Work: a Blessing or a Curse?
David Jeng—St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Recently in my work group we held
a special meeting. Another group within our department was having difficulty,
and since we were a high performing group, we were asked to rotate several of our
engineers over to support their troubled program.
Our managers bluntly explained
that whoever volunteered to rotate over to that program would likely face
overtime and a potentially stressful environment. They were expected to
immediately contribute to the program with little or no training.
Rumors described a bleak work
environment where jaded coworkers toiled under poor management. Repeated
failures had further decimated what little morale that remained. The only
incentive was that since the department head would have direct oversight of the
project, workers would have higher visibility to upper management. Given such
dismal terms, I wasn’t expecting anybody to volunteer. To my surprise, those
positions were quickly filled.
Why would anybody willingly dive
into a failed program and subject themselves to high stress and long hours?
THE TWO FATES OF WORK
Solomon, in his wisdom, spoke
about two fates of all who work: a blessing and a curse.
The Preacher reflects,
For what has man for all his labor, and for the
striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days
are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no
rest. This also is vanity. (Eccl 2:22, 23).
We live in a society that has
been ruthlessly pushing for greater productivity. Gone are the days where the
40-hour week is viewed as standard. Today, 50 to 60 hours per week is the norm
in most industries.
Now thanks to our digital leash,
we enjoy 24/7 connectivity to the office. We can reply to company emails and
work in our virtual office even from the comforts of our home. Only with great
reluctance are we able to temporarily suspend our cell phones or Blackberry
devices. Even so, we find ourselves fidgeting during that brief duration of our
Let us step back for a moment and
try to make sense of this work-frenzied phenomenon.
Why do we work so hard? Surely we
can blame society for at least part of our misery. After all, we are pressured
to work overtime in order to survive in this competitive world. Very few of us
obey the 40-hour limit or control “when” or “how long” we work.
Under these circumstances, work
can indeed seem like a curse. Not only does it burden us with stress and
fatigue during the day, it also creeps into our nights to rob us of precious
sleep. Worse yet, the result of our sweat and blood may simply be a pink slip
(or if we own our business, having to declare Chapter 11).
Fortunately, not all work is doom
and gloom. Solomon also writes of the blessing of work. God allows one to “enjoy
the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his
life which God gives him” (Eccl 5:18). It is a “gift of God” and a life of
purpose, for “he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God
keeps him busy with the joy of his heart” (Eccl 5:19, 20).
There are many wonderful ways we
can enjoy work. The most basic perk work offers is that it allows us to sustain
ourselves. There are mouths to feed and bills to pay. Groceries, rent, and gas,
are only some of the basic expenses required of us to survive in this world.
Work serves as a means for us to acquire the money needed to provide for our
basic necessities in life.
For others, work offers more than
just money. Our occupation shapes both how others see us and how we see
ourselves. Aside from offering an identity and status in society, sometimes it instills
a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
Whether they are teachers,
scientists, custodians, or waiters, there are people of every profession who
are able to look beyond their jobs to see a hope to create a better community,
country, or humanity. They share the vision of a better world.
HOW TO ACHIEVE A BLESSED CAREER
Work is very much a part of our
life in this world. When does work become overwork? When does enthusiasm,
dedication, and a sense of responsibility become a destructive force that
hinders our spiritual, physical, social, and emotional well-being?
Let’s examine how God had intended
for us to work in this world so that we can turn this curse into a blessing and
achieve a blessed career.
Reserve Time for Rest
Ecclesiastes chapter 3 tells us
that there is a time for everything:
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to gain, and a time to lose.
In our rush to reach our goals or
build up our careers, we may have forgotten that God has also given us a time
for rest. It is this rest that is increasingly taken away from us by the
There is a fundamental shift in the
workplace supporting long and irregular workdays. From free soft drinks and
ping-pong tables to more lavish treatments such as free meals and pet care,
many companies entice young professionals to work longer hours at the office.
Equally significant is the advent
of the virtual office in the context of globalization. One may be expected to
coordinate time zone differences not only between the West Coast and East Coast,
but also that of Bangalore, Moscow,
Robbed of continuous blocks of rest, we are forced to rely on short power naps
and caffeinated drinks to overcome our bodies’ natural crave for rest.
Studies have shown that in
addition to a drastic reduction in alertness,1 sleep deprivation
also reduces memory and learning functions.2 According to sleep
researchers, when you get less sleep than what your body naturally needs, you
incur a debt that must be repaid.3 Whether you like it or not, you
will repay that sleep.
We do need to work enough to earn
our daily needs, but there are only so many things we can do in a day before we
run out of energy. Rest is essential to our overall well-being. Even though the
bulk of our time and energy per day may be sold to the company, we must not
forget that life is more than the collection of manna.
We need to recognize the
importance of rest and allocate time for it. The financial advice for reducing
debt, “pay yourself first” applies to rest as well. When we have blocks of free
time, we need to set the proper limits and make sure our body gets the rest it
Don’t Chase After the Wind
King Solomon attained wisdom and
understanding unsurpassed by mortals. He amassed great fortunes and a name that
lasted throughout history. He constructed great waterways and pools, planted
beautiful vineyards, orchards, and gardens, and built magnificent houses. In
his lifetime, he achieved many times over what one would be proud to have
accomplished in one’s life.
But despite all his success, King
Solomon’s conclusion was that life without God is meaningless and empty. In
other words, no matter how great our accomplishments are in this world, they
are meaningless when our lives are not centered on God.
In our lives, it is sometimes so
easy to lose focus of our purpose. Like Solomon, we may find ourselves
unwittingly chasing after the wind.
We see others around us toiling
endlessly in pursuit of a better life. People then work even harder to maintain
that new standard of living. To safeguard against disasters that may take their
hard-earned life away, they must work even harder.
If we follow their footsteps, we
may be like the pitiful rich man who lost his focus in life (Lk 12:16-21). When
God blessed him so that the ground in which he labored yielded abundantly, he
focused all his time and energy coming up with a plan so that he would retire
in luxury. All his toil was in vain when his life ended.
Manage Your Investments Wisely
When tending to the needs of our
faith, family, and career, we are often encouraged to model our priorities
after the patriarchs. Whenever Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob moved to a new
location, they would always first build an altar to worship God, set up the
tents for their family, and finally dig a well to provide for their livestock.
While they also faced many daily challenges in confronting the competing
demands of life, they were able to find a proper balance.
How we manage these three aspects
of life is like managing three fields we own—each requiring our labors to till,
sow, weed, and harvest. While working hard to invest in your work may yield an
abundant harvest of riches and success, this comes at the price of having
abandoned fields of overgrown weeds for your family and your faith.
The goals we invest the most time
and energy in should be tied to the potential returns: the necessities for
life, a healthy body, a close-knit network of friends, a loving family, and our
salvation in eternity.
Just as no amount of money can
buy back the love and affection of a child who grew up with an absent parent,
no amount of love and affection for our loved ones can give them that inner
peace and eternal hope. We must choose carefully how much time we invest
working in each field. The most rewarding one, of course, will be that field
containing the hidden treasure of eternal life.
If we define clear and manageable
goals in our faith, family, and career and allot the time and energy to achieve
them according to their relative priority, we can reap the abundant harvest of
a long-lasting, far-reaching, and much more meaningful existence.
Our faith, family, and career are
all aspects of our life that need time and care. Like the legs of a tripod,
focusing solely on one aspect will lead to an unbalanced life that could easily
Invest in the Imperishable
When investing, we try to
maximize our return on investment. We expect that, at the very least, our
returns will surpass the rate of inflation.
Similarly, in our career, we
expect to receive raises and promotions on a regular basis, but we also seek to
maximize our advancement. We work hard and pursue advanced degrees, retrain for
certificates, and keep up with the latest technology. We go to conferences or
business socials to try to get more visibility with the executives—all in hopes
of advancing our careers.
In the same way, we should also
make goals for our faith and family and hold them to the same level of
expectation and ambition as we would in our career or financial goals.
Perhaps we can spend a little
more time on our health or seek to get in touch with some long neglected
friends and family. Or perhaps we aim to build up and train ourselves in
specific tasks so that we can work for the Lord. Maybe our goal is to simply
advance our spirituality each year.
My coworkers were willing to
volunteer themselves into such a bleak working environment because they valued
the opportunity as a stepping-stone to success. Even though it may cost them
time for family, friends, and faith, they were willing to invest in this
If others are eager to sacrifice
so much for such a tiny hope of greater things to come, shouldn’t we, who
possess the precious promise of God, invest heavily in the greatest part of our
HEAR THE HIGHER CALLING
Mother Theresa dedicated her life
to helping others. However, she saw helping orphans as more than just social
work—she saw it as a calling from God. We help those around us not just to help
others, but most of all to glorify the Lord.
As Christians, we too are
determined to make a positive difference in the world around us. As the
ambassadors of our faith, we have the responsibility to exemplify our faith.
However, our mission and calling encompasses and surpasses the vision of simply
Even though our job descriptions
may seem to be a far cry from the work entrusted by our Lord—to feed His sheep
and preach the word of God to the ends of the earth—it is an opportunity given
to us by God to do His will.
We are placed in our workplaces to
illuminate our environments and season those around us. While we exert
ourselves in the business of each day, we must ask ourselves: Have we glorified
God in our workplace today?
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