Do What You Love or Love What You Do?

by Derek Brown

It’s not uncommon today for young folks to begin their careers in the search for work they “love” to do, moving from job to job until they’ve landed on the type of work they especially enjoy. There are a variety of factors for how this approach to work developed among the so-called millennial generation—national economic affluence leading to countless work opportunities and the freedom to choose a career among a myriad of viable options. But it may also be the fruit of successful business people who encourage those just about to enter the workforce to find their passion. Most notably, when Steve Jobs addressed Stanford’s 2005 graduating class, he admonished them to identify their passion and relentlessly pursue it.

You’ve got to find what you love….Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.

Jobs is certainly right to note that work is going to fill a “large part of your life,” so we should give some thought to what kind of work we are going to give 50 hours a week to. But is this sound advice? Should we search far and wide until we’ve located work that we are passionate about?

More to the point: is this counsel that Christians should follow?

Pursue Effectiveness, Not Just Your “Passion”
The primary defect in advice like this—as enticing as it sounds—is that it is centered on self. Jobs is encouraging us to pursue work that will make us happy, provide us with satisfaction, fill us with passion. Now, I don’t think it is wrong to expect and even desire to derive joy and satisfaction from our work. God has created work to provide us with happiness and a sense of fulfillment (Eccl 2:24; 3:13; 5:18; 9:10). But when our personal passion is the first consideration, we are approaching work in a way that is contrary to how God designed it to function.

Work is a gift from God.

Work is a gift from God. Work was given to human beings before the fall to be the means by which God’s image-bearers would exercise dominion on the earth, provide for themselves, and, just as importantly, serve their fellow humans (Gen 1:28-31; 2:15). God has created humankind as a whole with a mutual interdependence through which we serve each other with our work. For example, the contractor builds a manufacturing plant for the technology company that assembles computers for the construction supply business that provides materials for the contractor. The teacher trains young people to enter the workforce where they will fill multiple positions in society that serve and bless the teacher. The mechanic repairs cars for his doctor, his dentist, and his favorite local restaurant owners. To borrow a more ancient illustration: the baker makes bread for the cobbler who fixes boots for the soldier who guards the city. We could multiply examples. 

When we become Christians, our vocation becomes one of the primary places we produce the good works God planned for us (Eph 2:10; cf. Eph 6:8) precisely because our work serves and blesses others. For this reason, I believe it is best to consider our work within the category of effectiveness rather than personal interest or passion. The first question shouldn’t be, “What kind of work do I love,” but, “With what kind of work am I most effective in serving others?”

When we become Christians, our vocation becomes one of the primary places we produce the good works God planned for us (Eph 2:10; cf. Eph 6:8) precisely because our work serves and blesses others.

If God has gifted us with certain skills to serve our fellow image-bearers (which he has) we will effectively serve and bless others with our work as we diligently apply ourselves to use and multiply these gifts. But these talents may or may not initially correspond to personal desire. I know of some folks who have interests in a field outside their present line of work who would like to make (or have tried to make) those interests their vocational pursuits. But they are not skilled in those areas and therefore are not effective in serving and blessing others with such work, even though they have interest in that area. To leave a profession at which they are adept to labor in a field that doesn’t do much good for one’s neighbor but fulfills our “passion,” is to live selfishly.  

More Service, More Blessing
Rather than making personal passion or interest the starting point of our thinking about career, work, and vocation, we should first think about how God has gifted us to best serve and bless others. Rather than following the principle of “do what you love,” it is more biblical and will, contrary to Jobs’s advice, lead to more long-term satisfaction to “love what you do.” Why? Because, as Jesus reminds us, it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35; see also Phil 2:1-11). Although you may not be thrilled with your present vocation—even though you are particularly good at what you do—you will likely experience greater joy and satisfaction if you start viewing your work from the perspective of effectiveness rather than, ironically, personal passion.   

To start moving in a more biblical direction with regard to our work, we will need to first honestly assess our natural gifts and talents. Such an evaluation is best conducted with people who know and love us, not in isolation (Prov 18:1). We need the forthright insight of friends and family, colleagues and fellow students because left to ourselves we may not accurately assess our gifts. We may think too low of some of our skills because they don’t match our “passion” or too highly of other talents because they do. Here’s an example from my own life.

About three years ago I was asked to serve part-time as the academic dean at The Cornerstone Bible College and Seminary. I had been teaching there for about a year and I greatly enjoyed the labor of training other men for pastoral ministry. I loved the preparation for class, the teaching time, and the in-class interaction with the students. When approached about the dean position, I wasn’t initially thrilled because the role included a fair amount of administrative responsibilities.

My passion, you could say, is studying, teaching, writing, and personal discipleship. Adding executive tasks to an already full schedule that could potentially take time away from my “passions” didn’t excite me a great deal. But as I assessed my own gifts and listened to other people’s evaluation of my fitness for the job, I started to realize that although I didn’t have overwhelming passion for academic administration, I could be effective in such a role and thereby serve others. And the Lord has graciously granted me satisfaction in this role as I’ve labored for the benefit of the school and the students.

Though it is counter to the way many people are thinking about work and pursuing their careers these days, Scripture instructs us to find joy in what we do rather than searching high and low to find work that we love. Rather than thinking first about ourselves and fulfilling our personal passions, we should think first about others and what will benefit them. This requires thinking first about effectiveness. Granted, the area in which we are most effective may not initially correspond with our desires and interests, but over time, as we give ourselves to serving others with our work, we will find the blessing that Christ himself promised: “It is more blessed to give than receive.”      

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