Work—A Blessing or a Curse?
“With a man there is nothing better than that he should . . . see good because of his hard work.”—Ecclesiastes 2:24.
“USED up at the end of the workday.” In a recent survey, that is how 1 in 3 employees described the way they very often feel. This comes as no surprise in an environment where people suffer from stress; they work longer and take more work home—all the while having bosses who seldom offer a word of appreciation.
The advent of mass production has made many workers feel like little more than cogs in the wheels of a massive, impersonal machine. Inspiration and creativity are often squelched. Naturally, this affects people’s attitudes toward work. Motivation to take a personal interest in one’s work is easily dampened. The desire for excellence in craftsmanship might be quenched. Such consequences could breed dislike for the work itself, perhaps making a person hate his job.
Examining Our Attitude
Granted, we cannot always change our circumstances. Do you not agree, however, that we can adjust our attitude? If you find that you have to some extent been influenced by negative attitudes toward work, you do well to consider God’s viewpoint and principles relating to this subject. (Ecclesiastes 5:18) Many have found that considering these has given them a measure of happiness and contentment in their work.
God is the Supreme Worker. God is a worker. Perhaps we have not thought of him in that way, but that is how he first introduces himself in the Bible. The Genesis account opens with Jehovah’s creating the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) Think of the array of roles that God assumed when he thus started creating—designer, organizer, engineer, artist, materials specialist, project developer, chemist, biologist, zoologist, programmer, linguist, to name just a few.—Proverbs 8:12, 22-31.
What was the quality of God’s work? The Bible record says that it was “good,” “very good.” (Genesis 1:4, 31) Indeed, the creation is “declaring the glory of God,” and we too should praise him!—Psalm 19:1; 148:1.
However, God’s work did not end with the creation of the physical heavens and earth and the first human pair. Jehovah’s Son, Jesus Christ, said: “My Father has kept working until now.” (John 5:17) Yes, Jehovah continues to work by providing for his creatures, sustaining his creation, and saving his faithful worshipers. (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 36:6; 145:15, 16) He even uses people, “God’s fellow workers,” to assist with accomplishing certain tasks.—1 Corinthians 3:9.
Work can be a blessing. Does the Bible not say that work is a curse? Genesis 3:17-19 might seem to imply that God punished Adam and Eve for their rebellion by putting the burden of work on them. When condemning those first humans, God said to Adam: “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground.” Was that a blanket condemnation of work?
No. Rather, because of Adam and Eve’s unfaithfulness, extension of the Edenic Paradise would not happen then and there. The ground came under God’s curse. Sweat and toil were required for a person to eke out a living from the soil.—Romans 8:20, 21.
Instead of presenting work as a curse, the Bible shows that it is a blessing to be cherished. As noted above, God himself is a hard worker. Having created humans in his image, Jehovah has bestowed on them the ability and the authority to manage his earthly creation. (Genesis 1:26, 28; 2:15) That work assignment was given before God pronounced the words recorded at Genesis 3:19. If work were a curse and an evil, Jehovah would never have encouraged people to engage in it. Noah and his family had much work to do before and after the Flood. In the Christian era, Jesus’ disciples were also urged to work.—1 Thessalonians 4:11.
Still, we all know that work can be burdensome nowadays. Stress, hazards, boredom, disappointment, competition, deception, and injustice are just some of the “thorns and thistles” now associated with it. But work in itself is not a curse. At Ecclesiastes 3:13, the Bible calls work and its fruitage a gift from God.—See the box “Dealing With Work-Related Stress.”
You can glorify God with your work. Quality and excellence in the workplace have always been praised. Quality is one of the keys to a Biblical view of work. God himself does his work with excellence. He has given us talents and abilities, and he wants us to use our skills to a good end. For example, during the construction of the tabernacle in ancient Israel, Jehovah filled people like Bezalel and Oholiab with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, enabling them to carry out specific artistic and practical tasks. (Exodus 31:1-11) This shows that God took a special interest in the function, craftsmanship, design, and other details of their work.
This has profound implications for our perception of personal abilities and work habits. It helps us see them in a sense as gifts from God, which are not to be taken for granted. Thus, Christians are admonished to do their work as if God himself were reviewing their performance: “Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men.” (Colossians 3:23) God’s servants are commanded to do good work, thus making the Christian message more attractive to coworkers and others.—See the box “Applying Bible Principles in the Workplace.”
In the light of this, we do well to ask ourselves what kind of quality and diligence we put into our work. Would God be pleased with our performance? Are we fully satisfied with the way we carry out our assigned tasks? If not, there is room for improvement.—Proverbs 10:4; 22:29.
Balance work with spirituality. Although working hard is commendable, there is yet another key element to finding satisfaction in work and in life. It is spirituality. King Solomon, who worked hard and enjoyed all the riches and comforts that life had to offer, came to this conclusion: “Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.”—Ecclesiastes 12:13.
Clearly, we must consider God’s will in whatever we do. Are we working in harmony with his will, or might we be working against it? Are we endeavoring to please God, or are we just trying to please ourselves? If we do not do God’s will, we will eventually suffer the pain of despair, loneliness, and emptiness.
Steven Berglas suggested that burned-out executives ‘find a cause they feel passion for and work it into their life.’ There is no cause more worthwhile than serving the One who gave us the skills and abilities to do meaningful work. Doing work that pleases our Creator will not leave us dissatisfied. To Jesus, the work he was assigned by Jehovah was as nourishing, satisfying, and refreshing as food. (John 4:34; 5:36) And recall that God, the Supreme Worker, invites us to become his “fellow workers.”—1 Corinthians 3:9.
Worshiping God and growing spiritually prepare us for rewarding work and responsibility. Since the workplace is often filled with pressures, conflicts, and demands, our deep-rooted faith and spirituality can supply much-needed strength as we strive to be better employees or employers. On the other hand, the realities of life in this ungodly world can alert us to areas where we need to grow in faith.—1 Corinthians 16:13, 14.
When Work Will Be a Blessing
Those who are now working hard to serve God can look forward to the time when he will restore Paradise and the whole earth will be filled with worthwhile work. Isaiah, a prophet of Jehovah, foretold regarding life then: “They will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. They will not build and someone else have occupancy; they will not plant and someone else do the eating. . . . The work of their own hands my chosen ones will use to the full.”—Isaiah 65:21-23.
What a blessing work will then be! By learning what God’s will is for you and working in harmony with it, may you be among the blessed ones of Jehovah and always ‘see good for all your hard work.’—Ecclesiastes 3:13.
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DEALING WITH WORK-RELATED STRESS
Medical professionals have classified job stress as an occupational hazard. It can cause ulcers and depression and can even lead to suicide. The Japanese have a term for it—karoshi, “death from overwork.”
Various work-related factors can contribute to stress. These include a change in working hours or conditions, trouble with supervision, a change in responsibilities or kind of work, retirement, and dismissal. Reacting to such stress, some try to escape by changing jobs or environment. Others seek to suppress such stress, only to find that it spills over into other areas of life, most commonly the family. Some people even suffer emotionally, giving way to depression and despair.
Christians are well-equipped to deal with work-generated stress. The Bible provides numerous fundamental principles that can carry us through difficult times with a positive effect on our spiritual and emotional well-being. For example, Jesus said: “Never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.” The encouragement here is to focus on today’s problems, not tomorrow’s. Thus we avoid blowing our troubles out of proportion, only to increase the sense of pressure.—Matthew 6:25-34.
It is essential that Christians rely on God’s strength, not their own. When we feel that we are at the breaking point, God can give us peace and joy in our hearts and provide us with wisdom to deal with any hardship. “Go on acquiring power in the Lord and in the mightiness of his strength,” wrote the apostle Paul.—Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 4:7.
Finally, even stressful circumstances can produce positive results. Trials can make us turn to Jehovah, seeking him and trusting in him. They can also prompt us to continue cultivating a Christian personality and the ability to persevere under pressure. Paul admonishes us: “Let us exult while in tribulations, since we know that tribulation produces endurance; endurance, in turn, an approved condition; the approved condition, in turn, hope.”—Romans 5:3, 4.
Thus, even stress can become a catalyst for spiritual growth rather than the source of despair and grief.
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APPLYING BIBLE PRINCIPLES IN THE WORKPLACE
A Christian’s attitude and behavior on the job can make the message of the Bible attractive to coworkers and others. In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul admonishes those in a situation like employees to “be in subjection to their [supervisors] in all things, and please them well, not talking back, not committing theft, but exhibiting good fidelity to the full, so that they may adorn the teaching of our Savior, God, in all things.”—Titus 2:9, 10.
For example, consider what one businessman wrote to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “I am writing to ask permission to hire Jehovah’s Witnesses. I want to hire them because I know for a fact that they are honest, sincere, and trustworthy, and they will not cheat you. The only people I really trust are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Please help me.”
Kyle is a Christian who works as a receptionist at a private school. As a result of a misunderstanding, a coworker cursed at her in front of some students. “I had to be careful not to bring shame on Jehovah’s name,” recalls Kyle. For the next five days, Kyle gave thought to how she could apply Bible principles. One is found at Romans 12:18: “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” She e-mailed her coworker and apologized for the tension between them. Kyle invited her coworker to stay after work to talk and clear the air. When they did that, Kyle’s colleague softened and acknowledged the wisdom of Kyle’s approach. She said to Kyle, “This must have something to do with your religion” and gave her a warm embrace as they said good night. Kyle’s conclusion? “We can never go wrong if we apply Bible principles.”
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Many workers feel like cogs in an impersonal machine
Japan Information Center, Consulate General of Japan in NY
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Globe: NASA photo