Why Your Work Matters to God

Doug Sherman and William Hendricks

From: Your Work Matters to God, © NavPress, 1987 (www.navpress.com). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

How can every worker discover the connection between his everyday work and how that work contributes to what God wants done in the world? In other words, how does the professional athlete participate as a coworker with God? How does the retailer do God’s work? How does the work of the backhoe operator, the bank teller, the journalist, or the mortgage banker contribute directly to God’s work?

To begin to answer these questions, we need to see that there are at least five major reasons for the work God gives us. There may be other reasons besides these, but these are reasons clearly given in Scripture, and they are fairly comprehensive. These reasons show that work has broad instrumental value in addition to intrinsic value. In other words, it is a means to several ends:

  • Through work we serve people.
  • Through work we meet our own needs.
  • Through work we meet our family’s needs.
  • Through work we earn money to give to others.
  • Through work we love God.

Now at a glance you should already be able to see some ways that your work contributes to God’s work. At a minimum, your job provides you with an income to meet your needs, and, if you have a family, to meet their needs as well.

But is this part of God’s work: Yes, but we are running ahead of ourselves. First we need to be very clear about what it is that God wants done in this world. Has He given us any clues beyond the creation mandate in Genesis 1 and 2? Indeed He has.



Earlier, I mentioned that Jesus was asked which of God’s commandments in the Old Testament was the greatest. Recall His response (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV):

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “˜Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Laws and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Love God. Love others. Love yourself. In the broadest and simplest terms, this is what God wants done in the world. This is the essence of His will for us. The New Testament, as well as the Old, flows in and out of these commands. In a way we could never do more than these commands. What matters is that we never do less.

So this is what God wants us to concentrate on. I want to point out that all five of the reasons for work flow out of these Great Commandments. In other words, when we fulfill the five purposes of work, we are fulfilling the Great Commandments. In fact, as we’ll discover, work is on of our principal means of loving God, loving other, and loving ourselves. Consequently, our work can contribute to what God wants done in the world. Let’s see.



A friend of mine operates a pallet company. Pallets are the platforms used extensively in the transportation industries, designed to make it easier for forklifts to loads and unload stacks of goods. My friend’s company manufactures these pallets.

Now how could my friend’s pallets possible fit into the work of God in the world? Actually they are an important, albeit, humble link in a complex chain that God uses to meet my needs and your needs. Those pallets are an indispensable part of the trucking industry – an industry that delivers ruby-red grapefruit from the Rio Grand Valley, boxes of cereal from Battle Creek, Michigan, and milk from Coppell, Texas, to a supermarket near my home.

All of these come together at my family’s breakfast table. Before we eat, one of my children thanks God for the food. Why? Because He has brought to our table something we need.

We must recognize, however, that God has used a rather extensive system of workers to give us this food. He had used farmers to plant and cultivate citrus trees and wheat, and to raise dairy cows. We might also mention the scientists who have checked the food for purity, and the bankers who have arranged for the financing. Then, too, there are the dealers of farm equipment, and behind them the builders of the equipment.

Then we should remember the trucks and their driers that God has used to haul this food our way. And we should appreciate the truck stop operators along the way who have provided diesel fuel and coffee. And, of course, someone had to lay down those miles of interstate that connect our country.

And finally, we should thank God for the supermarket employees, for the guy who carries the bag to our car, and for my wife who puts it all on the table.

By the way, did you notice my friend’s pallets? They were tucked away under those crates of grapefruit, boxes of cereal, and gallons of milk. Though obscure, God used them to meet my family’s needs.

Loving others through work. But are they significant? Yes, because meeting my family’s needs is significant. It is Godlike. It is something He wants done. It is loving me and my family. Consequently, my friend is actually contributing directly to God’s work in the world. Through his work, he is serving the needs of people like my family.

In a similar way, God uses your work to meet the needs of people. Sometimes this connection is fairly obvious. God clearly uses the surgeon to meet a physical need, the mother to meet an emotional need, the pastor to meet a spiritual need.

But sometimes the contributions are less evident, as with my friend who manufactures pallets. Or the engineer who writes micro-code for an integrated circuit. Or the comedian. Or the stockbroker.

Jobs like these often appear to be disconnected from anything that serves people. To find their contribution requires us to think broadly about the web of relationships God uses to meet human needs. W saw something of this complex system at play in the case of my friend’s pallets. But we need to realize that God uses our work, whether or not anyone ever tells us, “I thank God for what you are doing!”

Works of the art. This is important because some work contributes to life in very abstract, indirect ways. I’m thinking, for instance, or the work of the artist, the poet, or the musician. Some works of art seem to meet no apparent need. In fact, they are not designed to meet a need, but simply to exist as statements and phenomena unto themselves.

As a result, our culture tends to dismiss such work as pointless, wasteful, or self-indulgent. Yet note that the American worldview is highly utilitarian: things and people are valued not for their own sakes, but for what thy can do, what they can contribute.

This probably stems form the materialist assumptions that pervade our thinking. But as a consequence, we have a demeaning view of the arts in our society. In fact, the art that gets funded is mostly art that has commercial value (note 1).

This is a complex problem and I cannot discuss it in full here. But I would stress that the artist, too, can be a coworker with God, even if his wok is undervalued by his culture. For God Himself is an Artist, a Creator, a Maker, a Craftsman. And He has fashioned may things that have little if any utilitarian value to mankind (note 2). Like other workers, the artist and the musician must work “as unto the Lord, and not unto men.”

God works in spite of us. By the way, let me add two qualifiers. First, I don’t mean to imply that we always work form pure motives of service to others. We should, but the reality is that we don’t. In fact, we often work from fairly selfish or egotistical motives. Nevertheless, God often manages to use us in spite of ourselves as His agents to meet the needs of other. If god did not work this way, very few human needs would be met.

Motives and career choices. Secondly, the fact that God intends for our work to serve others has definite implications for career choices. I’ll say much more about this later. But for now let me stress that if you are in your job simply to serve your own ego or comfort, then you definitely need to change your reasons for working. And you may even need to change jobs.



It is not always noticed, but the Great Commandments include legitimate self-interest: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The idea is that each of us has a responsibility before God to care for himself as God’s person. Not just physically, but spiritually, emotionally, relationally, morally, intellectually, and so forth.

Work is an important means toward fulfilling this responsibility. In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul says that we should pursue gainful employment in order to provide for our needs:

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example; because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: If anyone will not work, neither let him eat.

For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)

So we are actually commanded to work (note 3). Furthermore, we are to work in order to provide for our families:

But if any one does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)

This is remarkably strong language! Failing to try to meet even the basic needs of one’s family is denying the faith. Why? Because it directly opposes God’s command to love those who are our own. In fact, it is to act worse than an unbeliever, because even pagans have the sense and decency to provide livelihood for their families.

Fortunately, I find that providing for the family is one of the most important reasons why people go to work, as they explain it to me. In fact, because this motive is so common, many people fail to see it as a God-given reason for work. But that won’t do. If you work to meet the legitimate needs of your family, then you are fulfilling something important that god wants done in the world.

Of course, the exact meaning of “providing’ for the immediate family seems to vary from income to income. Some people seem quite able to sustain their spouse and children on a pittance. Others seem to think that “providing” involves extravagance and luxury. I’ll have much more to say about this later, when we discuss the implications of these principles for income and lifestyle.

I encourage you as a worker to think through your job on this basis. At first it may be hard to see how your work connects with anything that God wants done. But I advise you to think very broadly about he needs that people have and work that God has given mankind to do.

Of course, you may evaluate your work and conclude that you are involved in something God does not want done. If so, I recommend that you read Chapter 10 on job selection and Chapter 11 on evil in the workplace. That may help you determine what steps you might take.

You might also determine that although your work accomplishes something God wants accomplished, the way you work and your motives have been far from God-honoring. If so, that calls for a change in your attitudes, your character, and your behavior. As we’ll see in Chapter 9, loving God in our work involves not only what we do, but how and why we do it as well.

The Greatest Commandment. In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses declared the same Great Commandment that Jesus cited in the passage we looked at earlier: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Everything about you is to be involved in loving God. It makes sense that your work must e involved as well. Just think about how much of your heart, soul, and might go into your work. Imagine, then, as you spend yourself at that task, being able to say, “I’m here to do something God wants done, and I intend to do it because I love Him.” The person who can make this statement has turned his work into one of his primary means of obeying the greatest of God’s commandments.



Loving God. Loving others. Loving ourselves. This is what God has told us to do. This is what He wants us to concentrate on. And our work, far from being opposed to these commands, is actually one of our most important means of fulfilling them. Work matters to God. It has important instrumental value.

I have found that when a person looks at work in this way, it revolutionizes his attitude toward his job. For the first time he sees a connection between what he does all day and what god wants done. And as I mentioned earlier, I think most Christians sincerely want to do God’s will. But so often they view His will as something abstract and general. Work makes it very practical and specific – and personal.

This means that you do not have to quit your job and go into the ministry to do something significant for God. Some will undoubtedly need to do that. But God wants most of us to stay where we are and contribute to His work in the everyday tasks of life. This is what He had in mind when He created the world as recorded in Genesis 1 and 2. And this is part of the Great Commandment s that Jesus recalled in Matthew 22.

This all sounds wonderful, if not utopian. The unfortunate truth, though, that must be laid alongside these principles is that we live in a fallen world in which sin has dramatically affected work and workers.



1. For an intriguing Christian discussion of this topic, see H.R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1970).

2. Such as stars whose light we will never see, or the amazing micro-life that swarms silently around us.

3. See also Ephesians 4:28 and 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

4. This is largely because of Two-Story assumptions like those mentioned in Chapter 3. “Loving God” is usually confined to religious activities such as attending worship services, praying, or singing hymns.


From: Your Work Matters to God, © NavPress, 1987 (www.navpress.com). All rights reserved. Used by permission.