Inside: Is fulfillment at work a pipe dream? Not if you are a Christian. Learn 9 ways for finding fulfillment in work, even if you dislike your job.
Your dreaded smartphone alarm clock blares on a Monday morning. The grating sound makes your stomach drop. You drag yourself out of bed in the dark to get ready for work, trying not to stumble over the furniture while your spouse sleeps like a baby.
Over the weekend, it wasn’t this hard to get out of bed. But it’s different because today is Monday, the start of a new workweek.
“I Hate Going to Work”
In 1854, Henry David Thoreau wrote the now famous quote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Back then, he was referring to people trapped in an unfulfilling life caused by a misguided pursuit of wealth and status. This sentiment still applies to today’s modern society, maybe more than ever before.
One recent Gallup poll found that only 21% of workers are engaged at work, meaning 79% of people aren’t engaged, whatever the reason.
Perhaps you can relate to a feeling of quiet desperation due to working a job that is less than fulfilling. A feeling that is compounded by content creators and “experts” on social media selling you the idea that you can “quit your job and be your own boss” or “become financially independent and retire early.”
But you’ve got bills to pay—today.
If you work a job that you dislike, but can’t quit or change jobs, you’re in the majority. Here are nine keys to finding (more) fulfillment in work when you dread going in on Mondays.
1. Manage Your Expectations
In modern society, the world sells the idea that we can find our identity and meaning through our work, whether it be in the workplace, raising children, or managing a home.
Work was originally meant to be fulfilling and pleasant (and will again be in the new heaven and earth). In the meantime, work became toilsome after Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis 3:17-19:
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground” (NIV).
You can probably relate to this feeling of toil in your day-to-day work or home life. This is exactly what God said that our work would be like at times. Yet sometimes we still insist on seeking our identity and meaning from a fallen world that produces thorns and thistles—and end up sorely disappointed.
Ironically, the people who are most vulnerable to this disillusionment are those who are idealistic or initially passionate about their careers. This can happen in a couple of ways.
First, we can mistakenly place too much of our identity in what we do. For example, if I place all my identity in being a wife, nurse, or writer, I will be shattered if I were to lose these roles or abilities tomorrow.
Second, we can mistakenly place our fulfillment and significance in the outcomes of our work. Our happiness will be based on how things are going at work, whether we are recognized and accepted, where we are on the pay scale, and whether we’ve made a difference. What a rocky ride!
It’s easy to place our hopes in the things of the world, for they are more tangible than God is. If we discover that we have misplaced our identity or meaning in our work, we can confess this to God, and place our hope in God alone. He is the only one who will not leave us disillusioned.
2. Finding Fulfillment in Work Through Obedience
Before the fall of man, Adam was assigned to be a gardener in a perfect world. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
According to Mary Whelchel, God has likewise placed us somewhere with a task to do. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Just as God assigned work for Adam, God has assigned work for us. We can find satisfaction in the simple act of obedience in completing His assignment for us, leaving the outcomes to Him.
Whelchel writes in a blog post, “God is not here to make us feel fulfilled in the career or work that we choose. We are here to do the good work that He has prepared for us to do.”
We glorify God through our faithfulness and daily productivity. Make this your new measure of success. It’s through this obedience that we will find the secondary benefit of finding fulfillment in work.
3. Seek to Serve
But what if we are unsure of where God has even assigned us to work? Self-help books tout the importance of “following your passion,” but by midlife, many of us don’t even know what passion is anymore.
The most important thing is not where we work, but how we work. Timothy Keller writes in Every Good Endeavor, “Your daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped you to do it—no matter what kind of work it is.” We can glorify God wherever and whatever we do.
Pray that God will help you transform your mindset. We can intentionally seek to serve others first, rather than ourselves. We cease focusing on, “What can I get out of my job?”
Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
4. Change Who You Work For
Another change in mindset is to work for God, rather than our boss or employer. In Colossians 3:23-24, the apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Paul is addressing slaves working under their masters here, but the same principle can be applied to the modern workplace.
Even if we are stuck in situations where we dislike our boss, we can still choose to serve God heartily. This verse is especially empowering for us as Christians because the number one reason that people dislike their jobs is because of their boss or management.
(The flip side is that when we complain about circumstances at work, we are complaining against God!)
Another common reason that people become disgruntled is when they fail to receive the praise and recognition they feel they deserve. While this is a valid reason that a company culture might need changing, we cannot count on a company culture improving before we feel better.
Let’s derive our approval and validation from God alone, who is pleased when we walk in His will and ways. Work for an audience of One.
5. Slow Down and Walk with God
We can use work as another opportunity to walk with God, rather than viewing it as a chore to “get through” until we can go home and do something more enjoyable. Life doesn’t start after work, work is part of life.
Rather than compartmentalizing our work life and inadvertently shutting God out, we can choose to converse with Him throughout the workday. Mindfully focusing on God’s pleasure with us is a more refreshing way to work.
Contrast this with the mindset of working for the next paycheck/weekend/vacation. This all-too-common mode of working only amplifies that feeling of quiet desperation.
Don’t be a Christian that has joy only on the weekends.
6. Serve the Work
Nowadays, people expect their jobs and careers to fulfill all kinds of needs: purpose, passion, power, status, wealth, and security. The impressive list goes on and on.
According to a recent article, most employees now expect their jobs to bring a significant portion of their purpose in life. Seventy percent of employees said that their sense of purpose is defined by their work, yet only 15% of them reported being able to fulfill their desired purpose through work.
No wonder so many people are unhappy with their jobs.
On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy made his famous inaugural speech during the height of the Cold War, calling on the public to do what was right for the greater good: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
In the same way, instead of focusing on what our work can do for us, we can ask what we can do for our work. We serve the work, rather than ask our work to serve us by providing needs that it cannot possibly meet.
With all its thorns and thistles, the world of work will never be able to provide for our deepest needs and desires. Whatever you’re seeking from work, look to God for these things—and spare yourself unnecessary dissatisfaction.
7. Find a Hobby Outside of Your Job
In recent years, one of the trending career advice has been a variation of “Follow your passion” or “Do what you love for a living.” The reality is that this is not possible for most of us.
This unrealistic expectation leads to dissatisfaction, job questioning, and the grass-is-always-greener mentality. Plus, not everyone can quit their day jobs to start their own business—no matter what those YouTubers say.
Do yourself a favor and take that pressure off your 9-to-5 job by finding a hobby outside of work instead.
A hobby or passion project will give you something to enjoy and be passionate about during your off-work hours. A creative hobby that allows you to enter the state of flow will decrease work stress by helping you detach from work.
8. Be Happy in Your Toil
The Bible says that the ability to enjoy our work comes from God. It is a gift that He bestows.
Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 says, “When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.”
As Christians, we can pray that God gives us the ability to “be happy in our toil.” Let’s ask Him for this gift. Ask God to help you enjoy your work more. Pray for a miraculous change of your heart. It’s a change that only He can do.
9. Submit Your Life to God
For this final point, flash back to middle school. You may remember learning about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The top level of the five-tiered pyramid showed that our highest form of human need is self-fulfillment through achieving one’s fullest potential (self-actualization):
The truth is that Maslow’s model is not entirely accurate. The moment that we exalt our need for self-fulfillment, we have made an idol of the self.
Our highest need is to love God and serve others. It’s by doing these things that we find fulfillment and actualization in our lives, thus achieving Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Such is the paradox of the Christian life. Jesus says, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). In the end, our life is not our own.
Let’s find life by surrendering our lives to God. Let’s keep God—rather than our work—at the forefront of our priorities. He’s trustworthy and faithful. He will give us life back in full.
Then we might not dread the sound of our morning alarm clocks so much.
Recap: How to Find Fulfillment in Work as a Christian
- Manage Your Expectations. Derive your identity and meaning from God, rather than a fallen work world.
- Find Fulfillment in Work Through Obedience. Find satisfaction in being faithful to the assigned work that God has given you.
- Seek to Serve. Work for others, rather than yourself.
- Change Who You Work For. Work for God, rather than your boss or the praise of others.
- Slow Down and Walk with God. Use your work life as another opportunity to walk with God.
- Serve the Work. Serve the work, rather than expecting your work to serve your needs.
- Find a Hobby Outside of Your Job. An outside hobby will help you cope with stressors at work and give you more passion and enjoyment.
- Be Happy in Your Toil. Pray for God to give you the ability to enjoy your work.
- Submit Your Life to God. Surrender your need for self-fulfillment to God, serving Him and other people first.
Who have you been working for? Are there any changes that you need to make today?
“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 (NIV)
This blog post was updated on September 8, 2022.