4:10-11, Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 4:16). For some, that may mean helping teach at children’s church. For others it may mean playing music and helping to lead people in the sung worship of God, or offering a happy smile on the door, moving chairs, or maybe even teaching and leading others in a team or home group, depending on the model of your local church. As we’ve seen above, in most cases the New Testament expects that believers will do these things alongside a day job.
In my time as a Pastor, I’ve heard people say “I’m not called by God into full time ministry, so I sometimes feel like a lesser Christian.” Let me tell you in love: that is utter nonsense. The call of Pastor is one calling among many. Where we stand in the Kingdom isn’t based on the title we have – it falls on how obedient and faithful we are.
The Bible often talks about treasures in heaven. We don’t get into heaven based on the works we do, but depending on the work we do we will recieve different levels of heavenly rewards. This may be a controversial take, but I fully believe there will be plenty of God-fearing, faithful “ordinary” believers – precious people who have quietly served the church alongside their God-given day jobs – who will find themselves with greater treasures in heaven than some Pastors who have led their churches at the expense of living faithfully under God’s word. Just because you haven’t been called into full time ministry does not mean you are of any less importance in the Kindgom of God. If you take anything from this post, please let it be that.
Whether you are a school-teacher who faithfully leads a weekly Bible study for those in your community, a nurse who works 60 hour weeks while actively sharing your faith with your colleagues, or an office manager who helps lead God’s people in worship by playing guitar on Sundays, you can rest knowing that you are doing the work of God.
If you’re retired and do what you can by putting chairs out for people on a Sunday, or by sweeping the church floor after services, by serving your neighbours and actively sharing your faith with those on your street, you are doing the work of God.
Whether you’re the Senior Pastor, or the one who cleans the church toilets (maybe you’re both) – if you are serving the Lord and his church in whatever way you can in whichever way he has called you, you can rest confidently knowing that you are not wasting your life, and that you are storing up treasures for yourself in heaven.
The little things we do for the Kingdom are not wasted. God sees every tiny, insignificant looking thing we do, even when no one else does. To put it another way, in the words of my favourite line from Chariots of Fire: “You can praise God by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection.”
Of course, sometimes the Lord will call people to change their circumstances. Those Fishermen Jesus called eventually became full-time missionaries, many of whom died horrible deaths as a result (don’t let any one tell you that following Jesus will mean everything will turn out well for you in this life – but that’s a topic for another post). But if he hasn’t called you to that, don’t worry about it. Live your life quietly, serving the Lord in whatever way you can. Be a faithful and open witness to Jesus’s ressurection. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. That’s all he asks of you. 
Find it by losing it
Let’s finish by comparing two people. Both are travellers. Both find themselves at the far ends of the world. The first person has been called by God to go to the other side of the planet, far from home, friends and family, and to live as a missionary in some of the most difficult situations imaginable. For this person, trouble and hardships are the norm, and the comforts of modern life are non-existent. It’s a hard life, but despite all of the pains and difficulties, God uses this person to bring many to faith and to show the world his glory.
Compare this to the second person, who also spends their life travelling the world, but in this case they do it because they can. They travel all over to the most exotic, exciting locations, enjoying it all, taking it all in and living for themselves.
Imagine they both died at the same time, at the same age. Which of those people would you say have wasted their lives? Western culture would probably tell us that the person who spent most of their life suffering and toiling for others for little gain was the one who wasted it. If the “you’ve only one life” mantra is true, surely the person who spent it exploring and enjoying it was the one who lived it to the full? On the contrary: according to Jesus, the person who spent their life living for themselves is one who wasted it, and they will soon lose it. The person who willingly chose to live sacrificially for the gospel, on the other hand, will soon find it.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.Matthew 10:39 (ESV)
So go work at that job God has given you, whether it’s part time, full time, career enhancing or just temporary, and use every opportunity you have to serve others and point people to Jesus. If you do that, you can rest tonight knowing that your precious time on this earth is being used well.
In short? A life lived in service to Jesus, whatever that looks like, is never wasted.
Agree? Disagree? Either way, please feel free to leave a comment, and if you found this post helpful do share it on social media.
- Note however that as believers in Jesus, who’s identity is now found in the Son and whos lives are filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit, we once again get to partner with God. In Christ, the state we found ourselves in in Genesis 3 moves closer to that of Genesis 2, to be fully consumated when Jesus returns. ⏎
- The fact that Jesus found them fishing the morning after rising from the dead tells me that they either kept that job going during his ministry, or went straight back to it when they thought he was dead. ⏎
- While the context here is specifically about slavery and circumcision, I’m of the understanding that the principle of the text applies to our day to day lives as well.⏎
- As a side note, in talking about this I sometimes also hear people implying that God’s will for your life is based on your career. “God wants to move you up a level, he wants your business to succeed, he wants to give you success beyond your wildest dreams!” are the ones commonly heard. Maybe he does for some, but I simply cannot in good conscience stand behind a pulpit and make that promise for every single person in my congregation. Aside from being unbiblical (the American Dream isn’t in the Bible) that’s much less exciting than what God actually has in store for us. Our jobs are important, but the Bible puts far more emphasis on our spiritual fruit and obedience to Jesus than it does our careers. Don’t be bought into the lie that God’s “will” for your life is simply to enhance your worldly status, boost your career and make you rich – what he actually has for you is so much better! ⏎