The Gospel & Work | When your job becomes an idol
At first, I fought it. I never thought the Lord would really want me to be a photographer. Especially a wedding photographer. (I mean, I hadn't been to a wedding since I was a child, and I didn't even particularly LIKE them!)
It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that this is really what I'm supposed to do. But once I did, I realized that I genuinely loved photography (and weddings! Who would have imagined?) and, if I was going to do this, I wanted to do it to the best of my ability. I began reading and watching everything I could about how to improve my work, brand myself uniquely, and be effective and profitable. The more time I poured into my budding little business, the more I grew to love it.
….And then I realized. I could not. stop. thinking. about. photography.
Sometime during the last couple of months, it had taken over my life. The time that I used to spend thinking about Jesus was now filled with thought about exposure, profitability, and website design. I thought, If this is what God wants me to do, it's okay that I think about it so much. I mean, it's my job now…
"For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."
Exchanging the glory of the immortal God for anything less in our lives is to commit idolatry. If anything is more important to you than God (and you can usually tell what's important to you by what you think about most), it has become an idol.
As I thought about this (quite a bit) over the past few weeks, I began to realize that my job has not caused me to commit idolatry, but has simply revealed idols in my heart that were already there.
"The first commandment commands us: 'Thou shalt have no other gods,' which means: 'Since I am God alone, thou shalt place all thy confidence, trust, and faith on Me alone, and on no one else.' …All those who do not at all times trust God and His favor, grace, and good will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this commandment, and practice real idolatry. …If we do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false god."
- Martin Luther
When we fail to believe that God accepts us fully in Christ and based on the gospel, we begin to look for acceptance elsewhere and try to find other ways to prove ourselves. Our work becomes a way to show the world and ourselves that we're special and worth something. We begin to believe that we're useful and valuable based on what we do, not based on our identity in Christ.
If I look to myself and my work instead of God, I'm going to be disappointed. Every time. The truth is, there is nothing good about me in and of myself. I know this isn't easy to swallow, but the Bible leaves no room to believe that you are good, acceptable, or worthy apart from Christ:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. (Romans 7:18)
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)
And you were dead in trespasses and sins…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1; 3)
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7)
Our natural reaction is to scoff and plug our ears, and simply try harder to be better and make something good of our lives. We work hard, do good things, and hope it's enough to cover up the evil in our hearts. But it never is. The truth is, the only hope we have is in Christ and the gospel.
…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)
But God, being rich in mercy, in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved… (Eph. 2:4-5)
When we truly understand that we are acceptable to God based on Christ's death in our place, everything changes. If God accepts us, nothing else really matters! Our identity becomes 'child of God', not 'photographer'. Our self worth is based on the fact that God sees us as valuable because He sees Christ as valuable, and we're in Him… not based on how many 'likes' we have on Facebook. We do absolutely everything to glorify God, not get ahead in the world. The gospel frees us to work properly. We are free from the relentless pressure to prove ourselves and secure our identity through what we do because we are already proven and secure in Christ. We don't have to be rich and famous. We have nothing to prove, since we already have in Christ what others are working for - salvation, self worth, and peace. Instead, we are free to pursue the true purpose of working - to honor God by loving and serving people.
As I've been struggling with this over the past few weeks, I read Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. If this is something you're struggling with as well, I highly recommend it to you. It's an excellent book to read about the theology of work and the proper role it plays in the Christian's life.