Firefighters, police officers, and security guards — they all put their lives on the line to serve and protect our communities. Steelworkers, construction workers, and construction managers — they're working behind the scenes to literally build our communities up. But when you put these two groups together — firefighters and steelworkers, police officers and construction workers, security guards and construction managers — they don't seem to have a whole lot in common.
But believe it or not, these six different careers do have one big thing in common. And that’s stress. These are six of the 25 most stressful jobs in America this year, according to US News & World Report. But you don't have to be in public service or in construction to feel stressed about work.
As a matter of fact, according to the American Psychological Association, six out of ten of us feel stressed about work regardless of what profession we may have. You know, what that means right? If you’re here with us in person today, it means that if you look at the person who's sitting on your left and the person sitting on your right, two of you are worried about work.
But what is it about work that stresses all of us out? According to Health magazine, there are eight different types of work-related stress, but essentially, they all boil down to just two things, you feel stressed about your work because your work doesn't seem meaningful or because you don't feel like you belong.
You feel stressed about your work because your work doesn't seem meaningful or because you don't feel like you belong.
Now, I’ve experienced both of these firsthand at the most stressful job that I've ever had. What might be a little surprising is that that job had absolutely nothing to do with being a minister. It was actually the job I had before I became a minister…when I was still the manager of a toy store.
It was a job that I took when I was only a few weeks out of college, assuming that I'd be able to land a job in a church in no time. But in the meantime, I needed a job that would pay more than minimum wage so that I could pay my bills. And lo and behold, a position opened up at a toy store paying eight bucks an hour with benefits. So I took the job without much hesitation.
And at first, I thought it was gonna be awesome. After all, what kid doesn't dream of running a toy store when they grow up? It would be like the movie Big but in real life. So I figure the hardest thing about my new job was going to be learning how to play chopsticks on an oversized piano. But pretty soon, the realization sank in that I was selling cheap little pieces of plastic that kids would quickly outgrow or break at a 30% markup.
That's not exactly meaningful work. It also isn’t the ideal corporate mindset either. In the corporate world, everything seems to revolve around the bottom line and the profit and loss statement. And I wasn't the kind of person who really cared all that much about how much money was in the cash register at the end of the night, as long as the customers who came in that day left feeling happy.
So I didn't really belong in the retail world. And without a sense of belonging and a lack of meaning in my work, I was miserable. I hated the very idea of going to work. Just about every single day seemed like such a waste. I was spending 40 hours a week, 50 weeks out of the year working…but I wasn't getting anything worthwhile in return.
In a lot of ways what I experienced when I was working at that toy store reminds me of a parable — or a short story with a point — that Jesus once told. And we find this particular parable in the book of Luke, which is essentially Luke’s biography of Jesus. So let’s take a look at what Jesus says in Luke 8. We’ll start reading in verse 3. It says:
4 When a great crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from one city after another, he spoke to them in a parable: 5 “A farmer went out to scatter his seed. As he was scattering it, some fell on the path where it was crushed, and the birds in the sky came and ate it. 6 Other seed fell on rock. As it grew, it dried up because it had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorns grew with the plants and choked them. 8 Still other seed landed on good soil. When it grew, it produced one hundred times more grain than was scattered.” As he said this, he called out, “Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “You have been given the mysteries of God’s kingdom, but these mysteries come to everyone else in parables so that when they see, they can’t see, and when they hear, they can’t understand.
11 “The parable means this: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seed on the path are those who hear, but then the devil comes and steals the word from their hearts so that they won’t believe and be saved. 13 The seed on the rock are those who receive the word joyfully when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while but fall away when they are tempted. 14 As for the seed that fell among thorny plants, these are the ones who, as they go about their lives, are choked by the concerns, riches, and pleasures of life, and their fruit never matures. 15 The seed that fell on good soil are those who hear the word and commit themselves to it with a good and upright heart. Through their resolve, they bear fruit.
Luke 8:4-15 (Common English Bible)
So even though the point of this parable revolves around the soil, it also has something to tell us about the worker too. So I want to stop for just a minute and I want you to picture a farmer in your mind who's going out to the fields to work.
Can you imagine the farmer digging down deep into a bag filled with seeds and tossing that seed out onto the ground? The first seed barely has time to hit the soil before the birds swoop down and snatch it up. How do you think that makes the farmer feel about his work? He probably feels ripped off, aggravated, irritated, frustrated, like all of the work that he had done — all of the seed, all of the sowing — was for nothing. In the end, it doesn't matter how much seed he scattered or how many hours he toiled…nothing meaningful would come from his work.
So the farmer moves on, and he begins spreading the seed over the rocky soil. This time the seed takes. So the farmer comes back a few days later and the seed has sprouted. It looks like he might just have a bumper crop. But soon enough, the sun comes up. And the seed the farmer sowed ends up scorched and it withers away. The crop is dead. There will be no return on this work, either. The days have been wasted again.
So the farmer moves on again, this time to sow his seed amongst the weeds. Again, the seed takes root and the plant begins to grow. But it's quickly choked out because a seedling doesn't belong with the weeds.
So finally, the farmer turns to the fertile soil. The seed is sowed where it belongs, and the plants grow. The work is meaningful and the farmer is rewarded. And that's the way our work is supposed to be.
But when the farmer was focusing his efforts in the wrong area, it was miserable. So the farmer needed to change his approach.
That's eventually what I learned when I was managing that toy store. When I focused on the things that my bosses and the corporate executives thought were important, I was miserable. When I was focused on those cheap little trinkets that were here today and gone tomorrow, I was miserable. So I had to change my approach and shift my focus.
So I started to focus on the people I was working with. I shifted my focus to the staff that I oversaw, and I did my best to minister to them as they dealt with family issues, financial struggles, or whatever else came up in their lives. And I focused on the customers who shopped at the store. I got to know many of the people — the parents and the grandparents who came by fairly often — and I understood what it was that they were shopping for. But more importantly, I understood who it was they were shopping for.
Now, none of that stopped me from dreaming about going to work in greener pastures. But it did help alleviate a lot of the stress I felt on the job. Why? Because I finally realized why Jesus once said:
“Instead desire first and foremost God's kingdom and God's righteousness. And all these things will be given to you as well.”
Matthew 6:33 (Common English Bible)
Desire first and foremost God's kingdom. Seek ye first the kingdom of God. What does that mean? Well, it means that your primary desire and my primary desire should be serving God's Kingdom before we do anything else. And when it comes to work, that means that we work for God first.
We work for God first.
Yes, you may have customers and co-workers, employees or bosses. But your first priority should always be to work to serve God because God wants to use you exactly where you are. If you're flipping burgers for minimum wage, God wants to use you to help feed a single mother who's working two jobs and just doesn't have time to cook another meal. If you're in charge of restocking the shelves in a department store, God wants to use you so that a child can pick out that dream outfit that they can wear on their first day of school, feeling confident and put together. If you're a handyman, God wants to use you to help maintain a roof over someone's head. If you're a lawyer, God wants you to help people through some of the most difficult times they will face in their lives and the complicated legal system that they may not be able to understand on their own.
It doesn't matter what job you have. God wants you to work for God's kingdom. And God wants you to be his presence in the lives of your customers and co-workers, God wants you to be his presence in the lives of your employees and bosses. God wants you to be his presence where you work.
God wants you to be his presence where you work.
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking. Some of you may be thinking that all of this talk about work is all well and good…but what difference does it make if you’re retired. I mean there are quite a few of you worshiping with us today that have been retired for a while.
So is all of this talk about work still applicable in your life if you’re no longer working? Well, what I’d say to that is that you’re confusing the word work with the word job.
Here's what I mean. I want you to think about one of the most famous Kentuckians to ever live, a guy by the name of Harland Sanders, who is better known as Colonel Sander. Now, just about everybody knows who Colonel Sanders is. Colonel Sander is the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
But what you may not realize is that it wasn't always that way. During his lifetime, the colonel had jobs in the army, with a railroad company, as a fireman and a lawyer, a life insurance salesman, a ferryboat operator, a tire salesman, and a gas station attendant.
In case you weren't counting, that's eight different jobs. It wasn't until Harland Sanders was 40 years old that he finally started frying chicken. And it took him almost two more decades before he sold his first finger-licking good franchise. But when he finally found his way to that deep fryer in the back of a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, Colonel Sanders was returning to the work that he was always meant to do. You see, when Harland Sanders was just seven years old, he became responsible for cooking the meals for his whole family while his mother worked in a factory.
Colonel Sanders was always meant to feed others, to care for others, and to show hospitality to others. And it wasn't until he returned to this calling that he finally found a job that stuck, and it stuck for 50 years.
The same is true for all of us. It doesn't matter if you're seven years old or 97 years old. There's work that God wants all of us to do.
There’s work that God wants all of us to do.
But that work isn't necessarily our job. That work might be volunteering at a food pantry or a soup kitchen when you've reached your retirement years. And that work might be listening to your co-worker express their struggles in their marriage or with raising their kids while you're sipping coffee in the break room. That work might be doing everything that your boss asks you to do, just to help take some of the stress off of her shoulders. That work might be coming to church to put up a few signs to make people feel like they're welcome when they pull up in the parking lot outside. That work is going to be different for every single one of us worshiping together today whether you are here in person or you are joining us online.
But we're never going to be satisfied unless we're doing what God wants us to do. There will always be stress if our work isn't meaningful. So here's what I want you to do. I want you to spend some time this week thinking about the work that brings you the most joy. And then I want you to figure out how God is calling you to use your joy to build God’s kingdom.
It might be in our church. It might be at your job. It might be inside a local nonprofit. It might even be in your own neighborhood. But there's something that God wants you to do — there is some calling, some vocation, some job — that God wants you to do. But it's up to each of us to figure it out. And it's up to each of us to get to work.