23 Nov Cultivating Gratitude at Work
As we approach Thanksgiving, it is appropriate we take a moment to thank God for His blessings.
However, let’s be honest. Many of us have struggled in so many ways during this long pandemic: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. How can Christians truly praise God during this season of disappointment and frustration, especially for where we spend most of our time – at work?
In my last article, I discussed some of the sources of discontentment at work, and shared some ways that Christians can respond to it in a biblical way with patience, wisdom and discernment. Here, I will explore how we can cultivate gratitude for the gifts in our work. Let me offer a few categories found in our work environment where we can see His hand of blessing.
GOD HAS PROVIDED A PLACE FOR US TO SERVE
Have you ever stopped to think about how God has provided a place for you to work that allows you to contribute to God’s work in the world? God created this world. It was perfect, and yet it was incomplete. God has invited men and women to work together with each other and with Him to continue to care for, cultivate, and expand His creation in order to meet the needs of humankind.
Long ago, the Israelites were exiled to Babylon. This was not exactly the best place to work. They were told in Jeremiah 29:5-6 to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.”
Hugh Whelchel, in How Then Should We Work? ties this passage to Genesis 1:28. He points out the connection between the command to “be fruitful and multiply”, with this one given to the Babylonian exiles. He observes that as they “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jer. 29:7), they will be obeying God’s mandate to subdue and rule. In doing so, they will be “reweaving Shalom” (or wholeness).
Whelchel continues, “God meant them [the Israelites] to be a blessing to the world even while they lived in Babylon. God intends the same for us. We are called to work for the shalom of the city, whatever or wherever that city is, where God has put us. We are to be a blessing in our time and place. This is possible only because we have found our identity in Christ, the Prince of Shalom.”
You have been gifted with a unique set of skills and a role to be a blessing through your work, to contribute to the wholeness and welfare of your neighbors and community. That God has invited us to co-labor alongside Him and others in restoring His creation in ways big and small is a gift.
GOD HAS PROVIDED A PURPOSE FOR US TO FULFILL
In this place where God has led us, He has given us opportunities to put to use the various abilities and experiences that He has graciously given to us to fulfill His purposes. Every single one of us, whether we realize it or not, have been divinely equipped to do the jobs we have so that God can work in us, with us, and through us to meet the full spectrum of human needs.
Tim Keller, in his excellent book, Every Good Endeavor, reminds us, “God does not simply create; he also loves, cares for, and nurtures his creation. He feeds and protects all he has made. But how does his providential care reach us? . . . God’s loving care comes to us largely through the labor of others. Work is a major instrument of God’s providence; it is how he sustains the human world.”
For example, if you serve in any capacity in law enforcement, justice, corrections, or in the military, God is working in, with, and through you to bring order out of chaos to keep the peace. You are loving your neighbors by what you do every day. This is a better world because of your efforts.
Perhaps you work in education, whether as an administrator, support staff, or teacher. God is working in, with, and through you to care for His children as you train their minds and hearts, equipping them for the good works God has prepared for them to do through your own work.
Work, as we see, has a purpose far beyond being a means to an end or serving our own desires. God will use you for His good purposes right where you are, as agents of common grace, to bring shalom to a fractured world. God’s kingdom provides us with the gift of renewed purpose in our work.
GOD HAS PROVIDED PEOPLE FOR US TO BLESS
We have seen that God has provided a place of employment that is full of opportunities to serve. He has also given us a job where He can use us to fulfill His purposes. A final thing we can be grateful for in our work is that He has put us in the midst of people who need what we can provide.
Most of us have bosses. We may have employees, co-workers, and customers we work with as well. Each of these people have various needs. While God could meet these needs on His own, in His grace He has allowed us the opportunity to meet those needs through our daily work. “God does not need your good works,” says Martin Luther, “but your neighbor does.”
What does your work provide that serves others? Perhaps it is a product, a new technology that will help solve a particular medical problem. Maybe you work in supply chain management: how does your eye for detail ensure that companies and their customers consistently have important products stocked? If you work in local government, what needs in the community do you advocate for and meet? No matter your industry, your neighbor needs your work.
Some might object at this point and question the value of their work. One way to think about how your work serves particular people is to ask, “What would happen if no one did my job?”
Certainly, beyond the work itself we have an opportunity to love and bless the people we interact with and labor alongside in our work. It may look like providing a listening ear for a weary coworker, encouraging an insecure supervisee, or setting healthy expectations around work-life balance for your employees. Whatever your role, your work is a setting in which God has placed you to love others.
There are specific people God intends for you to serve, with specific needs that you can meet through your work. Where have you seen your gifts and the needs of others intersect through your job?
GRATITUDE IN THE MIDST OF GRIEF
Douglas J. Schuurman, in his book, Vocation: Discerning our Callings in Life reminds us, “The deepest meaning of one’s work comes from faith: to believe that God has placed you in this particular place for this particular time, to use your gifts and opportunities to express gratitude for God’s great gift of salvation by serving God and your neighbor through your work—that is true meaning, the sources of real satisfaction and joy.”
When we truly see how God has blessed us by preparing us for and leading us to our workplaces and how He has used us to make a difference in the lives of those He has divinely placed us with, we can sincerely praise Him with a heart full of gratitude for these gracious gifts from His hand. We are a people with a place to serve, purpose to fulfill, and people to bless.
However, for many, this past year and a half may have been the most challenging season of work in your career. Fortunately, cultivating gratitude does not require that we ignore our grief. As we approach Thanksgiving, come to the table God has prepared for you and bring both your laments and your praises.
As you consider God’s kindness towards you this year, consider how He has shown His love for you through and in your work. Dwell on how the work of others has blessed and served you. And ultimately, take heart in the finished work of Christ that has been performed on your behalf, restoring you to right relationship with God.
It is from that work that we go forward in our own.
From the Nashville Institute for Faith + Work