A handful of years ago, few knew who Lin-Manuel Miranda was. Today, he’s a household name. Why? Because of Hamilton.
Miranda wrote and starred in this hip-hop musical about the brilliant but abrasive founding father. The show became an instant sensation. Tickets were sold out months in advance. It won Tonys, Grammys and even a Pulitzer. The recordered version has become a hit on Disney+. The musical may have even kept Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill.
Yet translating Alexander Hamilton’s story from the history books to the stage was not an easy task. Miranda wrote the musical’s first song in 2009. The show did not premier until six years later. Hamilton is the fruit of Miranda’s years of hard work.
In retrospect, the years Miranda spent crafting his historical hip-hop masterpiece were well spent. The show has been a runaway success. But what if the show had flopped? Would his work still have been worth it?
Will Our Work Be Worth It?
We may not be an award-winning Broadway playwright, but similar questions haunt us, too. Will our work be worth it?
What if you spend hours preparing a sermon, and only 30 people hear it? What if you labor over a lesson plan, and the students don’t get it? What if you work long hours without complaining, and no one cares? What if you invest time and capital into a business plan, and the venture fails? What if you take four years getting a degree, and no hires you for a job in that field? What if you dedicate your life to your children, only to see them rebel in adulthood? What if… you can fill in the blank.
These questions hint at the deeper issue behind our concern. We want to know: Is the value of my work determined by the results of my work? Or, does my work matter regardless of the outcome?
This is an important question for each of us to answer. After all, for every Lin-Manuel Miranda, hundreds of lesser known playwrights invest blood, sweat and tears into a show that only a handful of people will see. For every famous preacher, thousands of nameless pastors will preach to half-filled sanctuaries. For every pioneering educator like Ron Clark, scores of teachers will go home everyday knowing that a few children didn’t (and won’t) understand their lessons. For every successful businessman on the cover of Forbes, millions of hard-working employees will spend hours toiling in relative obscurity.
So, then, we have to ask: Will our work be worth it?
You cannot control the results of your work. Yet you can control how you work.
Scripture and Work
As Christians, the Word of God is our ultimate authority in all things — including work. And when we survey the Scriptures’ teaching about work, a handful of key themes help us answer this question.
1. God made us to work.
God charged the first humans to “have dominion” over the earth and to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:26, 28). In doing these things, humans were living up to their calling as beings made in God’s own image (Genesis 1:26, 27).
In other words, God didn’t design humans to be lethargic. He designed humans to do things — to fill the earth, do something with his creation, to work. Work, then, is good in and of itself because God made it that way.
Of course, the fall in Genesis 3 made work more frustrating, painful and difficult. But work has always been God’s intent for humanity — because he himself “worked” when he created the world.
Work looks different for different people. For you, work may mean sitting in an office, working in a field, changing diapers or serving an aging loved one. But when you work, you are doing what God made you to do — no matter the results.
2. God calls us to be faithful.
God calls us to be faithful in our work because we ultimately work for God’s glory. The apostle Paul addresses this truth in his letter to the Colossian church:
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17, emphasis added)
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24, emphasis added)
Paul urges believers to do everything in Jesus’ name. He compels them to work for God, not men. If we practice these principles in our daily work, then our success (or lack thereof) will not matter as much to us. God will have noticed, and he will have been glorified by it. And that will be enough.
3. Faithfulness does not always lead to success (and vice versa).
We are tempted to believe that working for God’s glory will always lead to success. Of course, the general principles in Scripture often do lead to flourishing. But not always. If anything, Scripture repeatedly warns us that faithfulness to Christ may lead to suffering, not success.
For example, Job was a godly, respected man. But he lost his livestock and much of his family in a series of horrific events (Job 1). In the worst moments of his suffering, Job’s work was nonexistent. Job was spiritually faithful, but a failure at work.
On the other hand, the wealthy young ruler was an industrious success story (Matthew 19:16-22). Though he was successful, he idolized wealth. The fact that he was unwilling to give it up demonstrated that he was not a part of Jesus’ kingdom. The rich young ruler was successful at work, but spiritually unfaithful.
In other words, someone’s faithfulness to Christ is not always a predictor of workplace success, nor is someone’s workplace success an indication of godliness.
Here’s what this means for you: The success of your work may have nothing at all to do with your spiritual faithfulness to Christ. You have no control over who succeeds and who doesn’t.
Out of Your Control
You may not write the next great Broadway musical, speak at a conference, grace the cover of Forbes or hear your name mentioned on SportsCenter. You don’t control the results of your work.
Yet you can control how you work. You can work faithfully for God’s glory, remembering that he designed you for this task. Working for God’s glory may lead to success. It may not. Either way, the work will be worth it.
In a documentary, Lin-Manuel Miranda reflected on the years he invested in Hamilton. He said,
God, can I be proud of [my work]? If this show opens and closes in a day, will I regret the six years I put into it?
The implication of his answer was that had Hamilton flopped, the work would still have been worth it.
Like Miranda, we have to answer with an emphatic yes, too. Because no matter what the results of our work are, we work for the honor and glory of our great King Jesus. And that will be enough.