The Why and How of Work

  • Steve Hatter
Man walking with a briefcase

It is my turn to blog again, and as I thought about what to say this time, I was drawn to a topic I blogged on a few years back, the concept of work. This blog is an updated and better-edited version of that older blog. That said, allow me to begin with Scripture!

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” Colossians 3:23

“ Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.” Ephesians 6:5-8

As created beings made in the image of God, we are supposed to do work as we live our lives under the sovereign rule of our creator. God designed purpose, capacity, and desire to work into us. However, like so many fundamental realities about God’s perfect purpose and design for humanity, the very idea of doing work is under assault in our modern culture.

I am a huge believer in not only working in a manner obedient to God but also in pursuing excellence in our work. Motivated obedience pleases God, and excellence demands we make choices to be diligent, persevere, and even sacrifice.

Unfortunately, excellence in work seems to be becoming rarer in America. If you find yourself suspect of such a claim, do a quick google search of “waning excellence in America.” All sorts of articles and studies appear to warn of an unrecoverable slide. There are irrefutable trends to the negative, and Christians should think about such change considering biblical truth. We should look deeper into the trends and debates of our day as we examine our own choices.

The concept of “work-life balance” has become a quite popular subject of debate in our modern culture. A professional definition of work-life balance from the folks who are trained in matters of Human Resources (HR) is this:

“work-life balance refers to the level of prioritization between personal and professional activities in an individual’s life and the level to which activities related to their job are present in the home.”

To me, this somewhat tortured definition seems awfully “me-centered.” It seems measuring a person’s work-life balance has emerged over the last few decades in response to the idea that many people are simply miserable, so perhaps it must be because we either work too hard of our own accord, or our employer is making us work too hard.

The logic argues that people do not have enough balance of things other than work to keep them from being miserable. Therefore, solving one’s work-life balance becomes a holy grail of temporal happiness because ‘finding” a “right” work-life balance is touted as the path to a stress-free life. The goal for the wise 21st-century person is to strive for that balance, and once one finds it, wham! you have your utopia!

Of course, no one can define with any sense of credibility or authority the “right” work-life balance, which means each individual then gets to define, or even demand, the “right” work-life balance for themselves. It is then no surprise that conflict erupts between employer and employee as they are now forced to negotiate on this utterly subjective point.

Sadly, like so many ideas that rise from within the culture and apart from biblical wisdom, striving for the right work-life balance is a waste of time. The search will never yield the results promised. A “right” work-life balance cannot save a loveless marriage, nor rescue catastrophic communication breakdowns between poorly prioritizing parents and their rebellious kids.

However, God’s Word can save marriages and does fix the most egregious of parenting failures. This is because God’s Word always addresses what is deep in the human heart. It goes for the cause and not the symptoms.

God is always challenging the motivations of our hearts. Great behavior emanating from less-than-honorable motives will not produce the good result a person may want, nor will it in any way please God. However, a rightly oriented heart—one that is humbly choosing to act from a serious motivation of love for God—will bear both temporal and eternal fruit. Allow me to explain what I mean by looking at three things: work, marriage, and parenting.


God designed us to work, and we are supposed to work for Him. He is our ultimate boss, so working for him means we are not putting conditions on the work he providentially provides—whether in quality, quantity, or level of effort. We are to do the task at hand to the very best of our gifting and ability, which means sometimes we must work overtime, or work harder than anyone else around us, or labor thanklessly, or even fruitlessly, for a time.

If we are living by faith, we trust that we are where we are supposed to be, and we give it our all. Then we trust the results to God. If we are loving the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might, as Deuteronomy 6:5 commands, we can work in an unfettered way and trust the Sovereign of the universe to arrange for the “right” work-life balance.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

In my own work-life of now forty-three years, I have seen God move me through seasons wherein there have been times of maximum intensity—and arguably, unforgivably bad work-life balances—interspersed with times of less job demand, but far more family needs to attend to.

And I must confess that even as God was graciously leading me, I succumbed to varying levels of anxiety throughout. But as He has grown me in Christian maturity, I have become more comfortable trusting God. I have become much better at not trying to make a situation something other than what He desired for me. In so doing, I have more clearly seen His goodness and trustworthiness! God loves healthy marriages, and He loves parenting that honors Him. So, He will make a way for your work-life balance if you totally trust Him first and foremost, and “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).


As a husband, there is one thing that my wife needs to know. She needs to know that I love her more than anything else in the world except for God. As such, she is my number one priority, and every decision I make must account for that right priority. This idea is not in conflict with what I have written above about work.

Scripture is both clear and complementary, and Ephesians 5 commands me to love Cynthia with a Christ-like love: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). This means nothing in the temporal world is more important than tending sacrificially to my marriage. Money, fame, power, prestige, or achievement must never compete with my priority to love Cynthia as Christ loves the church. And trust me, men, our wives read our hearts nearly as well as our supernatural God does, so there is no attempting to fool them. What I have experienced in my own marriage of nearly 41 years is that when I am called to extraordinary duty—a bad work-life balance—Cynthia becomes a cheerleader and helper because she knows and trusts my heart. Working long hours is never the real issue. The real issue is the “why” behind working long hours. A disingenuous “why” breeds resentment. A noble “why” engenders support and prayer and a coming alongside.


Cynthia and I have been greatly blessed with five children who are now all adults. Our “baby” turned twenty-three this past January! Praise God they are all followers of Christ and living lives of integrity and worth. I have been asked more than a few times what the secret was to the successful parenting of these five, especially because for twenty-six years, we were a military family. We moved twelve times in twenty-six years, and I was often gone on long deployments.

According to conventional wisdom, such turmoil is not a formula for success. Well, I was never a perfect parent, nor was Cynthia. However, what we did get right was very similar to what I said above about marriage. We believed all along that these precious children were our next highest priority after God and our marriage. We believed that priority deep in our hearts, and we demonstrated that true belief in our actions. I will tell you that the kids all knew. There is simply no fooling the ones made in God’s image, whether young or old. They knew we would die for them, and so they did not resent the harder times as the world would tell them they should have. Instead, they rooted for us and learned to pray for us.

The bottom line of this blog is simply this: your heart motivations matter! No one, beginning with God, is fooled when one’s motivations are not what they should be. God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7), and He will see your selfishness even if others do not! However, when we are willing to humbly check our motivations and then set priorities from a place of loving submission, God does honor our priorities and choices because they are aligned with His. That is my testimony as an older man now looking back.

Why do we work? We work because God calls us to. How do we work under His call? We work for Him and Him alone.