By: Andrew Laird
Monday morning, and it’s wet and grey outside. You’re staring at your screen, the blinking cursor the only movement on the page for the last few minutes.
You’ve got to do that thing you’ve been putting off for a while, but you’re not feeling particularly inspired.
You know that feeling, don’t you? The job that you were once so excited to have landed no longer sparks the same joy. You don’t hate it, but it’s just, well, meh. Maybe it’s the role not matching your expectations, or growing frustrations with colleagues, or simply the sheer repetitive nature of the daily grind.
So. . . how do we get that joy back?
In the Marie Kondo world, the simple solution is to throw it out. Does your job no longer spark joy? Quit and get a new one!
Now, that could be the case. To desire joy in work is not wrong. In the beginning, God had created work (Genesis 1:28; 2:15) and intended for us to find joy and flourish in it. And if there’s another job out there that might provide this, it may well be God’s generous provision for us.
Before rushing to this conclusion, however, there are three things we need to make sure we’ve got right, that might reawaken joy in our current role:
The impact of sin upon our work is very clear. In the wake of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God cursed the ground, so work now requires “painful toil” and “the sweat of your brow” (Genesis 3:17-19). What once would have been fulfilling and joy-producing is now difficult, frustrating, and at times, fruitless.
We can so easily forget that this is the reality we should expect. In a culture where we’re constantly told to “do what makes you happy”, we can be left feeling, “it’s not meant to be like this” when work invariably makes us unhappy.
However, the reality on this side of eternity is that work will very often be like this—it won’t always be fulfilling, and won’t always be free from boredom.
“What opportunities might God be giving me to grow my dependence on Him in these dull moments at work?”
But it doesn’t have to end there. For the days that lack excitement and joy, we can prepare for them by learning to ask how God might be at work in our lives during this time.
Ask yourself, “What opportunities might God be giving me to grow my dependence on Him in these dull moments at work?” It may be that He wants you to learn to be more patient, which can only be learnt when you’re put in situations that test your patience. Or it may be that He wants you to grow in perseverance, which can only be learnt as you’re put in situations where you just want to give up.
We should not go out of our way to make work dull and hard, but having the right (realistic) expectations can help us handle the “meh” of daily work and perhaps feel less dismayed when we’re hit with those days.
This right expectation does not undermine the right goal, which pursued diligently, can lead to increased joy. That goal is love.
For Christians, the purpose of life is best summed up in Matthew 12:30-31: love God and love your neighbour. We are to be people characterised by self-sacrificial love, and this is to shape everything we do, including our work.
Showing love through our work increases our joy. There is more joy to be found when we are working for the good of others, and not simply driving ourselves to the limit for self-centred outcomes. Indeed, it might be our self-focused approach to work that’s contributing to our lack of joy—if we always reach the conclusion that “there’s nothing in this for me”, it inevitably leads to frustration.
One of the strangest, but most beautiful paradoxes of the Christian faith is that in giving of ourselves, we find the deepest joy and delight.
But what if, the primary thing we should be asking about our work is not “What’s in it for me?”, but “How can I do this to love, serve, and bless others?”
One of the strangest, but most beautiful paradoxes of the Christian faith is that in giving of ourselves, we find the deepest joy and delight. It’s getting that deep satisfaction because you know you’ve done something truly worthwhile. And Jesus’s greatest act of love demonstrates just that. “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
The writer of Ecclesiastes pursues many of life’s “pleasures”—food and wine, work, material wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)—and asks if any of them truly satisfy and bring deep and lasting joy. His conclusion is stark: apart from God “everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (v. 11).
Even as we learn to recognise that joy can come when our work is done for the good of others, we need to remember that work itself can never be the source of our joy.
As the Psalmist writes, “You [God] make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Fullness of joy is only found in Him. It doesn’t mean we’ll constantly feel cheerful. But rather, it’s the deepest, lasting joy—eternal joy—that can only come from the rested assurance of knowing and walking with God.
In this lifetime work will sometimes be meh, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’re in the wrong place.
Similarly, the Apostle Peter comforts his readers who are suffering with the reminder of the joy they have in knowing Jesus, and the full measure of it that is to come in the new creation. “Though you have not seen [Jesus] you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
So a final question to ask yourself is, “How does knowing and loving Jesus bring me joy? What aspects of Him and my relationship with Him excite me the most?”
In this lifetime work will sometimes be meh, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’re in the wrong place. As pastor Timothy Keller helpfully wrote in his book Every Good Endeavour:
Just because you cannot realise your highest aspirations in work does not mean you have chosen wrongly, or are not called to your profession, or that you should spend your life looking for the perfect career that is devoid of frustration. That would be a fruitless search for anyone. You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation.
So today, remind yourself to have realistic expectations about your work, seek out ways to achieve the right goal—to love and serve, and most of all, look to Christ as the right source, and ask Him to fill you afresh with an inexpressible and glorious joy, not from your work, but from being found in Him.
Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum.
About the author: Andrew Laird works for City Bible Forum in Melbourne and directs Life@Work – an initiative linking our Christian faith with our daily work. He is the author of Under Pressure: How the Gospel Helps us Handle the Pressures of Daily Work.