In this episode of TGC Q&A, the final installment of our six-week series on faith and work, Greg Phelan answers the question, “How do I glorify God even when my work seems meaningless?”
• The danger: self-justification (:36)
• Looking big (1:28)
• Thinking small (3:15)
• Remembering the promise (4:30)
• How we can glorify God (6:40)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of Faith and Work.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Greg Phelan: Thanks this is, you know, this is such a good question. And I want to start by affirming the desire but also noting the danger, because it’s great to Planet respond to God’s love for us, right, Romans 12, Paul tells us, you know, present yourselves as a living sacrifice. And so to bring first fruits to want to do something significant or important or valuable, or you know, is great. But there’s a danger. Because our culture and our hearts tell us that we need to justify ourselves. So what could start as a response to free grace can easily morph into something dangerous, not the gospel. So I want us to look at three biblical principles that I think will help guard our hearts and enable us to do what God does consider significant. So I want us to look at three things, I want us to look big to think small, and to remember the promise. Okay, so first, we should look big. And what I mean by that is our work, whether it’s in the office, at home at church, of whatever it is, our work is only significant to the extent that it’s part of what God is doing. So someone in 27, write Psalm until Unless the Lord builds the house, your labor is in vain, or unless the Lord watches over the city, it’s vanity. So whatever we’re doing, it’s significant. If it’s part of what God’s doing, if it’s part of how God is bringing in kingdom, then it’s then it’s significant, for sure, no matter what role it is. So you know, I recently I’m reading, I read through Nehemiah and you get to chapter three, it’s just a list of this person was on that part of the wall, and he was doing his thing, you know, you can imagine they’re, they’re just a very small, like, all I’m doing is building a wall. But right there in the Bible, they’re part of this enormous part of God’s plan to bring his people back and to rebuild Jerusalem. First thing for us, our work is part of what God is doing. And so I think the first heart check is, are we following Jesus in the significant things that he’s doing? Or do we want him to bless our significant because the desire to do something significant could easily be Well, I have this, this is the way that I’m going to do something special. And it’s, it’s really, it’s my plan. It’s not God’s plan. And you know, I heard someone recently say, we follow Jesus, not the other way around. So if if God was to come to you and say, Here is your assignment, and you know, this is the thing I have special for you to do, you know, would we be content with it? Or would we say, oh, you know, I was, I was really hoping for something bigger. But if it’s what God has given us, that’s the most significant weakened thing we can do. So we do the we do want to balance the ambition of doing great things, and not just sitting back, but also bouncing contentment, if it’s if we’re truly where God has, has positioned us to be. So we think big, or we look big, and we think small. Second, because God’s value of significance is very different from ours, it’s very different from what our culture, or our society would tell us. So for example, Jesus watches people giving into the treasury, the person he says, is doing something the most significant is the widow giving two coins equaling a penny, which if you think about the budget, she’s not affecting the budget, she’s not helping you, nothing really is changing because of her to luctus. But Jesus said, what she did was the most significant she gave the most, or Jesus says, If you give a cold drink to those in need, God values, those very small things. These are significant in God’s economy. So working with integrity, personal sacrifice for others, for the greater good, honoring our commitments, spending ourselves, perhaps especially when others don’t notice. Those are incredibly significant in God’s kingdom. So if you feel like you’re not doing anything significant as the world defines, well, you might be wrong, you might be doing something incredibly significant as far as Gods concerned. So we look big to see the big picture of what God’s doing. We think small to realize the God values, even very little things that we’re doing. But third, we have to remember the prompts. Because no matter how well you do those first two things, no matter how well you remind yourself that you’re part of God’s big plans, and the God values even giving things when when it’s insignificant. You will feel like your work is pointless and fruitless. Your labor is going to feel like vanity, at work at the home at church, wherever it is, you are going to feel at some point, like your work is pointless and fruitless. It’s going to be thorns and thistles. But the promise that God has for us as our labor is not in vain. And Isaiah 65, the first place, God says, I’m going to create a new heavens and a new earth, restored creation. And Isaiah tells us at that time, our labor will not be, it won’t be useless. And then Paul, in First Corinthians 15, he’s got this magisterial chapter on the resurrection, the resurrection happened, and it’s going to happen. And he ends that chapter by saying, your labor is not in vain. Alright, Isaiah says, new heavens and new earth, your labor will not be in vain impulses. Now, your labor is not in vain, which is an amazing, an amazing statement. Right? How can you say that because we live in the new resurrection, the new earth, not fully, but Jesus has already brought new creation, and you are to creation, and God brings fruit out of death, and he works all things together for good. That’s, that’s the promise of the resurrection, that on the other side of death is new heavens and new earth. And we’re on that side of death, not fully, but we’re there. And so Paul can say, even now, no matter how fruitless it feels, no matter how pointless and insignificant, the things you’re doing, feel God is working all things together for the good of those who love them. Why? Because Jesus conquered death, and your body will be renewed, Jesus’s body was renewed, the scars are markers of His grace and His glory forever. And so the scars and the disappointments and the insignificant ways that we we feel that we follow and we obey, and we seek to glorify God, God will bring all of those things together in when he fully restores the heavens on Earth, your labor is not in vain. So how can we glorify God? Look at where resurrection fruit might be? Right? So so so you may say, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything significant? Well, look, where is the pattern of resurrection at work? In your work in your life? And your family, your church? Where do you see God bringing life out of death? Or where do you see the possibility that he might because you know, the thing about resurrection like we die, and we we don’t see the resurrection until the other side, we might be working on something and we don’t see where the fruits are gonna come but but look at where might God be bringing the pattern of resurrection out of my work, and you trust God’s plans for your work, and you trust the God use even small acts of faithfulness. So so we, we glorify God by trusting that he is who he is, and by doing the things he asks us to do. And so that means trusting that what feels insignificant is part of God’s plan to restore all things to bring his kingdom and that requires faith. We often don’t see it, but it requires faith. But that’s how we glorify God.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the faith and work series on TGC Q&A. For more gospel centered resources within our network, go to tgc.org/podcasts.
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Greg Phelan is an associate professor of economics at Williams College. He earned his college and graduate degrees from Yale University, and his research focuses on macroeconomics and financial theory. He is an elder at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and children.