Lie #3: Your happiness is the primary purpose of work

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

I’ve saved the most pervasive and deeply entrenched lie about work and calling for the last week of this series. For decades, well-intentioned Christ-followers have been doling out a piece of career advice which seems loving on the surface, but in reality, is actually quite dangerous. The advice goes something like this: “Do whatever makes you happy. Follow your passions. Chase your dreams.”

In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author and scientist Cal Newport summarizes this advice as “the passion hypothesis” in which we are told that “the key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.” Of course, identifying our God-given passions is an important step in discerning our calling; but making the pursuit of vocational happiness our primary and most immediate aim turns out to be terrible advice. Why?

For starters, it simply doesn’t work. As scientists like Newport are beginning to understand, “passion is a side effect of mastery,” not the other way around. In other words, those that deeply love their work are the ones who have spent enough time focused on getting really good at what they do.

But there’s a second reason why the passion hypothesis is a lie: This advice is out of line with Jesus’s example to serve rather than be served. The passion mindset focuses exclusively on what value your job offers you. But if our work is to be a calling, we must submit ourselves to the agenda of our Caller. Following Christ means viewing our entire life (including our work) as service to God and others, rather than as a means of getting something from this world.

Nowhere in Scripture does it say, “follow your passions” or “do whatever makes you happy.” The Christian life is one primarily characterized by service, pouring our lives out as living sacrifices for the sake of God’s glory and the good of others (Romans 12:1). The point of work isn’t primarily to make us happy. The point of work is the point of life, summarized by Jesus in Matthew 22: “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor as yourself.” And the way we do that is not by seeking out work that gives us instant but shallow satisfaction. We glorify God and love our neighbors as ourselves by finding and focusing on the work we can do most exceptionally well. And as we do that, in God’s graciousness, he invites us to “share the Master’s happiness,” (Matthew 25:23) granting us the deep and sustainable satisfaction of vocation we all long for.


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