Vocation, Value and Virtue: Three Ingredients of Meaningful Work

“I want to do something meaningful with my life.”

Have you said this?  I’ve said it, and I’ve  heard it from many others.

 What, then, is meaningful work?

IMG_3174The specific answer to that question is different for each person, but I’d like to consider three aspects of meaningful work from a biblical perspective. 

Vocation: What

Value: Why

Virtue: How

Most of us carefully analyze the “what” of vocational decisions.  (Unless you went with the Mr. Magoo approach to career planning like I did.)  Vocational decisions involve both science (skills inventories, aptitudes, personality profiles, job and financial prospects) and heart (passion, motivation.)

Are some vocations more meaningful than others?

Construction work by CarolinaJG from morguefileMust we work in full-time ministry or non-profit philanthropy to consider our work meaningful?  What about the person who loves to write computer code or fix cars or teach English?

God created this incredible universe and gave human beings the work of cultivating the earth.   His invitation to create is a great gift.  I think he delights in all kinds of technical innovations and creative expressions.

Dostoevsky quote on workFurthermore, heaven is often misunderstood to be an ethereal spiritual existence.  The Bible describes something a little more concrete. Eternity with God will be spent on a redeemed and re-created earth.  Quite possibly the products of our work remain for eternity.  It’s no accident that the Bible begins in a garden and it ends in a city.  (This is a very sketchy treatment of a complex topic.  For more information read When the Kings Come Marching In by Richard J. Mouw and Amy L. Sherman’s excellent book on vocational stewardship, Kingdom Calling.)

Another aspect of the worth of our work is the value system that motivates it.  Selfishly exploiting others while building up one’s own kingdom is no good.  The work of a skilled surgeon in the service of his or her own ego might not be as valuable as the care of a nurse who is motivated by love and mercy.  Much of our work is devalued by selfish and prideful motives, but I’m fascinated by the idea that God can redeem it.  He will “hammer their swords into plowshares.” 

Covey quote on work

Finally, no matter what vocation we pursue we can make our work meaningful by the virtue with which we do it.  

The Bible is clear that anything and everything that our lives and work demand of us done in faith, in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and to the glory of God is valuable in God’s sight.  Perhaps full-time ministry done selfishly is no more meaningful than street sweeping done to the glory of God.

What we do matters. 

Why we do it is important. 

How we do it is perhaps most meaningful.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Colossians 3:17

How do you define the meaning of your life and work?

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14 Responses to Vocation, Value and Virtue: Three Ingredients of Meaningful Work

  1. Fred Broviak says:

    Judy:
    Wonderful comments in your “connecting the dots”.
    A good friend, Sue Perek, suggested that I subscribe to your blog.
    I’m grateful to her for doing this.
    God bless you for your vocation, value and virtue to us.
    Fred Broviak

  2. Debbie says:

    Thank you, Judy, for such a timely post. Work is something that God and I have talked about many times, and just here recently as I felt I should do ‘more’. So thankful for the work He gives each of us to do and the diversity of that work and value of it, in His eyes! God bless you!

  3. Your point about making our work meaningful by the virtue with which we do it, is my fave one, and really resonates with me–even though I’m not in a paying job/career. I think that the work we are passionate about doing, is truly the work God has ordained for us to do–so whether I’m writing a poem, or cooking, I believe that same Holy Spirit passion is “at work”. Now, I have a question–if Heaven is going to be located on the redeemed and re-created earth, will we recognize places and things? Or will it all look different? I guess God will take into consideration the folks like me, who get disoriented so easily….. God bless you, Judy!!

    • Judy says:

      That’s my fave too:). I imagine that God delights in our daily activity like I delight in my grandson’s play, his mastery of a new skill, or his simply being himself. And, for what it’s worth, I do think that we’ll recognize people, places and things in heaven. Bless you back!

  4. gospelbbq says:

    Good stuff as always Judy. Loved the Dostoevsky quote.

  5. Larry Who says:

    Bob Jones once said, “Whether you’re healing the sick or taking a nap, the pay is the same if you are walking in the will of God.”

    That’s how I view work.

  6. Bronwyn Lea says:

    “How we do it is perhaps most meaningful.” Yes and amen. Colossians 3:17 has been a beacon of light to me on these days of toddler-induced cabin fever. I often think that diaper changing is my modern equivalent of Jesus’ foot washing: cleaning the yucky stuff that no one else would touch. Done unto The Lord, perhaps even poop removal is precious to him.

    • Judy says:

      I remember those precious days well! People told me to appreciate them – “they go so fast.” I’d do an internal eye-roll and think to myself, “This DAY won’t end; don’t tell me that YEARS will go fast!” They didn’t, and yet they did. I think I developed the “theology of work” expressed in the post during those Mommy years. It helps us to have a broader perspective on the value of our days and of various vocations, don’t you think? When I left the paid workforce I had a bit of an identity crisis. Who was I without my professional answer to “what do you do?” I think “work” is a much broader gift than our 9-5 economic construction. It is our economic contributions, our volunteer service and our care and creativity in our homes and families and relationships. It’s all “work” in my mind, and I believe it’s all potentially valuable to God as well.

      • Bronwyn Lea says:

        I couldn’t agree more 🙂 this is the season of lo-o-o-o-ng days, and yet the weeks whip by. Without knowing that God sees and values this (seemingly unnoticed, seemingly unimportant) work, I think I would despair.

        • Jeannie says:

          My daughter (who’s 14) and I often talk about the long days and short weeks — even as a teen she already gets that. Bronwyn, I quote this at least once on every blog I visit and to pretty much everyone I meet, so I might as well do so here: I hope you will find it as encouraging as I have (it’s from Lord of the Rings):

          “Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

          Thanks Judy for this post; I found it very meaningful.

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